Style, Space and Social Interaction: An Analysis of the Rock Art on Middle Park Station, Northwest Queensland

26th May 2012

This thesis investigates the previously undescribed rock art of Middle Park Station in northwest Queensland. Queensland rock art has been intensively studied over the past four decades, leading to the identification of several distinct art ‘provinces’: central Queensland, Mt Isa, the northern Queensland highlands and Cape York Peninsula. The Middle Park study area is centrally located between these art provinces, and is also situated in an area of ethnographically documented trade routes, making it an ideal setting in which to explore themes such as territoriality, social interaction and ideas exchange. This is achieved through characterisation of the Middle Park rock art assemblage, including analysis of motifs, techniques and their frequencies, and subsequent comparison with those of surrounding regions.

Using GIS to assess site locations, and motif and technique frequencies, a spatial-stylistic approach was adopted at both local and regional levels to identify patterning within the landscape. Application of the principles of the information exchange theory of style then allowed conclusions to be drawn from this data regarding territorial behaviour and inter-group interaction. It was argued that, despite superficial stylistic similarities, the northern Queensland highlands, of which Middle Park is a part, cannot be considered merely an extension of the Central Queensland Province, owing to distinctly different motif ranges and technique frequencies. Further, owing to distinct stylistic and technical disparities within their rock art assemblages, it was deemed highly unlikely that there was contact with groups from the adjacent Cape York or Mt Isa regions.

Analysis of material culture and hand variations present within the Middle Park rock art assemblage was also undertaken to complement ethnographic information and extend our knowledge of traditional lifeways. A range of boomerangs, shields, spear throwers and digging sticks were identified, and through ethnographic analogy it was concluded that the majority of artefacts depicted were associated with hunting or fighting. Hand stencil variations were also present, though examination indicates that suggestions by others that they represent sign language among groups in the Middle Park area as recorded ethnographically cannot be supported. Closer consideration of such motifs using digital image enhancement indicated that people bearing cultural hand mutilations were present in the study area.

Victoria Wade
Dec 2010
Thesis Abstracts
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