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Risk and resilience: Baiame's Cave and creation landscape, NSW, Australia

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For Aboriginal people on the east coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, Baiame is the creator. At Baiame's Cave, located in the Upper Hunter Valley, Baiame is depicted on the rear wall of an overhanging rock shelter. Overlooking a broad grassy valley, he is represented as an eagle with penetrating eyes, soaring over the land he created. The site is of immense cultural significance to the people of the Wonnarua Nation and other Aboriginal people in the region and beyond. This significance has recently been recognised by statutory protection on two separate NSW heritage lists. The site is currently facing environmental and land use pressure, including coal mining and continued agricultural production. Additional pressures are directly attributable to heritage listing and include increased visitation and cultural tourism. To manage the risks, the Wonnarua people have built relationships with local land owners and public authorities. In seeking continued access to the cave, they have worked with key stakeholders to identify and manage risks to the land and the site. This is essential to supporting cultural resilience, intergenerational equity and revitalization of traditional customs, beliefs and cultural practices within the community. This paper seeks to provide an understanding of the Aboriginal attachment to Baiame Cave and their cooperative approaches to land management to build sustainable forms of cultural and environmental resilience for heritage.
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8th International Conference on Building Resilience
Risk and Resilience in Practice: Vulnerabilities, Displaced People,
Local Communities and Heritages
14-16 November 2018 | Lisbon, Portugal
8th ICBR Lisbon Book of Papers
Edited by
A. Nuno Martins, Liliane Hobeica, Adib Hobeica, Pedro Pinto Santos, Nuha Eltinay, José
Manuel Mendes
March 2019
8th International Conference on Building Resilience
8th International Conference on Building Resilience, ICBR Lisbon’2018
Risk and Resilience in Practice: Vulnerabilities, Displaced People, Local Communities and
Heritages
8th ICBR Lisbon Book of Paper | e-Book of Proceedings
Editorial team:
A. Nuno Martins, Liliane Hobeica, Adib Hobeica, Pedro Pinto Santos, Nuha Eltinay, José Manuel Mendes
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ISBN: 978-989-54741-0-3
Lisbon, September 2020
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Risk and resilience: Baiame’s Cave and creation landscape,
NSW, Australia
Catherine Forbes a, , Tim Owen a, Sharon Veale a
*
a GML Heritage, Australia
Abstract
For Aboriginal people on the east coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, Baiame is the creator. At
Baiame’s Cave, located in the Upper Hunter Valley, Baiame is depicted on the rear wall of an overhanging rock
shelter that overlooks a broad grassy valley. He is represented as an eagle with penetrating eyes, soaring over the
land he created. The site is of immense cultural significance to the Wonnarua people and other Aboriginal people
in the region and beyond. The significance of the place is recognised by statutory protection on two separate
NSW heritage lists. The site is currently facing environmental and land use pressure, including coal mining and
continued agricultural production, with additional pressures from increased visitation and cultural tourism. To
manage the risks to the place, the Wonnarua people have built relationships with local land owners and public
authorities. In seeking continued access to the cave, which is on privately owned land, they have worked with
key stakeholders to identify and manage risks to the land, the cave, its artwork, its immediate landscape setting
and the broader landscape over which it looks. A multidisciplinary team of specialists in cultural heritage,
Aboriginal archaeology, rock art conservation and risk management, undertook on-site workshops with
Wonnarua elders, local property owners and community representatives with the following aims: to identify risks
to the site from both natural and human hazards (wildfire, flood, drought, vandalism, mining and wear and tear);
to develop mitigation strategies to minimize the risks; and to facilitate educational opportunities for sharing
Aboriginal culture and knowledge within both the local Aboriginal community and the broader Australian
community. The outcome from this consultation was developed into a risk management strategy for Baiame
Cave and its associated cultural landscape. The paper seeks to provide an understanding of the Aboriginal
attachment to Baiame Cave and the land, and the cooperative approach adopted to land management to build
sustainable forms of cultural and environmental resilience for heritage. The risk management strategy is essential
to supporting cultural resilience, intergenerational equity and revitalization of traditional customs, beliefs and
cultural practices within the Wonnarua community.
Keywords: cultural landscape; nature-culture relationship; resilience through sustainable land management; risk
management; traditional knowledge
1. Introduction
Baiame Cave is an Aboriginal rock art site, located on private property near Milbrodale, in the Upper Hunter
Valley, New South Wales (NSW) (Figure 1). The cave is 20 kilometres southwest of the town of Singleton and
one kilometre southwest of the town of Milbrodale, on the western side of Bulga Creek.
Facing the northeast, Baiame Cave is located within a sandstone escarpment on the fringe of a valley. It is
situated in the foothills at the transition between the valley floodplain and the higher bisected sandstone
landscapes of the Hornsby Plateau. The cave is located approximately 24 metres above the valley floor and
provides expansive views of the Hunter Valley (Figure 2). The cave itself has been formed over millennia
through natural weathering processes typical of such sandstone and which result in shelters forming in bands as
weathering works backwards and upwards from a weak point.
On the rear sandstone ‘wall’ of the cave, Aboriginal artwork in white and red pigment is visible (Figure 3). A
large male figure with unusually large white eyes and extended outstretched arms is the key visual motif. The
male figure is located just off the cave’s centre point. The figure is understood to be a representation of Baiame,
an ancestral creator being and the ‘Father of All’. A series of stencils are also visible within the cave interior,
including hand prints, boomerangs, a hafted axe, and what appears to be a spear (Table 1).
The property on which the cave is situated is a working farm. Activities undertaken on the property include
grazing, cropping and recreation. Public access to the cave is by permission, but generally allowed for
Aboriginal people, members of the public, school groups and tourists to the region. The site is accessed by
Corresponding author. E-mail address: catherinehforbes@gmail.com
*
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public and then private roads, both sealed and unsealed. Facilities at the cave are limited but include stairs and a
viewing platform, with a single interpretive sign.
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Figure 1: Location of the Baiame Cave, NSW, Australia. Source: GML Heritage 2018.
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Figure 2: At dawn, view from Baiame Cave overlooking the sweeping valley to the northeast. Source: Authors 2017.
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Figure 3: Baiame and associated artwork within the Baiame Cave, during recording by the project team. Source:
Authors 2017.
1.1.Heritage listings
Baiame Cave and the wider cultural landscape setting is of spiritual, social, aesthetic, historical and scientific
significance to the local Aboriginal people and the wider community, both Australian and international. In
recognition of its significant heritage values, Baiame Cave is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, under
the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) (the Heritage Act). The cave is also a declared ‘Aboriginal Place’ under Section 84
of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW) (the NPW Act). These two separate acts are regulated by the
Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the Heritage Division of the OEH.
1.2.Project objectives
Baiame Cave has a low tolerance to change. Identifying realistic and practical ways of managing risk was a
key objective shared by both the landowner and the Wonnarua people. The project objective for the local
Aboriginal community was to develop community driven management planning that maintains their relationship
with the landowner and leverages new opportunities afforded by the heritage listing—for instance, accessing
government grants for heritage management and interpretation. Management planning therefore needed to be
developed with community concerns at the forefront—not academic thought or regulatory constraints.
Community driven management could reduce actual risks, whilst enhancing the economic and social (including
health) wellbeing of the local Aboriginal community.
Priority 3 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (United Nations 2015)
underpinned the development of management for the place, notably:
Public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction through structural and non-structural measures
are essential to enhance the economic, social, health and cultural resilience of persons, communities, countries and their
assets, as well as the environment. These can be drivers of innovation, growth and job creation. Such measures are
cost-effective and instrumental to save lives, prevent and reduce losses and ensure effective recovery and rehabilitation
(United Nations 2015:19).
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Panel
#
Motif
Technique
Colour
Comments
A
1
Hand (left) with half of forearm
Stencil
White
2
Boomerang
Stencil
White
3
Axe
Stencil
White
9
Extended arm of anthropomorph
Dry pigment
Red + white
B
4
Stick
Stencil
White
5
Hand (right) with forearm
Stencil
White
6
Hand (left)
Stencil
White
7
Axe
Stencil
White
8
Hand (right)
Stencil
White
9
Anthropomorph
Wet and dry
Red + white
Red infill wet and dry. Dry white
outline. Wet solid infill eyes. Wet solid
patch on lower abdomen
10
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To left of anthropomorph
11
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To left of anthropomorph
12
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To left of anthropomorph
13
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To right of anthropomorph
14
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To right of anthropomorph
15
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To right of anthropomorph
16
Non-figurative (vertical tally
mark)
Wet solid
infill
White
To right of anthropomorph
17
Boomerang
Stencil
White +
black
Black may have been added at a later
date
18
Boomerang
Stencil
White
19
Hand (left)
Stencil
White
C
No art has been recorded on this
panel
Other possible motifs recorded by others that require location confirmation
Anthropomorph
Dry infill
Black
Recorded by Macdonald 1986
Macropod
Dry outline
White
Recorded by Macdonald 1986
Macropod
Black
Noted by Creamer and Kelly in 1974
Boomerang
Dry outline
Red + black
Recorded by Macdonald 1986
Boomerang
Dry outline
Black
Recorded by Macdonald 1986
Unidentified solid
Dry infill
White
Recorded by Macdonald 1986
Unidentified solid
Dry infill
Black
Recorded by Macdonald 1986
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Figure 4: Panel A, located on the left side of the cave. (Source: GML 2017).
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Figure 5: Panel B, located in the centre of the cave. (Source: GML 2017).
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Figure 6: Panel C, located on the right side of the cave. No art is located on this panel. (Source: GML 2017).
3.2.The Cultural landscape
Baiame Cave is located on the slopes of a low rocky escarpment of Hawkesbury Sandstone. The cave is
located on a curve in the escarpment and provides an expansive over a wide flat valley to the northeast (Figure
2). The sun rises over an adjacent escarpment to the east, but soon floods the cave with direct sunlight, which
persists until midday.
The valley is surrounded and defined by undulating forested hills. Rocky sandstone outcrops on the tops of
the spurs that extend into the valley stand like sentinels over the valley. A river and its tributaries flow eastwards
through the valley. The valley was originally wooded. The cave is elevated and enjoys panoramic views across
the valley towards Mount Royal.
The sweeping relatively flat valley floor located in front of the cave may be connected with male ceremony.
Mathews certainly indicated there was an association between the land form and its potential use by Aboriginal
people for the Bora ceremony:
In front of this cave there is a large level valley, timbered with large and lofty trees, well suited for a Bora ground, and I
think it more than probable that Boras were held here, and that the figures in the cave are connected with the
ceremonies which took place on such occasions. There was plenty of good water in the Bulgar Creek close by, and
good hunting grounds all around (Mathews 1893, pp. 355).
The level valley to the northwest presents aesthetic and sensory characteristics. The view into the cave is
across a rural landscape which provides expansive and direct views to the artwork within the cave. Appreciation
of the art is entirely possible without needing to enter the actual cave. This may be significant in terms of how
Aboriginal people used, appreciated and practised their culture in relation to the cave in the past. The second
quality is acoustic. People speaking at normal levels inside the shelter can be heard clearly at a distance of 100m
downslope from the shelter. Sound is amplified by the shelter and projected across the valley floor. This aural
quality may have been a significant quality associated with the place’s use. It is now considered to be part of the
sensory experience of the cultural landscape.
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4. Findings
Weathering processes and natural hazards such as wildfire, flood and drought were found to pose risks to the
valley landscape, the rock shelter and artwork. Human induced threats, including increased visitation, vandalism,
and coal mining, were also found to present risks. Maintaining the valley and its current landform and
agricultural use, within the broader setting of forested hillslopes is considered essential for sustaining cultural
values associated with the cave.
The greatest threat, however, was identified as the loss of cultural knowledge. Dispossession through colonial
occupation of Wonnarua land and the forced removal of Aboriginal people, including the prevention of the use of
Aboriginal language and transmission of cultural knowledge and practices has impacted the Aboriginal
knowledge systems. This has been a key issue for Aboriginal people since 1788 when the British Government
claimed ownership of Australia. Australia’s Indigenous peoples, like many indigenous cultures subject to
colonisation, remain ‘disadvantaged’ today with successive policies perpetuating social and economic
disadvantage across generations. The Australian Government is working to redress inequities and has
implemented a program called ‘Closing the Gap’:
In 2018, Closing the Gap remains a shared commitment. It is the story of a shared journey to continue to work together
and enable and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to live healthy and prosperous lives. This journey
continues to draw on the enduring wisdom, strength and resilience learned over thousands of years of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander civilisation (PMC 2018).
The ‘gap’ was opened in 1788 with the arrival of the British. From the early nineteenth century, a systematic
process was implemented to ‘civilise’ Aboriginal people and dissociate them from their land, cultural traditions
and knowledge systems. In 1809, NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie was instructed to ‘conciliate the affection
of the Aborigines and to prescribe that British subjects live in amity and kindness with them'. The position of
ecclesiastical bodies was more direct—the colonial head of the Church of England, Samuel Marsden, had also
been advised by the London Missionary Society in 1810, that he should ‘contribute to the Civilisation of the
Heathen and thus prepare them for the reception of moral and religious instruction’ (NSW State Heritage
Register 2018). One consequential outcome was the establishment of the Black Native Institute in Parramatta
(1814-1823), followed by the Blacktown Native Institute (1823-1829) (both located in Sydney, NSW); these
institutes removed Aboriginal children from their parents and instructed them according to European
worldviews. While one needs to read and interpret European observations of Aboriginal people and culture with
caution, the loss of cultural knowledge is evident in 1893 in a published recording of Baiame Cave:
I was informed by Mr. W. G. McAlpin, who is now eighty-four years of age, and has resided in the neighbourhood for
the last fifty years, that the figures in this cave were there when he first came to the district; and even at that time the
drawings were beyond the knowledge of the local blacks [sic] (Mathews 1893:356).
Colonial expansion into the Upper Hunter commenced in the 1820s, with land grants along the Hunter River.
The process of colonisation resulted in the spread of disease against which Aboriginal people had little or no
immunity, and ‘frontier wars’, with skirmishes, military intervention and deaths amongst the British and
Aboriginal population (Gollan 1993). Underscoring this struggle for land and natural resources, was the general
belief amongst the colonialists that Australia was ‘terra nullius’, or ‘nobody’s land’. It was also thought that
Aboriginal people were nomadic, had no concept of land ownership and did not have an attachment to or
sovereignty over land (a concept only refuted in 1992 during the Mabo case).
4.1.Aboriginal reconciliation and reconnection
Despite the 1893 report to the contrary, Wonnarua Aboriginal people have maintained traditions and
connections with their Country, which includes the Baiame Cave. The Aboriginal community, comprising
several families and individuals, have described the social and traditional importance of Baiame and the Baiame
Cave. These individuals hold specific knowledge of the place and associated traditional practices.
Traditional knowledge and the ability to speak for Country may vary within an Aboriginal community, and
this situation applies to Baiame Cave. Given the historical circumstances of Aboriginal people’s lives there are
often different opinions and interpretations regarding cultural meanings and protocols. This results in different
requirements for ownership, access, maintenance, ongoing use, presentation and interpretation. Nevertheless, it
is agreed that Baiame Cave is of heritage value and there is a continuing responsibility to ensure its protective
care.
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The State heritage listing was a direct consequence of the Aboriginal community’s commitment to
recognition of the place’s value and to its long-term conservation. The listing allowed the Aboriginal community
to access government grant funding, which supported the Baiame Cave CMP project. The Aboriginal
community, assisted by local landowners and regional stakeholders was able to tender the CMP project, define
the brief and establish the required scope of work. The need for an external supplier to prepare the CMP was due
to the complexities of CMP preparation (and required endorsement by the NSW Heritage Council), coupled with
the need to seek specialist conservation advice.
The approach adopted during the development of the CMP was driven by the Baiame Cave working party—
with the Aboriginal community empowered to provide the direction and decisions relating to the place. A series
of working party consultation meetings were held on site (within and adjacent to the Baiame Cave). This
provided a phenomenological approach to the management; when key issues were discussed, they could be
articulated by individuals through a process of physical demonstration.
For instance, the current access route into the shelter is via a steep slope, which was deemed by the
Aboriginal community to be inconsistent with the values of the place. Robust discussions were able to explore
new options for an access route by physically walking proposed new approaches to the site, and allowing all
Aboriginal community members present to provide opinions on the merits, or otherwise, of the current and
proposed access. During the conservation assessment, Aboriginal people were able to work with the conservator,
providing cultural input into the methods of paint application and the meaning of the different elements being
recorded at the site—this significantly increased the understanding for future conservation requirements. The
planning requirements for future heritage interpretation was substantially driven by the Aboriginal community.
Working with the landowners, the project team was able to understand key operational and visitor management
issues to develop conservation policy to mitigate and reduce the key risks.
5. Conclusions
Australian Aboriginal people have demonstrated tremendous resilience through 230 years of colonial
settlement and repression. Aboriginal culture is part of a deep lived continuum. Returning to Country, combined
with renewal and revival of culture and knowledge is part of the everyday life within Aboriginal communities. In
addition, Aboriginal people are increasingly sharing their culture and values with the broader Australian
community.
At Baiame Cave, the Wonnarua people seek to share their culture and educate others in understanding the
land, the human relationship with nature and the sustainable management of natural resources. The approach to
development of the Baiame Cave CMP has demonstrated that Aboriginal traditions and understanding provide
sustainable approaches to heritage management, which contribute to the life and wellbeing in the community.
The Sendai Framework provided a sound basis for development of the CMP, which placed the requirements of,
and the benefits for, the local Aboriginal community at the centre of the project.
Acknowledgements
The authors thank the Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation, especially Mr Laurie Perry. The advice and
input of the working group is gratefully acknowledged. Members of the working group include Mr Mathew
Goddard (Rio Tinto Project Coordinator), Mrs Noelene Smith (landowner), Mr Laurie Perry (Chief Executive
Officer, Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation), and Ms Barbara Ascella (Brown) of Ascella Wines.
Members of the Smith family including Ms Teagan Braham and Mr Graham Smith are also thanked for their
generous support and assistance. Key Aboriginal stakeholders who also provided assistance and advice on the
site include Mr Warren Tagget, Mr Arthur Fletcher and Mr Scott Franks (on behalf of the registered Native Title
claimant group, the Plains Clan of the Wonnarua People [PCWP]). Officers from the Office of Environment and
Heritage are also sincerely thanked for their support and assistance to the project.
A number of people provided valuable information, documents and photographs from past investigation,
management and conservation activities at the Baiame Cave, including Dave Lambert (formerly NSW NPWS),
Dr Jillian Huntley (Griffith University), Dr Neville Clouten (formerly University of Newcastle), Emeritus
Professor John Fryer (University of Newcastle) and Richard Harris (NSW NPWS). Their assistance is gratefully
appreciated.
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References
Creamer, Kelly. (1974). NSW NPWS AHIMS Site Card 34-5-0013.
GML Heritage and Stepwise. (2018). Baiame Cave Conservation Management Plan.
Gollan, V. 1993. The Military Suppression of Wanaruah Resistance in the Upper Hunter 1826. Wanaruah Land Council
(NSW).
Macdonald, J. (1986). NSW NPWS AHIMS Site Card 34-5-0013.
Mathews, R.H. (1893) Rock Paintings by the Aborigines in Caves on Bulgar Creek, near Singleton. Journal of the Royal
Society of New South Wales, Volume XXVII, pp. 353–358.
NSW State Heritage Register. (2018). Blacktown Native Institute, State Heritage Listing. <http://
www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5051312> Viewed online 13 June 2018.
PMC. (2018). Closing the Gap. <https://closingthegap.pmc.gov.au/executive-summary. Viewed online 13 June 2018.
United Nations. (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
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Article
Full-text available
In the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia, a deeply worrying trend has emerged where the approval of major mining projects is predicated on the rescinding of areas previously set aside to conserve environmental, including heritage, values. Here, I want to explore the juxtaposition of a landmark dual listing for the well-known and highly culturally significant rock art site of Baiame Cave, against the devastating impacts on community well-being posed by the extension of the Mt Thorley Walkworth Mine. The long-awaited judicial recognition of place attachment and the acknowledgment of negative consequences for community well-being via landscape-scale transformations from mining at the village of Bulga appear at odds with the almost simultaneous dual listing of the nearby Baiame Cave as an Aboriginal Place and a place of State Significance (inscribed on the NSW Heritage List). This case study adds to a burgeoning global literature on the complex impacts mining and other large-scale industrial activities have on indigenous heritage. The frightening example given here should serve to raise scrutiny for legislative processes and decision-making frameworks governing heritage protection everywhere.
NSW NPWS AHIMS Site Card
  • Kelly Creamer
Creamer, Kelly. (1974). NSW NPWS AHIMS Site Card 34-5-0013.
Baiame Cave Conservation Management Plan
  • Gml Heritage
  • Stepwise
GML Heritage and Stepwise. (2018). Baiame Cave Conservation Management Plan.
The Military Suppression of Wanaruah Resistance in the Upper Hunter 1826
  • V Gollan
Gollan, V. 1993. The Military Suppression of Wanaruah Resistance in the Upper Hunter 1826. Wanaruah Land Council (NSW).
NSW NPWS AHIMS Site Card
  • J Macdonald
Macdonald, J. (1986). NSW NPWS AHIMS Site Card 34-5-0013.
1893) Rock Paintings by the Aborigines in Caves on Bulgar Creek, near Singleton
  • R H Mathews
Mathews, R.H. (1893) Rock Paintings by the Aborigines in Caves on Bulgar Creek, near Singleton. Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Volume XXVII, pp. 353-358.
Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction
  • Pmc
PMC. (2018). Closing the Gap. <https://closingthegap.pmc.gov.au/executive-summary. Viewed online 13 June 2018. United Nations. (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.