National Geographic : 1986 Jan
heart of the other Aboriginal world, the one called the Dreamtime. That history has been chronicled in a vast landscape of rock art, some of which may be among the oldest in the world. Called the Quinkan Galleries, the art is spread over more than 6,000 square miles in a region seldom visited by whites. Most of it was discovered by one man, a former airline pilot who for years looked down on the wilderness from his cockpit and wondered. (([T KEPT asking myself, what did those fellows-the Aboriginals-leave in that bloody country down there?" Percy Tre zise said. "Then in 1959, when they were building the road to Laura, the workers came up a hill one day and there was a really outstanding gallery of paintings." In the years to follow, Trezise, now a well known artist, spent much of his time explor ing the massive gorges and red plateaus of the Cape York Peninsula. "I found rock art everywhere," he told me as we sat in the cool open area beneath his stilt-raised house in Cairns. "There was no traditional Aborigi nal life left when I started looking. I got the stories from the real old fellows who had been initiated into the ceremonial status." The trip by road from Cairns to Laura is punishing, but, for the adventurous, re warding. And once there, moving from cave to cave, where the spirit figures of the Dreamtime play out their lives on the sand stone walls, the experience becomes memo rable. In one gallery there is a painting that spreads for 100 feet, a solid mass of almost 400 individual figures. There are depictions of sorcery, and of animals not known now. Percy Trezise said there are still many more galleries to be found. He is con vinced that some of the paintings predate Cro-Magnon rock art found in France and Spain. "We have solid evidence that some of the work was created before the Ice Age end ed in the Cape York Peninsula," he said. "I have no doubt that the oldest art in the world is right here."