Vandals Destroy One of the Last Ancient Aboriginal Hand Stencils in Tasmania

The crime took place just before Sorry Day.

Vandalism on an Aboriginal hand stencil at nirmena nala in Tasmania. Courtesy of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
Vandalism on an Aboriginal hand stencil at nirmena nala in Tasmania. Courtesy of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

Unknown vandals recently scratched out two ancient Aboriginal hand stencils at Nirmena Nala rock shelter in Tasmania, in the upper region of the Derwent valley.

The damage, which almost completely destroyed one of the last cave markings in the state, was discovered on May 24—the day before Sorry Day, which was established in 1998 to commemorate mistreatment of the country’s indigenous population.

The hand stencils are believed to be the work of the Big River people, or teen toomele menennye, and were made while they were journeying to Kutalayna, a meeting place down in the Derwent Valley. The markings could be anywhere between 800 and 8,000 years old, and are one of only ten remaining hand stencil sites on the Australian island.

“To us, that site is a sacred site, and what makes it sacred is the way in which it was used, and the process that went into making those hand stencils,” Clyde Mansell, chairman of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council, told the Guardian Australia.

Vandalism on an Aboriginal hand stencil at nirmena nala in Tasmania. Courtesy of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

Vandalism on an Aboriginal hand stencil at nirmena nala in Tasmania. Courtesy of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

Three additional hand stencils in the area were not targeted by the vandals; however they are rapidly fading with age. Australia is thought to be home to some 100,000 sites with ancient rock or cave paintings, but experts fear that half of them are in danger of disappearing over the next half century.

Much like the vandals who struck cave paintings in Australia’s Murujunga National Park in 2014, this recent spate of vandalism in Tasmania appears to be deliberate. Last summer, however, a group of college geology students looking to leave their mark in Utah inadvertently vandalized ancient Native American rock art on a canyon wall.

Protection afforded to ancient Australian historic sites under the Aboriginal Relics Act 1975 would punish the recent vandalism with six months jail time or a $1,500 fine. Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman told the Guardian that the act is “outdated and inadequate,” calling the damage to the hand stencils “devastating.”

“It’s difficult to imagine what could motivate someone to undertake such a senseless act, but that will hopefully come to light following a police investigation,” he added.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics