Types of Bradshaw style rock art figures of the Kimberley

The pioneer behind the revelation of this incredible rock art belongs to a 1892 Sketch of the now iconic Classic Abstract Bradshaw panel sketched by Joseph Bradshaw. This beautiful body of Late Pleistocene rock art was given the name Bradshaw by Agnus Shultz in her 1952 publication. Agnus and her Frobenius Insitute research team from Germany, working in the field in the north west Kimberley between 1928 and 1929, found that Aboriginal people had no name for the art and could only describe the Bradshaw figures as ‘very old’. Agnus Shultz was told the Bradshaw figures were painted by the bird Kujon with its beak but was told there was no other information. In 2000, a publication, Gwion Gwion, suddenly found an Aboriginal name to describe this art. The significance of this publication is that the elders interviewed at the time only pointed out the much later Simple style of Bradshaw images.

While we, the authors, accept the politically correct term Gwion for the Simple style of Bradshaw figures, we also recognise that there are now at least 22 recorded names in the literature that have been used to describe the Bradshaw style of rock art. There are also at least 10 recorded references by early Aboriginal informants stating that they know nothing about the Bradshaw rock art. Because of the confusion over what actually defines Bradshaw rock art and its various styistic variations the authors have decided to stay with the more generic term Bradshaw for this website.

It is not the intention of this publication to take the reader through the literature on any explanation of the Bradshaw rock art period of painting. However it is important for the reader to understand some of the background to our own research and to read the literature on the subject. We have included a list of suggested reading.

After a study of thousands of rock art sites containing panels of Bradshaw images we identified 4 major stylistic variations. Superimposition evidence clearly determined that the more sophisticated and technologically advanced of the Bradshaw style of figure was the oldest and that over time the figures became more simplistic.

A simple nomenclature has been used to describe each period and these were defined in order of the superimposed evidence. The various stylistic variations have been determined chronologically as the Classic Bradshaw period; the Complex Bradshaw period; the Stylistic Bradshaw period and the Simple Bradshaw period. The Early Classic period of painting was determined as the first evidence of the presence of Bradshaw figures in the archaeological record. A slight and curious change identified within the Classic period of painting resulted in this earliest period being broken into two sequences. These were determined as Classic Realistic and Classic Abstract.

We hope that you find this publication of photographs taken by Dean Goodgame a simple visual way of understanding this beautiful period of Kimberley painting by indigenous people possibly tens of thousands of years ago.

The 4 main stylistic variations of the Bradshaw Period were provided simple nomenclature and were defined as

• The Classic Bradshaw (Realistic and abstract) period
• The Complex Bradshaw period
• The Stylised Bradshaw period
• The Simple Bradshaw (Gwion) period

Late pleistocene


End of Pleistocene / Early Holocene

The oldest identified phase of the various stylistic variations that make up the Bradshaw periods (based on superimposed evidence, technique and style) is referred to as the Classic Period while the last and most basic Bradshaw painted figures is referred to as Simple Bradhsaw period.

The 1892 sketch by Joseph Bradshaw are anthropomorphic figures that fit into the Classic Abstract Bradshaw period.

Original sketch (1891) by Joseph Bradshaw (lower) of the famous panel that introduced Bradshaw rock art to the Western world (middle figure, photographed in 2009).

The exfoliated areas around the lower leg areas of the photographed middle section clearly indicate that fire is slowly taking its toll on this historical iconic image, as can be measured by comparing the deterioration over the 109 years between sketch and photo.