We're privileged to work with great artists of today, and those preserving the art done through the last 30,000 years

If a picture can tell a thousand words, how many stories can one million rock engravings tell?

"Look closely and you can see Mona Lisas by the thousands," says Dr Ken Mulvaney as he studies the rock art of the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, known by traditional owners as Murujuga.

"This is a site of archaeological and cultural significance as important as Macchu Picchu in Peru or Yosemite National Park in the United States,” says Ken.

Within the Murujuga lies a national park with as many as one million engravings of animals as diverse as kangaroos and fish, and geometric images depicting spirits and ancestors, men and women.

"It's no accident the local Murujuga people call them the 'stories from the stones', for it is a beautiful and fascinating place."

Ken has lived and worked in Dampier for 15 years and helped study the Burrup Peninsula in his role as Rio Tinto's principal cultural heritage officer. He has worked tirelessly to ensure the rock art remains accessible to the general public, but preserved for future generations.

"Rio Tinto holds the same values as I do as an archeologist in protecting this area and working with the Indigenous people who are the traditional owners of this culture," says Ken.

"The work that Rio Tinto has done collaboratively with the University of Western Australia and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation has actually strengthened the resolve of the Aboriginal Corporation. It gives them comfort that they are the owners and managers of their culture."

Exploring Murujuga rock art, Burrup Peninsula Exploring Murujuga rock art, Burrup Peninsula
L-R: Dr Joe Dortch, Victoria Anderson and Dr Ken Mulvaney exploring Murujuga rock art, Burrup Peninsula

It's estimated that the rock art on the island of the Dampier is the world's largest and most significant collection of petroglyphs, better known as engraved rock art.

Archaeologists believe that documentation is the best way to understand, preserve and manage the rock art gallery, which is why Rio Tinto has partnered with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and the University of Western Australia on Murujuga: Dynamics of Dreaming Project.

This unique collaboration between industry, academia and traditional custodians has enabled a detailed archeological investigation of the Dampier Archipelago, including extensive recording of the rock art as well as a series of excavations.

As the industry partner, Rio Tinto has co-funded the project over a three year timeframe and contributed in-kind support, including office space and accommodation for visiting researchers, vehicles, storage space and staff with specialist skills in rock art recording and research.

All of the data generated by the UWA-led, Rio Tinto-supported project has been passed back to the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to assist in their management of the Murujuga National Park.

The project report also found that the region more than satisfied the requirements needed for potential future selection by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Yinjaa-Barni artist Clifton Mack works on a painting Yinjaa-Barni artist Clifton Mack works on a painting
Yinjaa-Barni artist Clifton Mack works on a painting


generated into the Pilbara's artistic community

Aboriginal artists continue to make their mark

While preserving the past is crucial for the vitality of a contemporary culture, it's just as important to get behind those making art today.

Since 2006, Rio Tinto has supported Colours of our Country™, an annual exhibition that showcases the work of Indigenous artists and art groups from Western Australia's Pilbara region (the hub of Australia's mining industry).

It enables artists who live 1,500 kilometres from Perth to exhibit and sell their work in the capital city, with all proceeds going back into the Pilbara. Since 2006 the sales of 2,210 artworks and artefacts has pumped $2.39 million back into the area's artistic community.

Rio Tinto supports Indigenous artists through the Colours of our Country™ exhibition in Perth

Yinjaa-Barni means coming together

Allery Sandy, Yinjaa-Barni Art Centre artist

"It's a privilege to be a part of a process where we're giving opportunities for people from Traditional Owner groups to pass on their knowledge and history of country to the young people through their art," says Rio Tinto community engagement specialist Ross Humphries.

"The Colours of our Country™ exhibition enables artists to increase their profile and sell their art work, which is all money coming back into the community," says Ross.

Rio Tinto provides operational support for the Roebourne Art Group and Yinjaa-Barni Art Centre, with funding committed for the next three years.

Yinjaa-Barni Art Centre artist Allery Sandy is grateful for the support of Rio Tinto. It has allowed the centre to flourish and become a vital meeting point for the Indigenous community in the Pilbara region.

"Yinjaa-Barni means coming together," says Allery. "We come and do art every day because we love what we do - bringing out what's in our heart about our country and telling our story to our kids."

Main image: Allery Sandy, Yinjaa-Barni Art Centre artist