Ancient Aboriginal rock carvings on the New South Wales Central Coast have suffered vandalism in recent months, leading to demands for enhanced education about the importance of such sites throughout Australia.
Vandals damaged the Bulgandry Aboriginal Art Site near Kariong and a sacred women's site which narrates distinctive stories about Aboriginal culture and spirituality spanning thousands of years.
The call for reform comes after two men were recently convicted and fined $8,600 each in an Alice Springs local court for vandalising sacred Uluru cave art.
Wiradjuri woman Minmi Gugubarra said the destruction of the ancient rock carvings at the women's site was heartbreaking.
"The formations and the features of [Dinawan's] face, which have been here since those women who carved this thousands and thousands of years ago, have now been decapitated," she told the ABC.
"I literally cried when I came here … I dropped to my knees, and I cried.
"These are our stories. This is our lifeblood."
The ABC received an invitation to visit the sacred women's site situated in a state forest, where vandalism was discovered.
While photography and videography were not permitted, evident damage included remnants from a fire strewn across the ancient rock face, as well as several engravings, notably the sacred emu carving, Dinawan, having been scratched over.
Further damage was observed at the Bulgandry site, documented by photographs.
It's important to note that under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, harming or desecrating an Aboriginal object or place is considered an offense.
Individuals found guilty of damaging an Aboriginal place can face a maximum penalty of a $550,000 fine, imprisonment for two years, or both.
Gomeroi, Mandandanji and Awaba man Kevin "Gavi" Duncan said the damage revealed a lack of respect within the community.
"Imagine walking into an art gallery and rearranging the Mona Lisa or defacing the engravings on the pyramids of Egypt," he said.
"Some of these sites are older than the pyramids of Egypt [and] they're much older than Stonehenge.
"I think in the Australian culture we don't regard or recognise these properly, which we should."
University of Sydney historian Tristen Jones said vandalism was happening at important cultural sites right across Australia and notes the ongoing instances of vandalism showed more education was needed.
"Vandalism of places like that really represents an under-educated general Australian public on the significance of these places to Aboriginal communities," she said.
Further, an NPWS spokesperson told the ABC it worked with local Aboriginal groups to manage and protect cultural sites.
They said it had also highlighted engravings under supervision of traditional owners and installed signage to explain that "the site is sacred to Aboriginal people and irreplaceable."
"Anyone with information about vandalism at Bulgandry, please contact the local NPWS office."