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



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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Andrew Wilson (University of Sydney)

While ASHA is celebrating its 50th this year one of its founders, Judy Birmingham, is celebrating her 90th. Judy arrived in Australia in 1961 as a specialist in Mediterranean and West Asian archaeology appointed on the recommendation of Max Mallowan.

In less than a decade she was participating in the beginnings of Australian historical archaeology, most notably at Irrawang and Wybalenna. We now know that Wybalenna played a central role in the establishment of ASHA by Judy and a small dedicated group of supporters. So, it is fitting to mark the occasion with an on-line presentation of the site.

Happy Birthday Judy!

Photo 1: Judy Birmingham relaxing in Sydney in the early 1960s. Photographer unknown.

Author: Andrew Wilson (University of Sydney)

Governors' Domain and Civic Precinct listing

ASHA members will have been pleased with the announcement that a large section of central Sydney has been added to the National Heritage List as the Governors' Domain and Civic Precinct. (

The 100-hectare area includes Macquarie Place, First Government House site, Government House, the Conservatorium of Music, Parliament House, the Mint, Hyde Park Barracks, St James, Hyde Park, the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Most of the sites and buildings have existing heritage protections but this listing defines and protects a large cultural landscape. The rarity and research potential of the archaeology of the area is specifically identified in the listing criteria.

The marshaling of the data collected from a wide variety of experts and contributors required for the nomination was undertaken by Context in Melbourne. Ian Jack was one of the participants and having just worked closely with him on the joint Heritage Council – Land & Property Management Authority centenary book on Macquarie’s Towns, he suggested I produce a set of historic map overlays to support the nomination, then called Colonial Sydney.

At the Fiftieth Anniversary meeting Mary Casey reminded us all of the important contribution to ASHA and to HA generally made by Ian. With the announcement of the listing it is good to reflect on the fact this his efforts are still bearing fruit.






Authors: Matthew Kelly and Alexandra Thorn (Curio Projects, Sydney)

When is a Brick not Building Material?

In 2013 AHMS Pty Ltd (now Extent Heritage) completed an archaeological excavation at 478 George Street in Sydney’s CBD known as the ‘Mick Simmons’ site-after the famous sporting goods store which traded there until 2 012.

The excavation yielded evidence of European occupation, from perhaps as early as 1813, through to the site’s last identity as the iconic sports goods store. During the usual post excavation artefact analysis several items, originally identified as building materials due to their size and form, were found to be anything but.

They are in fact ‘Bath Bricks’. They appear to be ordinary bricks, of similar dimensions and are usually impressed with maker's names. However, they are not building materials at all but are domestic cleaning items used for scouring floors, and other surfaces, cutlery and other household items (photo 1). The dust from a bath brick, for example, could be also used to create a substance known as ‘breeches ball’, for cleaning breeches and for shining boots. The altered bricks were also utilised as moulds for casting gears for machinery.

The bath bricks were manufactured at the small Somerset town of Bridgwater, already noted as a brick and tile manufacturing town. The first patent for the scouring bricks was issued in 1823 to John Browne and William Champion. The bricks consisted of a locally available mud, from the Parrett River, comprised primarily of alumina and silica particles, pressed into brick form, fired in a kiln to approximately 500-600°, wrapped in a paper cover and sold worldwide as a cleaning a scouring agent. Bath bricks were used worldwide, and another patent was issued in the US in 1865 to meet the desire to manufacture these ‘bricks’ directly for the US market. That patent notes that the US source material was discovered:

at Wood bridge, New Jersey, in large quantities, a pulverulent mineral of which a scouring-brick in all respects equal, and in some respects Superior, to the imported Bath brick can be made at a greatly reduced cost.

Several large fragments of bath bricks were found on the Mick Simmons site in a construction trench probably dated to around 1870 (photos 2 and 3). The examples at Mick Simmons were from Edward Sealy’s works manufacturing 1811-1839 and Browne and Co, 1840-1899, which later traded as the Somerset Trading Company. The site at George Street had traded as general merchants and grocery store between 1833 and 1870 under a number of owners – the earliest of whom was Frederick Gibson.

Photo 1: 19th Century advice for using bath bricks.


Photo 2 Fragment of Bath Brick - “[B]rowne & C[o].” C.f. photo 4P Photo 3: Fragment of Bath Brick from Edward Sealy’s works impressed “Imp[erial] Ba[th]”.C.f. photo 5.

Photo 4: Bath Brick from Browne and Co.


Photo 5: Bath Brick from Edward Sealy’s works.


AHMS, 2016, 478 George Street Archaeological Excavation Report, for Amalgamated Holdings Ltd

Anon., 1855, The Footman, London, Houlston and Stoneman, pp. 27, 28, 37 and 48.

Adams, S and Adams, S, 1825, The Complete Servant, London, Knight and Lacey, pp. 366 and 392.

Murless, B, 1976, "The Bath Brick Industry at Bridgwater: A Preliminary Survey", Journal of the Somerset Industrial Archaeology Society, v 1, p. 21

“Improved Scouring Brick”, US Patent No. 50,862, November 7, 1865.