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The talking Rocks of the Aborigines

Synopsis for a documentary by Gernot Stadler

Jürgen Steiner, stone restorer from Klagenfurt, Austria, has for the first time succeeded in restoring approx. 40,000 year old rock paintings from the Aborigines in the northeast of Australia and saving it from further destruction by environmental factors.
 
The Aborigines of Australia are considered by many researchers to be one of the oldest (still) existing cultures of humanity.  For an estimated 80,000 years the aborigines lived in isolation from the rest of the world.  Empowered with ancient wisdom and unique skills to live in harmony with nature, skills which modern man has long forgotten.
 
Aborigines did not develop a written language and therefore their history, traditions and customs are held rather firmly in song and dance and portrayed by magical verses and song cycles and then eventually pictorially. Sandstone, river sediments and charcoal supplied them with the four basic colours red, yellow, white and black.  This is applied skilfully to the impressive rock and cave walls of their holy sites using plant stems and wood sticks.
 
As a pictorial expression of their spiritual and ritual life the rock art paintings are a unique cultural heritage. The meaning of the symbolical rock motives reveal themselves only to insiders. Whereby they are regarded as identity-endowing cultural sites for the natives, which have been threatened by the uprooting of the Aboriginal people and their culture.
 
By invitation Jürgen Steiner visited the Dinden National Park in Queesnland in November 2008 for the first time to investigate Aboriginal rock art. The paintings which are approximately 40,000 years old were already deteriorating due to algae infestation and chipping of the top rock strata. Over the course of a month the stone restorer carefully carried out various tests to restore the bedrock. The greatestest challenge is not to touch the paintings themselves since the  isopach of the paintings must not be changed.
 
Different teams of scientists from various countries have in recent years also repeatedly tried to save the rock art sites that represent a unique treasure of human history - but to no avail. Only the chemical tests that Jürgen Steiner carried out have achieved any success.
 
In October 2009 Steiner began with his restoration work. The Aborigines who protect the rock art, which is deeply concealed in the primeval forest, placed their trust in the Austrian and led him to the most significant places of their ancient culture. Willie Brim, musician and elder of the Bulwai Aborigines, is one of the most prominent supporters of the restoration project.
A friendship based on mutual respect connects the elder with Jürgen Steiner.
Brims original scepticism disappeared when he saw the result of Steiner's early work: the experienced stone restorer had succeeded in repairing the algae infestation, erosion damages and he was able to stabilize the backing material of the rocks once again. The Ganandoran, a representation of a woman giving birth, for example is now clearly recognizable on the rocks.
 
Due to the fact that there are thousands of paintings in isolated locations scattered around the whole continent, it is Jürgen Steiner's wish is to teach the natives his skills so that from now on they themselves will be able preserve their cultural treasures.
 
In autumn 2012, Jürgen Steiner would like to continue his work in Atherton Tableland and train the volunteers who in future will continue his work.
For the first time he will also use a new laser technique that has recently been used very successfully on ancient wall paintings in Egyptian tombs. The interest from the various tribes is great, because without their cultural heritage they are barely able to survive as an independent culture.
 
In addition, a more intensive collaboration between scientists (archeologist) of the James Cook University in Cairns and Jürgen Steiners’ has now been planned because they first wanted to wait to see whether his restoration attempts were truly successful.
 
The film follows the Austrian stone restorer on his third trip to the Aborigines in northeastern Australia where he is to continuing his work on the restoration of other rock paintings in the area. In addition, through Jürgen Steiner we will gain access to very reclusive tribes.  The film is going to reveal the everyday lives of the Australian natives torn between tradition and modernity as well as still being marked by great spirituality.
 
Another focus is the interpretation of the rock art by scientists from the University in Cairns and also by the aborigines themselves.
The film takes the viewer through one of the most beautiful areas of Australia with extensive, untouched primeval forests, mountain landscapes and coastal regions with luxuriant fauna as well as a huge wealth of rare animal species.
 
Format: HD, 16:9, Stereo
Length: 52 Min.
Shooting Time: September 2012
Completion: 2013