Travel theme: Art ‘beyond the black stump’

Thirsty tree roots reach deep into the dry riverbed, searching for water

If you have never encountered the term ‘beyond the black stump’ before, you are most likely not from the land down under. Imagine yourself in a place which is extremely distant from habitation, or alternatively, in a remote town at the end of a long and lonely road. In Australia, this is known as being west of (or beyond) the black stump.

The landscape is most likely to be desert and it will be either very hot, very cold (or both in the same day!). At first glance, it may seem lifeless and uninspiring.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

Ailsa donned her backpack and found unexpectedly lovely murals in a train subway in a New York. Her challenge to present other examples of unexpected art will take us to western New South Wales, beyond the legendary black stump!

The place is near a town called Broken Hill. The area is true desert and is extremely beautiful, but at the same time harsh and unforgiving. If you take the time to look carefully, it is amazing what you can find. In particular, in a landscape that is mostly flat, any hills (especially those that have permanent water holes) become a mecca for living things. And that is just what has happened at a place called Mutawintji.

Landscape around Mutawintji – hills rising up out of the desert

Mutawintji is a haven for many species of animals, but particularly birds, and there are an amazing number of beautifully coloured species living in the area. But not only did the reliable water source at this oasis attract animals, it also became an important meeting place for the people who lived in the desert for many eons.

Hand stencils made by spraying ochre with the mouth

These people of yesteryear have left the most remarkable treasures for others to appreciate and enjoy. Paintings decorate protected rock walls in canyons and caves in the cliff sides. These paintings are extremely old, and are just as exquisite as the day they were made.

Detail of ancient Aboriginal hand stencil art

Colours of the ochre paints still show up beautifully despite the immense age of the paintings

Rock engravings of animals such as lizards are common, these were probably a key food source for the people using the area. But the most prominent images are hand stencil prints. The prints were made by spraying  (by mouth) an ochre mixture over a hand placed on the rock. This created a splattered effect and left a clear imprint of the hand. The paintings that remain in modern times are located in sheltered areas, out of the weather – this is how they have survived the ravages of time.

Late afternoon shadows in one of the Mutawintji gorges

Mutawintji is part of a state national park and visitors are welcome, but it is a long way  from most main cities. It has wonderful camping facilities, which is good, because this is the only accommodation available! It is, however, one of the few national park campsites which has a good supply of water (from an artesian bore) and in summer this water is solar heated, so the showers are unexpectedly and wonderfully hot!

The magic of the desert. Sunset casts a golden glow over the landscape

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16 Responses to Travel theme: Art ‘beyond the black stump’

  1. ailsapm says:

    Wow wow wow, this is brilliant, Madoqua. I am fascinated by the human need to create art; those ancient handprints are spectacular. xxx Ailsa


  2. Jo Bryant says:

    You have really made me homesick now


  3. adinparadise says:

    I love rock art. So fascinating. Thanks for sharing. 😉


  4. This is a great post – thanks for sharing!


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