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Your guide to the rock art of the Kimberley

Cultural Experience - Rock Art

Nestled in the far northwestern corner of Australia, the Kimberley region is a spectacular canvas of rugged landscapes, azure waters, and hidden treasures. This ancient landscape has been home to the traditional owners of the land for thousands of years, so many of the escarpments and caves are home to a myriad of different forms of Aboriginal rock art.

This Kimberley rock art is not just an artistic expression; it’s a narrative of the deep connection between the land and its traditional owners. Through the different styles and subjects depicted in these ancient artworks, we gain invaluable insights into the rich history that has shaped this region for over 60,000 years.

As visitors to the region, we can’t speak to the specific sites — nor would we want to! These sites and stories belong to the traditional owners of the land. But we can show you some of the different types of Kimberley rock art you might get a chance to see on one of our small ship cruises.

We also have not used any imagery of the actual rock art out of respect for the traditional owners.

The ancient canvas of the Kimberley

The Kimberley, with its vast horizons, rugged ranges, and crystal-clear waterways, serves as a grand, living gallery for the ancient artworks that it houses.

As we venture into this ancient canvas, we’re not merely observers of art; we’re participants in a story that stretches back thousands of years. Kimberley rock art is not static; it’s a dynamic form of storytelling, where the ochres and charcoals, the intricate carvings, and the bold figures speak of the lives, beliefs, and environments of the Aboriginal artists who created them.

From the towering escarpments to the secluded caves, the Kimberley’s natural landscape not only frames this art; it becomes part of the narrative itself. Estimates suggest that there are tens of thousands of rock art sites across the Kimberley. These sites vary widely in scale and complexity, and are more than just artistic expression; they are a vital part of the Aboriginal cultural heritage and identity.

Types of Kimberley rock art

Each type of rock art found in the Kimberley serves as a unique narrative thread, weaving together the stories of a people deeply connected to their environment, their ancestors, and the cosmos.

Some of the types of Kimberley rock art you’ll find in the region include…

Gwion Gwion (Bradshaw Figures)

The Gwion Gwion stand as silent sentinels of the Kimberly’s past, their elegantly detailed depictions offering a window into a world of complex social structures and rich ceremonial life.

These figures, adorned in intricate attire and often depicted in dynamic poses, suggest a society that celebrated ritual, dance, and the spiritual connection between humans and the natural world. The sophistication of the Gwion Gwion art, with its fine lines and detailed ornamentation, reflects a culture of deep artistic expression and spiritual depth.


The cloud and rain spirits revered by the Aboriginal people of the Kimberley, the Wandjina are depicted with strikingly bold features: large, haloed heads, eyeless faces, and a presence that fills the rock shelters and caves where they reside.

These powerful ancestral beings, creators of the land and its weather patterns, are central to the region’s Aboriginal dreamtime, Lalai. The Wandjina paintings, with their white figures and sometimes intricate backgrounds of rain and lightning motifs, are a living part of the landscape, continually repainted and cared for by the custodians of the land to ensure the Wandjina’s protective and life-giving powers continue.

Petroglyphs (Rock Engravings)

Petroglyphs offer a different yet equally compelling insight into the ancient life of the Kimberley. Carved into the rock with great skill and patience, these engravings depict a wide range of subjects, from animal tracks and human figures to complex geometric patterns.

These petroglyphs tell stories of the daily life, the fauna of the region, and the spiritual practices of its people. The tactile nature of these cavings connects us with the artists, offering a tangible link to those who lived and thrived in the Kimberley thousands of years ago.

Painted Hand Rock Art

These artworks feature stencils or paintings of human hands, often created by blowing ochre around a hand placed against a rock surface. The result is a silhouette that often differs in size and style, and can reflect social structures, age groups, or ceremonial roles.

Static Polychrome

These are distinguished by their multi-coloured appearance and often static, frontal poses. This style is characterised by the use of several pigments to create detailed, vibrant images. Using natural ochres and materials to achieve a variety of hues, these artworks often depict ancestral beings, animals, and mythological creatures.

Other Kimberley rock art

The Kimberley region is also dotted with some less-known types of rock art, each adding to the rich cultural tapestry of the area. These include contact art, which depicts interactions with Europeans, and dynamic figures, showcasing more recent Aboriginal art styles. These varied forms of rock art together create a multifaceted narrative of human presence, resilience, and adaptation in the Kimberley.

Journey into history…

Must See Spots in Kimberley - True North

On the TRUE NORTH, adventure meets heritage. We ensure every visit is respectful and enriching, working closely with local communities. Our small ship cruises offer an intimate glimpse into the rich tapestry of Aboriginal rock art, something not many get to see.

Ready for the ultimate Kimberley experience? Explore our Kimberley cruise itineraries and book your adventure.

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