More than 400 kilometres away from Perth’s iconic Gold Coast, the Gold Coast of the Northern Territory has become synonymous with camping.
It’s an island of pristine, beautiful rock, and a perfect spot for a campfire.
But the unique rock castings are the stuff of legend, and the stories that have emerged over the years about them are legendary too.
The story of what went on at one of the sites is pretty much etched in stone.
It started with a woman who used a piece of rock as a camping mat, which was a pretty big deal at the time, says David Whitehead, who has spent years researching the story of the Rock Castings.
“She took a piece from the rock and made it into a blanket and then wrapped it around her arm and then she laid it over a tent, that’s where she started making the camping mat.”
I mean it was probably just a blanket or a blanket that was wrapped around a tent.
“When the woman passed away a couple of years later, she was unable to come forward with her story.
But it wasn’t until Whitehead was working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the region that the story began to get traction.”
The stories about the Rock Casting became a really big thing for Aboriginal and Indigenous people in the area, so we were really fascinated,” he says.”
So I got a call from one of them who said she’d got a phone call from a person who’d seen it on the TV news.
“They said, ‘I’ve been looking into it for ages and it’s so big, it’s not just in the Aboriginal community but in the broader community’.”
“So we called the Australian Museum and asked them to take a look, and they did.”
The Museum was able to verify that the rock cast was in fact a Aboriginal mat.
The museum was able also to verify the story was a real one.
“When we were working with the Aboriginal people, we realised that there was a lot of information about what happened to that woman,” Whitehead says.
“There was a little bit of a gap in the narrative, so the Museum had to find out what the Aboriginal mat was.”
The Rock Castles of the NT are known for being one of a few sites in the Northern Territories where Aboriginal people have successfully constructed a rock shelter from rock cast.”
We knew the story, and we thought it was going to be a bit of fun to dig up the information and put it in a museum.”
The Rock Castles of the NT are known for being one of a few sites in the Northern Territories where Aboriginal people have successfully constructed a rock shelter from rock cast.
The project was a joint venture between the Aboriginal Land Council, the Royal Australian Museum, the Department of Indigenous Affairs and the Northern Australia Council, which is the lead agency for the project.
The team set out to explore what the materials that make up the RockCastles would look like and then came up with a number of ideas, including how they could use them as camping mats.
“We thought, well, we could do this in a way that doesn’t compromise the quality of the rock, but doesn’t change the physical characteristics of the site,” White.
“And so that’s how we ended up using rock cast materials, that is a material that we use in our camping mats.”
The team used the rock to create a layer of clay, sand, gravel, sandstone and other materials, and then placed it into the rock bed to allow the water to soak into the ground.
“What we were trying to do is really try to keep it relatively dry, but it doesn’t have to be very dry,” White says.
He says it was important to create the material so that it would be suitable for long-term use.
“It would need to be water-repellent to be good for more than a few years and to be able to stand up to the elements, to be resistant to the effects of wind and rain and drought,” he explains.
Whitehead says the project was originally planned to last only a few months, but with the funding from the Department and Aboriginal Land and Environment, the team was able, and is still in the process of making the site a reality.
He hopes to continue the project, and hope to get some other sites on the list, as well.
“But I think we’re probably going to end up doing a couple more campsites in the future,” he said.
“If we can get a few more sites on that list, that would be really good.”
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