Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published September 6th 2019
5 kms north of Lyndhurst on the Outback Highway in northern South Australia is a sign beside the road with the non-inspiring and non-descript words 'Ochre Cliffs' written on it. I drove straight past initially, then decided to turn around and have a bit of a look.
I headed west on the dirt road for a couple of kilometres to reach a quarry lookout. From there, I could see a spectacular palette of rich Australian earth colours of brown, red, orange, yellow and white. The cliffs are made of ochre - an earthy pigment-containing ferric oxide, typically with clay, varying from light yellow to brown or red. The colour is darker and redder with higher levels of iron oxide. The white clay has little or zero iron present.
These cliffs of colour tell a story that began with time itself and they are an important part of our country's history and the culture of the first people to this land, the Yantruwanta. The main ochre diggings at Lyndhurst are extensive and spread for more than a square kilometre with the ochre seams spreading over an area many times the size of the mine site.
Ochre pits have been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. They traded the ochre with other tribes by foot over vast distances and in every direction of the continent. Ochre was an extremely valuable and spiritual item and played an important role in the continent's economy.
The oldest confirmed example of ceremonial ochre is from Lake Mungo in southwestern New South Wales. Koori warrior Mungo Man was buried in a sand dune and his grave sprinkled with ochre. The date of Mungo Man has been put at between 40,000 and 42,000 years old. The ochre found with Mungo Man was not one naturally found in the area - it had been most likely traded from a different location.
Research currently underway by the South Australian Museum is revealing that ochre has its own traces of geological DNA. Science and the latest technology are able to pinpoint with great accuracy the home location of the ochre.
In modern times, ochre is used to depict Dreamtime stories through song and dance with some artists blending it with acrylic paints to create their iconic dot paintings.
Lyndhurst is a town in north-east South Australia, approximately 600 kms north of Adelaide and 80 kms south of Marree. The town sits at the southern end of the Strzelecki Track. A visit in the early morning or late afternoon will show the colours at their most beautiful.
Another informative article Paula. I wasn't aware Mungo Man had been sprinkled with ochre. As always your photos are amazing and inspiring. I got a DSLR last year and have embarked on a steep photography learning curve. I had never imagined it could be so interesting and so challenging.