A guided 4WD tour to one of Outback NSW’s most beautiful and significant Aboriginal sites.
Mutawintji is one of the most important Aboriginal cultural sites in Outback NSW. Located 130km northeast of Broken Hill, it is considered the sacred heart of the ancient Byngnano Range within which it lies, a surprisingly verdant area given its semi-arid outback location. Indeed, the word ‘Mutawintji’ means ‘place of green grass and waterholes’, and the landscape is defined by rich red gorges, rock pools and creek beds lined with river red gums. Attracting animals for hunting and providing a reliable water source, Mutawintji was a meeting place for different Aboriginal groups from western NSW and even South Australia. Ornate and beautiful rock engravings, cave paintings and stenciling at the Mutawintji Historic Site are evidence of more than 8000 years of Aboriginal presence in the area.
A unique and fascinating cultural experience, Mutawintji can only be visited through an accredited tour operator such as Tri State Safaris, whose tour guides are individually accredited to access the very special Mutawintji Historic Site by the area’s traditional owners. In that way you can be sure you receive culturally accurate and detailed information on the ancient life of this magical place.
Tri State’s knowledgeable guides bring Mutawintji to life, firstly through a short, immersive audio-visual display in the Mutawintji Cultural Centre, which tells the Dreamtime story of how Mutawintji was created. With that creation story fresh in your mind, you then set out on two hikes around the historic site (approximately two hours total duration). The hikes are of moderate difficulty but the pace is nice and casual, making the walk appropriate for all ages, assuming a reasonable level of mobility and appropriately sturdy walking shoes.
The first hike encompasses the rocky gorge country within which is one of the most extensive displays of Panaramitee-style rock art in southeast Australia; sprawling sheets of flat rock, every square inch covered in beautiful engravings. The images depict emus, kangaroos, goannas and people, as well as more obscure patterns and motifs upon whose meaning we can only speculate. A sturdy viewing platform has been installed at the predominant location of the engravings, making it easy for all visitors to take in the art works and spend a moment imagining Australia’s first people chipping away at the rocks in that very location more than 8000 years ago.
To put that in a broader historical context, many of these artworks predate what we call Ancient Egypt, and a great many more would have been produced during that same ancient period. Yet here they are on open display in perhaps the most beautiful museum in the world – Outback NSW.
The second of the two hikes takes you to a different part of the site, where a vast overhang cave is colourfully adorned in hand stencils of all shapes and sizes.
Thought to be more recent than the rock engravings – although still up to 3000 years old – these stencils represent a newer ‘trend’ in indigenous rock art, and your guide will detail how they were created and why, pointing out subtle nuances and sharing what is known about their meaning.
Certain artworks depict ‘secret men’s business’ or ‘secret women’s business’ and thus their stories are inappropriate for mixed company, but that will not stop your imagination from conjuring their possible meaning. Indeed, your imagination will be in overdrive during your visit to Mutawintji, a place simultaneously devoid of people yet also somehow thrumming with bygone souls whose presence is still very much felt in this once thriving intersection of Aboriginal groups and cultures.
Tri State Safaris offers a number of options for visiting Mutawintji. The first is as a passenger in one of the company’s well-equipped and comfortable 4WDs, driven by a tour guide who provides commentary on the landscape from Broken Hill onwards. Pick up and drop off is at your accommodation, so this option is ideal for fly-in visitors to Broken Hill, those with a 2WD who don’t wish to drive on unsealed roads, or those who simply want to sit back and enjoy the ride. This option takes the entire day and includes morning tea and lunch. It costs $220 per adult, $110 per child.
The second option is to ‘tagalong’ in your own 4WD vehicle from Broken Hill (morning tea and lunch included) for $110 per adult or $55 per child, or from the Mutawintji National Park Campground (Historic Site tour only, no meals included) for $40 per adult, $10 per child.