Murujuga National Park is home to a natural rock art gallery with some of the world’s most ancient works, some 50,000 years old, and the Burrup Peninsula is a place that tries to find a balance between the economic importance of modern oil and gas exploration, with the cultural importance of historical preservation and environmental conservation.
Murujuga National Park
Covering the northern end of Burrup Peninsula, Murujuga National Park is one of the most spectacular and important Aboriginal rock art galleries in Western Australia. There are over a million drawings here, many dating back almost 50,000 years if not more, and the national park is in the process of being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
If you have been to other rock art sites, Murujuga may seem a bit different. The drawings here are not in caves or on cliff tops – instead, the etchings are found on small red rocks that have been stacked in gigantic piles. Spotting the art is a bit like looking for orchids – it can be very difficult at first, but once you find your first one it gets easier and easier. One of the best drawings is one of a jellyfish with extra-long tentacles, though you will see plenty of creatures here including humans and unrecognisable animals that have probably been extinct for tens of thousands of years. Note that the open-air site lacks signage and railings, but this just adds to the mystique (though there is now a 700m boardwalk at Nganjarli). If you don’t fancy striking out on your own, various local operators run guided tours.
‘Murujuga’ means ‘hip bone sticking out’ in Yaburara. Almost all of the art here is in petroglyph form; Aboriginal peoples believe that the images were made by the Marga – creation spirits. While some of it is believed to be 50,000 or even 60,000 years old, varying sea levels around Australia and the presence of marine animals in many drawings, indicate that much of it would be much more recent – around the 6,000- to 8,000-year mark – as in different periods of Aboriginal habitation of Australia, this area would have been far inland.
North West Shelf Project Visitor Centre
Just south of the national park is the North West Shelf Project Visitor Centre, located within the Karratha Gas Plant. The Burrup Peninsula is home to massive natural gas exploration, and this centre has interactive displays and exhibits on the process of discovery, extraction and refinement. One-third of Australia’s oil and gas is produced here; it has generated A$35 billion in investment over its 35 years of operation and is Australia’s largest natural resource development project. Despite this, it is estimated that only about one-third of the shelf’s reserves have been exploited. The plant provides for much of the state’s domestic consumption; the pipeline from here to Bunbury is the longest in Australia (roughly 1,600km) and accounts for nearly all of the South West’s consumption.