Tag Archives: Indigenous Archaeology

My Contribution to Indexing the Tindale Collection at the South Australian Museum Archives

Blog Post 4

Jonathan Nicholls

In the 80 hours that I have spent working at the South Australian Museum Archives I have entered a total of 996 35mm colour slides from the Tindale collection into the museum’s database. The slides came from four different albums.The following albums have now been entered into the database:

  1. Series AA338/43 – Australian Anthropology – Slides Volume 16
  2. Series AA338/44 – Australian Anthropology – Slides Volume 17
  3. Series AA338/45 – Australian Anthropology – Slides Volume 18

In addition to this 75 slides from Series AA338/46 Australian Anthropology – Slides Volume 18 have been entered into the database.

Series AA338/43 and Series AA338/44 have been uploaded to the South Australian Museum’s official website, and can be viewed by clicking on the following links:



During the practicum I gained an idea of what is and what is not of a sensitive nature to Aboriginal peoples. Things such as ceremonies, certain items used in ceremonies, arranged stones, paintings, and human remains can all be of a sensitive nature, and therefore required restricted access or viewing. Certain items, such as bull-roarers, seem to only be of a sensitive nature if they are being used in a ceremony. Another example is that of a stone knife used in circumcisions – this did not need to be restricted as it had not been used.

The practicum also reinforced the importance of keeping accurate and detailed records throughout the project. By keeping a logbook, which was not dissimilar to an archaeological field book, I was able to double check slides which caused issues when they were being entered into the museum’s database. One of the most common issues I encountered was where part of the writing on the slides was illegible, which I had to double check later on.

Placement to Paid Employment!

Blog Post 3

Jonathan Nicholls

The time I have spent working with the South Australian Museum Archives has given me the opportunity to place my studies into a broader context. It has allowed me to apply the skills that I have acquired during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. The placement has also given me the opportunity to gain additional theoretical and practical skills, as well as an appreciation of the roles, values, responsibilities, priorities, judgement and work methods of the industry placement provider.

The placement has also led to an offer of paid work. In particular, the South Australian Museum Archives has offered me the chance to do more database entry work as a part-time worker. As a student about to complete my studies, this offer is too good to refuse! This work also shows the value of practical work placements as part of a student’s studies.

Industry placement with the SA Museum Archives

Blog Post 1

Jonathan Nicholls

The South Australian Museum Archives contains records relating to the State’s cultural and natural heritage, collected from a variety of scientists, collection managers, directors and curators since 1856. One of the major collections in the Museum Archives is the collection of legendary archaeologist and anthropologist, Norman Barnett Tindale. It comprises the collated empirical data collected from numerous expeditions which culminated in the 1974 map and accompanying catalogue ‘Aboriginal tribes of Australia, their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names’. Tindale determined that the Aborigines of Australia were not wanderers without territories, but had ‘Tribal Boundaries’ a concept which was first introduced to Tindale by Maroadunei, a Ngandi songmaker from Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, on his first expedition to Groote Eylandt in 1921-22.

While there is a wealth of information in the Tindale Collection for archaeologists, ethnographers, and Aboriginal peoples, the archives are difficult to access, and generally not open to the general public. To remedy this situation, the staff at the South Australian Museum Archives and a number of volunteers are working to digitise the Tindale collection, with the intention of having the collection hosted on the Museums official website when it is completed.

I will be working on an album of 35mm colour slides (Series AA338/43 – Australian Anthropology – Slides Volume 16) and will be entering the slides into a database, along with any information which is written on the slides. This will form the basis for what will be eventually uploaded to the Museum’s official website.


South Australian Museum 2012a South Australian Museum Archives. Retrieved 20 May 2012 from http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/archives.

South Australian Museum 2012b Tindale, Dr Norman Barnett (AA 338). Retrieved 20 May 2012 from http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/archives/collections/aa338.

Tindale, N.B. 1974 Aboriginal tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Berkeley: University of California Press

A small town with a big archaeology collection

Amanda Atkinson

Lake Cargelligo is a small remote town in the central west of New South Wales. Driving into the town, the welcome sign indicates a population of 1500 but spend a week there and you will soon realize about half that amount of people still live there, many left during the drought years to look for work elsewhere.

Lake Cargelligo in the central west of New South Wales

The Lake Cargelligo & District Historical Society museum boasts far more of interest than your average small town historic museum. Situated in a very large and well-presented shed at the back of the Lake Cargelligo township, a small number of locals take pride in their extensive collection of artefacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. These are interesting enough on their own, but hidden at the back of the museum, in a small glass display cabinet that most people walk past, is the really exciting stuff. Well, exciting for any archaeologist who likes stone tools.

One rainy day back in 2010, a small team of colleagues and I were working on a pipeline project for the local council. We did what any archaeologist would do on a rainy day- we went in search of more archaeology! To our surprise and joy, the local historic museum houses an extensive collection of Indigenous stone tools collected over many years, from the local area. The collection includes everything  from blades, points, grinding implements, flakes to ceremonial stone sculptures, lying uncatalogued in dusty boxes. 

A sample of the artefacts on display at the Lake Cargelligo museum

An off-hand comment made during a meeting in early 2012 about the need to record the collection made me realise that this was something I could do as part of the Flinder’s Cultural Heritage Practium (ARCH 8515). After discussions with the members of the Lake Cargelligo & District Historical Society, we decided that, along with the recording and cataloging of the collection, they needed a new display which shows off this fantastic collection.

My project will focus on a new interpretive display which recognises the needs of both the Historical Society members, the local Aboriginal community and visitors to the museum. There are other interesting challenges associated with the project. Firstly, the new display will still need to fit into its existing display case, which is one of my major challenges. Secondly, I have limited funds to make the new display, which requires ingenuity and a lot of help from the Lake Cargelligo community.

On the June long weekend (the 9th, 10th and 11th June), the museum hosted its annual open weekend, where members of the Historical Society opened the museum to the public and offered special events such as horse demonstrations using a traditional plough, rope making and other traditional activities. However, this year, there was also an opportunity to “Meet the Archaeologists”. Myself and the same group of colleagues who first visited the museum in 2010, were invited back to the museum where this project first started to discuss archaeology with the public.

A working horse display during the Open Day 2012. Using original historic grinding equipment to grind grain.

Gunbalanya Repatriation – Stealing is No Bloody Good

This post discusses part of the Barunga, NT Rock Art Field School, with a focus on one of the more significant social and political events that occurred in 2011. I was a volunteer demonstrator on this field school because it was taking place in the area that I am conducting my research and I was due to begin my data collection. The participants of the field school were due to depart Darwin on Tuesday 19th July 2011, for Barunga but like all fieldwork, this changed…

Sally May (ANU) phoned Claire Smith on the Sunday before our departure to say the human remains that had recently been repatriated by the Smithsonian Institute (USA) as well as some Australian museums were being reburied in a ceremony at the community from which they were stolen. The largest collection of remains was taken from the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) region of Arnhem Land as part of the Northern Australian Expedition led by Charles Mountford. Since then, the remains have resided at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Other remains from this area that have resided in Australian museums, such as the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, had also been returned.

Our detour from Darwin - Gunbalanya - Barunga

Orchestrating the return of these remains was a long process involving many consultations between the Gunbalanya community and the museums. Ultimately, the hard work of Traditional Owners and community members paid off and the remains were returned to country.

The reburial ceremony was due to take place mid-afternoon on Tuesday and we decided that this was an event not to be missed; unfortunately, repatriation of human and cultural remains does not happen very often. In order to be on time to the cermony we had to leave Monday, which posed a problem, as some people were not arriving in Darwin until 2am Tuesday!

Flinders rock art field school crew

I left Darwin on Monday morning (with fellow students, Bianca, Nessa and Yolanda), following Sally and Ele in our rental four-wheel-drives. We arrived at Gunbalanya at about four in the afternoon; the rest of the Flinders cohort was to follow as they flew into Darwin. The second convoy (Mick, Ebbsy, Beckie, Jarrad and Tegan) arrived at about eleven pm. We were sharing a run-down, asbestos-riddled house of the like that are all too common in Aboriginal communities. The final convoy (Claire, Jacko, Michael, Zidian, Andrew, Britt, Lauren, Tom, Antoinette and Rebecca) arrived at about six am Tuesday morning.

While those that had little to no sleep slept, the rest of us helped organise the post-ceremony celebrations. The Art Centre capitalised on the large number of willing volunteers, and roped a few of the Flinders crew into helping with stock-take. What a great introduction to the necessity of flexibility on fieldwork!

The Flinders staff and students played a proactive role in the organisation and running of the events of the day; Mick, Michael and I acted as photographers for the community and visually documented the procession and ceremony. The rest of the group acted as de facto caterers for the community at the celebratory BBQ.

Cooking buffalo steaks for the celebrations

While this is a positive event, the remains should never have been stolen, especially under the guise of ‘research’. I use the word ‘stolen’ and acknowledge that some may disagree with this, however, I am not a fan of beating around the bush; this is what happened, it is the way the community feels and it is the way I feel. As Traditional Owner of the region, Jacob, says in the ABC footage, “stealing is no bloody good”. It is very important to acknowledge the wrongdoings of past researchers, however righteous they believed their actions to be, so that we can continue to learn and improve our approaches to culturally sensitive materials and issues. It is an indication of the strength of the current Australian archaeological and anthropological disciplines that most contemporary research is carried out professionally and ethically.

I will not describe the official events of the day because it is something that is better seen than read.

Instead, visit these links to the ABC news reports:



Official procession to the burial grounds

There is no doubt this is one of the more important social and political events that occurred in 2011; it deserved much more media coverage than it received.

Jordan Ralph

This post originally featured  on my personal blog @ jordsralph.com

All views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisations, institutions or individuals mentioned within.