Depuch is a small rocky island, just 3 x 5 km, 2 km off the coast midway between Karratha and Port Hedland in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Petroglyphs pecked into the hard dolerite that constitutes the entire island were first recorded by members of HMS Beagle’s coastal survey program in 1840. Some of the art was recorded by F.D. McCarthy of the Australian Museum in 1958 which led to the island being declared an Aboriginal Reserve in that year. It was surveyed in detail by WA Museum staff in 1962, and results with photographs were subsequently published in 1964. Over 5000 images were documented. The island was declared a protected area in 1973.
I visited the island on three occasions, in 2006, 2010, and 2014, and photographed the many petroglyphs with full permission of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the WA Museum. Although no Aboriginal people with traditional ties to the island were identified in the 1960s surveys, when I approached Aboriginal groups in the area to see if there were any sensitivities about publishing a book on the rock art and exploration history, I was requested not to publish the book due to cultural sensitivities, although no traditional ‘custodians’ would meet with me or look at the draft publication.
The 347-page document remains ready to publish if dialogue with local heritage gatekeepers can be re-established.