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Two NSW men found guilty of using oily handprints to damage sacred Uluru cave art Australia
Two NSW men found guilty of using oily handprints to damage sacred Uluru cave art Australia
Two NSW men found guilty of using oily handprints to damage sacred Uluru cave art Australia
Rock Art Network
Two NSW men found guilty of using oily handprints to damage sacred Uluru cave art
3 November 2023

Rock Art Network

The Coat of Arms of the Northern Territory
Two New South Wales men who used oily handprints to damage ancient rock art in a sacred Uluru cave have been accused of showing "great contempt" for the Aṉangu people and the laws of Australia.

Shawn Bartley and Richard Jarrett, who claim to be "sovereign citizens", did not appear in the Alice Springs Local Court on Thursday as they were found guilty of a string of offences relating to the incident. Those offences included damaging and defacing a Commonwealth reserve, entering a prohibited area, and lighting a fire on and taking animals onto a Commonwealth reserve.

As the co-accused were not present and did not enter any pleas, the matter proceeded ex parte. The court heard that on August 11 last year, the two men had driven into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park after 10am, parked in a no-stopping zone and climbed through a fence with their two dogs.

They then entered a prohibited cave site, Warayuki, where they used an oily substance to make two handprints on sacred rock art. The court heard the men also lit a fire in the cave and moved sand to make a drawing on the cave floor. Commonwealth prosecutor Ryan Bocock told the court the cave was a sacred Aṉangu men's site which was placed "in the highest order of significant sites" inside Uluru. He also said there were a number of signs prohibiting entry along the fence line.

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Rock art - ancient paintings and engravings on rock surfaces - is a visual record of global human history. It is a shared heritage that links us to powerful ancestral worlds and magnificent landscapes of the past. It tells the story of the birthplaces of art, the dawn of artistic endeavors. It creates connections to significant places and depicts encounters with the surrounding living world. Through its existence nature and culture are connected in the landscape. It resonates with our individual and collective identity while stimulating a vital sense of belonging to a greater past. Rock art illustrates the passage of time over tens of thousands of years of environmental and cultural change. It incarnates the essence of human ingenuity and facilitates contacts today between cultures and aspects of spirituality. Rock art is artistically compelling and full of meaning. This fragile and irreplaceable visual heritage has worldwide significance, contemporary relevance and for many indigenous peoples is still part of their living culture. If we neglect, destroy, or disrespect rock art we devalue our future.

© Rock Art Network
The court heard soon after the men entered the cave, they were spotted by a tour guide, who alerted park rangers.

"The rangers could hear the sound of clapsticks, and it was considered that something similar to ceremony was taking place," Mr Bocock said.

"The rangers waited for the Aṉangu traditional owners to arrive at the site and then intercepted Jarrett and Bartley who emerged … with two dogs."

Mr Bocock said Bartley appeared to be Caucasian, while Jarrett was "Aboriginal in appearance" and had been carrying a jar filled with an unidentified liquid.

"A conversation ensued between Jarrett and Bartley and the traditional owners where Jarrett stated that he came to make treaty … with 'my people'," Mr Bocock said.

"In response, [a traditional owner] said: 'No, I know this place. What's wrong with you? You have no shame coming to our place, you have no culture, you have no language'."

The court heard traditional owners claimed both Jarrett and Bartley had "no connection" to Aṉangu men and had entered the cave without permission. Mr Bocock said following the conversation, the co-accused had exited the park, while rangers inspected the cave.

"There was a large sand drawing in the cave floor … in the middle of a big circle was burnt leaves, tree nuts and coals from a fire," he told the court.

The court heard the rangers had also found two handprints in an "oil-like substance" on the cave walls, including one over a faded section of Aṉangu rock art.

The co-accused were subsequently offered interviews — with Bartley replying in an email that he "personally accepted responsibility" for his part in the vandalism, but had been "coerced and misled" by Jarrett. Both men also claimed to be sovereign citizens.

Alice Springs Local Court
Alice Springs Local Court
© Public Domain
Mr Bocock told the court the cave site had been inspected again in July this year, and the damage from the handprints remained. He argued there was "little doubt" both accused had known they were acting unlawfully and "violating sacred areas of great importance". "There was not any apparent remorse shown at the time or subsequently, and it's still not clear whether any damage can be repaired," he said. "This reveals a deliberate disregard and disrespect for Indigenous culture and heritage."

Mr Bocock rejected any "mistaken belief" that the co-accused had permission to enter the area, and told the court Jarrett's claims he had been there to make treaty "lacked credibility".

"We submit the circumstances of the offending by both accused reveals a very serious example of this type of offending," he said.

"This is not merely an example of tourists wanting the experience of climbing Uluru to take some photos."

The court heard both men had criminal histories. Bartley's record was described as "old and minor", while Jarrett's was said to be "substantial" and showing a "repeated disrespect for the law".

However, Judge David Bamber noted this was the first time the men had been charged with offences of this nature, and said the damage to rock art was the most serious of their offences.

"This is a case where we have two persons who have these wrong-headed notions of sovereign citizenship, whatever that means," he said.

"Clearly this was quite a blatant attempt to thumb their noses both at the general law and show really a contempt to the culture of the traditional owners."

The co-accused were convicted and fined $8,600 each.

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by Janette Deacon
9 September 2020
→ The Continuum of Art: The relationship between Ice Age art and contemporary art and how an understanding of the former can help engage a modern audience
by Peter Robinson
16 August 2020
→ Illuminating the Realm of the Dead: The Rock Art within the Dolmen de Soto, Andalucía, Southern Spain
by George Nash
29 July 2020
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
12 May 2020
→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
23 March 2020
→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
24 November 2019
→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
11 November 2019
→ The Histories of Australian Rock Art Research symposium, 8-9 December 2019, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Tacon
5 November 2019
→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
by Aron Mazel
17 September 2019
→ The 2018 Art on the Rocks Colloquium
by Wendy All
2 December 2018
→ Preserving Our Ancient Art Galleries: Volunteerism, Collaboration, and the Rock Art Archive
by Wendy All
1 December 2017
→ Altamira and the New Technology for Public Access
by Pilar Fatás Monforte
30 April 2017
→ From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
by Jean-Michel Geneste
29 April 2017
→ Emerging Consciousness and New Media: The Management of Rock Art in Southeast Asia and New Opportunities for Communicating Its Significance
by Noel Hidalgo Tan
28 April 2017
→ Step by Step: The Power of Participatory Planning with Local Communities for Rock Art Management and Tourism
by Nicholas Hall
27 April 2017
→ Fundraising for Rock Art by Promoting Its Values
by Terry Little
26 April 2017
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