The date at which people entered Australia has important implications for the debate on modern human origins. Thermoluminescence dates of 50-60 ka, reported for initial occupation of the Malakunanja II site in northern Australia, have been used as a means of calibrating the rate of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evolution in modern humans. Optical dating of unburnt quartzose sediments from a rock shelter site (Nauwalabila I, Lindner Site) in Deaf Adder Gorge, 70 km south of Malakunanja II, provides new evidence for the timing of the colonisation of the continent. Optical dates were determined for several stratigraphic levels within a 3 m deep excavation, in which flaked stone artefacts and ground pigments were found in primary depositional setting. The lowest human occupation levels are bracketed by dates of 53.4 ± 5.4 ka and 60.3 ± 6.7 ka, while the upper levels show good agreement between optical and calibrated 14C age estimates. High-quality haematite with ground facets and striations is associated directly with the 53 ka level and indicates the use of pigments by these early Australians. The optical dates independently confirm evidence for the colonisation of northern Australia shortly after 60 ka and should be seen in the context of this region as having been a likely entry route for the first human movements into Sahul.