That protected cave and its art have now been vandalized with graffiti, devastating the indigenous Mirning community as authorities search for the culprits.
“Earlier this year it was discovered that the cave had been illegally accessed and a portion of the delicate finger whistles had been vandalized, with damage scratched over them into the side of the cave,” a government spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. said.
The waves are grooves drawn by the fingers of ice age people on the walls of the soft limestone cave.
“The vandalism of Koonalda Cave is shocking and heartbreaking. Koonalda Cave is of vital importance to the Mirning people, and its tens of thousands of years of history show some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation in that part of the country,” the spokesperson said. . said.
“If these vandals can be apprehended, they should face the full force of the law.”
The vandals have not been deterred by fencing at the caves, so the South Australian state government is now considering installing security cameras and has been consulting traditional owners “over the past months” on how to better protect the site, the spokesman added .
However, Bunna Lawrie, a senior Mirning elder and the keeper of Koonalda, said he had not heard of the vandalism until local media reported it this week.
“We are the traditional custodians of Koonalda and ask that this be respected and that our Mirning elders be consulted,” he said in a statement.
The incident has frustrated the Mirning People, who say their previous repeated requests for higher security have gone unheeded.
As a sacred site, it is closed to the public and only accessible to a few male elders in the community, the group said in a statement. Apart from the cave’s spiritual significance, the restrictions are also to protect the delicate art, some of which is etched into the cave floor.
Despite the legal protection, the group said it still received requests to allow public access to Koonalda.
“We opposed the opening of our sacred site as it would violate the protocols that have protected Koonalda for so long. Since 2018 we have asked for support to secure the entrance as a priority and to present appropriate Mirning signs . This support did not happen,” the statement read.
“Instead, damage has been done in recent years, including the cave entrance collapsing, following access works that we were not consulted on and (were) not approved.”
It added that Koonalda, as a site representing the link to Mirning ancestors and homelands, “is more than just a precious work of art, it runs deep in our blood and identity.”
For decades, Australian scientists believed the country’s indigenous people had only existed on the land for about 8,000 years.
Koonalda Cave was the first site in Australia with Aboriginal rock art that could be dated back 22,000 years – improving the scientific community’s understanding of Australian history.
“The discovery caused a sensation and changed the then-accepted notions of where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian continent forever,” said then Environment Minister Greg Hunt in 2014 when Koonalda was listed as a National Heritage Site. -site has been designated.
The cave art dating was assessed by archaeological remains and fingerprints, then confirmed using radiocarbon technology, according to the state’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.
Apart from the finger tips, the cave also had a second type of rock art, with lines cut into harder limestone sections with a sharp tool. The walls have patterns of horizontal and vertical lines cut in a V shape, according to a government website.
The cave and its art have been overseen and protected by Mirning elders for generations, says the Mirning statement.
“All our elders are devastated, shocked and hurt by the recent desecration of this site,” said Lawrie. “We are in mourning for our sacred place. Koonalda is like our ancestor. Our ancestor left his spirit in the wall, of the story, of the singing line.”