Connecting Country is a special opportunity initiated by the Jawoyn Association to gain insight into Australia’s Indigenous past and make a direct contribution to the community health of the present-day Jawoyn. It is a collaborative research partnership between the Jawoyn Association, Monash University and a network of international research organisations.

The main goal of Connecting Country is to investigate ancestral places and date the rock art through archaeological and geomorphological methods, so as to foster connections between present-day Jawoyn and the ancestors and to enable a more nuanced public understanding of the deep history of Jawoyn culture.  This is being done by developing sequences of dated cultural materials, including ochre and other pigments used to create the rock art itself, at numerous rock art sites. This research follows the guidance and requests of Jawoyn Elders and the Jawoyn Association concerning cultural protocols and priorities.

Remoteness and isolation has kept the Jawoyn sites preserved and unknown to the outside world.  However, an absence of road access means bringing in experts for research purposes, and maintaining them in the field is a costly logistical exercise dependant on helicopters.  For this reason, an initial visit by the archaeology team in May 2010 lasted a mere 10 days and was followed by a three week-long field programme in July 2011, but the scientific findings in just that short amount of time are already re-shaping Australian Indigenous history and the world’s understanding of ancient Australia.  What still remains to be discovered in this vast, unknown landscape rich in Jawoyn’s deep ancestral history?

An expert international team of high-calibre archaeologists and geomorphologists is now focusing on this project.  At the same time we will be encouraging the next generation of scientists to build on their collective knowledge.

This project contributes toward the preservation and conservation of Jawoyn cultural heritage.  The project co-ordinator, researchers and staff will leverage support many times over by attracting research funds, enhancing the field research team, and creating a further understanding of the dynamics of the history of Indigenous Australia in a culturally diverse world.

The project’s findings will be disseminated to a worldwide audience, through academic circles, popular books and the lucrative cultural eco-tourism market.  The eco-tourism ventures and tourism dollars earned from the outcomes of this project will directly improve the fledgling social, health and education initiatives of the Jawoyn Indigenous community.

One such encouraging benefit that has been noted in government reports[1] and by community leaders, is the drop in alcohol consumption of community members who have participated in previous rock art projects.  Alcohol is a major social and health problem in Indigenous communities.

Greater interaction between Elders and youths to work on rock art recording has dovetailed into a greater sense of harmony in the community – possibly brought about by a new-found pride in culture and history.[2]

[1] Productivity Commission Report “Key indicators 2011 – overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage – Review of Government Service Provision. Box 10.2.2 ‘Things that work’ – access to traditional lands”.

[2] Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, unpublished Jawoyn report.