Heritage Issues and The Collins Settlement

Blog Post 4: David Tutchener

For my directed studies unit I am comparing the historical data of the Collins Settlement with the recent geophysical survey that took place at the site. This is an attempt to find the original graves of the sixteen people that died at the short-lived settlement early in Australia’s colonial history in 1803.

The possible excavation of the 1803 Collins Settlement on the Western Sister raises a number of interesting questions regarding heritage values. For instance:

Is it acceptable to partially destroy a known Aboriginal site in order to attempt to find a rumoured white burial ground? If the situation were that simple then the answer would be as equally simple. No. Thankfully a lot can be gained from the study of the Aboriginal midden in this case.

At what point does the need to solve a problem of the past mean that it’s okay to partially destroy the heritage of a minority? Who decides which value has more significance? Or is compromise of both sets of significance the best way forward?

What if, in the same case, we now added the extra factor that the landscape of the 1803 Settlement is quite quickly being degraded by erosion? Is it still ethically sound to excavate?

The Burra Charter emphasises: ‘that do as much as necessary to care for the place and to make it useable, but otherwise change it as little as possible so that its cultural significance is retained.’

In the case of the Western Sister, in order for the site to be protected properly from erosion and potential use, it must first be fully identified, assessed and recorded. Without these steps the site may remain partially unrecorded until it slips into the sea during a storm. Where will the archaeological record be then?

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