Tag Archives: Cultural Heritage Management

Savouring Caviar in Marion

Morphettville Racecourse is the last remaining horse racing course in metropolitan Adelaide. It’s on the northern boundary of the Marion council area, surrounded by stables and houses. There are a number of ways it contributes to the cultural heritage of the area. The races of course. And the fact that the 1913 grandstand is on the SA Heritage Register. But it is also a large green space, with a wetland, in a suburb. Stable owners leave bags of horse manure outside for people to take for their gardens. In fact, you can even turn up with a shovel and take it yourself if you wish – horseshoes turn up frequently.

Road sign near Morphettville racecourse showing black racehorse on yellow background

Road sign near Morphettville racecourse

On 12 May this year, when Black Caviar won her 21st consecutive race at 4.20pm, making a new Australian record, there was a sell-out crowd of 30,000 at the racecourse. As well as the paying crowd inside the course, a group of people numbering about 150 gathered at the perimeter fence at the rear of the racecourse near the starting point – all ages, and arriving mainly on foot from the surrounding houses.

As the horses rode up to the starting boxes, there was a great deal of murmuring to children about Black Caviar, and some queries between strangers about which horse exactly she was. The starting gun fired, the horses raced off and the crowd dispersed … as far as the nearby traffic management van where the two workers had increased the volume on their radio so that the crowd could hear the race. Black Caviar won, everybody clapped, and nodded and smiled at each other, and then went back to whatever they were doing beforehand.

Tangible and intangible heritage – I’ve been pondering on this for the past couple of months, and how their combination helps to defines cultural significance. The grandstand, the racecourse, the horse manure – all tangible items (although the manure is also ephemeral). The experience of Black Caviar is a shared intangible experience – we can’t re-create it, or experience it again, we can only remember it. And in saying that, a week after the race I came across one graffiti artist’s endeavour at capturing the essence of the moment, on a water tank at the rear of the racecourse, and successfully blending the intangible memory and the tangible expression of contemporary art.

Black Caviar graffiti on water tank

Black Caviar graffiti on water tank at rear of Morphettville racecourse

Susan Arthure

The archaeology of ‘guess who?’

Directed study in cultural heritage management
Adrian Fenech

This semester, I’m undertaking a Directed Study in Cultural Heritage Management as part of my Graduate Diploma in Archaeology. My industry partner is Adelaide-based heritage firm Australian Cultural Heritage Management Pty Ltd (ACHM).

ACHM do a lot of work for the mining industry in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. One of the issues out there is that often it’s not easy to tell if a rockshelter has been used by Aboriginal people in the past. My job is to collate all the available information to see if there are some characteristics of rockshelters that will help us to work this out.

The key issue here is a site with Potential Archaeological Deposit, which usually means it displays features that are related to use by Aboriginal people, such as proximity to water sources. There may be no evidence of the use of the site by Aboriginal groups on the surface.

I am going to use information in previous reports to create a database of all these PADs and genuine rock shelters, recording such data as shelter dimensions, number and type of surface artefacts recovered and excavation details where applicable. Hopefully, when I analyse this data, we will be one step closer to working out how to distinguish between legitimate archaeological rock shelters and those that haven’t been used at all in the past. This information will help all future archaeological work in the Pilbara region.

Cultural Heritage and Little Marion

This semester, I’m doing a directed study in conjunction with the City of Marion. This involves analysis of the results from a cultural heritage survey called ‘Stories of Our City: Now and Then’. The survey is currently underway, and it aims to collect information and ideas about the community’s living cultural heritage. It closes soon, so if you are a Marion resident, hurry along and fill it in! It can be accessed via the City of Marion website at http://www.marion.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=50&c=8140.

In preparation for the analysis, I’ve been doing some background reading and exploring. Driving along Marion Road in recent years, I’ve been struck by the statue of a little girl lying on the ground and peering into a hole, at the corner of Finniss Street and Marion Road. She just seemed to appear there one day. And cycling along the Sturt Creek on another occasion, I noticed her looking over a bridge. She’s about 1.2 metres tall, and always has fresh ribbons in her hair.

It turns out that she’s called Little Marion. The first statue I met, on the corner of Finniss and Marion, is called Little Marion Peering. She’s gazing into the Western Family Well, which was about 26 metres deep and could be quite treacherous.

Little Marion Peering

Little Marion Peering

Little Marion Skipping is located nearby in the grounds of Annie Doolan’s Cottage, which was built as a convent in 1876 for Mary MacKillop’s Sisters of St Joseph. She’s in what was most likely the playground.

Little Marion Skipping

Little Marion Skipping

At the entrance to the Marion Historic Village, Little Marion Welcoming swings on a farm gate.

Little Marion Welcoming

Little Marion Welcoming

And on the Finniss Street Bridge, Little Marion Pondering looks out over the Sturt Creek, and ponders on children playing in the river, swimming, catching tadpoles and daydreaming.

Little Marion Pondering

Little Marion Pondering

In the George Street Reserve, Little Marion Waiting sits on bricks from the original brickworks, and waits for her turn at hopscotch.

Little Marion Waiting

Little Marion Waiting

The Little Marion sculptures were created by Gerry McMahon, based on a 2008 book called ‘Yesterday’s Child’ by Margaret Western. They are great examples of public art that has been well planned and beautifully executed. Even without additional information, they can stand alone as a local statement of childhood.

The interpretive information near the sculptures is related, but not necessarily exactly about the sculptures. For example, near Little Marion Peering, a quote on an interpretive plaque refers to the cobwebs on the well – ‘When little children are missing in The Marion, everyone runs to the wells first. If there are cobwebs across the top of the big hole that is a good sign, because if anyone had fallen down, the cobwebs would be broken’.

The Little Marion sculptures showcase a part of Marion’s community heritage. And the fresh ribbons? A local woman replaces them regularly – it’s a good deed, but she’s also part of the community’s living cultural heritage.

Susan Arthure

What’s the value of contract archaeology?

By Helen Cronin, Master of Archaeology student. You can also read more of Helen’s work at her personal blog.

Portuguese archaeologist Leonor Medeiros’s contribution to the Day of Archaeology 2011 project was a lament.

I still feel tormented by the fact that, after you dig a site, and discover so much about it, that information is going to only a few people, and most of the sites are left to be destroyed or abandoned.

Her words echo my own feelings. The temporary exhibition I am working on as  an intern will show Bendigo residents what was happening behind the fence two years ago before a new office building was constructed. But it is an unusual case. The archaeology associated with most development sites in Australia goes exactly the same way as Medeiros’s Portuguese sites. The consultant archaeologists write a report and hand it over to the developer or land owner. The artefacts disappear into a warehouse. The local paper might have carried a couple of stories about the excavation while it was happening, but that’s about it.

Archaeology for the sake of it

Why do we bother? It seems a pointless exercise to investigate archaeological sites simply for the sake of it. The Victorian Heritage Act 1995 (which does not apply to Aboriginal cultural heritage) only states that its purpose is:

to provide for the protection and conservation of places and objects of cultural heritage significance and the registration of such places and objects

It is not in the nature of legislation to question its own existence, but to what end are we protecting and conserving cultural heritage if no-one knows about it? Why excavate a site if the locals who would be most interested by dint of their connections to the place never hear the story of the site? What is the point of heritage if it doesn’t contribute to people’s sense of themselves as a part of a place because they know more of its history.

Contract archaeology is driven by funding imperatives. The developer funds the excavation reluctantly; the archaeologist must get the work done in a limited time frame and has no budget for the niceties of interpretation for a non-specialist audience. But just for a moment, put aside all those funding and resource constraints and imagine what archaeology with a purpose beyond fulfilling legislative requirements might look like.

Children working in an archaeological trench with a father leaning over the edge looking on.

Both kids and adults are fascinated by archaeology as the Port Arthur Kids Dig program demonstrates. Photo A. Kinsela


  • There would be real community involvement.
    Instead of peering through a cyclone wire fence as they walk past, people could volunteer to help – anyone from primary school kids to retirees. People are fascinated by archaeology. Getting your hands dirty is a great way to connect with your local history. And connecting with your local history generally means you’re more willing and interested in protecting and conserving it because it means something to you. (See the Council for British Archaeology, which welcomes volunteers, for example.)
  • There would be broader and more direct communications.
    Podcasts from the archaeologists, blog entries, Facebook pages, YouTube posts, Tweets, a display at the library or council offices. This would give a much better sense of how archaeology is done and how stories emerge and change as the work goes on.
  • The reports would contain at least a summary targetted at a non-specialist audience and copies would be lodged with the local library. (See Tales of the Vasco, for example which was part of a final report and tells stories about the site based on the archaeological evidence.)

Yes, it’s probably fanciful. But nothing really changes if you don’t have a vision first, does it?

Chronicle of an exhibition

By Helen Cronin, Master of Archaeology Student
(With apologies to Carmel Schrire )

This semester I’m doing an internship with the Bendigo Art Gallery which is preparing an exhibition of artefacts from an excavation that took place here in Bendigo a couple of years ago. The internship is part of a Directed Study I’m doing as part of the coursework component of my masters.

The excavation
For around five weeks in 2009, every lunchtime I walked past an excavation going on just down the road from where I worked. I stood on one side of the cyclone wire fence watching the archaeologists working diligently on the other side. Forest Street, Bendigo turned out to be of “considerable significance” to both Bendigo and the state according to the DIG International report.

Archaeologist standing in a trench holding a bottle.

All the artefacts were packed up and disappeared into the Heritage Victoria warehouse in Melbourne, and the developer constructed a new commercial building on the site.

The exhibition
I’d met a local archaeologist who had been involved with the project and was passionate that such stories should be told locally. I agreed. When the new building opened earlier this year, the local newspaper published a supplement that included a spread about the “treasures” that had been unearthed. So I wrote to the paper suggesting that it was a shame the story wasn’t being told here in Bendigo.

Bendigo doesn’t have a dedicated European history museum (a subject of some interesting debate here), but we do have the Post Office Gallery – a satellite space of the Bendigo Art Gallery – that hosts temporary social history exhibitions. And they announced shortly after I wrote to the paper that they were planning an exhibition of archaeology from the Forest Street site.

I begged the curator to let me be involved somehow. So this semester I’m undertaking an internship with the Bendigo Art Gallery for my Directed Study. I’ll be doing the research for and writing the labels that will accompany the items.

In addition, I’ll be setting that in a theoretical context of museum archaeology. The challenge with any museum exhibition of archaeology is to somehow provide a context for an object whose main value inheres in the original context from which it has been removed. Add to that postmodern concerns about “curatorial authority” and representation/construction of the past and this should be fun.

The artefacts
Last Friday, I visited the Heritage Victoria warehouse into which the Bendigo “treasures” disappeared. Annie, the very generous Curatorial Officer, showed me boxes and boxes from all sorts of sites around Bendigo and let me go through all the artefacts that have been selected for the exhibition. It’s a strange feeling looking at the names on the boxes and knowing I ride my bike past them regularly.

Hedley Swain in An Introduction to Museum Archaeology observes that people are more excited about a find the closer they are to its source in time and space. “Being shown a relatively unimportant find that was found on their street yesterday becomes as important as a famous ancient treasure found hundreds of years ago in another country.”(p 270) I have to agree. I think I was more excited handling tea cups and figurines that came from the down the road from where I worked than if they’d let me handle Tutankhamun’s crown.

I have another day booked at the lab in early September and a lot of work to do on what I’ve gathered so far.

(Annie also suggested that there was plenty of work to be done on Bendigo assemblages fit for a masters or PhD thesis. And she was happy to help with research topics.)