Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Aboriginal watercraft depictions in Western Australia

Author/s N. Bigourdan

Year of publication 2006

Report Number: 216

In his work entitled Principles of Geology (1832), Charles Lyell concluded that:

‘It is probable that a greater number of monuments of the skill and industry of man will in the course of ages be collected together in the bed of the oceans, than will exist at any one time on the surface of the continents’

The present report concentrates on Aboriginal depictions of watercraft located in Western Australia. The term “depiction” encompasses all type of graphical representations created by Aboriginal people. Consequently, this definition can take into account rock paintings, rock engravings, sand drawings, or European-style paintings. Western Australia unlike Northern Territory have a relatively small number of such depictions. Chronologically, it is agreed that the first human beings arrived in Australia at least 40,000 years ago. Additionally, the well known phenomenon of sea level rise which covered substantial parcels of land commenced only around 14,000 years ago. Thus, it seems viable to suppose that archaeological signatures of human occupation from the period between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago might currently be submerged, and could in some cases predate most of Aboriginal sites on land. Obviously, this hypothesis is applicable to rock art in general and potentially to watercraft depictions in particular.