27,000 year ochre site on National Heritage List

Ancient Ochre Mine Wilgie Mia is thought to be one of the world’s oldest mines, with estimates placing it at about 27,000 years old.

Ochre from Wilgie Mia has long been prized by Aboriginal Australians as being of exceptionally high quality, and it formed an important part of the Indigenous economy through trade networks before European settlement. Today, as in the past, ochre is important to Indigenous Australians for its use in ceremonies, art, healing practices and its religious significance.

Weld Ranges Project Location Map
Enlarge

Map of the Weld Range
with archaeological sites

Weld Range Hillside
Enlarge

Weld Range hillside

Weld Range Breakaways
Enlarge

Breakaways - Weld Range

pasthorizons.com Past Horizons 7th March 2011

The Weld Range in Western Australia joined other iconic sites like the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the prestigious National Heritage List.

The Weld Range is of significant cultural importance to the traditional owners of the area, the Wajarri Yamatji people, as well as neighbouring Indigenous groups.

The 45ha area of the National Heritage Listing includes, Wilgie Mia, Little Wilgie Mia and the Marlu Resting Place. These sites contain sacred law grounds, dreamtime places, thousands of examples of rock art, extensive archaeological material, and the Wilgie Mia red ochre mine.

Ancient Ochre Mine Wilgie Mia is thought to be one of the world’s oldest mines, with estimates placing it at about 27,000 years old. The heritage listed area includes the red ochre mine at Wilgie Mia (Thuwarri Thaa), the smaller yet significant ochre mines at Little Wilgie, as well as a yellow ochre mine further to the west.

Ochre from Wilgie Mia has long been prized by Aboriginal Australians as being of exceptionally high quality, and it formed an important part of the Indigenous economy through trade networks before European settlement. Today, as in the past, ochre is important to Indigenous Australians for its use in ceremonies, art, healing practices and its religious significance.

Colin Hamlett, a Wajarri Yamatji man and traditional owner of the Weld Range, said, “Ochre from Wilgie Mia and Little Wilgie Mia is still used all the time… all the people around the region would get their ochre from there. People say it’s the best ochre in Australia.”

Rock Art and Sacred Sites

The area around Wilgie Mia has the highest known density of pictographic rock art in Southern Western Australia. Made from the red ochre, there are huge numbers of paintings and hand-prints throughout the network of caves and breakaways around the base of the Weld Range. The area contains numerous sacred sites, signifying ceremony, corroboree and law grounds, to living areas, pictographic art sites, artefact scatters and secret sacred areas.

Wilgie Mia Creation Story

The creation story of Wilgie Mia and surrounding hills in the Weld Range involves the Red Kangaroo, or Marlu, with the ochre representing the Marlu’s blood. “A Kangaroo was wounded down near the coast. It hopped back through the country and dropped spots of blood along the way. It dropped quite a bit at Little Wilgie Mia, then it died at Wilgie Mia which left a lot of ochre. Then the spirit of the Kangaroo moved from Wilgie Mia to the hill right next-door to it,” explains Colin Hamlett.

Simon Hawkins, CEO of Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation said, “YMAC is very proud to have assisted the Wajarri Yamatji people gain this protection for their country.The Weld Range remains an important place for Wajarri Yamatji families to camp, hunt and collect traditional bush food and medicine. With the protection afforded by the NationalHeritage List, the Weld Range can be protected from unsustainable development and enjoyed by future generations.”

The inclusion on the National Heritage List will assist Wajarri Yamatji people to manage the area effectively, alongside the growing mining and tourism industries in Western Australia.

More Reading

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Ochre Mine - more information

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
INCLUSION OF A PLACE IN THE NATIONAL HERITAGE LIST
Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Ochre Mine, Western Australia

Antiquity - Quarterley Review of World Archaeology
Recent results of a survey for Aboriginal archaeological sites in the Weld Range, Murchison region, Western Australia
By: Vicky Winton, Viviene Brown & Richard Everett Cameron