Tag Archives: New South Wales

Fieldwork: keeping it real

By Tegan Burton, Grad Dip in Archaeology

As the Directed Study assessment due date draws ever nearer I return again and again to numerous journal papers, book chapters and web sites. Such is the nature of a literature review project. But it is fieldwork that truly keeps me alive.

No matter where, no matter when, no matter what the activity, no matter what the weather, fieldwork is always one of my favourite things. But the most inspirational fieldwork of all is Indigenous archaeology or cultural heritage management alongside Indigenous youth.

Since 2010 I’ve been in the fortunate position of coordinating what has evolved in to a ‘Connecting to Culture’ project in northern Sydney, engaging urban Indigenous youth in Aboriginal site recording and management within National Parks. Each year has been a little different, but a persistent gap has been the involvement of women. Well, no longer, with the first tangible steps towards a young Indigenous women’s group now under way!

Our first day out together was spent visiting some Sydney rock art sites with strong connections to women. We began at the sign-posted America Bay Track engraving site where a passionate and ‘say it like it is’ Indigenous mentor introduced the idea of women’s business. We also talked about threats facing the engraving site, and whether there were simple things we could do to reduce those threats.

Image

Young Indigenous women’s mentoring group visiting a Sydney rock engraving site

Our next stop was the Great Mackerel Rockshelter featured in Jo McDonald’s doctoral research, Dreamtime Superhighway (McDonald 2008). McDonald describes both cultural remains in a midden layer and a recent art phase as indicators of the presence of women at this site, perhaps as a semi-permanent living site for a smaller group in the last 500 years (McDonald 1992).

One the one hand I imagined looking at the art on the wall of the shelter through the eyes of an Anglo woman archaeologist. In doing so I was guided by what I could recall of Jo McDonald’s writing.

On the other hand I imagined looking at the art through the eyes of a young Indigenous woman, raised in the heart of the city and reconnecting with different elements of culture. For this perspective I was guided by the conversation of those around me.

Bringing these two perspectives together, archaeologist and Indigenous person, made real the question of Indigenous community perceptions of archaeologists, and of the discipline of archaeology overall.

Image

Young Indigenous women’s mentoring group visiting a Sydney rock art shelter site

Our second day together came a few weeks later, returning to the America Bay Track rock engraving site. Two main threats to the site were identified during our previous visit.

1) Burnt vegetation from a wildfire a few years earlier had fallen on the rock surface, providing fuel which could damage the rock in future wildfires, and promoting the accumulation of organic material across the rock surface.

2) Poor drainage along the walking track resulting in water flows and sediment deposition on the rock surface.

A small crew with simple hand tools over a couple of hours was able to make great head way in the amelioration of both of these threats.

Image

Clearing burnt and fallen vegetation from around a rock engraving site

Image

The Connecting to Culture women’s mentoring group

Coming from a conservation land management background I find it hard to know where to draw the line between archaeology and cultural heritage management. Advice has been not to get too concerned, the line is often blurry.

References:

McDonald, J. 1992 The Great Mackerel Rock Shelter excavation: Women in the archaeological record? Australian Archaeology 35:32-50

McDonald, J. 2008 Dreamtime Superhighway: Sydney Basin Rock Art and Prehistoric Information Exchange. Canberra: ANU E Press – Terra Australis 27.

A Timely Discovery

By Tegan Burton, Grad Dip in Archaeology

The semester has well and truly begun and research is underway. My topic is clear (Connecting Indigenous youth to culture through rock art recording and conservation) and my industry partner is on board (NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service Aboriginal Co-Management Unit).

Work commenced by identifying underlying elements and questions (e.g. Indigenous perceptions of archaeology, and archaeologists. Where are the Indigenous archaeologists? Is this ‘community archaeology’? Is it true that art in particular is more applicable than other aspects of archaeology? What’s so important about connecting with culture?) and hunting around the literature for relevant references.

Then, while searching the office for an old report, a timely discovery was made, a small book called Revival, Renewal & and Return: Ray Kelly and the NSW Sites of Significance Survey (Kijas 2005).

Image

Ray ‘Tiger’ Kelly was the first Aboriginal employee in the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), engaged as a Research Officer in 1973. With Harry Creamer, and under the supervision of archaeologist Sharon Sullivan, Kelly commenced what was to become the decade long NSW Sites of Significance Survey.

The Survey commenced at a time when Australia was shifting from the eras of protection and assimilation to self-determination and reconciliation (Kijas 2005; Smith 2004). The process and results of running the Survey radically changed thinking in NSW, demonstrating that NSW Aboriginal people had not lost contact with sites nor culture, as had been the general belief.

Just two years after commencement, Kelly submitted a report titled ‘A revival of the Aboriginal culture: We, the Aboriginal people, need this to achieve our identity’. His passion for cultural revival, inspired by the Survey, exuded from every sentence. ‘Now that some of us are aware of what we have lost, there seems to be an urgent need to restore whatever is left of our culture. To do this successfully we must involve many more Aborigines in the recording and protection programme’ (Kelly 1975, in Kijas 2005:14).

Around the same period, Kelly identified some challenges to reviving Aboriginal culture in NSW. One of these was the need ‘to encourage white anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists in their ivory towers to give direct feedback to the people they have obtained their material from’, while another was to overcome ‘the white education system, which has not accepted the need for Aboriginal kids to be educated in their own history’ (Kelly 1975:16).

That was 1975. Where do things stand now, in 2014? How much have things changed, in NSW, bureaucratically, and in reality?

In 2005 Kelly concluded that ‘the future of Aboriginal cultural heritage is bright. However, there is still a long way to go’ and ‘we need Aboriginal land managers, Aboriginal rangers and educators to guide our communities, and play a key role in the cultural understanding of our land’ (Kijas 2005:119).

I’m not Aboriginal, Indigenous, or a First Nations person. But I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly inspirational people who are, and I look forward to expanding that work within the world of archaeology.

References:

Kelly, R. 1975 From the “Keeparra” to the “Cultural Bind”: An analysis of the Aboriginal situation. Australian Archaeology 2:13-17.

Kijas, J. 2005 Revival, Renewal and Return: Ray Kelly and the NSW Sites of Significance Survey. Hurstville: Department of Environment & Conservation (NSW).

Smith, C. 2004 Country, Kin and Culture: Survival of an Australian Aboriginal Community. Kent Town: Wakefield Press.