Tag Archives: Field School

The Writing on the Wall

By Amber Parrington, Master of Archaeology and Heritage Management student

Walking in and around the buildings of the Royal Derwent Hospital, the oldest continuously used mental hospital in Australia, is an experience all to itself. Just by entering the site, one can feel the history, the presence of people long since gone, shifting and settling like a cloak on your shoulders. It pulls you in, invites you to walk the halls so many walked before, to share in their story.

Willow Court Barracks, Royal Derwent Hospital complex. View from right hand veranda.

Willow Court Barracks, Royal Derwent Hospital complex. View from right hand veranda.

Their story is visible too in the scattered remains of beds, doors, objects of various shapes and sizes all telling us something of this place. Objects large and small, broken and whole, all contributing in their own way.

Ward C hallway of doors

Ward C hallway of doors.

The Willow Court Barracks too, compel you to look and think back to what it must have been like during its operational years. In the right hand corner of the veranda that frames the Barracks lies the writing on the wall, which intrigued me as soon as I saw it.

Numbers on the wall of the right hand corner of the Willow Court Barracks veranda

Numbers on the wall of the right hand corner of the Willow Court Barracks veranda.

Hundreds of numbers and scratches resembling writing flow across the walls, overlapping and surrounding each other. Some written in pencil, others carved into the very walls of the building. Questions filter through my mind, who wrote these? What were they trying to say? Why numbers? Was it an attempt to copy the way builders do their calculations all over the walls? A form of expression or art? One after the other the questions come, leaving my mind swirling.

Writing on the wall of the right hand corner of the Barracks veranda

Writing on the wall of the right hand corner of the Barracks veranda.

The preservation of these numbers really hit home the fact that this site has history that isn’t just nearly 200 years old, but it also has a recent history which is just as important and significant. Archaeology looks to the past, be that 14 years ago or 1400 years, and all it can take for that journey to begin is something seemingly unimportant or uninteresting as some writing on the wall.

Writing on the wall right hand corner barracks veranda

Writing on the wall right hand corner barracks veranda.

Connecting to the past through the paranormal. Why ghosts matter.

By Jarrad Kowlessar, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student

Willow Court Barracks 1830

Willow Court Barracks, oldest building in the Royal Derwent Complex.

Walking the halls of the former Royal Derwent Hospital is a somewhat harrowing experience. Even in the middle of the day I need a torch to see into the murky darkness of some rooms. The smell of fourteen years of decay and disuse surrounds me, and with every step I take, loose floorboards creak, and glass or possum droppings crunch under foot.

Stairwell inside C-Ward

Stairwell in Ward C, former ward for violent male patients.

The knowledge that this location is often referred to as one of the most haunted locations in Australia makes the history of this place seem much more immediate. The feeling that the past is still lingering, perhaps with previous occupants still walking the halls, maybe watching me as I explore, is a unique way to interact with history.

Stairway into dark loft in the Barracks.

Stairway into dark loft in the Barracks.

Willow Court in Tasmania is the site of the oldest mental health facility in Australia, most recently named Royal Derwent Hospital. Reports of paranormal sightings started in the early 1990s whilst the hospital was still in use and over the years since there have been a huge variety of reports of a range of paranormal encounters. These reports have spurred a number of investigations into the paranormal at Willow Court, and currently a group named The Australian Paranormal Investigation Unit (APIU) regularly conduct paranormal investigations at the site.

Ward C Maximum Security Ward.

Ward C Maximum Security Ward.

The APIU has had a lot of community involvement and has been operating at the site for a number of years now. As the paranormal has become an increasingly dominant aspect of public interest in the site the local council have begun working with the APIU to preserve the site and to further spread interest and involvement in their investigations. The interest generated by the APIU and Willow Court stand as an example of the importance that ghosts and the paranormal can have on a community’s value of a site and their connection to its history.

Further Reading:


Sounds from Australia’s Oldest Mental Health Hospital

By Gemma Incerti, Master of Archaeology and Heritage Management student

The ARCH8806, Historical Archaeology Field School, was held in February this year in New Norfolk, Tasmania. Along with nine of my fellow archaeology students, the task before us was to catalogue the remains of Willow Court, Australia’s oldest continually used asylum (1827-2001). Amongst the assortments of old medicines, countless reagent bottles, administrative files, medical books and miscellaneous medical equipment was a collection of LP records.

Music has often been appreciated for its therapeutic benefits and evidence of music records in the Willow Court catalogue collection may indicate just this. Musical assortments including the works of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Debussy were located with what appear to be library-lending stamps, potentially from within the hospital.


LP Record with lending stamps, Willow Court

LP Record with lending stamps, Willow Court

To listen to a few of the records we found, click the links below:

Claude Debussy’s “Children’s Corner”


Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major”


A few more recent musical compositions, from the 1960s and 1970s, provided entertainment over dinner one evening for my fellow field school students and myself and may perhaps have been items from a more personal music collection. We relived the likes of Donny Osmond, Billy Vaughn, Katch 22, Barbara Streisand, Gene Pitney and Top of The Pops to some amusement. Several records had handwritten annotations adorning the covers indicating their previous owners and this made the cataloguing process seem all the more personal and relateable.

You can check out a few of the quirky record covers below and listen to some of the sounds from Australia’s oldest mental health hospital.

LP Record ‘Its Soft Rock & Allsorts’ by Katch 22, Willow Court

LP Record ‘Its Soft Rock & Allsorts’ by Katch 22, Willow Court

Katch 22 “Don’t Listen”


LP Record ‘Too Young’ by Donny Osmond, Willow Court

LP Record ‘Too Young’ by Donny Osmond, Willow Court

Donny Osmond “Too Young”


LP Record ‘Top of the Pops’, Willow Court

LP Record ‘Top of the Pops’, Willow Court

Chairmen of the Board “You’ve Got Me Dangling On a String”


Bobby Sherman “Julie, Do Ya Love Me”


LP Record ‘Play It Again’ by Alan Gardiner Accordion Band, Willow Court

LP Record ‘Play It Again’ by the Alan Gardiner Accordion Band, Willow Court


Ole Bonde, L. and T. Wigram 2002 A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy: Theory, Clinical Practice, Research and Training. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

The Medieval Adventures of an Archaeology Student in Ireland: Part 1

By Carly Strapps

Recently I travelled to Ireland and undertook three weeks of archaeological fieldwork training with the Irish Archaeological Field School. This opportunity presented itself when I was looking to visit friends in Ireland during my annual leave. With just a little bit of internet research, I discovered that a training excavation just happened to be running in the same town that I was visiting and at the same time that I would be there. It was perfect!

The Irish Archaeological Field School (IAFS) run a research and training excavation at Black Friary, Co. Meath, Ireland. The program has a strong focus on both teaching and community involvement, and is called the Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project. Black Friary is a 13th century, late medieval Dominican Friary. The site is situated outside the town walls of Trim – an Anglo-Norman medieval town. Students come from all over the world to work at this site. Not only is it a great way of gaining site-based experience on a real archaeological excavation, but it also has a strong focus on teaching methods and is university-accredited.

View of Trim, Co. Meath, from Trim Castle.

As I had only began my Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management with Flinders University this year, the training at Black Friary seemed like a fantastic opportunity.The IAFS offer three different courses for students, being An Introduction to Field Archaeology, Advanced Methods in Field Archaeology, and Introduction to Bioarchaeology and Osteoarchaeology. I had no previous experience in archaeological fieldwork and three weeks to spare, so I signed myself up for the two-week beginners course with one-week in bioarchaeology and osteoarchaeology.

Knowing that I was going to be working outdoors during an Irish summer as opposed to the summers I am used to in South Australia, I packed my gumboots and wet weather gear and off I went!

First Day on Site

I had a little trouble first locating the site, as it’s on a paddock and tucked behind a SuperValu supermarket. But when I finally found some grubby looking folk with trowels in their hands I knew I was in the right spot. I met up with the other students also starting on this date and we commenced our induction and tour.

The first thing I noticed about the site was that it was enormous. Twelve cuttings had been opened, and there were approximately fifty different students, supervisors and staff members working on various different tasks around the site. The second thing I noticed were all the sheep. They were under trees, around the features, in the cuttings. They were everywhere! Obviously both the sheep and team had become quite accustomed to each other’s presence. As I was soon to discover, they also liked to poo in the cuttings overnight. As you can imagine it was a nice surprise for us to remove each morning!

Partial view of the Black Friary site, sheep included!

Partial view of the Black Friary site, sheep included!

Continuing our tour we learnt that the IAFS had been excavating at the Black Friary site since 2010, making this year it’s fifth season. Two surveys were carried out prior to the excavation commencing, a geophysical survey and a topographical survey (informing the placement of the cuttings). There were no upstanding remains of the friary buildings above the ground, and only a few pieces of collapsed masonry could be seen. So far the cuttings had uncovered parts of the church, cloister, buildings and numerous burials.

Once the tour was done and we were handed our new gloves and trowels, it was finally time for us to begin!

Work begins!

For further information on the Irish Archaeological Field School visit: http://iafs.ie/

From Ship to Shore to Hawthorn: Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Field School, 2013.

Figure One: Group photo in Port MacDonnell, SA. Photo taken by Nita von Stanke. 16/02/13.

By Daniel Petraccaro, Masters in Maritime Archaeology Student Flinders University.


Nothing can compare to the field school experience offered this year to the graduates enrolled in the Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Programme. The Maritime Archaeology field school was based at Port MacDonnell, in South Australia’s Southeast region, and was held from the 3rd to 16th of February. The rigorous two-week program offered students an introduction to techniques from underwater surveying, mapping, and photography to recording (figure 2).


Figure Two: Students Daniel Petraccaro and Hunter Brendel with Supervisor Gay Lascina start mapping the ketch Hawthorn. Photo by Chelsa Pasch. 06.02.13.

Continue reading