The Yourambulla Caves are a historic reserve in the Flinders Ranges, and they sit just 11 kilometres south of Hawker. To get to Hawker in the Flinders Ranges you’ll need to travel 365 kilometres north of Adelaide, but at least you’ll still be in South Australia! The site itself is home to some well preserved aboriginal cave paintings. The actual caves can be quite difficult to get to, and the climb up involves getting yourself up some unusually steep steps, almost like vertical ladders. The views of the surroundings and the cave paintings themselves make that all worth while though. I’ve even taken some pictures for you!
If you’re too lazy to read this sign, it explains that the name Yourambulla is derived from the words ‘yura bila’, which effectively means two men in the Adnymathanha peoples language. The age of the paintings is unknown, but it is thought that they relate to dream time or ceremonies. Even today the caves remain an important part of Adnyamathanha culture.
Yourambulla itself refers to two peaks just East of where the sign is, and they represent two ancestral companions that camped there whilst travelling in Dreamtime. The story describes how their kinship came into being, and follows the matrilineal lines of descent of Arraru and Mathari, the northern peak represents Arraru and the southern one Mathari.
The peaks themselves aren’t huge, but they’re distinct.
Like I mentioned earlier, the climb up to the caves can seem quite daunting (search for Yourambulla in Google images if you’re dying to see it). There’s one hell of a trail to walk up first, littered with boulders and rocks just dying to make life more difficult. Then you’ve got the crazy steps to climb before you reach the upper platform. The paintings themselves are not directly accessible, but that’s to stop immature, uncultured folk from destroying them as they’re kind of a big deal when it comes to aboriginal heritage – much like Uluru or Kata Tjuta.
From on the platform you get to look out at a pretty impressive view. It’s certainly worth taking a breather when you get up there, especially if you go in the day time where you’ll also be exposed to the sun and heat. I’d recommend bringing plenty of water and maybe even a bite to eat, might as well spend some time up there after you’ve climbed it!
The reward for reaching the top is a view of the cave paintings. Some of them my camera didn’t do a particularly good job of capturing, others came out brilliantly. There’s actually a sign at the site which goes some way to describing what the different patterns and symbols might mean. It’s completely open to interpretation though, as it’s deemed disrespectful to tell aboriginal stories when you’re not a part of their community. I’ve got a pretty mashed up picture for you though if you want to try your hand and deciphering it.
First though, the cave paintings:
(And the header image in a slightly larger, pop-out format in case you’re wanting to try to decipher it)
There’s also a sign at the first cave painting site (you can just about make out the top of it in the picture) which reads “This is the largest cave containing paintings in this region. Most were made with manganese, charcoal, red or white ochre. The motifs consist of patterns, hand stencils, line designs and animal tracks. The tracks include those of Emus and Kangaroos. The paintings were applied with lumps of manganese or painted with fingers dipped in ochre mixed with animal fat.”
So now I bet you’re waiting for the “key” for all of this. My apologies for the horrendous mismatch and discolouration; it serves its purpose regardless. My super-fade didn’t make it look any better, so you’ll just have to deal with it 🙂
Sadly, according to the Hawker visitor information centre and to tripadvisor, the caves are currently closed until maintenance work has been completed. There isn’t any ETA on when they’ll be opened up again, which is a shame because they’re such a beautiful, culturally rich place with a lot to offer. I would expect that tripadvisor will probably have a post or two reviewing it when they’re finally opened again, but if you check between these two you should be able to find out whether or not you’re going to be driving to a closed site.
Feel free to leave a comment with your interpretation of the paintings. I know that after a while of staring at them and then checking it against the sign it can become a little tedious. At least you’ll be able to identify a few of the patterns, the emu and kangaroo tracks being the easiest in my opinion.