Sunday 31 March 2024

From On Board Reef Prince: The Way of the Wandjina

The Kimberley is full of surprises, mysteries, tragedies and more than a few controversies.  

One of the persistent debates is that which concerns the abundant rock art that proliferates throughout Australia's North West. Is it the oldest rock art in the world? Is it all of the same origin? What art was produced by which ethnic groups? The arguments continue.

Even after more than 20 years working in the Kimberley, EL Paul Hogger is still excited to show his guests what he believes is one of the most accessible and comprehensive art sites anywhere along the route.

Mysterious Swifts Bay Wandjinas (RE)

Under one expansive overhang, two oversized Wandjina figures appear to be in some mystic embrace. The dominant figure with a massive headdress has mesmerised the other, holding it in suspended animation. The all-powerful, mouthless Wandjina control the weather. Why mouthless? Well, so powerful are they that if they possessed mouths, they would flood the world.

"The beauty of Swifts Bay is that you can see almost the entire Kimberley art timeline in one location," Paul tells us in his imitable style, "right next to the most impressive Wandjina figures you'll see the very early so-called 'irregular infill' which predates even the oldest Gwion-Gwion (Bradshaw) depictions. Then, less than a minute by tender into the bay is a most impressive Bradshaw gallery."

And he's correct, as usual. Even though I'd been to Swifts Bay several times previously, Paul was able to deliver a completely new perspective and show us galleries which the larger ships with 100-plus guests simply cannot access.

"Even though the Kimberley is overflowing with rock art sites of various styles and eras, not that many are suitable for visitation," Paul reminds me, "when you take into account the tides, terrain and resident wildlife, it is always a challenge. Thankfully Reef Prince will only have 36 guests when we are full, so that makes things a lot more achievable."

I'm aboard the 36-passenger Reef Prince, the sole vessel of Kimberley Expeditions, for their 12-day Broome to Darwin itinerary.

For more details on cruising in the Kimberley, contact Kimberley Expeditions.

Main Pic: EL Paul Hogger with the Swifts Bay Bradshaws (RE)

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