Claire’s ‘Mission on a Mission’

By Masters in Archaeology Student Claire Keating

Between the 24th June and the 20th July myself and fellow Masters of Archaeology student Amy Della-Sale accompanied Dr. Mick Morrison to the mining township of Weipa on western Cape York Peninsula to assist in the collection of archaeological data as part of a research project investigating the post-contact history of Aboriginal communities on western and central Cape York Peninsula. Our work this trip was at a place known to Anhatangaith Traditional Owners as Waypandan.

My thesis is part of this research program and sets out to understand the activities of the Moravian and Presbyterian missionaries who established two missions in the Weipa area between 1898 and 1963. It is the first of these missions at Waypandan which is the focus of my research. Having operated between 1898 and 1932 this place is of very high importance to the community and as such constitutes a poignant research question especially in terms of the activities of its European and Indigenous inhabitants. My aim is to re-evaluate survey data collected in 2008 in light of photographic and historical resources in order to understand with greater certainty the spatial layout of the mission compound itself.

Tidying up field plans at Waypandan

Data collection for my portion of this project consisted of my wandering solo around the mission laden with photo books, compass, measuring tapes, marker flags, a GPS unit and a drawing board becoming familiar with every fence post, building post, earth mound, artefact scatter, and stone line within a (roughly) hundred square metre area. However despite my solitude and feeling somewhat like a pack-horse I relished in the fascinating puzzle I saw unfolding before my eyes. What at first seemed to be a rather straight-forward research objective soon became not so. Programs of building relocation and rebuilding both during the mission’s lifetime and beyond have created an archaeological record which at once crosses several temporal periods.

Improvising in the field

In all, three weeks were spent mapping and evaluating the mission landscape of Waypanden which proved to be an extremely complex and at times challenging study area. Up on the mission there was much head scratching going on as I struggled to make sense of a fragmentary archaeological record and a photographic collection which began to pose more questions than answers; meanwhile down in the Aboriginal village Morrison was doing a fair bit of chin scratching as he and Della-Sale stumbled across more and more features that needed to be recorded.

In all seriousness though, at the close of this field season I came away with so much more than the archaeological data needed to complete my thesis. The experience of working and, for a time, living with the Indigenous community of Weipa was so enriching and warming that when I returned to the cold (literally) reality of Adelaide, I felt rather home-sick for the smells of the campfire, the sounds of the bush, the chattering children, and the stories of the old people. Though my time spent with the community was rather brief it has made me more determined than ever in my goal to one day work closely with Indigenous communities to help preserve their cultural heritage for benefit of future generations.

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