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Ancient Utyetye rock art protected from nesting swallows thanks to Ltyentye


Santa Theresa is a quaint little community 70kms south of Alice Springs.

It’s home to roughly 500 Arrernte people including the Ltyentye Apurte rangers.

It has a rich tapestry of history, some of which you can find documented in caves surrounding the homelands.

However, when the ranger group discovered a flight of swallows had taken up residence on some of their ancient rock art they called upon their fellow Kaltukatjara rangers from Docker River.

Anton McMillan has been a Ltyentye Apurte ranger for three years and explained that the Kaltukatjara rangers were more experienced in the conservation of rock art.

“We put that knowledge into doing it here [Utyetye rock art site] as well.”

The rock art in question is found under a large open cave at the bottom of a cliff on the Santa Theresa Aboriginal Land Trust.

They are ancient but yet to be officially dated.

“We’ve actually been waiting on an anthropologist to come out to do a bit of a study on the rock arts to find out how old they are,” Mr McMillan said.

A man in a blue shirt points to swallow nests on rock artA man in a blue shirt points to swallow nests on rock art
Ltyentye Apurte ranger Anton McMillan showing swallow nests on the rock art.(

Supplied: Central Land Council

)

There were several factors that contributed to the wear and tear of the artwork but, according to Mr McMillan, there was one that stood out among the rest.

“One of the issues is just time, I reckon … so nature does the damage because there’s a lot of build-ups of calcium because the rock art where we were doing the job is right under a waterfall that’s dried off,” he said.

During the wet season, the cave sits above a prominent waterhole that was home to many camps throughout the thousands of years that the Arrernte people have called it home.

The paintings depict corroborees around waterholes, of important ceremonial meetings that the Arrernte people have taken part in throughout the generations.

A man wearing a hat stands with his hands on his hips near a waterholeA man wearing a hat stands with his hands on his hips near a waterhole
Ltyentye Apurte ranger coordinator Peter Worsnop.(

Supplied: Central Land Council

)

Peter Worsnop is the ranger coordinator and is in his second week on the job. He said it was an important job for the rangers to focus on.

“We went out to a couple of rock holes the other day … we saw some swallows’ nests that will probably need to be moved to preserve the art,” he said.

Mr Worsnop said the rangers had a busy schedule on the Santa Theresa homelands, but rock art protection would become a regular segment in their program.

A delicate task

A female ranger sprays methylated spirits onto a swallows' nest made of mud on rock artA female ranger sprays methylated spirits onto a swallows' nest made of mud on rock art
Kaltukatjara ranger Edin Long showing the Ltyentye Apurte rangers how to use the chemicals properly.(

Supplied: Central Land Council

)

Cleaning ancient rock art without damaging it is a tedious process.

“[We] use small sticks to gently break off all the nests because it’s all built of mud build-up [and we] just chip away small pieces at a time,” Mr McMillan said.

The rangers use methylated spirits to soften the mud, before carefully brushing it off and separating it from the artwork.

It was a very special job for the ranger group to be a part of, and Mr McMillan had an important piece of advice for any young kid wanting to take on the fulfilling role of a ranger.



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