Aboriginal Ochre Mining


Ochre pigments, used regularly for cosmetics, body and artefact decoration, and cave painting, were traded widely from the main ochre quarries. Expeditions were made from western Queensland all the way to the Yarrakina red ochre mine at Parachilna, in the flinders Ranges in south Australia, to obtain the special, sacred iridescent ochre mined there. Paint was made from ochre by crushing up lumps of the soft pigment-bearing rock into a powder and mixing it with water, or sometimes with the blood or fat of fish, emu, possum, kangaroo or goanna, or with orchid juice for a fixative. There are several ochre mines in Australia. One near Mount Rowland in Tasmania was visited by Robinson in 1834. There, Aboriginal women were the miners. They levered out the red ion ore using the hammer and chisel method, except that their hammer was simply a stone and their chisel a pointed stick. The women enthusiastically squeezed themselves down narrow cervices to get at the red ochre - one even became stuck and had to be pulled out by the legs! Everywhere there were signs of strenuous mining: heaps of stone, old workings and narrow holes. The ochre was packed into kangaroo skin bags and carried off in heavy loads by the women.