There’s a new book out on the Bradshaw* figures. The book is by Ian Wilson. There’s an ABC news article here, and a book review here. I was recently listening to an interview with Ian Wilson here. There is controversy on two counts: the claims that the artists responsible for the Bradshaw figures are not the current Indigenous owners of the land, and are therefore more recent immigrants; and the relationship between Wilson and academics working on the rock art. On the former, I have no comment, since I haven’t seen the book yet, although it should be noted that even if the people of the Northern Kimberley are not the direct descendents of the painters of the Bradshaw figures, and haven’t been there for 20,000 years, that in no way should affect the fact that they have custodianship of the pictures now, they were there prior to European annexation of Western Australia in 1829, and that land was forcibly taken from them. After all, Stonehenge is not any less part of British national heritage because it wasn’t built by the Anglo-Saxons.
Anyway. This whole thing is bizarre, particularly Wilson’s attacks on archaeologist and art historian Grahame Walsh. Wilson seems not to be able to understand why Walsh won’t hand over his entire collection of photographs of Bradshaw art and won’t reveal the precise location of the paintings. Let me hazard a guess. The locations are not published to prevent random people visiting them, possibly damaging them, tresspassing, damaging the rather fragile landscape in this area, and in trying to find them getting lost off-road and needing to be rescued. Seems pretty sensible to me. It’s also pretty standard to keep the location of archaeological sites on a need-to-know basis (Jinmium rock shelter, for example, or the footprints found recently in the Willandra Lakes National Park).
I can think of at least half a dozen reasons why Grahame Walsh might not want to hand over his collection of photographs, ranging from wanting to work on the material himself before letting someone else publish it (after all, he collected it) to needing permission from the Aboriginal custodians of the paintings, to resenting the attitude that he should just hand them over to anyone who wants to write a popular book on the subject.
Mr Wilson tackles Bradshaw art following previous popular books on the Shroud of Turin, Nostradamus, etc. He is probably most famous for Jesus: the evidence. I am torn. On the one hand I would like to see the sort of thing that I do de-exoticised a bit, and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling that the exoticisation of Aboriginal culture is not, in general, a Good Thing. Then again, I have the distrust of popularism that many academics have (this blog notwithstanding, and notice that even here I hardly count as popularist). So, with that, go and read the book, and we can decide if it’s as bad as The Australian thinks it is.
* a particular style of ancient art in the Northern Kimberley region.