Rain, slate pencils and cheese scones!

Rachel Power

In September over the mid semester break, a group of 16 Students and Associate Professor Heather Burke, headed south to Penola (near the SA and Vic border) for a week filled with rain, group sing-a-longs and delicious cheese scones. Our mission: to find the stable site in which Mary Mackillop first began teaching.

Having been researching the site for the practicum in the lead up to the excavation, I was particularly excited to visit MacKillop Park and find evidence of the building that had been giving me so much strife!

Three trenches were excavated across the week we were there, one at the front of the property, and two at the rear. Trench A (opened where a previous electromag survey had identified a ‘hot spot’) was without a doubt the most successful of the three. While the said ‘hot spot’ turned out to only be the limestone bedrock for which the limestone coast is famous for, trench A yielded the majority of the artefacts (which the occupants of trench B jealously ohhed and ahhed over!). Finds included a wide range of domestic items, such as ceramic and glass fragments, black facetted glass buttons, glass and ceramic beads, shell buttons, copper alloy hooks and eyes, thimbles, pins, slate pencils, a lamp base and coins dating variously from 1839, 1860 and the 1870s.

Trench A

That said, life in trench B was not so bad and morale was kept high by Disney sing-a-longs, visiting children from the local primary school and the fact that we were covered by a marquee, while trench A were forced to work under makeshift tarps.

Trench B - Clare Leevers (left) and myself

At around 11am every day, all rivalries were put aside and everyone came together to enjoy hot coffee and the delicious assortment of cakes and scones provided by the WONDERFUL Sisters of St Joseph. On the final day of excavations, the perseverance of those in trench B was rewarded when they found a slate pencil of their own!

The infamous trench B slate pencil!

While we didn’t find the location of the stables building, the high number of slate pencils found does suggest a schooling function for the site.  All in all, my week in Penola was a wonderful experience that reinforced my love of archaeology and I am grateful to have been involved in the project.

See http://www.visitmarymackillop.com.au/where-it-all-began-penola.html for more information on the site and Mary Mackillop.

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