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Australian Aboriginal Rock Art – Bradshaw Rock Paintings

Bradshaw rock paintings

Kimberley Aboriginal Rock Art Paintings

“Bradshaw Rock Paintings” is a term used to describe one of the significant traditions of rock art found in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia. There are thousands of known examples of Bradshaw art in the Kimberley region.

Australian rock art researchers date the earliest art to over 12,000 years ago. The identity of who painted these figures is highly debated amongst Australian researchers.

As the Kimberley Region is home to various Aboriginal language groups, the rock art is referred to and known by many different Aboriginal names, the most common of which are Gwion Gwion or Giro Giro.

The Bradshaw paintings predominantly depict human silhouette figures. They appear in a dynamic style suggestive of running, hunting, or dancing.

Gender is rarely portrayed in the paintings, but the limb, arm, and shoulder muscles are often well defined.

The figures are depicted as if they are facing the rock face. This perspective has been initially overlooked until recently because of the Western bias toward images that “face out.”

Once the “facing in” perspective had been accepted, it became evident that the many attributions of “stomach paunches” was incorrect.

Instead, the figures are ornamented with a diversity of objects such as belts, headdresses, bags, and tassels, while other material culture is sometimes depicted, such as boomerangs and wands.

Most figures have a deep purple-red hue, mulberry color, or a red to yellow-brown color. However, there are rare examples of multi-colored figures that retain some yellow and white pigment.

The height of the art is variable; most are between 40 and 50 cm in length with some examples up to 2 meters in height.

The art consists primarily of human figures ornamented with accessories such as bags, tassels, and headdresses.

Kimberley Aboriginal Art

Rock art in the Kimberley is some of the oldest in Australia and could date back 40,000 years.

The best-known examples of rock art from the Kimberley are Wandjina and the Bradshaw rock paintings, or Gwion.

The earliest form of Kimberley rock art was hand stencils, and rock art continued up to the 1960s when Wandjina was still being repainted.

Some of Australia’s best known indigenous artists came from the Kimberley. These artists painted in a style unique to this area, a style initially associated with the Krill Krill ceremony but later known as the Kimberley Art Movement.

Art and culture still flourish today, with many contemporary artists being supported by the Mowanjum Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Center.

Kimberley Aboriginal Rock Art Paintings

Location of the Kimberley region in Australia.

Bradshaw Rock Paintings

The Bradshaw Rock Paintings were first recorded by pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw in 1891, after whom they were named. 

Since the first discovery of these ancient art sites, the majority of the known examples of Bradshaw art have been damaged, and fires have destroyed many sites.

Modern land-management actions and practices do not protect the natural landscape to the same standards as practiced by the traditional aboriginal land custodians.

Traditional Aboriginal land custodians had perfected land-care and controlled burning over thousands of years, which had protected this ancient Rock Art.

Bradshaw rock painting

Aboriginal Australians

The term “Aboriginal Australians” refers to the people who are members of the several hundred Indigenous peoples of Australia. 

The category “Aboriginal Australia” was coined by the British after they began colonizing Australia in 1788.

The term was used to refer collectively to all the people they found already inhabiting the continent. It later also included the descendants of any of those people. 

The Constitution of Australia, in its original form as of 1901, referred to Aboriginals twice, but without definition.

Before the British colonization of Australia, there existed several hundred groupings of Indigenous peoples of Australia with their own defined territory.

Within each region or country, people lived in clan groups: extended families defined by various forms of Australian Aboriginal kinship. Inter-clan contact was frequent, as was inter-country communication, but there were strict protocols around this contact.

The Australian Aboriginal languages, before colonization, consisting of over 300 languages belonging to an estimated twenty-eight language families.

Today, the most significant single language group of Aboriginal people live in the area around Uluru (Ayers Rock) and south into South Australia.

The second-largest Aboriginal distinct community lives in and around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Kimberley, Western Australia

The Kimberley is the northernmost region of Western Australia. It is bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea. On the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami deserts in the region of the Pilbara, and the east by the Northern Territory.

The Kimberley was one of the earliest settled parts of Australia, with the first humans landing about 41,000 years ago. They created a sophisticated culture that developed over thousands of years.

The Kimberley has been noted as a region of great linguistic diversity. Depending on the definition of what constitutes a “language,” as opposed to a “dialect,” about 50-60 Aboriginal languages were once spoken in this region.

Today the permanent population of the Kimberley is about thirty thousand, but it rises dramatically during winter when it attracts a seasonal community.

Approximately 40% of the region’s population is of Aboriginal descent. Many indigenous languages are no longer spoken daily. 


Australian Aboriginal Rock Art – Bradshaw Rock Paintings

  • Title:                   Bradshaw Rock Paintings
  • Aboriginal:         Gwion Gwion paintings
  • Created:             12,000 years ago
  • Materials:           Ochre paints
  • Dimensions:       40 to 50 cm in length with some examples up to 2 meters in height
  • Museum:            North-west Kimberley region of Western Australia

Australian Aboriginal Sayings and Quotes

Virtual Tour of Prehistoric Art and Artifacts

Tour of Aboriginal Artifacts and Stories

Rock Art: Finding Bradshaws in the Kimberleys

The Bradshaw Painting Aboriginal Art

Mysterious Kimberley Rock Art


“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.”
– Ancient Aboriginal Saying


Photo Credit: 1)JTimJN1 / CC BY-SA (; Robin Hutton / CC BY-SA (; User:Brisbane, User:Martyman / CC BY (

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