Rock Art Rocks!

On Darwin's doorstep are some "world renowned" and jaw dropping landscapes to explore with kids, so I guess we are pretty lucky to live in this part of the world. The laid back Top End lifestyle is synonymous with glorious sunsets, spectacular gorges, waterfalls and amazing swimming holes - and these things are a big part of what I love about living up north.

But, what about the Aboriginal rock art?

Did you know that the rock art galleries of the Arnhem Land Plateau in the Northern Territory have been likened to the Louvre in Paris in terms of their importance. I've been to both, and think they are equally amazing. There are paintings in Arnhem Land that are up to 20,000 years old! They are one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the whole world.

By Libby Larsen


Put Pokomon on hold & pack away the Ipad!

Perhaps you think rock art isn't going to interest your kids?

But, what if it involves experiencing the rock art with an Aboriginal custodian who has a deep understanding and knowledge about the area? So, YAY, your kids will get the opportunity to learn first hand about the stories behind the paintings and a personal insight into Aboriginal life and culture?

An Aboriginal guide from Injalak Arts taking a rock art tour at Injalak Hill near Gunbalayna, Arnhem Land.

Photo Credit: Injalak Arts

The view from Injalak Hill in Arnhem Land to Kakadu National Park

Photo Credit: Injalak Arts

Rock art isn't boring! The meanings and stories behind rock art are enthralling and spectacular. Paintings may depict the importance of natural resources (animals, plants, fish) and important ceremonies or tell stories of creation ancestors associated with the area. Some paintings even served purposes of sorcery, whilst others were about teaching kids life's important lessons, which will resonate with your kids as well.

Tourists going on an Aboriginal Rock Art Tour with Aboriginal Guide at Injalak Hill in Arnhem Land at Oenpelli

Photo Credit: Injalak Arts

A visit to Injalak Arts & Crafts

A visit to Gunbalyana Aboriginal community to see the dazzling rock art galleries with a Kunwinjku Aboriginal custodian in the scenic fringing escarpment is a really special and unique little side trip from Kakadu National Park that isn't on the radar of the majority of tourists.

The floodplains near Gunbalayna and views of the Arnhem Land Escarpment in the Northern Territory

Gunbalanya is a small Aboriginal community about 17km into Arnhem Land across the "tidal" East Alligator River from the Border Store in Kakadu. There are no alligators, but there are plenty of crocs! But don't let this put you off! It's a tidal river, so it's a really easy river crossing if you cross at the right time and a very treacherous one if you don't! Make sure you check the tide times well in advance. Injalak Art Centre should be able to advise you. Once you have crossed it's a very scenic dirt road to Gunbalayna.

The drive in itself is worth it, with amazing wetlands and the spectacular escarpment landscapes. It's a great way to have a little foray into Aboriginal-owned Arnhem Land - a vast, beautiful, inaccessible and remote part of Australia.

The river crossing at Cahills Crossing from Kakadu National Park to Arnhem Land

Photo Credit: NT News

Based at Gunbalayna, Injalak Arts and Crafts, is an Aboriginal-owned enterprise that runs guided rock art tours to Injalak Hill. The tour takes you to some mind blowing rock art galleries and dreamy vistas of the breath taking escarpment, the wetlands below and Gunbalyana community.

All up it's around three hours which involves some strenuous hiking up the hill, as well as some easy paced walking through breazy sheltered and protected rock walkways. It's probably best for families with older kids. But, I'd give it a go now with our three and six year old boys (which I'm sure would end up with us carrying them, and a tantrum or two).

Aboriginal women weaving baskets from Pandanus leaves at Injalak Arts and Crafts in Gunbalayna

Photo Credit: Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair

But, don't put the trip to Gunbalayna off till your kids are older and can tackle the rock art tour because a visit to Injalak Arts where you kids can meet Aboriginal artists and see them painting and weaving is amazing in itself.

Injalak Arts wholesales a range of affordable art including paintings on paper and bark, carvings, Yidaki (didgeridoo), mimi poles, hand printed fabrics, fibre works - baskets and grass pandanus floor mats and special edition prints. There is a growing range of fabulous dresses, shoulder bags, wallets and purses and cushion covers. My top tip is to bring your wallet!

Screen printing fabrics at Injalak Arts Centre in Gunbalayna

Photo Credit: Injalak Arts

The art centre has just published an awesome kids book - The Kunwinjku Counting Book which features 12 original paintings by acclaimed artist Gabriel Maralngurra. The Art Centre Coordinator tells me that the book has been an absolute hit with people buying it for Christmas! Hmm, thats an idea. The book gives you an insight into the amazing ecology of West Arnhem Land and the holistic nature of Kunwinjku Aborignal culture.

I really wanted to do this book to make children happy … to share my culture in Kunwinjku and English and help children learn how to count.” – Gabriel Maralngurra.

They are selling it online on their etsy online store along with their other fabulous wares!

Aboriginal children with Kunwinjku Counting Book at Gunbalayna at Injalak Art Centre

Photo Credit: Injalak Arts

Aboriginal children at Gunbalayna in Arnhem Land with the Kunwinjku Counting book

Photo Credit: Injalak Arts

What you need to know

Check the tides

Check the Injalak Art Centre website and talk with them for the most up to date info about getting there - road conditions etc. But keep in mind that this part of Australia experiences a fairly intense wet season which makes many Aboriginal communities inaccessible between May and October. It's really important to check the tide times and plan your trip before setting out.

Get a permit

Visitors are required to acquire a permit from the Northern Land Council in Jabiru or Darwin to enter Arnhem Land which you have to pay for, but it's not much. Make sure you don't leave it to the last minute as the Land Council has lots going and the offices are closed on weekends. So ring ahead, and double check everything and then generally, it's fairly straight forward and you get a permit on the spot.

Approximate costs

$110 per adult and $33 per child (under 18).

If you head there with your kids drop me a line and let me know how you go!


Beautiful hand made Aboriginal pandanus baskets from Injalak Art Centre in Arnhem Land

Beautiful hand printed fabrics from Injalak Art Centre

Photo Credit: Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair

Textiles from Injalak Art Centre on display at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair

Photo Credit: Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair

Check out this great YouTube video by Injalak Arts about the art centre!

I'm not getting any freebies or incentives to wrote this post about Injalak. Growing up Troppo provides independent and honest advice from parents about unique places to stay with kids and cool stuff to do with kids that will be useful to other parents.

Thanks so much to Injalak Arts and Kate for providing me with the fabulous Injalak Arts photos for the article!

You may also be interested in

8 Aboriginal Cultural Tours in the Northern Territory

5 Aboriginal Cultural Experiences around Broome

Aboriginal Rock Arts Tours in Arnhem Land

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