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Old Owen Springs, Heritage Branch, NT Government Excavations at Old Owen Springs, July 2013. Read more here.

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AUSTRALASIAN SOCIETY FOR HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY

The Australian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) was founded in 1970 to promote the study of historical archaeology in Australia. In 1991 the Society was expanded to include New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region generally, and its name was changed to the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology.

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Pamela Kottaras, EMM Consulting Pty Ltd

When you hear the words ‘cultural landscapes’ what comes to mind?

This is what comes to my mind most readily


Perhaps because this is what I first thought of as a landscape. When you think of landscape artists – John Constable, Fredrick McCubbin, Sidney Nolan, Condrad Martins and of course Fred Williams (landscape with a goose, sapling forest), you might think of trees and hills, with maybe a person, maybe not. Then there’s Daisy Helen Tjupantarri Ward, Dorothy Napandardi and a long, long list of Aboriginal artists who paint the landscape in the tradition that non-Aboriginal people recognise, but who also paint landscapes that are coded, with meaning that must be explained to the uninitiated. Non-Aboriginal Australians are becoming more familiar with works like those created in styles that are more akin to the traditions of the artists’ homeland.

In this first picture we have gently rolling hills, like waving lengths of fabric; a dead tree in the foreground, hills in the background and in between incised gullies and creek beds. In the middle distance a shed, and in the clump of trees is probably a house. This little group of structures was made with human hands. The trees surrounding the house were probably planted 60 years ago, as were the windbreaks. They are cultural.

The trees in the foreground and middle distance are, or were, native. Dieback. But more native trees can be seen in the distance in the gully. Even a long time ago, when this area was covered in open woodland – dominated by Eucalypts and Angophora, with a forb and grass under-storey and was ‘natural’, it was cultural.

In the foreground the stone outcrop is silcrete. Behind me, in the silcrete, there are grinding grooves. Somewhere in this photograph, there is probably an archaeological site – maybe within the clump of trees before the newer house was built and maybe closer to a creek. If you look hard enough, you can see these things.

Then there’s the invisible - the hills in the distance may have been formed by a sleeping girl, or a pair of friends hiding from a kestrel – the intangible. It isn’t the result of the millions of years of geological activity and erosion that we believe has formed this continent.


Photo 2 is the same stump but capturing the horizon to the west, although the view is north. The landform in the distance is important to the Aboriginal people of the region. It’s a natural landform and its significance is intangible. I’m not at liberty to say what it is, but that isn’t important for this piece. These landscapes are easy to distinguish for heritage consultants and many others besides. They might not see the value in them, but they can see them.


But what about this? Clearly, it’s a track. But in the 1880s to the early twentieth century it was a road that carried heavy bullock-drawn vehicles from a town to an industrial area and back again. It’s on private property but if you could walk it, it would take you from the industrial area, to a newer alignment of that same road, but that has not been used for many years. The newer road is sealed with bitumen and crowded by tall eucalypts and small ferns, but it is recognisable as a road. The kind of road that I’d want to walk down to see where it takes me. I could look at an old street directory or an old aerial photograph, but its not nearly as satisfying if you like walking and looking.

These old roads form a small network that was used not only by the people that worked their little mine lease, but by people who lived there to work their little mine lease.


Finally,is this little piece of land. A jumble of rocks, some dead blackberry patches, and what I’m assured is a quince tree. Documentary research and local knowledge tell us that this little patch of land was a camp site. In fact, more like a residence, that was a camp site for people looking to make their fortune in mining and to feed their families and eventually to put a proper roof over their heads.

There is a more house-like structure nearby, in fact a house (or part of one), which is easier to spot. But other areas just look like field clearance at a glance until you look more closely. Then you can see structure, or tracks lined with stones, or artefacts – ceramic, tin cans, glass. Or stone artefacts made of silcrete and chert.

There is information here that is valuable. For what? Research? What kind of research? I don’t know – spatial analysis of itinerant camps? Or permanent camps that people lived in with their husbands, their wives and their children? Their cow and maybe a vehicle?

This landscape is one of a small handful in the local area, all there for the same reason, and with little topsoil to hold much deposit. It might not deliver much in terms of archaeological contexts but I’m sure that if we look at it as a horizontal landscape, we might be able to learn some things.

The good news about this area is that it won’t be destroyed. But it will be closed off for another 30 years. We’ve been lucky enough to have a client who understands why there is a certain group of people who see value in these rocks on the ground. I’ve managed to convince them that all these little living spaces and the routes between them are worthy of recording with topographic survey and photographically. Some of the bits and pieces are so scattered, it’s difficult to tell what they could have been. If at the very least, the plans are made available to other researches who can compare them to other such sites and make some sense of how and why the countryside was used the way it was. How did the woman and her husband and their three, four, five children live here?

What I hope to do is convince more clients to record sites that are not going to be destroyed, that might not even reach the threshold for significance on their own, to record and lodge to make the data available to other researchers. And that way maybe they won’t become forgotten landscapes.

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Richard Morrison, ASHA ACT Representative

This very successful event was held on the morning of 4 May 2019 within the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival. It was the second such symposium partnered with the Canberra Archaeological Society (CAS) - a body established in 1963 (prior to ASHA) to provide a forum for academics, students and members of the public on all types of archaeology. It conducts archaeological projects and monthly lectures.

The Symposium, ‘Contemporary archaeology: How archaeology is practised today’ was held at the prestigious National Museum of Australia with 5 eminent speakers, including one who Skyped-in, and was jointly organised by Richard Morrison of ASHA and Dr Iain Johnston of CAS. The Symposium flyer is available here.

It was advertised in numerous places and was attended by more than 60 people (we had 100 Eventbrite registrations) including the ACT’s Minister for Environment and Heritage, archaeology and heritage students, academics, and a broad cross section of the public.

We opened with a traditional Welcome to Country undertaken by Paul House, a Ngambri man, including a short didgeridoo presentation with some audience participation on clapping sticks.

The symposium introduction presented information on historical archaeology, ASHA and and CAS.

Three speakers, including Emeritus Professor Richard Wright AM (who came out from retirement in Sydney to speak), illustrated their important work in historical archaeology.

Dr Michael Pearson AO discussed the work, including his own, of Australian archaeologists across Antarctica in the context of activity by all nations.He highlighted the issue of a lack of ongoing and current involvement of archaeologists in Mawson’s Hut conservation.

Emeritus Professor Richard Wright AM spoke on his important and sensitive work under difficult circumstances in providing archaeological evidence war crimes trials related to various European conflicts. His paper provided confronting and compelling insights into terrible crimes and the pursuit of those responsible. He also reflected on his more recent key role in identifying 250 Australian soldiers buried in mass graves from WWI at Fromelles, France.

Dr Alice Gorman spoke on her current research into Apollo 11 heritage found at Tranquillity Base on the Moon. In particular, she focussed on the conceptual significance of shadows which have been used both by scientists, to investigate the Moon’s topography and geomorphology, and conspiracy theorists, to attempt to disprove that Apollo 11 ever went to the Moon.Dr Gorman gave her paper (from Adelaide, via Skype) on Space Archaeology and, in so doing, met the Heritage Festival’s theme of Space.

Dave Johnston, Indigenous heritage and archaeological consultant, presented and discussed a video illustrating the story of a positive collaboration between farmers and the Indigenous community concerning an ochre quarry in the Canberra region as shared heritage.

Dr Iain Johnston spoke on his Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies project returning Indigenous cultural heritage. He focussed on an aspect of this project related to an important rock art site at Kakadu and it’s recording through usual techniques and oral histories from the descendants of the creators still connected to the site. This illuminated the most recent repainting, in possibly, a very ancient process of traditional renewal - the site has been dated to about 25,000 years ago.

A Q&A panel concluded the Symposium.

The audience definitely seemed to appreciate the interesting and varied topics, in comments explicitly referring to the astonishing scope and diversity now covered in the broad field of archaeology, including historical archaeology.

The President of CAS, Dr Duncan Wright, congratulated (on behalf of CAS) Iain Johnston and myself ‘for an extremely successful ‘Contemporary Archaeology’ symposium. This included a remarkable array of fascinating presentations - archaeology of mass burials/ war crimes, space archaeology, archaeology of Antarctica, local ACT archaeology, also rock art and repatriation. It was attended by 60+ members of the public (including Senator (sic) Mick Gentleman) and Richard and Iain should be congratulated for how smoothly this went, not to mention their sparkling MCing!’

As an initiative of ASHA to promote historical archaeology and hopefully encourage new memberships in the regions, this was an undoubted success.

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Compiled by Blog Editor

The next ASHA Sydney reading group will be held on Thursday evening, 14 March.

However, for the first time you can attend online via Zoom Meeting. This will be particularly useful for ASHA members who live outside of Sydney but who want to join in the conversation.

The topic will be the articles in most recent volume of the ASHA journal - Australasian Historical Archaeology. Current members can download copies of all the articles in the journal via the ASHA website.

Location and Time:

GML Heritage

Level 6, 372 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

6:00-7:30pm, Thursday 14th March 2019

Alternately - you can attend online via Zoom. The link will be sent out to remote attendees who RSVP.

Thank you to GML Heritage for providing the venue.

RSVP

Please let us know you’re coming, by emailing events@asha.org.au by 4pm on Thursday 14th March for catering purposes. Please let us know whether you are coming in person or would like a link to the online Zoom meeting.