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).
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.
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.
Many things have changed in NSW (and worldwide) since 1975. And as the past is constantly being re-written by archeology, there will be many more changes to come. All the best with your work!