Deterioration of rock art
Rock paintings are remarkably fragile and can be
damaged in many ways. Wind, sun, rain, fire and dust all take their
toll. Animals such as buffalo, pigs, cattle and horses cause paints
to flake and crumble when they rub against the surfaces. Paintings
are also damaged by the activity of birds and certain insects such
as termites and mud wasps that build nests on rock walls. Plants,
too, can have an effect. Moulds, fungi, algae and lichen grow over
many painting sites, and tree roots can cause whole rock surfaces
to crack or fall away.
Ochre paints are easily washed away, or simply fade
through natural weathering. On the other hand, water rich in silica
can protect painted surfaces by sealing the paintings and protecting
them from physical, chemical and botanical damage.
Perhaps most damaging of all are the activities of
people. Visitors disturb dust which coats painted surfaces and may
physically abrade or chemically react with the paints. Motorists,
tourists and vandals are, intentionally or unintentionally, accelerating
the deterioration of many paintings.
Various protective measures are being taken. The
simplest involve putting up fences to keep out wild, feral and domestic
animals and building barriers to keep cars and campfires at a distance.
Other measures include silicone driplines to divertwater away from
decorated surfaces, removal of lichen, and managing vegetation to
prevent damage from bushfires.
Another way to protect sites is to provide visitor
facilities that encourage appreciation of the paintings and engravings
at a distance. This may involve providing boardwalks and low barriers
to keep visitors to a path or to elevate them so they have a better
view. Informative signs and take-away brochures alert visitors to
the fragility and cultural significance of the paintings and engravings.
Guided tours, especially those given by Aboriginal custodians, are
another important means of education.
In preserving Aboriginal paintings and engravings,
it is important to consider the knowledge and wishes of the Aboriginal
custodians. Until the coming of Europeans, Aborigines did not need
to concern themselves with how well or how long the pigments they
painted with would survive. Their traditional responsibilities ensured
that important paintings were renewed.
Today, however, the descendants
of many custodial groups do not have the knowledge and access necessary
to maintain sites that contain significant imagery. For some Aboriginal
custodians, so much knowledge has been lost that their primary concern
now is to preserve what already exists and prevent further damage