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EXCAVATION: Former Schofields Aerodrome


Jennifer Jones-Travers, GML Heritage

INTRODUCTION

Defence Housing Australia's (DHA) new Akuna Vista residential development is currently under construction at the site of the former Schofields Aerodrome in Schofields, NSW. GML Heritage, led by excavation directors Dr Jennifer Jones-Travers and Abi Cryerhall, completed historical archaeological excavations to mitigate the impacts of development on three sites associated with the c1820 homestead of the Pye family.

The Schofields Aerodrome was established as an airfield by the Royal Australian Air Force in World War II and remained in use until it was decommissioned in 1994. Prior to establishment of the Aerodrome, the site comprised part of a large homestead established by Joseph Pye, son of emancipated convict John Pye, in 1816. The Pye family occupied the site until 1938.

These investigations focused on three sites depicted in a plan showing the property in 1842 (Figure 1):

  • Cottage Site—a rural nineteenth-century cottage with evidence of brickmaking;
  • Orchard Site—a purposefully planted orchard landscape with potential contact period archaeology providing evidence of early interactions between the Pye family and local Aboriginal groups; and
  • Homestead Site—the site of the 'Waawaar Awaa' homestead established by the Pye family by 1825, with remaining evidence of outbuildings and landscape modifications.

Historical archaeological remains recovered at the former Schofields Aerodrome provide rich evidence associated with rural industry, early colonial lifeways, interaction between Aboriginal groups and European settlers, early modifications to the natural landscape and military use of the site.

This blog post consists of a summary report of the remains that GML recorded on the site. A downloadable pdf summary report is also available on GML Heritage's website.

CONTENTS

Figure 1, Detail from ‘Plan of Part of the Windsor District’, drawn by Surveyor J Musgrave in 1842. (Source: SLNSW)

TIMELINE

Date Event
Time Immemorial Archaeological evidence for Aboriginal occupation on the flat terraces of Eastern Creek's banks started to accumulate 6,600 to 5,600 years ago, when locally available silcrete gravels were brought to and worked on raised flat landforms adjacent to the creek.
1802 Large areas of land, including the study area, are set aside by Governor King for use as common grazing land.
1816 Joseph Pye, son of emancipated convict John Pye, is granted 85 acres of land including the study area. His father (John Pye) is granted 85 acres of land immediately adjacent to the south. Joseph and John Pye continue purchasing adjacent properties and enhancing the Pye Farm landholdings. Joseph Pye marries Elizabeth Ward; they eventually have six children.
1825 The site is established and has been cleared by convict labourers. Pye Farm is advertised for lease for not more than seven years. The following description of the site is provided in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser:
It consists of 870 acres, 60 of which are stumped, and 670 enclosed in Paddocks, and in luxurious cultivation. It is well watered, being at the Banks of an extensive Creek. There is a good garden, dwelling-house, farm, out-houses, and newly-planted garden and orchard, of 5 acres.[1]
The homestead is named 'Waawaar Awaa', meaning 'fresh water' in Dharug, likely in reference to its proximity to Eastern Creek. The house is described as being 'tri-level', ''for at the back the ground fell away and a two-storey section backed onto the main front section'.[2]
1842 Plan of Windsor created by Surveyor J Musgrave, including Pye Farm, with an orchard, cottage, roads and 'Burial Ground of the Blacks' to the northwest (Figure 1).
1845 China and common oranges from Pye Farm orchards win awards at the Floral and Horticultural Show.[3]
1852–1853 Elizabeth Pye and Joseph Pye die in 1852 and 1853, respectively.[4] Ownership of the farm transfers to David Pye.
1858 David Pye marries Janet Dick, and the couple proceed to have eight children. David became known as one of the best orchardists and authorities on stock in the colony of NSW.[5]
1 Dec 1864 Railway between Richmond and Blacktown completed, extends along the east side of the study area.[6]
1893 David Pye subdivides the farm and distributes it to his three sons, with Sydney George Pye granted the homestead, James John Pye the land to the north and Charles Ward Pye the land to the east. [7]
1938 James Pye dies and his ageing brother, Sydney George Pye, sells both farms to brothers Joseph and Harold Langlade who establish 'Langlade's Dairy' at the former Pye Farm. [8]
1939 World War II breaks out and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) begins searching for suitable sites to build satellite airfields to RAAF Station Richmond.[9]
1942 Langlade's style='mso-bidi-font-family: Dairy property commandeered by the government. Waawaar-Awaa homestead demolished in June 1942. RAAF Station Schofields formally occupied by September 1942. [10]
1944 Aerodrome loaned to the Royal Navy's Air Arm of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) and commissioned as HMAS NABTHORPE, recommissioned as HMAS NABSTOCK after World War II declared over. [11]
9 June 1946 Aerodrome returned to RAAF Station Schofields.
1949 Royal Navy buildings at aerodrome used to house approximately 300 male migrants escaping Europe until 1951.[12]
c1950 A disused portion of the airstrip is used as part of a 2.3-mile racing circuit used in the 1950s, closed in 1958.[13]
1951 Schofields Aerodrome came under control of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), recommissioned as HMAS ALBATROSS II, RANARY, Schofields.[14]
1953 Site recommissioned as HMAS NIRIMBA.[15]
1955 HMAS NIRIMBA downgraded from a 'Repair Yard' to a 'Care and Maintenance' facility.[16] In 1956 it also became a naval apprentice training ground.
1993 HMAS NIRIMBA officially decommissioned.
1994 Schofields Aerodrome closed.

COTTAGE SITE

The 'Cottage' site, shown on the 1842 Plan of Windsor, contained evidence of early brick manufacture, a cottage, outbuildings and landscape features. The industrial landscape of brickmaking and habitation was legible and provides insight into how the larger 'Waawaar Awaa' estate site was established.

Brick Making

Evidence of a large clamp, a single-use brick kiln with linear flue channels, was found at the southeast corner of the Cottage site (Figure 2). Clay quarrying was undertaken at the northwest and west parts of the site, with deep extraction completed to remove the naturally occurring orange-red clay with veins of ironstone nodules throughout. The site is low-lying and adjacent to a waterway—ground water begins rising at 1m to 2m below current ground surface. This has rendered the clay in this area softer, damper and more malleable than clay encountered at other parts of the former Schofields Aerodrome. Clay extraction focused on this soft, malleable clay, with outcrops of denser basal clay left in situ with evidence of pick and shovel marks from extraction (Figure 3).

A pug pit for mixing and tempering clay was found at the northeast corner of the site alongside a stratified deposit of charcoal and ash, possibly from repeatedly cleaning out the clamp site between firings. Two rectilinear timber outbuildings, identified as likely being associated with brick manufacture, were located at the site. Stratigraphic context identified that they pre-date later additions to the domestic components of the site, though no structural evidence beyond postholes remained to identify their function.

All structures through all phases at both the Cottage site and at Waawaar Awaa used visually identical sandstock bricks. These bricks have ironstone inclusions and no frogs. The bricks are irregularly fired, with some friable and under-fired, while others were black and nearly vitrified from over-firing. Further analysis of brick samples collected from structures across Pye Farm will be undertaken to clarify the extent to which bricks manufactured at the Cottage site were used.

Brick manufacture was likely established at the site to enable construction of Waawaar Awaa house and associated outbuildings. Demolition rubble with large quantities of brick matching those from the Cottage were found in a drainage channel near the historical mapped entrance to Waawaar Awaa and may represent the remains of the house. The Cottage site could have been established in the early 1820s, and material culture recovered from the site supports this phasing.

Further work will be completed to compare the brick making components from the Cottage site with other early nineteenth-century rural brick manufacturing sites in the region. Reconstructing the final volume of quarried clay and an estimate of the resulting number of bricks that could be produced will assist in identifying the scale of brick production at the site.

Figure 2, Fire-reddened and charcoal stained bands in the earth provide evidence of the brick clamp. (Source: GML 2018)

Figure 2, Fire-reddened and charcoal stained bands in the earth provide evidence of the brick clamp. (Source: GML 2018)

Figure 3, Brick clay quarry pit in section, showing gradual stages of in-fill and temporary use as a dam. (Source: GML 2018)

Figure 3, Brick clay quarry pit in section, showing gradual stages of in-fill and temporary use as a dam. (Source: GML 2018)

Cottage

Excavations at the Cottage site uncovered evidence of a one-room timber cottage with brick hearth (Figure 4). The cottage had four large, round corner posts and timber walls with vertical planks held in place by brick fragments, while the interior had timber plank and brick paved floors.

Multiple phases of construction and repair were identified. The cottage appears to have existed on site prior to and during brick manufacture at the site though extensions were made afterwards. A semi-circular verandah of poorly fired waster bricks was constructed at the front of the cottage. A sandstock brick spoon drain was constructed to the southeast of the cottage and connected to an earthen-walled drainage channel draining into the clay extraction pits, while at least one tree was planted at the front (north) side of the cottage. There is evidence of work to correct for the boggy terrain and re-stabilise the walls of the cottage and one corner post was re-excavated and corrected, while crushed brick was laid at two sides of the cottage, possibly to build up the terrain and improve drainage.

The absence of material culture post-dating 1850 suggests it was abandoned by the mid-nineteenth century and supports the notion that it was situated on a marginal, low-lying part of the site selected for its proximity to suitable brickmaking clays kept soft and malleable by an adjacent waterway.

The Pye family had convict labourers to clear the land and work in the fields at their estate. It is possible that the Cottage was occupied by a convict overseer, the brickmaker, a hired labourer or a tenant farmer. Analysis of structural remains and material culture recovered will make comparisons with c1820 convict huts and other employee residences at rural estates.

Figure 4, Timber cottage with brick paved and timber planked floor. Semi-circular curved brick verandah at the front of the cottage, sandstock brick spoon drain at the southeast corner of the cottage. (Source: Guy Hazell 2018)

WAAWAAR AWAA HOMESTEAD

The Pye family homestead, 'Waawaar Awaa', was constructed c1820 on a rise overlooking Eastern Creek. Historical archaeological excavations encountered evidence of outbuildings and landscape elements associated with occupation and use of the homestead. Further analysis of features excavated will provide new insight into life on the property.

Stable/Workshop

A stone paved structure with timber walls, preliminarily identified as a stable or workshop, was excavated towards the centre of the site. Large dressed sandstone flagstones (approximately 500mm to 950mm in size) pave the north half of the structure, while a cobble paved surface covers the southern portion of the structure which measures 3.9m wide and at least 8.8m long (the southern end was truncated by later disturbance).

Timber planks, likely wall foundations, extend along the north and west walls of the structure and timber posts formed the corners of the structure. Brick post bases on the east side of the building indicate that the building may have been partially or completely open-fronted (Figure 5). Timber planks extending through the cobble paving on the south side of the building created an internal division, possibly for stalls.

Machinery and electrical parts found within the cracks of the flagged floor indicate it remained in use into the twentieth century.

Figure 5, Sandstone flagged paving, with a posthole at the corner of the structure and timber wall base along the north wall. (Source: GML 2018)

Brick Hearth

A hearth base of sandstock bricks, 1950mm by 970mm in size, was located at the northwest corner of the landform on which Waawaar Awaa was situated. A deposit of ash and charcoal was found within and extending out the front of the hearth. Two remnant square timber posts are on the interior edge of the hearth base and a possible wall cut or drainage channel is associated with the face of the feature (Figure 6). The areas surrounding the hearth were highly disturbed and the original function of the structure and associated hearth has not yet been identified.

Further investigation will consider the hearth in association with neighbouring structures and activity areas across the homestead site to try and determine feasible historical uses.

Figure 6, Sandstock brick heath base, view to northwest. (Source: GML 2018)

Brick Privy

A rectangular structure 1840mm by 1720mm in size and constructed of soft, friable sandstock bricks was located at the south end of the site and has been preliminarily identified as a privy. The walls of the structure were two courses wide, the remaining footings were only two courses deep and cut directly into natural clay substrate (Figure 7). No cess deposit or pit was found in association with the structure, suggesting that it may have been a pail closet with an above-ground waste receptacle emptied as required, as opposed to a cesspit.

Figure 7, Sandstock brick privy. (Source: GML 2018)

Stone Paved Structure

A rectilinear structure 6m by 4.6m in size with a semi-circular entrance or hearth stone on its east side was encountered at the northwest corner of the homestead site. The floor of the structure is elaborately paved with small dressed blocks and sub-angular cobbles of sandstone notably harder and greyer than the Sydney or Hawkesbury varieties. The large semi-circular entrance or hearth stone on the east wall is surrounded by fine cobble paving, and a diamond is incorporated to the adjacent paving at the interior of the structure (Figure 8). A potential drain or wall base of smaller cobbles extends north–south near the eastern wall. Extensive brick rubble was recovered to the north and overlying the paving in some areas. It is likely that at least part of the structure was constructed of brick.

Figure 8, Stone paved structure with semi-circular entrance or hearth. (Source: Guy Hazell 2018)

Gardens, Drains, Paths

A range of landscape elements provide evidence of historical attempts to work with and on the landscape at Waawaar Awaa homestead. Evidence of water management includes a large concrete-rendered sandstock brick beehive cistern with a range of drains and later water pipes and sumps forming a network extending from it. A long, curving sandstock brick path extends north of the cistern (Figure 9), while a small section of a second brick path extends east–west of it.

Rich, dark organic soil with small artefacts throughout was encountered at the northeast end of the site and edged in some areas by a single course (width and depth) of sandstock bricks. Two separate garden plots were identified and surveyed, diagnostic artefacts were collected and soil samples were taken to assist with paleoethnobotanical analysis to identify some of the plants cultivated on site.

Figure 9, Curvilinear sandstock brick paving leading towards the cistern and drains. (Source: GML 2018)

Royal Australian Air Force Camp

A deposit of artefacts from the early 1940s—including date-stamped institutional ironstone china, heavy gauge shell casings, belt buckles, glass salt and pepper shakers, ointment pots, hair tonic bottles and a lead bullet—was recovered at the northwest corner of the land formation on which Waawaar Awaa was situated (Figure 10).

These have been interpreted as likely resulting from use of the site by the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. Tent camps were erected within the site to accommodate soldiers and the artefacts recovered are consistent with a semi-institutional residential setting.

Figure 10, Artefacts associated with twentieth-century military use of the site, including belt buckles, a bullet, salt shaker and plumb bob. (Source: GML 2018)

ORCHARD AREA

An area depicted as an Orchard in an 1842 map has provided potential evidence of early interactions between Aboriginal groups and the Pye family as part of a broader contact period cultural landscape. The Orchard site also provided evidence of early orchard practice and possibly failure of some species.

Contact Archaeology

Contact archaeology provides rare evidence of early interactions between Aboriginal groups and European settlers, as well as experimentation with and adaptation of new materials by Aboriginal groups. High concentrations of Aboriginal lithic materials, as well as small pieces of white refined earthenware and glass with evidence of knapping, were found during historical and Aboriginal archaeological excavations at the Orchard site (Figure 11). Preliminary historical research has identified accounts of ongoing peaceful interactions between the Pye family and Aboriginal peoples in the area.

The Orchard site is located within a significant historical Aboriginal landscape, located in proximity to the Blacktown Native Institution, the Iron Bark Ridge silcrete quarry, the Nurragingy and Colebee land grant, and a site marked 'Burial Ground of the Blacks' to the northwest. It is possible that the Orchard represents a site of ongoing habitation and activity by Aboriginal peoples in the area.

Further analysis will be completed by Aboriginal artefact specialists to confirm whether glass and ceramic artefacts have been worked or knapped and represent contact-period Aboriginal archaeological deposits. Ceramic patterns represented in the collection will be analysed to see if they match materials collected from the Cottage or Waawaar Awaa.

Figure 11, Examples of ceramic fragments recovered from the Orchard site. (Source: GML 2018)

Orchard

Square cuts for planting trees with burnt tree boles, spaced approximately 5m apart, were located within the area of the site identified as an orchard in the 1842 Plan of Windsor. Root systems and tree boles were not extensive; this and the lack of formally established drainage described in historical accounts suggests that this part of the site was not used as an orchard for long. The award-winning mid-nineteenth century orchards may have been situated north of Waawaar Awaa.

Samples of wood collected from the tree boles are being analysed to identify the tree species planted in this orchard and see if the Pye family had tried planting something different that was less successful than their famous oranges (Figure 12).

Figure 12, Burnt tree bole from the Orchard site. (Source: GML 2017)

ENDNOTES

[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 7 November 1825, p 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2184642

[2] Robb, R 1993, The Flight of the Pelican, Tugiri Books, Picnic Point, NSW, p 7.

[3] The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 1845, p 3.http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12882393

[4] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 14.

[5] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 15.

[6] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 14.

[7] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 15.

[8] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 16.

[9] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 21.

[10] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 21.

[11] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 21.

[12] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 22.

[13] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 22.

[14] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 22.

[15] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 22.

[16] Extent Pty Ltd, Former Schofields Aerodrome, Nirimba Drive, Quakers Hill—Heritage Impact Statement, prepared for Defence Housing Australia, May 2015, p 22.