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MeMoirs OF THE
Queensland MuseuM
Cultural Heritage series
21 June 2004
McNiven I.J., David, B., Brady, L. & Brayer, J. 2004 06 21: Kabadul Kula rock-art site,
Dauan Island, Torres Strait. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Cultural Heritage Series
3(1): 227-255. Brisbane. ISSN 1440-4788.
This paper presents the first systematic recording of a rock-art site in Torres Strait. The site is
known as Kabadul Kula and is located on Dauan Island in the Top Western Islands of the
Strait adjacent to the Papua New Guinea coast. Kiwai raiders from Papua painted the site
prior to killing and beheading a number of Dauan Islanders according to local oral history.
This associated story is consistent with ethnographically documented ritual preparations by
Kiwai warriors for headhunting raids. Kabadul Kula was recorded by digital and
conventional (film) photography and selected tracings. Computer enhancement of digital
images of faded and nearly effaced paintings revealed images unrecognisable to the naked
eye. 44 paintings represented by anthropomorphs, marine animals, canoes and
non-figurative motifs were recorded. Most significant is a unique painting of a dancer
wearing a fish headdress similar to headdresses made from panels of turtleshell in the 19th
Century. Differential weathering and variations in the form of paintings across the site
suggest a number of painting episodes. The age of the earliest paintings at the site is
unknown. Rainfall runoff and termite nest growth continues to damage the paintings.
Kabadul Kula is a ‘special place ’ in the cultural landscape of Dauan Islanders. pRock-art,
digital enhancement, Dauan Island, Kiwai, Torres Strait.
Ian J. McNiven (e-mail:, Bruno David & Liam Brady,
School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria,
3800, Australia; John Brayer, Department of Computer Science, University of New Mexico,
Albuquerque, NM, 87131-1386, USA.; received 3 June 2001.
Torres Strait has a visually spectacular cultural
heritage, as revealed by its elaborate dance
paraphernalia and its internationally recognised
prize-winning artists such as Dennis Nona and
Alick Tipoti (Mosby & Robinson, 1998). While
museums with Torres Strait material culture col-
lected by 19th Century mariners and anthropologists
such as Alfred Haddon are a tacit acknowledgement
of the international interest in this rich artistic
heritage, understanding its historical roots is more
difficult. Perhaps the best way to understand early
Torres Strait Islander artistic traditions before
historical records were made is through
researching the region’s abundant but hitherto
little publicised rock-art heritage. We present the
first systematic recording of a rock-art site in
Torres Strait. The site is located on Dauan Island
in the Top Western Islands and is known locally
as Kabadul Kula (Fig. 1). It is the largest and most
complex rock-art site known for Torres Strait and
the best documented in terms of its Islander
meanings and significance. Our work is part of a
long-term project to document rock-art sites from
across Torres Strait and to see if long-term
developments in island polities and inter-island
and island-mainland alliances and trade
connections can be investigated via temporal
variations in the geographical spread of artistic
conventions. This research requires detailed
recordings of rock-art sites and we begin this
process with Kabadul Kula on Dauan Island.
The Dauan Rock-Art Project developed out of
the Torres Strait ‘Culture Site Documentation
Project’ (CSDP) 1996-1998 (McNiven & David,
2001; McNiven, Fitzpatrick & Cordell, this
volume). A key finding of the CSDP was that
many sites in Torres Strait are threatened by
natural and human processes of destruction. In
particular, rock-art sites were identified as
requiring urgent attention, and recommendations
were made that a detailed rock-art recording/
management program should be started for the
region. These recommendations were developed
in part after one of us (IM) was taken to Kabadul
Kula by Ibraham Binawel of Dauan Island in
September 1998. Various issues of recording and
management were discussed on-site with
particular attention paid to the impact of rain
runoff, surface exfoliation and termite nest
accretion upon preservation of the paintings. As a
result of the desire of various senior Dauan
community members to have the site recorded in
detail and to have management options
developed for the site, the Dauan Rock-Art
Project was conceived and an AIATSIS grant
successfully obtained in 1999. Fieldwork took
place over 1 week in April 2000 (McNiven et al.,
2001, 2002).
Dauan Island is in N Torres Strait, 10km S of
the PNG coast (Figs 1, 2). It consists of a granite
boulder-field mountain fringed in various parts
by a narrow zone of grassy flats and mangrove
forests. Today, as in the past, the main village site
is located on the NE coast. An extensive flat area
of fertile colluvial sediments that once supported
extensive gardens backs the NW coast. One of
the first recorded European visits to the island
was in July 1871 by the London Missionary
Society. This is an extremely important moment
in the religious history of Dauan and every year
festivities are held in its commemoration.
Published ‘information about the ethnography of
this island is very meagre’(Haddon, 1935: 41-43).
In terms of socio-cultural grouping, Dauan is
FIG. 1. Torres Strait.
linked to the muddy islands of Boigu to the west
and Saibai to the east to form what is referred to
today as the Top Western Islands of Torres Strait.
Community members of all 3 islands speak Kala
Kawaw Ya, a dialect of the western language of
Torres Strait (Shnukal, 1998: 186). Today, most
people speak Creole (‘Broken’) amongst them-
selves and English to outsiders. Headhunting was
still a feature of life (and death) on Dauan until
the end of the 19th Century, and raids by the
Marind-Anim (‘Tugeri’) of West Papua were
dreaded by all Top Western communities.
However, not all interactions with Papuans were
hostile and strong kinship and trade ties existed
between many coastal Papuans and Top Western
Islanders (Lawrence, 1994; McNiven, 1998).
Despite an international boundary, many of these
friendly ties continue to the present under the
‘Torres Strait Treaty’(Joint Committee, 1979). In
the past, Dauan Islanders obtained food principally
from gardening (yams, sweet potatoes, taro,
cassava, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts) and
from fishing and hunting turtle and dugong
(Laade, 1971). While hunting and fishing con-
tinues, gardening has dropped off in recent
decades and most produce is now obtained from
the local government-run IBIS grocery store.
Today, the population of Dauan is around 200
people (House of Representatives, 1997: 129)
and the Dauan Island Council administers local
SITE DESCRIPTION. Kabadul Kula is on the
NE coast of Dauan less than 50m from the shore
and less than 5 minutes walk north of the Council
Office (Fig. 3). The rock-art is located under the
overhang of a large biotite granite boulder, which
has a maximum length of 8m and maximum
height of 5.5m. The paintings span the lower
sections of the entire N face of the boulder and the
lower sections of the northern half of the W face
of the boulder (Figs 4, 5). The painted rock walls
face from 325º to 10º. The N face has an overhang
up to 3.5m deep while the W face has an overhang
of less than 0.5m. At the time of recording (late
wet season/early dry season), the boulder was
surrounded by 1-2m-high grass. A large tree is
located at the S end of the boulder where other
granite boulders are also to be found. The site is
home to colonies of green ants and termites. The
central sections of the N side of the boulder
exhibit a large termite nest that is slowly
advancing up the boulder wall over the paintings.
STORY OF SITE. Lawrie (1970: 143-147)
provided a detailed narrative of the story
associated with Kabadul Kula as told by Simona
Naiama on Dauan in October 1968. In summary,
Islander history recalls that a raiding party from
Kiwai Island, located at the mouth of the Fly
River off the PNG coast 140km to the NE, made
the paintings at Kabadul Kula. The raid took
place as a result of Dauan people eating a pig that
belonged to their Papuan neighbours. In revenge,
a message was sent to Kiwai for a group of
Kupamal (fighting men) to attack Dauan.
Landing secretly at Sigain Kup on the NE coast of
Dauan, the Kupamal drew pictures with parma
(red ochre) on the underside of a granite boulder
overhang and tested their strength by trying to
push a nearby boulder into the sea. The next
morning, the Kiwai raiders attacked the village of
Buli, killing many with their stone-headed clubs
(gabagaba) and cutting off their victims’ heads
with bamboo knives (upi). The raiders managed
their escape, but not before a number were killed
by Dauan warriors. On their way home, the Kiwai
raiders were again attacked, first by warriors
from nearby Saibai Island and then by warriors
from Mawata on the Papuan coast. Only one
canoe-load of Kupamal made it back home.
FIG. 3. General view of Kabadul Kula (looking S).
FIG. 2. Oblique aerial photo of Dauan Island, 2000
(looking NW).
our discussions with many membersof the Dauan
community, it is clear that Kabadul Kula is con-
sidered a ‘special place’ and has strong cultural
significance for the entire Dauan community.
(1963: 52, 54, pl. D) provided the first published
description of the site. He noted that the ‘main
group of drawings consists of a geometrical
pattern and a number of anthropomorphic
figures’. The geometric motifs are represented by
‘two sets of concentric ellipses, confined within a
circle approximately 18 inches in diameter’
(Beckett, 1963: 54). He suggested that while
these geometric motifs were ‘closely similar to
the koima shoulder scarification’ documented by
Haddon (1912a: 24-25), their significance was
‘obscure’. The ‘grotesque’ figure of what ‘appears
to be a female’ human was thought by Beckett to
be ‘a representation of the mythical dogai’ which
he recorded as a ‘harmless, comical figure’ that
was ‘not the centre of any cult activity’ (1963: 52,
54). In terms of the site’s meanings to the local
community, Beckett (1963: 54) could not ‘discover
any traditions concerning its origin’.
In addition to recording the story of Kabadul
Kula, Lawrie (1970) provided 2 colour photo-
graphs of the site. Laade (1971: xxi, pl. 2a)
provided a black and white photograph of the
dogai’ painting at Kabadul Kula. He referred to
the site as ‘Kupamau Parma Kula’ (pl. 2a, map 4)
[alt. Kupamau Parmal Kula] which translates as
‘the Kupam person's [Kupamau] red-ochred
[Parmal] stone/rock [Kula]’, i.e. ‘the stone/rock
that has (a) Kupam person's red ochre on it’ (Rod
Mitchell, pers. comm.). Vanderwal (1973: 182)
noted that 1 of the paintings is a figure
‘suspected’ to be a ‘representation of the mythical
plan showing the location of all paintings on the
rock wall was made, numbering each painting
from 1 to 44. This plan subsequently was fine-
tuned by tracing photographs of paintings (Fig.
6). In addition, 2 paintings were traced directly
from the rock wall onto clear plastic sheets
(dogai [painting #1] & crayfish [painting #31]).
These were then reduced by photocopy and
digitally retraced for report and publication
FIG. 4. Kabadul Kula site plan (the relative location of
paintings #1 [navel star only], #5, #22 and #31 are
shown on the underside of the northern overhang).
FIG. 5. Kabadul Kula cross-section (relative location
of the right ear tip and navel star of painting #1
photographed systematically with 2 Nikon
Coolpix 950 digital cameras, and selectively with
conventional SLR cameras (slide film). First,
general photographs of the entire site were taken.
Second, the entire rock surface taking in the
paintings was photographed in a series of 14
overlapping panels. These panel photographs
provide contextual information on the relative
location of paintings. Furthermore, they include
areas in between observable paintings where no
rock-art was readily apparent, but which may
potentially reveal ‘hidden’ paintings once subject
to computer enhancement. The third series of
close-up photographs focused on individual and
sets of neighbouring paintings (Fig. 7). Close-up
photographs were taken both with and without
standard IFRAO photography scales. To preclude
damage to the paintings, the scales were never
adhered to the rock wall, but were rather attached
to a long, thin grass stem and held up against the
rock surface adjacent to the part of the rock wall
targeted for photography. A total of 359 digital
images was taken of Kabadul Kula and saved
onto CD-Rom.
paintings at the site are very faded, while some
areas of rock wall reveal traces of red pigment
suggestive of painting. To increase our ability to
define the original form of paintings, all faded
and nearly effaced paintings were enhanced using
Adobe Photoshop 5.0. In all cases enhancement
was systematically applied to the overall photo.
Examples of enhanced images appear in
McNiven et al. (2000), while a detailed discussion
of the methods and theory of the digital
enhancement of rock-art is provided by David et
al. (2001).
FIG. 6. Kabadul Kula rock-art showing relative location of numbered paintings, in two panels. A, ‘main’ panel. B,
‘marine’ panel.
PIGMENTS. All of the paintings have been made
using a red pigment that most likely is an
inorganic, earth ochre. Variations in the darkness
of the red colouring appear to result largely, if not
entirely, from variations in the thickness of
applied paint and degrees of fading (weathering).
appear to have been applied with a brush. The
thinness of some lines indicates that some
brushes were very narrow. No evidence of dry
pigment drawing or wet pigment stenciling was
observed. Paintings were done using an outline/
linear or a solid infill technique. Thin lines were
used to create the outline/linear motifs.
red ochre (known as parma on Dauan) have been
observed on Dauan by present day community
members, and were sampled by us for a future
Torres Strait pigment sourcing project. While it is
possible that the Kiwai raiders used local ochres
to execute the paintings at Kabadul Kula, it is also
possible that they brought with them their own
supply of ochre given that Haddon (1912b: 388)
identified Kiwai as an ochre source (McNiven &
David, this volume).
MOTIFS. 44 paintings were identified at
Kabadul Kula (Table 1). Of these, 18 (41%) are
indeterminate — that is, the images are too faded
to determine their forms, even after enhancement.
The indeterminate pictures are not discussed
below. Of the 26 (59%) determinate paintings, a
range of anthropomorphs, zoomorphs, canoes
and geometric designs have been identified. The
shapes of 12 hitherto indeterminate paintings
(27% of the painted corpus) were revealed by
digital enhancement.
DOGAI. A single representation of a dogai
occurs at Kabadul Kula (painting #1). It is the
FIG. 7. Recording Kabadul Kula in April 2000 (left: Garrick Hitchcock; center: Bruno David; right: Ian
only known painting of a dogai in Torres Strait.
The dogai painting is one of the most obvious at
the site and is relatively clear in appearance (i.e.,
relatively unfaded) (Figs 8, 9). The painting exhibits
the characteristic large ears of the dogai that it
wraps around itself to sleep. It also exhibits ribs
that may represent emaciation or an x-ray style of
representation. A 4-pointed star with a circle in
the middle is located in the navel region. The
identification of the painting as a dogai was
confirmed following discussions with senior
members of the Dauan community and is
consistent with oral information collected in the
late 1960s by Laade (1971). Dogai are spiritual
beings that invariably take the form of women
and are ‘ugly’ and often with ‘hideous features’
(Haddon et al., 1904: 353; Laade, 1971: xxi).
They ‘lived in stones, or trees, or underground
[sometimes in caves]. They could impersonate
living women. Most dogai were evil and all were
greatly feared’ (Lawrie, 1970: 257; contra
Beckett, 1963). They are a feature of the Western
and Central Islands of Torres Strait. Dogai tend to
be seen as mischievous and even murderous and
numerous stories tell of men trying to harm or kill
dogai for wrong doings (Haddon et al., 1904:
353-354; Lawrie, 1970: 65-67, 101-104, 218). A
‘white dogai’ on Gebar Island 40km S of Dauan
is ‘tall and skinny, with a face like a flying-fox.
She had long teeth and big ears; indeed, her ears
were so big that when she lay down to sleep, she
could use one as a mat and the other as a cover to
keep her warm’ (Lawrie, 1970: 257; Haddon et
al., 1904: 354). Many people in Torres Strait
speak of the Gebar dogai with trepidation. On
Dauan, dogai ‘were said to speak a confused
gabble of the Island tongue’ (Lawrie, 1970: 128).
Kiwai peoples on the N coast of Torres Strait
also had knowledge and fear of dogai. Lyons
(1921: 436) noted that the people from around the
Binaturi and Oriomo Rivers have a ‘monster
called Orio-goruhu (literally, one who eats food
in a raw state). As the following description
reveals, this creature is akin to what Islanders call
This creature is of the female sex, having big tusks and
“ears as big as blankets,” as my informants told me. She
seeks her victims chiefly amongst the women of the tribe,
whom she devours after tearing them to pieces. She makes
her home amongst the rocks in the hills on the islands of
Torres Strait, as well as in the caverns of the ridges to be
found between the sea coast and the Fly River. She moves
about quickly at night and sleeps during the day. I was
informed that some years ago it was usual for old
tribesmen to warn young men who were proceeding to
FIG. 9. Dogai (painting #1, based on tracing).
FIG. 8. Dogai (painting #1).
work in the Torres Strait fisheries “to look out along
Orio-goruhu, plenty he stop along hills on the Queensland
Islands” (of Torres Strait) (Lyons, 1921: 436).
The star-shape painted on the dogai at Kabadul
Kula is reminiscent of a similar star shape
recorded on a 19th Century bamboo tobacco pipe
from Torres Strait(Haddon, 1912b: figs 324, 370;
Haddon & Rivers, 1904: fig. 20) (Fig. 10A). No
details are given as to the significance of this
design. A similar 4-point star, known as titui in
the local language, is found on a wooden comb
from Mabuiag (Haddon, 1912b: 362). Four-point
naval stars also feature in carvings from the
Papuan Gulf to the NE (Fig. 10B,C). While the
significance of this motif is not known, the
carved wooden anthropomorph in Fig. 10B is
described as a ‘rain god’ (Holmes, 1902: pl. 41).
The star-shape on the Kabadul Kula dogai is
also reminiscent of similar designs on gari ritual
paraphernalia from the SE West Papuan coastal
area of the Marind-Anim, to the immediate NW
of Torres Strait (van Baal, 1966: pl. 9). The gari
headdress in this region represents ‘the image of
the sky, a big white arc about 3 metres in
diameter’, although smaller oblong versions also
exist (van Baal, 1966: 239). It is not uncommon
for the morning star to be represented on
Marind-Anim gari (van Baal, 1966: 357), an
observation that may be relevant to the meaning
behind the Dauan star depiction given the formal
similarities of imagery and frequent contacts
between the Marind-Anim and NW Torres Strait
Islanders through headhunting raids as well as
through trade. In this context, certain stars of
Ursus Major were recognised as culturally
significant on Mer in eastern Torres Strait:
The seven chief stars of the Bear form the body of the
shark and two small stars which in our customary
representation form part of the mouth of the bear … were
its eyes. Gemma was at the extremity of the ventral
tail-fin. There is some doubt about the inclusion of
Arcturus in the constellation. According to one account
this star forms the extremity of the dorsal tail-fin [of the
Mer Shark constellation, known as Beizam] but it also had
a special name Dògai representing a being believed to
have much influence on the weather in the north-east
season by swinging the tail of the shark (Rivers, 1912:
On Mabuiag, the stars Vega and Altair are
known as Dògai wauralaig and Dògai kulilaig,
respectively (Rivers, 1912: 221-222). In S Torres
Strait, the Kaurareg recall that the 2 stars
‘represent the mythological figure Dhogai,a
devil-women who "gathers every tucker from the
sea and puts him in once place"’ (Southon et al.,
1998: 225). Among the Islanders of Mer, the stars
Vega and Altair are 2 brothers — narbet and
keimer. Haddon (1908a: 271-272) noted, of the
Eastern Islands of Torres Strait:
Dogai is a star that rises in the north-east. It is believed to
be very powerful during the period when the north-east
wind, naiger, blows (i.e. from October to the end of
December), since, as they say, it destroys fish, more
especially octopus, arti, on the fringing reef …
When he is situated at the tail of the constellation Beizam,
in January, he swings the shark’s tail and thus causes the
very high tides, erosia, which occur at night, and
sometimes they break down fences and houses along the
beach …
Mr Bruce gives the following free translation: “The star
Dogai causes the high night-tides to come from the sea,
and when the surges from the breakers strike the beach
they spread out over the low ground above high-water
mark, then they flow back and rejoin the sea, and once
more they separate.”
Haddon (1908a: 272) related some of these
understandings to similar but slightly different
beliefs and ritual practices of the Western
Islanders. The association of at least some dogai
FIG. 10. Star shape, formally similar to the one found
on the Kabadul Kula dogai, recorded on various late
19th and early 20th Century artifacts from Torres
Strait and the Papuan Gulf. A, from bamboo tobacco
pipe from Torres Strait – redrawn from Haddon &
Rivers, 1904: fig. 20. B, flat wooden figure from the
Papuan Gulf – redrawn from Holmes, 1902: pl. 41. C,
flat wooden gope board from Papuan Gulf – redrawn
from Lewis, 1931: pl. 15).
FIG. 11. Anthropomorph with headdress (paintings
#23 & #24). A, photo before enhancement. B,
photo after enhancement. C, tracing from
enhanced photo.
or dogai-related beliefs with specific stars and
constellations is clear, and the Kabadul Kula
dogai with star painting depicted in its navel area
may well refer to such an association. Further-
more, the association between stars and weather
is seen in Torres Strait and the Papuan Gulf (‘rain
god’ - Fig. 10B). While the significance of this
shared star-weather symbolism is unknown, it
indicates strong cultural links between Torres
Strait and the Papuan Gulf
The form of paintings #23 and #24 only became
apparent following digital enhancement (Fig.
11). Painting #24 is an anthropomorph with arms
spread out to the sides (bent at elbows) and
slightly splayed legs with large feet. Located
immediately above its head is a representation of
a fish headdress (painting #23), a characteristic of
western Torres Strait ceremonial paraphernalia.
These headdresses were made from panels of
hawksbill turtleshell tied together with chord.
Farr (1987: 17) noted that Torres Strait ‘tortoise-
shell sculpture is the most accomplished in the
world’ and detaileddescriptions and photographs
of most ethnographically known Torres Strait
turtleshell masks are found in Fraser (1978).
Haddon (1912c: 298-304) identified 5 major
categories of turtleshell masks/headdresses in
Torres Strait:
1) small masks (‘visors’) which cover only the
upper part of the face;
2) masks representing a human face;
3) masks representing a complete animal (with or
without a human face);
4) masks representing an animal’s head (with or
without a human face);
5) masks with a box surmounted by an animal.
Fish headdresses fall into Haddon’s third
category of masks, which he divided into 2 sub-
types. Subtype (a) headdresses represent large
fish — either king fish or sharks (including
shovel-nosed sharks). They often have a
cylindrical feature located beneath the fish’s
body into which the head of the wearer is
inserted. As such, the body of the fish sits on top
of the wearer’s head. Subtype (b) headdresses
represent large fish (mostly king fish or sharks)
surmounted either by a human face (sometimes
with human arms) or a ‘projecting human figure’.
Haddon mentioned only 1 example of a
headdress with a full human figure mount — the
‘Iabur mask’ from Mabuiag. He obtained a
representation of the mask (drawn by Joani)
during his visit to Mabuiag in 1898 (Fig. 12). For
Haddon, the form of the fins and the long jaws of
the fish were more suggestive of a ‘gar-pike
(Belonidae)’ (also known as a long-tom).
Another variant of subtype (b) is provided by a
mask from Naghir Island (collected by Haddon in
1888), which exhibits a fish body/tail with the
head of a crocodile. Some subtype (b) masks
have a protruding cylinder for the wearer’s head
or simply an enlarged body area into which the
wearer’s own head is inserted. In the latter case,
the body of the fish sits more on the wearer’s
shoulders (Fig. 12).
Joani’s drawing is important for our interpretation
of the painted headdress at Kabadul Kula. In terms
of the representational style of the headdress,
both the drawing and painting reveal a large fish
with fins and open mouth (pointing to the left)
whose length is approximately the same as that of
the height of the wearer. The mouth in both fish
images is held open by a stick and the nose of the
fish is surmounted by a ‘figure called Malu’ on
the drawing while the rock painting also exhibits
a nose mount (albeit of indeterminate form).
While the Iabur mask is surmounted by a male
human figure ‘named Iabur’, the Kabadul Kula
headdress is surmounted by a triangular object
that is highly reminiscent of the triangular mount
fringed by cassowary feathers on a 19th Century
FIG. 12. ‘Man wearing the Iabur mask, drawn by Joani
of Mabuiag’ in 1898 (excerpt from Haddon, 1912c:
fig 257).
turtleshell headdress from Torres Strait in the
Melbourne Museum (Fig. 13).
The positioning of the painted headdress on top
of the (nondescript) head of the painted figure is
consistent with the cylindrical headmounts used
on many fish headdresses. The 4-pronged tassel
positioned on the right side of the painted figure
under the arm is very similar to the 4-pronged
tassels hanging from the tail of the Iabur mask
drawing. These tassels may represent clusters of
large goa nut shells (Pangium edule) that are
used as dance rattles in Torres Strait (Haddon,
1912d: 272; Wilson, 1993: 126) and which adorn
many 19th Century turtleshell masks from the
region (Fraser, 1978).
A significant feature of Joani’s drawing is the
representational style of the wearer of the mask.
The outstretched arms with bent elbows and open
fingers and splayed legs with large feet and open
toes is essentially identical to the style of the
painted headdress wearer at Kabadul Kula. These
similarities reveal a common representational
style for the way Torres Strait Islanders, at least
on Mabuiag and Dauan, graphically depicted
men wearing turtleshell headdresses.
anthropomorphic head (painting #5) (and possibly
associated torso — partly represented by painting
#10) with a large lens-shaped motif reminiscent
of a shield (given its relative size and location in
relation to the anthropomorph) (painting #4)
were identified following enhancement of an
area of indeterminate lines and ochre patches
(Fig. 14). The head exhibits short, spiked hair,
large eyes with concentric circles, a nose whose
outline extends up across the forehead, and a very
large mouth with large jagged teeth. This style of
facial/head representation has not been recorded
for Torres Strait. If the lens-shaped object is a
shield, it too would be unique — both in terms of
graphic representation and the simple fact that
shields have never been recorded as items of
material culture for Torres Strait or the adjacent
mainland coasts (e.g., Haddon, 1935; Wilson,
1993). These paintings may indicate the
existence of shields in the region in the past and
provide a rare insight into past material culture
use in the region.
anthropomorphs are represented across the lower
central sections of the main painted panel on the
N face of the boulder (paintings # 11, 12, 14, 15,
& 16) (Figs 15, 16). The 2 figures on the left
(paintings #11 & 12) are similar in style,
stick-figures with out-stretched arms and legs.
Painting #11 exhibits small protrusions from the
waist that may represent body decoration (e.g.,
tassels) and brandishes a long, hooked object in
one hand. Painting #12 may also be holding a
long object in one hand and has 3 spikes emanat-
ing from the top of the head, possibly representing
feather tufts. The 3 remaining figures have the
base of their feet resting on a single thin line
FIG. 13. Turtleshell headdress from Torres Strait, pre-1885 (Reproduced courtesy of Melbourne Museum).
FIG. 14. Anthropomorph with shield? (paintings #4, #5 & #10) (Left, photo before enhancement. Right, photo
after enhancement).
FIG. 15. Dancing? anthropomorphs (paintings #11 & #12).
(painting #17). The left figure of the group
(painting #14) is solid infill in form and appears
to have arms spread to the sides with the elbows
pointing upwards. Extending from
the right side of the figure is a
3-pronged motif that is very similar
to the 4-pronged motif extending
from the right side of the figure
with the fish headdress. As such,
the projection may represent a goa
nut dance rattle or some form of
feather tassel. The two remaining
figures (paintings # 15 & 16) on the
right are similar in style and exhibit
solid infill bodies, outstretched
arms and legs, large triangular ears
and large feet similar to that on the
fish headdress figure. Painting #15
features 2 small projections from
the top of the head that again may
represent feather tufts. It is likely
that all 5 figures represent dancers
associated with a ceremony given the alignment
of their bodies, the sense of action shown by
outstretched arms and legs, and body adornments
(rattles? and/or feather tufts?).
Paintings #14-16 are aligned above a long, thin
red line (painting #17) (Fig. 16). This design
convention is also used in a composition drawn
by ‘Sunday of Mabuiag’ and recorded by Haddon
during the Cambridge Anthropological
Expedition to Torres Straits (Herle & Philp, 1998:
44) (Fig. 17). A similar artistic convention of
painting a sequence of anthropomorphs with
small protrusions, aligned along a thin base line
has also been recorded from Goaribari in the Aird
River delta (290km NE of Dauan, and 125km NE
of Kiwai) by Seligmann (1905) in the only known
bark painting from S PNG (now in the British
Museum) (Fig. 18). Basing his interpretations on
a considerable knowledge of local practices rather
than on oral information that directly relates to
this painting, Seligmann (1905: 161) has this to
say about the Goaribari sago frond bark painting:
The ten figures arranged in a series along one edge of the
frond, within the straight line which runs the length of that
edge, probably represent men. That the ten figures less
regularly disposed towards the other edge of the frond also
represent the male human figure seems clear from the fact
that each figure, besides presenting the appropriate genitalia,
wears at the waist behind what is almost certainly a
dancing ornament. This is probably the well-known
ornament made of cassowary feathers and mimicking a
tail, which is common in the Fly delta and throughout the
greater part of the western extremity of the possession
[i.e., the western extremity of what was then known as
British New Guinea, or Papua]. It may be guessed that the
elongation of the head of each individual represents some
feather headdress, so that probably the figures are dancing
or moving in ceremonial procession, but it is certainly not
clear that the objects in the hands of these ten figures are
FIG. 16. Dancing? anthropomorphs (paintings #14,
#15 & #16, left to right, anthropomorphs; painting
#17, thin red line; painting #13, underlying non-
figurative design).
FIG. 17. Excerpt from a drawing by ‘Sunday of Mabuiag’ in 1898 of a
compositions of dancers at Panai (on Mabuiag). Recorded by Haddon
during the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits
(redrawn from photograph of original in Herle & Philp, 1998: 44).
What is of interest here, as with the Haddon
drawing from Mabuiag, is that common artistic
conventions were followed in Dauan, Mabuiag
and in SW PNG, from whence both raiding and
trading parties to the Top Western Islands of
Torres Strait are well documented historically.
the largest, near-complete anthropomorph
observed at Kabadul Kula (Fig. 19). It is located
in the center of the main painted panel on the N
side of the boulder. It features a large solid-infill
body with 2 splayed legs bent at the knees. The
head is proportionately small and exhibits a series
of lines extending from the top that may represent
feather tufts. The anthropomorph does not reveal
Painting #27 is a small and finely executed
anthropomorph with arms outstretched above the
head and legs in a bent, couched position to the
sides (Fig. 20).
Painting #28 was only observed following digital
enhancement (Fig. 21). It features a heart-shaped
face with large concentric circle eyes, a nose and
an indeterminate mouth. It may represent a mask
rather than a face, although indeterminate paint-
ing below the face may represent the weathered
remnants of its body.
CRAYFISH. A single crayfish (kiar)is
represented on the NW side of the boulder. It is
life-size and clearly shows the tail, body, legs and
antenna. The painting was recorded both by
tracing (Fig. 22) and using enhanced digital
photography (Fig. 23). A comparison of the traced
and enhanced images reveals few differences in
detail. This similarity is due to the high contrast
between the paint and the background rock,
making the painting highly visible to the naked
eye. Crayfish paintings are rare in Torres Strait
and have only been recorded at 2 other sites — on
Pulu Islet (adjacent to Mabuiag Island) and
Ngiangu (Booby Is.) (McNiven & David, this
FISH?/DUGONG? Painting #38 is located on the
NW side of the boulder. While not clear in Figure
24, close inspection of the painting reveals a
bulbous creature with a ‘fish’ tail that, because it
lacks fins, may be a dugong. Dugong is a prestige
meat food for northern Aboriginal Australians
and Torres Strait Islanders and considerable ritual
activity is associated with their capture. Dugong
are also clan totems for different island groups
(Haddon, 1935). Dugong paintings are very rare
in Torres Strait with only one previous recording
at the Badane Site on Keriri (Hammond Island)
(McNiven & David, this volume).
FIG. 18. Anthropomorphs painted on a sago frond, Goaribari (Aird River delta) (redrawn from photograph of
original in Seligmann, 1905: pl. 50).
INSECT? Painting #40 is a curious image located
on the NW side of the boulder (Fig. 25). The form
of the painting became clear only after computer
enhancement. It features a triangular body with 2
multi-jointed arms/legs extending from each side
and 2 other possible legs of straight form standing
on a line. Approximately 13 lines (possibly
dashed) emanate from the head area. The overall
form of the image is strongly reminiscent of an
insect; a designation consistent with the suggest-
ion of 6 appendages, 4 of which are multi-jointed.
The only other site in Torres Strait where insect
paintings have been suggested is Frenchman’s
Cave on Murulag (Prince of Wales Island)
(McNiven & David, this volume). One motif is
described as a centipede while a barred oval
motif was described as representing an isopod
based on stylistic similarities with a drawing of
an isopod (in this case an ecto-parasite on sharks)
by Gizu of Mabuiag in 1898 (Haddon, 1912b: fig
307). Haddon (1912b: 349) notes that ‘as far as I
FIG. 19. Anthropomorph (painting #20) and concentric circles (painting #22).
FIG. 20. Anthropomorph (painting #27).
FIG. 21. Anthropomorph face (painting #28). A,
photo before enhancement. B, photo after
enhancement. C, tracing from enhanced photo.
am aware the centipede … is the only terrestrial
invertebrate that is delineated’ on material culture.
Centipede motifs were recorded as cicatrices on
Mer (Murray Island) and the adjacent New
Guinea coast (Haddon, 1912a: 20, 29, figs 15 &
42) and as designs on spears called omaiter or
maid wap ‘employed in nefarious magic’
(Haddon, 1908b: fig 37; 1912b: 349, figs 365 &
366). Insects were food in Torres Strait, such as
the larvae and pupae of ‘Longicorn beetle[s]’
which were eaten raw or cooked in the Western
Islands and male ‘locusts’ which were eaten raw
on Mer on certain religious occasions (Haddon
1912e: 139; 1935: 175, 303).
CANOES. Painting #39 is extremely faded but
retains a number of features consistent with a
representation of a canoe (Fig. 24). Details on
Torres Strait canoes — known as gul (Western
Islands) and nar (Eastern Islands) — are
provided by Haddon (1912f) and Haddon &
Hornell (1937: 193-198) and features consistent
with the painting at Kabadul Kula are as follows.
First, the elongate form of the painting exhibits a
relatively flat top and curved base as found on the
dugout hull of Torres Strait canoes. Second, the
projections on the ends of the hull are consistent
FIG. 22. Crayfish, kiar (painting #31, based on tracing).
FIG. 23. Crayfish, kiar (painting #31). Left, photo before enhancement. Right, photo after enhancement.
with adornments as Haddon & Hornell (1937:
197) note that the canoes were ‘richly decorated
fore and aft’. Paintings #29 and 34 are also
extremely faded, and exhibit end projections and
central features (cf. ‘flags’ and platform) such as
those on canoes depicted by Haddon (1912f).
Painting #37 is reminiscent of a ‘crab-claw’
canoe with sail (see Fig. 24). Crab-claw canoes
are not known ethnographically from Torres
Strait, nor are they known from the Fly River
mouth or from the NW where various forms of
social interaction with Torres Strait Islanders are
known. They are, however, well known from the
ethnographically documented Hiri trade system
of the Papuan Gulf region, over 200km to the
east. This painting may indicate past trade con-
nections between Torres Strait and the Papuan
Gulf or at least Papuan Gulf cultural influences in
Torres Strait.
HUT. Painting #3 is variously faded (Fig. 26).
The upper, less faded part consists of 2 concentric
circles, the center of the outer circle being slightly
pointed at the top; the inner circle is more
rounded with an infilled diagonal line through the
middle. One concentric ellipse is present in, and
on the right hand side of, the inner circle, akin to
painting #22. No ellipse is noticeable on the left
hand side, possibly due to fading. The basal half
of the painting consists of an open rectangle with
a down-curved footing. Contained within this
rectangle is what appears to be an anthropo-
morph. The overall image is reminiscent of a
structure (hut?) with anthropomorph, an image
with no known precedent in Pacific rock-art.
GEOMETRICS. Apart from a range of linear
motifs that in many cases may represent the
remnants of heavily weathered images, the most
distinctive geometric painting at Kabadul Kula is
the large concentric circle image forming
painting #22 (Fig 27; see also Fig. 19). This
painting features an outer circle and an inner
circle that contains 2 concentric ellipses. The
outer circle is bifurcated by a vertical line that
may also bisect the inner circle, but solid infill
makes this assessment impossible to discern. In
terms of the significance of this distinctive motif,
we find Beckett’s (1963) cicatrice hypothesis
compelling. A survey of the myriad of motifs
found on Torres Strait material cultural and used
as body adornment presented in Haddon’s 6
volumes of the Reports of the Cambridge
Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits
published between 1901 and 1935 reveals that
the only motifs resembling the distinctive circle
FIG. 24. Fish?/Dugong? (painting #38, centre) and canoes? (paintings #37 and 39, top and bottom).
FIG. 25. Insect? (painting #40). A, photo before
enhancement. B, photo after enhancement. C,
tracing from enhanced photo.
FIG. 26. Hut? (painting #3). A, photo
before enhancement. B, photo after
enhancement. C, tracing from
enhanced photo from enhanced photo.
and ellipse motif of Kabadul Kula are those used
as cicatrices on shoulders (Haddon, 1912a:
22-27). These scars were known as koimai
(Western Islands) or koima (Eastern Islands), and
were cut either on 1 or both shoulders of men.
Haddon suggests that for Western Islanders the
scars ‘had no special significance’ and that they
were created if a man ‘wanted to look “flash”’.
Alternatively, Eastern Islanders described the
scars as dance decoration and ‘On festive
occasions they painted it red or white’. During his
1888 visit to Torres Strait, Haddon failed to
locate a single Western Islander
with a koimai and saw only 3
Eastern Islanders (Mer Islanders)
with koima (Fig. 28A-C).
Unfortunately, Haddon failed to
record the exact form of koimai of
the Western Islanders but was
informed that male Mabuiag
Islanders of the Dangal (dugong)
and Kaigas (shovel-nosed shark)
clans marked their shoulders with
totem cicatrices. On Dauan,
women’s shoulder scars, while
unlike any of the painting designs,
utilise the form of a stylised nose
to commemorate the death of a
sibling. On Saibai, women’s zig-
zag shoulder designs marked
totemic clan affiliation, though again
no such designs were recorded
amongst the rock paintings. Scars
similar to the paired concentric
oval design of the koima(i) occur
along the adjacent Papuan coast.
For example, Haddon (1912a: 25)
provided examples from Parama
(Bampton Island) and Kiwai Island (Fig. 28D,E)
while Gill (1876: 241) provided an illustration of
a scarred shoulder typical of Mawata village (Fig.
28F). Landtman (1916: 325; 1927: 152, 240)
recorded that centipede cicatrices on the
shoulders of male Kiwai Islanders were often
associated with fighting ‘magic’ and making
boys great warriors. Thus, if the Kabadul Kula
concentric ellipse motif represents cicatrices, it
may be a signifier of ceremonial/dance activity,
fighting magic and/or clan affiliation.
No chronological framework is associated with
the story of the Kiwai raiders and Kabadul Kula.
However, when Captain Pennefather visited
Dauan in December 1879, residents were ‘in
great terror of an expected attack from the New
Guinea men of Kewi [Kiwai]’ (Pennefather,
1879: 5). What seems certain is that the raid
associated with Kabadul Kula must date no later
than the late 19th Century as headhunting raids
had ceased by this time following introduction of
colonial rule over the region.
Three lines of evidence suggest that the
paintings at the site were created by more than 1
painting event. First, a very faded complex
geometric design (painting #13) is superimposed
by clearer and darker red paintings (#14, 15 &
FIG. 27. Concentric circles (painting #22).
FIG. 28. Shoulder cicatrices from Torres Strait and coastal Papua. A-C,
from 3 men from Mer recorded by Haddon in 1888 (after Haddon,
1912a: figs 22-24). D, Bampton Island (after Haddon, 1912a: fig 30). E,
Kiwai Island – left and right shoulder (Haddon, 1912a: fig 31). F,
Mawata village, Papua (after Gill, 1876:241).
17), indicating that the 2 sets of paintings were
created at different times. Second, major differ-
ences in fading between paintings suggest time
differences between paintings. For example,
paintings such as the large concentric circle motif
(painting #22) and the dogai (painting #1) appear
relatively unfaded and to be amongst the more
recent additions to the site. In contrast, heavily
faded paintings such as the anthropomorph with
shield? (paintings #4 & 5) appear to be much
older and represent an earlier phase of painting.
And third, although the NW panel exhibits some
of the most faded paintings at the site, it also
exhibits a different style of painting with no
superimpositions and an emphasis on marine
motifs (e.g., crayfish, canoe and fish/dugong).
Only one marine motif is found in any other part at
Kabadul Kula (painting #29, a possible canoe),
and the location of the marine panel off to the side
of the main protected (northern) panel may
indicate that it is a more recent addition to the site
(see Welsh, 1993 for use of spatial arrangement
of paintings as a form of relative dating). At this
stage, too little information is available to say
definitively whether or not more than 2 painting
events took place at Kabadul Kula, but there are
indications that at least 2 such events are
represented. What also seems clear is that if the
Kawai raiders were the last known painters of the
site (as is likely given a lack of oral tradition of
subsequent artistic activity at this site), then it
already exhibited paintings prior to their arrival.
The Kiwai artists inscribed their own symbols
onto an already marked rock in the Dauan
The only firm methods for establishing the age
of the paintings are:
1) to take tiny samples of paint directly from the
rock wall and radiocarbon date any organic
particles trapped in, above or below the paint
(such as fragments of hair from the original paint
brushes, or oxalates). Dating directly organic
particles associated with the pigment would
result in ‘direct’ dates for the art. Dating organic
materials trapped immediately below and/or
above the pigment would result in indirect,
maximum and/or minimum ages respectively for
the art through microstratigraphic association;
2) undertake a highly controlled and fine-grained
excavation of archaeological sediments below
the paintings and date layers containing spalls
with paint and/or lumps of ochre.
Both these techniques have been successfully
employed to date Aboriginal rock-art associated
with oral traditions at the Lightning Brothers
Site, Northern Territory (David et al., 1990;
Watchman et al., 2000).
No information is available about the relation-
ships between individual paintings, whether or
not the paintings have a narrative structure (i.e.,
they tell a story or stories), or indeed the reason
why specific paintings were made at the site. The
story of the site in Lawrie (1970) does not mention
why the Kiwai raiders executed paintings or
indeed what images they painted. Looking for the
meaning(s) of rock-art sites to the artists or to
subsequent users of sites tends to reveal little
about cultural signification unless information is
provided by the appropriate individuals (e.g.,
local owners/custodians; artists; subsequent
users) and set in broader social and cultural
contexts of meaning. The problem for the
archaeologist is that what a painting means to an
artist or to another member of the community in
which the art is located may have no obvious
connection with the apparent form of the
paintings to an outside observer. Investigations
of Aboriginal rock-art from mainland Australia
reveals that paintings can have multiple
meanings and have different significance values
for different members of a cultural group (e.g.,
Layton, 1992). Furthermore, the meaning of
paintings (and of contexts of their creation) can
change from generation to generation. Despite
these limitations, a number of inferences and
speculations can be made about the spatial and
thematic structure of Kabadul Kula, given what is
known of Torres Strait Islander cultures and
motif designs and associations, as well as of
neighbouring and socially connected cultural
DANCING/CEREMONY. A number of motifs
on the northern panel may have been associated
with dancing/ceremonies. These include the 5
dancing anthropomorphs, the headdress
anthropomorph and perhaps the concentric circle
motif. However, it is unknown if these dancers
represent living people or spirits of the dead
(muri/markai) as seen at Pulu and Keriri (McNiven
& David, this volume). We have already discussed
some of these possibilities above.
GROUP AFFILIATION. The concentric circle
motif may have been associated with shoulder
cicatrices. Following the function of the
cicatrices, the painting may be a signifier of
ceremonial/dance activity, fighting magic and/or
clan or other social affiliation.
DANGER. The dogai painting represents a
creature feared by most Islanders. The immediate
response of current day Islanders to the painting
is one of caution. However, recordings by A.P.
Lyons cited above also make it clear that Kiwai
peoples both knew about and feared Torres Strait
dogai. Thus, Kiwai peoples would have been in a
position to paint such a creature at Kabadul Kula.
Whether or not the painting is associated
specifically with dogai activities and/or is a
signifier of fear/danger/caution is unknown. It is
hypothetically possible that the Kiwai raiders
painted the image to frighten off local Dauan
people or that Dauan people painted the dogai to
frighten away future Kiwai raiders.
COSMOLOGY. We suggest that the star shape
associated with the dogai may be linked to
cosmological symbolism and belief (and in
particular to the particular constellations or
planets, such as the morning star), if the nearby
Mabuiag, Mer and Marind-Anim symbolisms are
at all relevant. However, this possibility should
be further explored by a more thorough search of
the regional ethnographic literature and
discussions with knowledgeable Elders.
NW panel exhibits representations of a crayfish,
canoes and a possible fish/dugong. These
maritime motifs were not recorded across other
parts of the site. Furthermore, all animal motifs at
the site are located on the NW panel and all
anthropomorphic motifs are located on the N
panel. This spatial pattern suggests a structural
dichotomy at Kabadul Kula, and therefore a di-
chotomised set of meanings associated with the art.
RAIDERS. Despite the lack of historical
information on what the Kupamal painted, it is
likely that they were responsible for some or all
of the more recent paintings at the site. If the
Kupamal painted the concentric circle (cicatrice)
motifs, it is possible that they were undertaken as
a form of territorial/cultural resistance and
assertion, as cicatrices were used by the Kiwai as
fighting magic and signifiers of clan affiliation
(see above). It is clear from local oral history that
the Kupamal executed paintings at the site prior
to their attack on Dauan Islanders. This historical
information is entirely consistent with
independent anthropological recordings of the
complex rituals undertaken by Kiwai warriors
before embarking on head-hunting raids
(Landtman, 1916; 1927).
A range of natural processes is today impacting
paintings at Kabadul Kula. Although the site is
located very close to the major settlement on
Dauan, no negative human impacts to the site
were observed at the time of recording. Specific
management options in light of these impacts are
found in McNiven et al. (2001) and are currently
being assessed by the Dauan community.
Ironically, while natural processes are causing
deterioration of paintings, some of these
processes can be used to help better understand
the history and meaning of the site.
EXFOLIATION. The single, largest threat to the
preservation of paintings at Kabadul Kula is
exfoliation. The granite rock upon which is found
the paintings is slowly exfoliating in grains and
small (<1cm2), tabular chips. Each time a painted
particle exfoliates off, it removes a small section
of paint. This form of impact was observed on
each of the 44 paintings at the site (Table 1).
Exfoliation can result from a range of processes,
including salt crystal formation due to close
proximity of the sea and thermal spalling from
temperature changes. It appears that redeposition
of salts by rainfall runoff is not a major con-
tributor to salt crystal spalling as no major increase
in the incidence of spalling was observed in areas
known to be impacted by rainfall runoff. Indeed,
severe exfoliation was also observed in the most
protected areas of the site.
A positive aspect to exfoliation is that it
provides opportunities to date the paintings. As
small fragments of granite with paint fall from the
boulder, they come to rest on the ground surface
where they eventually become buried. The site is
backed by a hill and rainfall runoff supplies the
area with accumulated colluvial sediments. Thus,
excavation of sediments immediately below the
paintings is likely to reveal spalls with traces of
red ochre (paint). The sediments can be dated
either by radiocarbon dating organics (charcoal)
in the same levels or even dating the sediments
themselves using OSL techniques. However, it
needs to be kept in mind that an age estimate for a
spall is only a minimum age estimate for
associated painting. The time delay between
painting activity and eventual spalling remains
unknown, and will vary from site to site (and
indeed across different parts of a site).
animal impact to the site is termite infestation. No
pig damage has been observed (unlike the
situation at other sites in Torres Strait). Despite
their small size, termites represent the most
dramatic and obvious impact process at Kabadul
Kula. The eastern end of the N side of the boulder
features a c.1m high termite nest that backs onto
the boulder. This nest is advancing across the
paintings and is impacting paintings #8 and #9.
Two photographs taken by Margaret Lawrie in
1968 (Lawrie, 1970: 145-146) provide insight
into the rate at which the nest is advancing.
Lawrie’s photos reveal that the nest, while well
formed, was set out a little from the wall and may
have only been touching the wall midway
between the dogai (painting #1) and the
concentric circle painting (#22) in 1968. At that
time, the area below paintings #8 and #9
exhibited no infestation and indeed grass was
growing below these paintings. Comparison of
Lawrie’s photos with our recordings made 32
years later reveals that while the nest has not
advanced E towards the dogai painting, it has
grown considerably along its W side, and is now
advancing across the lower left corner of the main
painted panel (Fig. 29). It is estimated that during
this time the nest has expanded some 30cm to
make contact with the wall. Furthermore, the nest
extends under the back wall of the boulder where
the ‘roof ’ height is less than 15cm. The current
extent of the nest across the ground surface is
shown in Fig. 4. All new growth of the nest is up
the wall and a dramatic example of this growth
was observed during a visit in August 2000. A
new addition to the surface of the nest since our
recording visit 4 months before had resulted in
burial of an area of painting approximately 10cm
x 1cm (Fig. 30). Lawrie’s photo shows few if any
paintings in the area now covered by the termite
nest. The photographic evidence indicates that
serious threat of termite impact to the site is a
recent event. All future advances of the nest on its
western side will cover and potentially destroy
paintings. This advancement is serious as it is
encroaching towards the relatively well-
preserved set of 5 anthropomorphs (dancers?)
and the spectacular concentric circle motif that
dominates the site.
A series of small satellite nests is located
immediately to the NW of the main nest structure
(Fig. 4). While these nests do not impact the
paintings, they most likely are connected to sub-
surface tunnels that are destroying the stratigraphic
integrity of archaeological deposits. While no
cultural materials were observed on the ground
surface adjacent to the paintings and within the
dripline, numerous flaked stone artifacts and
shells occur across the ground surface within a
few metres outside of the dripline. Sediments
below the paintings are predicted to contain
spalls with paint and fragments of ochre
associated with production of the site.
Determining where rainwater affects the site,
either as rain drops and/or by runoff, is difficult
as it requires being present during rain as well as
during different times of the year when the rain
comes from different directions. Examination of
the limit of the overhang (Fig. 4) reveals that the
N side of the boulder, which exhibits the main
painted panel, is reasonably well protected,
particularly for those paintings on the concave
surface in the deepest section of the shelter. In
contrast, paintings on the NW panel are under a
very narrow overhang and essentially are
exposed to the elements. Examination of major
FIG. 29. Termite infestation in 2000. FIG. 30. Close-up of new termite nest growth over
paintings in August 2000.
areas of what appears to be lichen growth (as
revealed by black patches on the boulder) mirror
to a certain extent degrees of protection inferred
by the overhang. These black patches correspond
to moist areas from rainfall runoff, and are
located immediately to the left of the painted wall
(near painting #3), across the top of the main
northern painted panel, down on the corner of the
boulder separating the N and NW panels, and
down across the far right end of the NW panel
(Fig. 3). While the large overhang diverts runoff
away from the main painted panel on the N of the
boulder, the shallow overhang on the NW side of
the boulder is insufficient to create a dripline and
the rain simply proceeds down the side of the
boulder over all of the paintings in this area (Fig.
31). Thus, while most of the paintings appear to
be little effected by rain runoff, paintings on the
NW panel are severely impacted by rainwater.
can impact rock-art by rubbing against paintings
and eroding pigments through abrasion. At
Kabadul Kula along the NW painted panel, grass
1-1.5m high is growing up against the side of the
boulder and making contact with paintings.
Although no specific grass impact was observed,
it is assumed that over the long-term, the
cumulative effects of grass abrasion will cause
damage to the paintings. Grass against paintings
also increases the likelihood of fire impact to the
FADING. The degree of fading or the extent to
which ochre paintings appear to have lost colour
intensity so that they stand out less from the
background rock results either from removal/
weathering of pigments or covering/burial of
pigments by residues such as silica skins. As no
residue development was observed at Kabadul
Kula, it is likely that most pigment fading is due
to weathering. Such fading was measured some-
what subjectively for each of the 44 paintings
using a scale ranging from 1 (minor fading)
through 2 (moderate fading), 3 (major fading)
and 4 (extreme fading). Scaling was determined
by examining the range of colour intensities across
the site. While it is possible that some paintings
were created with a very dilute, low intensity
ochre paint, it is assumed that the original state of
all paintings was probably the darkish red
currently apparent on the better-preserved
paintings. This assumption seems warranted as a
general positive correlation was observed be-
tween the sharpness of a line and the intensity of
colour. That is, bright red lines tended to be sharp
while faded red lines often appeared diffuse and
weathered. As a general rule, greater fading here
appears to equate with greater weathering, and it
is also possible that, broadly speaking, greater
fading in any given part of the site generally
equates with greater age. However, a range of
factors indicates that such correlations at
Kabadul Kula need be taken with caution.
Most (68%) of the paintings reveal extreme
(n=14, 32%) or major to extreme (n=16, 36%)
fading (Table 1). Over 2/3 of the paintings at
Kabadul Kula are in poor condition and are
heavily weathered. Although no paintings were
given a fading rating of 1 (minor), 3 paintings
exhibited a fading range of minor to major (1 to 3)
while 1 painting (the dogai) ranged from minor to
extreme (1 to 4) (that is, different parts of
individual paintings exhibit different degrees of
fading). The fact that individual paintings exhibit
a wide range of fading scales indicates that age
alone is not the cause of fading of paintings (there
is no evidence that any paintings were ever re-
touched). Different rates of weathering are occurring
on certain paintings. It is also possible that some
colour differences reflect the original state of the
paintings. Significantly, most (9 out of 14) of the
extremely faded paintings are found on the NW
panel. Indeed, all but 1 of the 13 paintings on this
panel exhibit either extreme or major to extreme
fading. The overall poor condition of the
paintings on this panel is consistent with the
rainfall impact and perhaps grass abrasion. As
such, their faded condition does not necessarily
indicate greater age compared to other paintings
at the site. It is likely that the paintings in this part
of the site were all undertaken during a painting
event temporally separate from the other
paintings, given that 1) unlike the main panel, this
panel focuses on marine themes (accounting for
FIG. 31. Rain runoff across northwest (marine) painted
panel of Kabadul Kula in August 2000.
Number Motif description
Motif only
determined by
Max Length
Preservation / Conservation
Degree of
Fading* Exfoliation Major Lichen
growth Rainfall runoff
1. Dogai (anthropomorph) No 80 1 to 4 Yes No No
2. Indeterminate - - 4 Yes No No
3. Hut? Yes ~97 3 to 4 Yes No Yes
4. Shield? Yes - 4 Yes No No
5. Face (anthropomorph) Yes ~75 3 to 4 Yes No No
6. Indeterminate - - 2 Yes No No
7. Geometric Yes - 3 to 4 Yes No No
8. Indeterminate - - 2 to 4 Yes No No
9. Lines/indeterminate - - 3 to 4 Yes No No
10. Lines/indeterminate - - 4 Yes No No
11. Anthropomorph No 21 2 to 3 Yes No No
12. Anthropomorph No 27 1 to 3 Yes No No
13. Geometric/indeterminate Yes - 3 to 4 Yes No No
14. Anthropomorph No 22 2 to 3 Yes No No
15. Anthropomorph No 19 3 to 4 Yes No No
16. Anthropomorph No 18 3 to 4 Yes No No
17. Line No 35 3 Yes No No
18. Indeterminate - - 4 Yes No No
19. Inverted ‘Y’ (geometric) No 31 2 to 3 Yes No No
20. Anthropomorph No 61 1 to 3 Yes No No
21. Lines/indeterminate - 43 2 to 4 Yes No No
22. Circle/ellipses No 52 1 to 3 Yes No No
23. Headdress Yes 33 3 to 4 Yes No No
24. Anthropomorph Yes 38 3 to 4 Yes No No
25. Lines/indeterminate - - 3 to 4 Yes No No
26. Indeterminate - - 3 to 4 Yes No No
27. Anthropomorph No 29 2 to 4 Yes No Yes
28. Face (anthropomorph) Yes ~22 4 Yes No Yes
29. Canoe? Yes - 4 Yes No Yes
30. Indeterminate - - 4 Yes No Yes
31. Crayfish No ~70 3 to 4 Yes No Yes
32. Indeterminate - 15 3 to 4 Yes No Yes
33. Indeterminate - 28 4 Yes No Yes
34. Canoe? Yes 42 4 Yes No Yes
35. Indeterminate - - 4 Yes No Yes
36. Line/indeterminate - - 4 Yes No Yes
37. Canoe with sail? Yes ~34 4 Yes No Yes
38. Fish?/dugong? No 13 3 to 4 Yes No Yes
39. Canoe? No 43 4 Yes No Yes
40. Insect? Yes 49 4 Yes No Yes
41. Indeterminate - 4 2 Yes Yes Yes
42. Indeterminate - - 3 to 4 Yes No Yes
43. Barbed lines (geometric) No - 2 to 3 Yes No No
44. Indeterminate - - 3 to 4 Yes No No
TABLE 1. Description of individual paintings at Kabadul Kula. * 1 = minor, 2 = moderate, 3 = major, 4 =
most of the identifiable paintings in this part of
the site), and 2) spatial relationships between
individual paintings here show fairly uniform
spacing and no overlap, unlike the situation
elsewhere at the site. Because this part of the
decorated rock wall is more subject to the
elements (i.e., less protected by overhanging
rock) than other parts, and given a lack of
superimpositions, it is not possible to determine
with the existing information whether these
paintings were created before or after the others
at Kabadul Kula.
As the Dauan Rock-Art Project is the first
systematic rock-art project for Torres Strait, it
provides a foundation for future rock-art record-
ing in the region. Of particular significance is the
use of digital photography and the application of
computer enhancement techniques to reveal
paintings that are essentially invisible to the
naked eye. The digital enhancement of the
rock-art represents an important methodological
consideration for future rock-art recording and
interpretation elsewhere in Torres Strait and
beyond. Furthermore, digital enhancement has
proved appealing to the Torres Strait Islanders we
have worked with as it reveals the value of
recording rock-art sites and provides immediate
(in-the-field) feedback on research results.
Indeed, as a result of our work at Kabadul Kula,
other communities in Torres Strait have
requested the commencement of rock-art record-
ing on their islands. In particular, communities on
a number of islands have been most impressed
by, and interested in, the digital enhancement
It is clear that much more rock-art recording
work needs to be undertaken across Torres Strait.
This work is not only related to better under-
standing the region’s rich history, but also to help
protect these sites for future generations. In terms
of research, our next priority is the remarkable
series of rock painting sites on Badu and Mua
(Moa) and Pulu Islet. This work will also provide
the first insights into the antiquity of rock-art in
Torres Strait.
Primary thanks are extended to the Dauan
Community for hosting our stay and for
supporting the Project. In particular, we thank
Margaret Mau (Chairperson) for supporting the
AIATSIS grant application and for helping with
logistics and with community meetings. Gratitude
is also extended to Abraham Mau for permission
to access Mau family land upon which the site of
Kabadul Kula is located. We also wish to thank
Phillip Biggie for providing information on
Kabadul Kula, Ibraham Binawel for originally
introducing one of us (IMcN) to Kabadul Kula in
1998, and Fred Mooka for taking one of us
(IMcN) to other rock paintings on Dauan. In
general, big eso to all those who attended the
community meeting and generously provided
helpful information and advice. Our research in
Torres Strait was helped once again by the
generous support and hospitality of Garrick
Hitchcock (formerly Native Title Office, Torres
Strait Regional Authority, TSRA). Thanks also to
Kevin Murphy (formerly Native Title Office,
TSRA) for hospitality and for helpful advice on
Dauan Island. Production of the community
posters was made possible by the efforts of Janelle
Jakoenko of Arts Imaging at Monash University.
Some of the line figures are by Gary Swinton,
School of Geography and Environmental
Science, Monash University. Thanks to Ron
Vanderwal for making us aware of the Seligmann
article. Rod Mitchell kindly assisted with
language translations. Finally, special thanks to
the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Studies for the grant that supported
this Project. Helpful comments on a draft of this
paper were kindly provided by Ben Gunn and
Bryce Barker.
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... The mimi are also responsible for the many abraded petroglyphs found in shelters with softer sandstone in Jawoyn lands. Jawoyn people, however, also painted images of mimi in rock shelters when recounting the exploits of these spirit-beings (for other examples of ethnography relating to the depiction of spirit-beings, see, e.g., McNiven, David, Brady, & Brayer 2004 for the dogai in Torres Strait; Brady & Bradley 2014b for the ngabaya and baribari in the Gulf of Carpentaria; and Trezise 1971 on 'Quinkans' from Cape York Peninsula). ...
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Historical records for Torres Strait, including those from Haddon's 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition, identify the Papuan mainland as the main trade source for stone-headed clubs (gabagaba). This view has persisted despite the contradictory facts that the Papuan lowlands are essentially devoid of stone and Torres Strait abounds in stone suitable for club manufacture. Not surprisingly, preliminary raw material findings for ethnographic and archaeological gabagaba in museums indicate that local Torres Strait manufacture was more significant than previously thought. Some of the early confusion over gabagaba sources probably reflects diffusionist assumptions that ‘superior’ cultural items, such as stone-headed clubs, must have moved from so-called ‘advanced’ Papuans to ‘less-developed’ Torres Strait Islanders. However, more significant is the lack of understanding of the multiple and complex roles of gabagaba in inter-group social relations which saw clubs moving between Islanders and Papuans through looting, trade and ceremonial exchange. Apart from their well-documented use as lethal weapons during head-hunting raids, I argue that gabagaba also had an important ceremonial role in exchanges between hostile groups aimed at cementing social alliances. Following post-contact disruptions to trading networks and inter-group hostilities, the social/ceremonial roles of gabagaba were emphasised while gabagaba production became less specialised.
Digital enhancement of Torres Strait rock-art - Volume 74 Issue 286 - Ian J. McNiven, Bruno David, John Brayer