Tag Archives: Cultural Heritage Management

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

Imagine

  • 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.)

Flexibility, Fieldwork and Flinders Graduate Study

If you’ve read the current (July) edition of Engage: The Magazine of the Graduate Programs in Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Management and Maritime Archaeology, you’ll have seen the article on ‘Where does a Graduate Degree Take You?’.  In it, some of our graduated students discuss where they’re working now, what they’ve learnt since leaving university (including what topics proved to be most useful to them and why.  This part makes Alice very happy), and how their degree experience prepared them to work in the heritage industry (if you haven’t seen Engage yet, then make sure you read it at our website http://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/archaeology/archaeology-digital-library/graduate-program-bulletins.cfm.  It contains all this and more).

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Last attempt to save the Glenelg Cinema

by Natalie Bittner.

We offer you the public of South Australia a centre of entertainment unique in this state. Every luxury, every thought, every care that 27 years of experience dictates, that modern science knows, is here for your comfort, your convenience, your service. We present the showplace of Australia, the Ozone Theatre Glenelg

(From the program distributed at the Gala opening night of the Ozone Theatre, Glenelg November 5th 1937)

Glenelg Cinema. Corner Jetty Road and Rose Street. Photo: Natalie Bittner. 26/05/2011

In the next few weeks, the fate of the Glenelg Cinema complex will be decided. The cinema has been closed since the end of January 2009 with no development on the site and a drop in visitor numbers to the Eastern end of the Jetty Road precinct noticed by nearby traders. In the week following its closure, the Wallis cinema company put up most of the interior fixtures for sale, including the seats and doors.

Having been designed by architect Kenneth Milne in 1936, the Glenelg Ozone Theatre (as it was then known) consisted of a single cinema screen, and had twin marble grand staircases and tartan carpeting throughout. Known for his impeccable detailing, the façade of the building includes stone from Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills, horizontal fins and the current vertical signage is the same element used in the original construction. Advertising material from 1938 says that the Ozone Theatre had air-conditioning throughout, a ladies smoking lounge, and a baby-friendly viewing area where mothers with screaming children ‘will not be embarrassed’ (The Advertiser Saturday October 9, 1937). On the 5th of November 1937 Glenelg Ozone Theatre’s gala opening night consisted of a technicolour screening of A Star is Born with shorts including How to Vote. (The Mail Saturday November 6th, 1937).

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South Australian Museum Archives Visit – Ngaut Ngaut Interpretive Project

In mid-September I visited the South Australian Museum Archives to locate images that were to be used on the interpretive signage at Ngaut Ngaut. This aspect of the project was also approved by the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Inc. (MACAI). Dr Amy Roberts had given me some ideas as to what to look for and I had a list of index numbers that corresponded to relevant archive collections. Throughout the process of content creation Amy had found a few images that she wanted to use on the signs. The problem was that these copies had very low resolutions. My archives visit was aimed at finding the original images and organising high-quality 600 dpi copies of the photographs and field book sketches.

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