A site mapping trip by helicopter from Weemol up into Mirradja Country in May brought back special memories for Senior Ranger and Mirradja elder Alfred Rickson and Peter Cooke, a project officer assisting Mimal Land Management with an “audit” of central Arnhem Land mapping data.
It was 22 years ago that Peter Cooke visited the small area of sandstone outliers at Wilawara, a few kilometres north of the famed spring of Bamdibu — the heart of Mirradja Country.
“Twenty years after I photographed the legendary artist Paddy Wanjburanga Fordham pointing up at the paintings in this gallery, and this year here I was photographing Alfred Rickson sitting on the same rock looking up at the same pictures,” said Peter.
“Sandstone rock shelters with rock art are incredibly rare in this part of Central Arnhem Land. And this is a small but stunning gallery of rock art.
“We were able to find the site easily because I still had the co-ordinates from a mapping job I did for the Northern Land Council back in 1996.
“It was such a privilege to work with the six senior Rembarrnga and Kune-Dalabon who identified more than 100 sites back in 1996.
“Sadly they are all gone now”.
For Alfred the visit to Wilawara and the helicopter journey, which generally follows an old tractor road that he remembers from trips as a young teenager, was also filled with memories of people no longer with us.
“The last time I was able to visit this place was about 10 years ago,” Alfred said.
“We need to make a new track so we can bring young people to show them their country and family history.”
Peter says he photographed Alfred at the very moment he was looking at a special painting.
“Alfred singled out a hand stencil which was by the maternal grandfather of his wife, Lambirra clan member Anne Kelly,” Peter said.
“The hand stencil symbolises a strong connection between Alfred and Anne’s family and country.
“It’s a beautiful symbol immortalised on stone.”