News and Events·
Other Jung Socs.
(Updated by Robert James 24/09/2020)
C. G. Jung’s Concept
of the Archetypes and Aboriginal Rock Art
Friday 4 September, 2020
MacKillop Centre, Lyneham, A.C.T.
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text, and the pictures, at end of this page.
We are very
fortunate here in south-eastern Australia to live in the midst of an
extremely rich trove of Aboriginal rock engravings and paintings. There
are, for example, three major rock painting sites in Namadgi National
Park a drive of 90 minutes or so from the centre of Canberra. There are
many more sites, at least 2,000- mostly engravings, in the Sydney
metropolitan area. Many of these sites are not at all difficult to
reach. Most of them are in national parks, public parks or nature
One Sydney Aboriginal engraving, for example,
portraying a large shark with a much smaller fish in its stomach (Photo
1), is at Mackenzies Point directly beside the footpath running from
Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach and beyond. I’ve outlined the photographic
image in white ink to make it easier to see (Photo 2).
Two things are noteworthy about this shark
engraving. First, there is the belt across the shark’s middle. Such a
belt, made of human hair, was an important part of Aboriginal ceremonial
regalia. These belts often appear in Aboriginal rock paintings and
engravings around the waists or midsections of human, spirit and animal
Second, the image of a large fish, like the
shark in this engraving, swallowing a smaller fish or fishes, a
stingray, a man or a woman is found in several other Aboriginal rock
engravings in the Sydney region. Although I don’t know what story, if
any, these engravings illustrate, their imagery is certainly not alone
in world mythology. To take only two examples, there is the Biblical
tale of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish and the representation in
Hindu iconography of the god Vishnu’s emerging from the mouth of his
incarnation as a huge fish.
The Bondi to Bronte
footpath is surely one of the most heavily-used walking tracks in
Australia. Nevertheless, most of the passers-by seem completely
oblivious to the shark engraving. This is not surprising as there is no
sign drawing attention to the site and the engraving itself is not
obvious and is easy to miss (Photo 3).
The way that the
shark and fish engraving is ignored illustrates the general lack of
interest that Aboriginal rock art seems to have for most people in our
part of Australia. One might say that there would be more interest if
there were more publicity given to the sites and if their locations were
made more widely known. Recent history, however, shows that there is an
unfortunate consequence to providing more awareness of the sites and
clear directions on how to reach them. In the final decades of the last
century and into the first years of the new millennium quite a few
Aboriginal rock art sites were signposted on roads and clearly marked on
maps like the Sydway Greater
Sydney & Blue Mountains Street Directory of 2002. Although this made
the sites more accessible, the result was sometimes disastrous. Just how
disastrous can be seen from what happened to the Bull Cave site in a
pocket of remnant bushland in Campbelltown’s Kentlyn suburb.
Bull Cave (Photo 4)
is situated at what was evidently a meeting place for three Aboriginal
groups- the Dharawal, Dharug and Gundungurra. Members of these and
earlier groups left extensive paintings in the cave, among which were
large drawings in charcoal and red pigment of two bovines- a bull and,
probably, a cow. In 1971 when Bull Cave- named after those drawings- was
first scientifically investigated, the style of the bovine drawings was
identified as definitely Aboriginal. The drawings were also considered
to be older than the 1820s when European settlement, including a vicious
massacre, dispersed the Aboriginal population in the area. So how did
there come to be drawings in Bull Cave of a bull and a cow, animals
unknown in Australia before 1788?
In June 1788 one
bull, five cows and a bull calf, all brought from South Africa on the
First Fleet, escaped from their paddock on what is now the Sydney Domain
and disappeared into the bush. Seven years later in the region where
Campbelltown was later established two convicts came across a herd of
wild cattle, descendants of those escaped beasts. Meanwhile, an
Aboriginal person had been so impressed by these exotic animals that he
or she produced a portrait of two of them on the wall of the already
existing art site at Bull Cave.
Because it included
the only known Aboriginal painting of cattle just after they were first
brought to Australia, the Bull Cave artwork was recognised by the
scientists who recorded it as being of outstanding importance.
Tragically, and I don’t use that term lightly, soon after it was
recorded the art in the cave was extensively damaged by vandals. In 1982
the National Parks and Wildlife Service tried to prevent further
vandalism by covering the entrance to the cave with a protective metal
fence. Sadly, this did not stop further graffiti from being
spray-painted over the Aboriginal art (Photo 5). Although it is claimed
that the bull image remains visible, when I visited the site in 2017 I
could see in the midst of the graffiti only a few Aboriginal hand
stencils in red and white. There remained to my eyes no trace of either
the bull or the cow.
Bull Cave shows
that, while Aboriginal rock art should be brought to public notice, it
must be guarded from those who would destroy it. In harmony with the
opinion of most Aboriginal groups consulted, officialdom’s answer to the
paradoxical need both to advertise and protect rock art is to excise the
majority of sites from public awareness while drawing attention to a
selected few sites. This simultaneous concealing and select revealing
can be seen in the A.C.T. in the Aboriginal rock art policy of Namadgi
National Park and the Ngambri people associated with it. At Yankee Hat
Mountain in the Park (Photo 6) there is an impressive Aboriginal
painting under the overhang of a massive boulder (Photo 7). Although
this site is currently closed due to the severe bushfire in the area
last summer, in normal years the public is encouraged to visit the site.
On the other hand, public access to the other two major art sites in the
Park is discouraged by the removal of official references to the sites
and the obliteration of the pathways to them. Visits to these sites are
not forbidden but are made very difficult. Only those who are prepared
to do sustained research in the relevant academic literature together
with a willingness to undertake serious bush-bashing will be able to
Environmental and heritage authorities in New
South Wales, Victoria and South Australia follow the same rock art
policy as the A.C.T. The Northern Territory and Queensland also follow
this policy as well as putting rock art in those places where it is a
part of a living tradition under the custodianship of recognised
Aboriginal communities. Tasmania both follows a concealment policy and
gives control of rock art sites to Aboriginal groups. I am very doubtful
about Western Australia where mining companies seem to be able to do as
they like with rock art sites.
I personally agree
whole-heartedly with the policy of concealing and selectively revealing
art sites and of giving control over them to Aboriginal groups where
relevant. Two of the sites which I’m discussing today, one of which is
Bull Cave, are not marked. The others are open to visitors,
well-signposted and easy to reach after a short walk.
Once one arrives at
an Aboriginal rock art site, whether one with paintings or one with
engravings, three questions naturally arise:
How old are
What do they
do they have for contemporary life?
As far as age
is concerned, it is very difficult to date Aboriginal rock art unless
there is documentation of use. For example, the archaeologist Josephine
Flood, then with the Australian Heritage Commission, conducted an
excavation at the base of the Yankee Hat rock art site in Namadgi
National Park. According to radiocarbon dating of charcoal found at the
lowest level of her excavation,
settlement at the Yankee Hat site dated back
some 700 years.
The radiocarbon dating, of course, gives only the date of oldest
occupation of the site. It says nothing about the age of the paintings
there. This brings up another problem with dating an Aboriginal art
site. All evidence, drawing from practices where rock art is a living
tradition, is that rock paintings and engravings played a role in
initiations and other ceremonies. They were, therefore, periodically
renewed, added to and changed. This makes dating difficult. Many
specialists in Aboriginal rock art have tried to cope with this by
arriving at an estimated date through the identification of overlying
images, alterations in paints and pigments and changes in style.
To the best of my knowledge, there is only
one rock art site in south-eastern Australia that can be more or less
precisely dated. That is the rock engraving protected by orange plastic
fencing behind a historical Aboriginal mission church and manse at the
corner of Adina and Elaroo Avenues in the Sydney suburb of La Perouse
(Photo 8). The engraving depicts a front-facing man, with a boomerang in
his left hand, about to hurl his spear from his raised right hand
(Photos 9 and10) at a kangaroo with its head turned toward the man
(Photos 11 and 12).
According to the
memories of eye-witnesses, this engraving was produced in 1931.
Furthermore, probably uniquely in our part of Australia, the names of
the engravers are known. They were Burt Tambar, Bob Simms and Jack
Simms- all members of the La Perouse Aboriginal community. Despite some
probably European influences- like the way the kangaroo’s head is turned
back, the engraving is undeniably Aboriginal. Its theme is found in
pre-European Aboriginal engravings and it was made in the traditional
manner of pecking out and then filling in the outline of an image with a
Moving on to the question of meaning, the
significance of Aboriginal rock art is clear in those regions where it
forms a part of a living tradition. However, since most Aboriginal
cultures tend to give layers of meaning to things like rock art that
have intense spiritual power, it is most unlikely that a man or woman in
that culture will reveal any higher level meaning to a person not
properly initiated. A possible example of such layered significance is
provided by the 1931 La Perouse engraving. The inspiration behind the
engraving is given, again on the basis of memory, as being “connected
with the [expected] opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932”.
While this may have been a superficial meaning of the engraving, it is
at least conceivable that the three engravers were motivated by a more
traditional significance. Given the time and place, those concerned may
have thought it best to leave this significance unstated.
When looking for the
meaning of Aboriginal rock art sites in south-eastern Australia it is
important to keep in mind the fact that Aboriginal culture in this area
has seen drastic suppression and dislocation. In the words of an
Aboriginal elder quoted on a sign at Yeddonba Aboriginal Cultural Site
in Chiltern-Mt. Pilot National Park near Beechworth in north-eastern
Victoria (Photo 13): “These rocks have heard voices over thousands of
years. Sometimes in the past our ancestors visited here and chose to
paint on the rocks. We are not sure exactly why they made paintings
here. Knowledge about this site was disrupted by settlers and the gold
rush. We believe the paintings were made to teach people about the
culture. They are important to our community because they remind us that
our people were here a long time ago.”
With regard to the
question of the relevance of Aboriginal rock art for contemporary life,
it seems to me that there are four main answers to the question. First,
for anyone who is associated with an Aboriginal group the art is part of
the ongoing development of that group’s cultural life. Several times,
while visiting an Aboriginal rock art site, I’ve noticed the remains of
small fires. Are these signs of the performance of a ceremony or just
the residue of a picnic. It is impossible to say.
Second, there is the
humanistic relevance of rock engravings and paintings. In addition to
whatever religious or cultural contexts they may have had, many of these
works illustrate the daily lives of their creators and so have a direct
relation to our own lives. For instance, there is the engraving of a man
and a woman at the carefully prepared for public viewing Basin Track
site on West Head in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park (Photo 14). The
male figure has a headdress or hairdo. He holds a boomerang in his left
hand, like the man in the La Perouse site, and a fish (not visible in my
photograph) in his upraised right hand; at his right armpit is a dilly
bag and what may be a fishing line. To his left is the female figure
with her coolamon ready to hold gathered roots and berries. What could
be more relevant to human life in any age than going fishing and doing
the shopping- whether in the bush or a super market. Through this
engraving the modern viewer can feel a human identity with these figures
from the past. The figure lying on its back below the man and woman
seems to belong to an unrelated set of engravings. This figure is
wearing a belt like the shark at Mackenzies Point.
Third is the
artistic relevance of Aboriginal rock art. Outside south-eastern
Australia near Laura in Queensland about half way up the Cape York
Peninsula, there is a remarkable series of rock art galleries in the
care of a local Aboriginal organisation. One of these galleries (Photo
15) features a series of male and female spirit figures known as
Quinkan. They qualify as fine art by any standard.
I find the fourth
answer to the question of the relevance of Aboriginal rock art in Carl
Gustav Jung’s concept of the archetype. There are three quotes from
Jung’s work which are especially apt for the contemporary relevance of
rock engravings and paintings in terms of the archetypes:
On page 161 of
Volume 9, Part I of his Collected Works,
The Archetypes and the Collective
Unconscious (Routledge, London:1990 ), Jung says: “[T]he
archetype is always an image belonging to the whole human race and not
merely to the individual…”
That is to say, an
archetype is universal.
And, from page 160
of the same volume: “For the archetype is an element of our psychic
structure and thus a vital and necessary component in our psychic
economy. It represents or personifies certain instinctive data of the
dark, primitive psyche, the real but invisible roots of consciousness.”
In other words, an
archetype stems from the roots of every person’s individual
And, finally, from page 179 of that volume:
“[The archetype] has a potential existence only, and when it takes shape
in matter, it is no longer what it was. It persists throughout the ages
and requires interpreting ever anew. The archetypes are the imperishable
elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.”
So an archetype has
no definite meaning but must be constantly reinterpreted through time.
I take Jung’s
description of the archetype to indicate that the modern observer of
Aboriginal rock paintings or engravings can see and feel in them
archetypes that have a fresh and immediate impact on that observer’s
Before applying Jung’s concept of the
archetype to a work of Aboriginal rock art, it will be useful to find
archetypes in something more familiar like a painting in
Such a painting,
hanging in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, is “Mrs.
Adolphus Sceales with Black Jimmie on Merrang Station” done in 1856 by
Robert Dowling (1827-1886) (Photo 16). At first sight, the painting is
just the depiction of a 19th century land-owning woman Mrs.
Adolphus Sceales- Jane Sceales- clad in the black mourning attire of her
recent widowhood. She has chosen to have included in her portrait scene
her Aboriginal groom Jimmie and her two horses and two dogs. The artist
Robert Dowling has, however, hinted at something deeper in giving his
painting a background of rather surreal clouds, trees and buildings.
This background sets the stage for the perceptive viewer to find a more
archetypal meaning in the picture. Might not Jane Scaeles, gazing from
the right side of the painting into the distance beyond Jimmie, be an
archetypal woman? Could Jimmie, staring into the distance beyond us the
observers, be an archetypal man? Could the pair of them even be in
Jungian terms anima and animus? Are the horses, one held reined in by
Jane and the other by Jimmie, also archetypes? And what of the dogs, one
directing its attention toward Jane and the other looking away from her
toward Jimmie. Are they not also archetypal? They are if they are at the
roots of the observer’s consciousness.
I find an excellent
example of the archetypal content of Aboriginal rock art in a painting
found in a grotto within a gigantic boulder at Bunjil’s Cave Heritage
Site near Stawell in south-western Victoria (Photo 17). This painting
portrays Bunjil, the primary ancestral spirit of several Aboriginal
groups in western Victoria (Photo 18). He is seated cross-legged with
his hands on his hips. He has a belt around his waist like the Basin
Track figure and the Mackenzies Point shark. His body is painted with
designs. With him at his left side is a large dingo facing toward him
and a small dingo turned away from him. No other rock art representation
of Bunjil is known.
According to A.W.
Howitt, who collected and recorded first-hand information about
Aboriginal customs and beliefs in south-eastern Australia in the period
of initial European contact, Bunjil taught his people the arts of life
including the correct way to choose a marriage partner. His son is the
rainbow and he himself became a star in the sky- Fomalhaut in the
constellation Piscis Austrinus in the opinion of some groups and Altair
in the constellation Aquila in the legends of others.
The meaning of
Bunjil’s name gives a further insight to his character. By the mid
decades of the twentieth century, the Aboriginal languages of Victoria
were said to be entirely extinct. The well-known linguist Dr. Luise
Hercus, who was my friend and colleague at the Australian National
University for many years, refused to believe this. She sought out
elderly Aboriginal people in Victoria who still remembered their
traditional language, sometimes fairly completely but often only in
fragments. Many of them had not spoken their language since childhood.
In 1969 Luise’s two volume work
The Languages of Victoria: A Late Survey was published by The
Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra. If Luise had not
done that research and produced that book we would today have very
little knowledge of the indigenous languages of the state of Victoria.
According to Luise’s findings in the Wembawemba language of
north-central Victoria bandjil
means ‘Murray cod’, in the speech of the Madimadi who live in the
western Murray valley in New South Wales and Victoria
bandil is a ‘huge Murray cod’
and in Woiwuru, spoken to the north of Melbourne
bundjil is an ‘eagle-hawk’ or
wedge-tailed eagle. In A.W. Howitt’s book there is the further
information that an expert or learned man could be called ‘bunjil’. So
the spirit called Banjil was an awe-inspiring being.
No doubt, whoever
painted Bunjil and the two dingoes was referring to a myth or story
which is now lost. But to me, ignorant of that myth, the location of the
painting in a cave evokes an archetypal message in which the Bunjil
figure is an archetypal human being- either male or female as there is
no representation of any sexual characteristic- accompanied by two
archetypal dogs. Reminiscent of the Dowling painting, one dog is looking
toward the human figure and the other is looking away. The myth may be
gone but the archetypes behind it remain.
Howitt was the first
to mention the painting of Bunjil in Bunjil’s Cave in these words:
“[O]ne of the Mukjarawaint said that at one time there was a figure of
Bunjil and his dog painted in a small cave behind a large rock in the
Black Range near Stawell, but I have not seen it, nor have I heard of
any one having seen it.”
history of the Bunjil’s Cave painting provides an example of the
vicissitudes undergone by Aboriginal rock art in Australia.
Historians and anthropologists in Victoria
were intrigued by Howitt’s reference to the Bunjil painting, but all
efforts to locate it were unsuccessful. Then, in 1957, researchers
discovered that Bunjil’s Cave was quite well-known to people living in
the Stawell area. As children, some of them said they had played in the
cave and were fascinated by the painting. They thought it was the work
of an itinerant swagman. Furthermore, they said that, as children, they
had touched up the painting but stressed that they did not alter the
Talk about “touching up” naturally aroused
suspicions and great controversy about the authenticity of the Bunjil’s
Cave painting erupted among specialists in Victoria. As a result, in
1979 Bunjil’s Cave was removed from the Victoria Archaeological Survey
site register. One of the key issues in the controversy was the fact
that Howitt had said that there was only one dog in the painting whereas
in the actual painting there are two dogs.
investigations, including pigment tests, caused Bunjil’s Cave to be
reinstated to the Victoria Archaeological Survey site register in 1983.
In 1984 the figure of Bunjil appeared on an Australia Post stamp.
examination of Howitt’s hand-written field notes, it was discovered that
he had said about the cave:
“Bunjil is painted in it and a little dog in each side.” The reference
to only one dog in Howitt’s published account is a mistake. The
statement about the position of the dogs is also wrong but
understandable given that neither Howitt nor the Mukjarawaint man,
identified in Howitt’s notes as John Connolly, had personally visited
Unfortunately, over the years Bunjil’s Cave
was defaced by painted graffiti including racist comments. The graffiti
have been removed, but in some cases by over-painting in black paint
which has also covered a faint human figure drawn in red ochre on the
side of the boulder outside the cave. The cave and its art are now
protected by a sturdy metal fence.
I’d like to close my
talk with another archetypal figure in a work of Aboriginal rock art.
This is a rock engraving off the America Bay Track in Ku-ring-gai Chase
National Park. Like the Bull Cave site which I mentioned earlier, the
way to this engraving site is unmarked. The engraving matches
mythological descriptions of Daramulan, a primary ancestral spirit
commonly found over quite a large part of New South Wales (Photo 19 and
outlined in Photo 20). According to these descriptions, Daramulan, whose
wife is an emu, has an emu-shaped back and only one leg. In an 1873
article William Ridley writes that in the Kamilaroi language, spoken
over an extensive region of north-east New South Wales, the word for
‘thigh’ is durra and the word
for ‘one’ is māl so that
Daramulan, taking –an as a
grammatical suffix, would mean ‘one-thighed’.
In further information about him given by Howitt,
Daramulan had a role similar to Bunjil’s and gave the laws by which his
people live. Like Bunjil, it is said that Daramulan is a star, in his
case Alpha Crucis in the Southern Cross. The rest of the Southern Cross
constellation is the head of Daramulan’s emu wife. In addition to the
America Bay Track portrayal, several other rock engravings of Daramulan
in the Sydney area are known.
In the photograph,
Daramulan’s head with his open, beak-like mouth is to the bottom of the
photo and his single leg is to the top. On the back of his head is a
horn- or feather-like projection. Further down his body is an arm with a
hand and fingers. His back is rounded like an emu’s. Further down is a
belt, linking him with the painting of Bunjil, the Basin Track figure
and the Mackenzies Point shark. Below the belt is what may be a bladder
connected to his penis. At his ankle is an ankle band and below that the
single foot. Below the foot is a crescent-shaped object. This object may
be what Ridley called a “sacred wand” known as Dhūrumbūlum by groups on
the Namoi and Barwon Rivers in north-central New South Wales.
This Dhūrumbūlum may well be the bullroarer associated with Daramulan by
many Aboriginal groups.
While it may seem
very strange that Daramulan has only one leg, one-leggedness is a
feature found in other traditions. For instance, the Hindu deity Shiva
is sometimes depicted as having only a single leg.
I think that if Jung
had seen this image it would have made a very strong impression on him
as an archetype. It certainly makes that impression on me.
III. Further Reading:
There are three books which I would recommend
to anyone interested in Aboriginal rock art:
information about Aboriginal culture at European contact:
The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (Aboriginal Studies Press,
about Aboriginal rock art in all parts of Australia:
The Riches of Ancient Australia
(University of Queensland, St. Lucia:1990).
For information both about Aboriginal
cultural life and rock art in the Sydney region:
Sydney’s Aboriginal Past:
Investigating the archaeological and historical records (University
of New South Wales Press, Sydney:2010).
For information about Bull Cave see:
The Riches of Ancient Australia
(University of Queensland, St. Lucia:1990), p. 312.
Perouse mission Church”, p. 5
The Native Tribes of South-East
Studies Press, Canberra:1996 ), pages 489ff.
history of the painting at Bunjil’s Cave is related on pages
246-263 of Cage of Ghosts
by Jon Rhodes (Darkwood, N.S.W.:2018).
“Australian Languages and Traditions” in
The Journal of the Anthropological
Institute of Great Britain and Ireland,
Vol. 2 (1873), pages 285, 287.
The Native Tribes of South-East
Australia, pages 494ff.
William Ridley, “Australian Languages and Traditions”, page 281.
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