February 29, 2024

This study discovered that rock paintings of watercraft found in a cave in Australia likely depict fighting craft from the Maluku Islands, now part of Indonesia. The detailed paintings show features associated with warships, suggesting that there may have been physical violence between the Indigenous people in Australia and visitors from the Maluku Islands. The presence of these fighting vessels challenges the accepted narrative of Macassan coastal fishing and trading and provides better understanding of contact between the two groups. The level of detail in the paintings suggests that the Aboriginal people who created the rock art had intimate knowledge of the craft, either through long observation or actual voyaging. The study also indicates that there may have been sporadic or accidental voyages from Indonesia to the Australian coastline before or alongside regular fishing visits. This discovery offers greater insight into how Aboriginal people recorded their encounters with foreign visitors and supports the conclusions of previous research regarding the presence of Macassan boats in Aboriginal rock art. In sum, the ancient rock art depicts ships from the Maluku Islands and provides evidence of contact between Aboriginal people in Australia and mariners from the Maluku Islands hundreds of years ago.

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