Pastoral place-making: rock art as a social actor in colonial encounters

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This paper traces the role of rock art in the process of pastoral place-making on Ngadjuri Aboriginal lands in the mid-north region of South Australia, from initial colonisation by British settlers in the 1860s to the present day. A combination of archaeological analysis, archival research and ethnographic insights facilitates a deeper understanding of the ways in which rock art has played an active role in triggering particular kinds of colonial encounters between settlers and Ngadjuri people. I argue that the affective presence of rock art in the landscape invites human action and interaction through its very existence. In the first stages of colonisation, British settlers inscribed their names, initials and other images adjacent to Aboriginal rock art as a form of memorialisation and as one way of embedding their identities on unfamiliar and often hostile landscapes. In recent years, rock art has played an active role in motivating contemporary pastoralists (often the descendants of early colonisers) to reach out to Ngadjuri people in order to obtain a greater understanding of an Indigenous past that has been largely erased from the region. The overall movement is from existential disquiet and heritage erasure to acknowledgement, respect and reconciliation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-210
Number of pages16
JournalRock Art Research
Issue number2
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Aug 2021


  • rock art
  • contact
  • historical inscriptions
  • archaeological theory and method
  • social action
  • affectual and relational experiences


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