Rock Art and Ethnography in Australia

Liam Michael Brady, Robert George Gunn, Claire Smith, Bruno David

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


This chapter discusses the contribution of ethnography to the study of Australian rock art. With more than 100 years of ethnographic enquiry into rock art from across the country, valuable insights into the meaning, motives, function, and symbolism of images have been identified. However, with this information comes challenges with its use (and abuse), as well as the necessity to understand the cultural contexts of interpretation and meaning-making. This chapter explores the various ways Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders) engage with and describe their understandings of rock art in a variety of contexts. This review also highlights the complex nature of the interpretative process and the ethnographic gaze in which it is embedded. At its core, ethnographic approaches to Australian rock art reveal the multidimensional referential qualities of images found across the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Rock Art
EditorsBruno David, Ian J. McNiven
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780190607364
ISBN (Print)9780190607357
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Australia
  • Cultural contexts
  • Ethnography
  • Interpretation
  • Meaning
  • Rock art
  • Symbolism
  • Themes

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