Quinkan Rock Art (October 2023)

Cooktown 14 October 2023

Cooktown was founded as the supply port for the Palmer River Goldfields after gold was discovered in 1872 but it’s more famous as the place where Captain Cook beached the Endeavour for repairs in 1770. Today Cooktown is an easygoing town with a population of about 2,000, 4 hours driving north of Cairns. It seems over-tourism hasn’t arrived.

In September 1873 there was no European settlement in Cooktown. By April 1874 there were 26 licensed premises; Cooktown Hotel was one.
Early Granite Kerbing and Channelling, heritage-listed, built from 1884 to 1905 using slabs cut locally from granite boulders
Remains of the railway track, which was constructed from Cooktown to Laura between 1884 and 1888
Heritage-listed Cooktown cemetery with over 3,000 burials of French, Chinese, English, Swedish, Germans and South Sea Islanders from 1874
Fishing in the Endeavour River near where Captain Cook was forced to beach his ship, HMS Endeavour, for repairs in 1770
The Cooktown Orchid is Queensland’s floral emblem
The Lions Den Hotel, 30 km from Cooktown is a landmark hotel of wood & iron construction from 1875. It’s for sale, asking price $4.5 million

Laura 15 October 2023

Evidence of Aboriginal occupation around Laura dates back 34,000 years and rock art 27,000 years. During the wet, they would camp under sandstone shelters on the high ground, staining the soft sandstone rock faces with various dyes to produce the art we went to see. This is Quinkan Country, named for the mythical figures that inhabit the land. Quinkan Country is distinguished from other regions by the richness, size and density of its figurative art and the diversity of Aboriginal paintings and engravings.

The town of Laura, population about 100, on the main Cape York road is 330 km north west of Cairns. It was established in 1873 to supply travellers coming from Cooktown to the Palmer Goldfields.

Laura General Store
The galahs have been fed here every afternoon for 45 years
Guinea Fowl, native to Africa, also comes for the feeding
The Red-winged Parrot prefers mango
Laura’s Hotel opened in the 1880s. It burnt down in 2007, this is the new version. Unfortunately it is closed now.
The male Bowerbird makes this construction to attract a female
Great Bowerbird
The Cooktown to Laura Rail Line was planned continue to Palmer River. The bridge across the Laura River was completed in 1891 and was only used once, on opening day – the Bridge to Nowhere

Rock Art 16 – 18 October 2023

Johnny Murison, a Kuku-Yalanji man from Cape York Peninsula, with immense knowledge of Aboriginal culture is the owner and guide of Jarramali Rock Art Tours. Behind the scenes his wife Erica works tirelessly maintaining the camp and producing meals, helped by three delightful children. The only way to get to these remote sites is with Johnny and he does a fantastic job of bringing alive ancient art.

We were picked up at Laura for our three day Rock Art Tour
It’s about an hour to the camp on a dry weather only 4WD dirt road
On the way Johnny spotted a recently killed Agile wallaby so he stopped to see if it had a joey, it did
Joey wrapped in Johnny’s shirt
Jowalbinna Bush Camp – base for trips to the rock art sites
The camp has hot showers, flushing toilets and comfortable rooms

After arriving at the camp we travelled about half an hour in All Terrain Buggies and hiked a few kilometres to visit 5 remote galleries. Human, spiritual figures, animals, reptiles and fish, these sites display the work of artists over hundreds of generations.

Johnny explains the meanings and significance of the images

Day two required a 15 km hair-raising drive in the ATV buggies along the Old Coach Road and a short hike to the “Magnificent Gallery”.

The Old Coach Road used by Cobb&Co between Laura and Maytown in the 1880s is Heritage Listed and a challenge for today’s 4WDs
Hand made cutting to allow bullocks to drag gold mining machinery to the Palmer goldfield
Driving through red Kangaroo Grass
“Magnificent Gallery” beneath a sandstone overhang – Johnny saved the best for last. Here are:
“Tamara’s, the good spirits. They have long-limbed, thin bodies which provide camouflage among the trees, and also allowing them to quietly withdraw into rock crevices.
Imjims are the bad spirits and have a distinctive long, bulbous-tipped appendage. They bounce like kangaroos and live like frogs.”
Magnificent! One of UNESCO world’s top ten Rock Art Sites
A beautiful swimming spot to cool down on a hot, 39°C day
Returning to camp, we raced through a bushfire
A delicious camp oven meal for our last night

Thanks Johnny and Erica for a fabulous experience!