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ASHA NEWS

Tristan Bergin

In mid-2014, Waru Consulting volunteered to undertake a heritage assessment of Gnowangerup’s old police station. Gnowangerup is a quiet rural town situated approximately 300km southeast of Perth and 50km north of the Stirling Ranges.

The century old police station is a problem for the local Shire. Recently, vandals broke some of the asbestos fibre walls creating a public health concern and, without a listing on the WA State Heritage Register, public funding for conservation works is hard to obtain. Understandably, demolition of the old police station looms as a potential solution for the Shire, with only the few members of Gnowangerup’s historical society to oppose the idea.

The heritage value of a place can be determined in many ways. It seems, however, that technical attributes often outweigh other qualities such as individual stories, both historical and contemporary. It is other people’s stories that help us make sense of our community and our lives, and surely that is one of the main roles of heritage. Our proposal was to involve the community by undertaking test excavations that would be open to the public as well as ran an engagement campaign on Facebook.

The Facebook page was set up several weeks prior to the excavation and generated a significant amount of interest from the Gnowangerup community as well as national and international interest. We were able to use the collective knowledge of the people who had engaged us on social media as a research tool. For example, it was a hotel manager from Perth who helped us decipher one of the oldest examples of graffiti on the jarrah lined gaol cells. Others provided opinions on the provenance of a railway sleeper found at the bottom of one of the test pits. We also found that someone has used the page as a forum to vent frustration at the previous demolition of another heritage building in Gnowangerup. The population of the Facebook page also allowed us to promote Gnowangerup’s newly opened and brilliant Noongar museum. As a result we saw an increased number of visits to the page, including many from the Indigenous community.

The response to the public invitation to participate in the excavations was overwhelming. Over the course of three days, more than 150 primary and secondary students from three local schools visited the site in addition to numerous visits from members of the wider community. The students were given a brief introduction to the history of the police station while checking out the gaol cells and exercise yard. From primary historical documents they learnt about how in 1911 Inspector Lappin visited Gnowangerup and reported to the Commissioner on the need for an immediate and permanent police presence at Gnowangerup because of the construction workers building the rail line between Tambellup and Ongerup. Lappin reported that there are, “Complaints of fighting, bad language and two-up schools” and that “the residents are unanimous in requesting police protection”.

The students also heard about Constable Jeremiah John Jones who was stationed at Gnowangerup between 1915 and 1924. He was the son of Ann Jones, and Jeremiah was seven years old in 1880 when the Kelly Gang laid siege to his mother’s establishment, the Glenrowan Inn.

After the historical introduction the students participated in numerous activities including excavating a disused garden bed seeded with ‘artefacts’ and undertaking a transect survey. After some training the luckier students also joined the Waru archaeologists in excavating the three 1m x 1m test puts situated in close proximity to the existing buildings and areas likely to yield subsurface archaeological material. The kids were all remarkably enthusiastic and did everything from checking the spit levels on the dumpy to digging, running buckets and helping sieve the material.

Over the course of three days, hundreds of pieces of cultural material were retrieved from the 3 test pits. In many ways, however, what was actually found is less important in assessing the significance of the old police station than the incredible interaction the public had with the project. We heard from one of the teachers who said that the majority of the kids who had participated in the excavations went home to their parents and proudly proclaimed their desire to become archaeologists. In an attempt to bolster that enthusiasm we ran a creative writing competition and received many great entries from a number of students who were clearly inspired, not only by the archaeology, but also by the numerous historical sources we had collated including sources that had been provided by the local community.

The reaction that the students had when touring the site also reminded us that part of the heritage significance of the police station comes from its decrepitude. The flaking paint and rusting tin of the exercise yard, the cobwebs, rotting timbers and the gloomy jarrah lined cells covered in prisoners’ graffiti all contribute to an eerie and grungy atmosphere. It is an alien environment that gets the imagination firing and builds a certain level of empathy with those unknown people who were locked up there. This empathy was reflected in many of the short stories, with most students taking on the first person perspective of a prisoner.

Our project at Gnowangerup’s old police station shows that a high level of community engagement is not only helpful in resourcing information, but also allows people of all ages to learn and engage with their own local heritage. It also shows that in assessing the heritage significance of a place we should consider what impact it has on people on an emotional and creative level. Furthermore, we should also think carefully about what we lose when restoration works are undertaken on old buildings in the process of deterioration.

Special thanks go to all the staff at Waru Consulting, as well as staff from the Shire of Gnowangerup who were vital in organising the school groups and allowing the project to proceed in the first place.

For further information see the Digging Up Gnowangeraup’s History Facebook Page or email Tristan Bergin on tristan@waruconsulting.net.au


Students listening attentively to a historical introduction to the site.


Example of the graffiti on site


Students getting involved in the excavation process

This blog first appeared in the ASHA Newsletter 2015, vol 45, no 1, pp 7-10.

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Pamela Kottaras & Rebecca Newell

EMGA Mitchell McLennan Pty Ltd (EMM) was engaged by Baulderstone Pty Ltd, on behalf of Transport for NSW (TfNSW), to complete heritage services for the early works package of the Sydney Metro Northwest, formerly known as North West Rail Link ), including an archaeological assessment and excavations. Five possible archaeological sites were identified in the European heritage assessment for the environmental impact statement (GML 2012) as requiring investigation to guide the appropriate level of management.

EMM, with the assistance of Comber Consultants Pty Ltd, completed the archaeological investigations of the five sites, with the most substantial and intact site being that of the former White Hart Inn. The inn, also referred to as the Swan Inn in some documents, was identified as a ruin and archaeological site as early as the 1930s. Research completed as part of the archaeological assessment for the early works identified that the inn was built for William Cox Esq by the convict builder James Gough. It operated from the late 1820s to the 1860s with a number of different publicans, including one woman, Sarah Tighe, who later married the publican at the Royal Oak (now the Mean Fiddler).

The excavation uncovered the footings of a building approximately 20m wide and 15m across, a separate building to the rear approximately 13m long and 5m wide, and a cistern with a diameter of 2.5m.

The surviving architecture of the main inn building confirms that it was configured as a typical colonial inn, oriented to face Windsor Road to the west. A long verandah faced Windsor Road, flanked by smaller rooms, or wing-rooms. A large room with fireplace is directly behind the verandah. Smaller rooms, defined by brick footings, emerged along the southern side of the building and possibly along the back of the building to the east.

The footings of the main inn building were constructed of sandstone built 0.80m into the ground. The robustness of the footings supports descriptions of the building being two-storey and made of sandstone and brick. Sandstock brick footings may represent a second phase of construction in the main inn building. The excavation revealed that the southern wing room was demolished and another room, with brick footings, was added to the south, extending the length of the verandah but keeping the symmetry of the facade. The original soil profile survived in places beneath the main inn building, and yielded Aboriginal artefacts.

A sub-surface room was partially excavated and is likely to be a cellar or cool room. This space is approximately 1 x 1.3m and has been excavated to approximately 1m in depth to a mixed, redeposited layer. On its western side, the cellar is defined by a slanting wall of large sandstone blocks set perpendicular to the sandstone footings of the main building. The walls/footings to the north and east are composed of sandstock brick. The extent of excavation in the cellar was minor, removing largely loose deposit filled with collapsed brick and iron fragments. Further investigation would be required to better understand the function of what is currently referred to as the cellar.

A detached room at the north east corner of the main building is considered to be a kitchen, 13m long by 5m wide, strongly suggested by the large fireplace base on the eastern end, a smaller fireplace base on the western end, as well as by virtue of its separation from the main part of the inn. The footings of this building were also of sandstone but differed from those in the main inn building in their construction. While those in the main inn building were made of roughly hewn blocks of sandstone approximately 0.8 x 0.4 x 0.2m, the footings in the detached room are smaller sandstone fragments put together by what resembles dry-stone wall technique. One of the questions raised by the footings is if it represents a second phase of construction at the inn, does that suggest an expansion of the commercial enterprise?

The final feature uncovered on the site was a remnant sandstock brick cistern approximately 2.5m in diameter. This feature was excavated to approximately 0.3m to reveal that it was constructed of sandstock bricks, bonded with lime mortar, with the bricks slanting in to the centre indicating that it would have had a domed roof. The spherical shape of the cistern was supported on the outside by compact shale packing.

The excavation found that when demolished, the walls of buildings and structures were crushed into rubble and spread across the ground, effectively creating a sealed lid over the site. The imprint of only one timber fragment was recorded; it is possible that many of the useable materials were removed and re-used elsewhere as very little building material was found, with the exception of sandstone and brick footings. It is understood that one of the mounting stones was collected a number of years ago and incorporated into a property in the locality.

The focus of the excavation was to confirm the existence of relics and the condition of the archaeological site, which was realised. Preliminary assessment of the excavation indicates that the site is of State significance as it represents the expansion of the colony to the north-west and the importance of the road to Windsor. It is also one of the few surviving archaeological sites of its kind. Project approval allowed salvage of the site after consultation on a methodology with the Heritage Division; however, a combination of factors resulted in TfNSW deciding to conserve the site, necessitating a re-design of piers and the construction method of the Sydney Metro Northwest.

The archaeological excavation program finished with the opening of the site to the public for one weekend. Community interest was high and despite some difficult weather on the Sunday, the chance to view the excavation was well received. The excavation report is scheduled to be completed in 2015 and in the meantime the artefacts recovered from the site are being analysed. Due to the significance of the archaeological relics the site will be conserved and an interpretation strategy will be developed.


Plate 1: The northern “wing” at the front of the building. The building faced west, which is left in the photograph. View to the north, north-west.


Plate 2: (above) View along the front of the building with what is probably the second-phase wing room on brick footings in the foreground. The original south wing on sandstone footings beside it that was incorporated into the verandah further along and the north wing in the background. View to the north, north-west.


Plate 3: View into the sub-surface room that has been described as the entry into the cellar. Note the slanting sandstone blocks to the left; there is another sandstone block emerging from the deposit that was not excavated. The wall directly above them (and under the north arrow) is possibly an outside wall and is shown in context in Plate 2. View to the north-west.


Plate 4: This feature has been identified as representing a detached kitchen supported by the fireplace base at its eastern extent (front) represented by the flagstones behind the range poles, and another fireplace base at the eastern end. Compare the structure of the footings in this building with those in the main inn building shown in the other photographs. View to the west.


Plate 5: The cistern located at the rear of the inn building. The cistern is approximately 2.5m in diameter and is constructed of sandstock bricks with a crushed shale packing around the outside perimeter. View to the north-east.

First appeared in the ASHA Newsletter 2014, vol 44, no 2&3, pp 14-17

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