Author Archives: liquidpersonality

Heritage Issues and The Collins Settlement

Blog Post 4: David Tutchener

For my directed studies unit I am comparing the historical data of the Collins Settlement with the recent geophysical survey that took place at the site. This is an attempt to find the original graves of the sixteen people that died at the short-lived settlement early in Australia’s colonial history in 1803.

The possible excavation of the 1803 Collins Settlement on the Western Sister raises a number of interesting questions regarding heritage values. For instance:

Is it acceptable to partially destroy a known Aboriginal site in order to attempt to find a rumoured white burial ground? If the situation were that simple then the answer would be as equally simple. No. Thankfully a lot can be gained from the study of the Aboriginal midden in this case.

At what point does the need to solve a problem of the past mean that it’s okay to partially destroy the heritage of a minority? Who decides which value has more significance? Or is compromise of both sets of significance the best way forward?

What if, in the same case, we now added the extra factor that the landscape of the 1803 Settlement is quite quickly being degraded by erosion? Is it still ethically sound to excavate?

The Burra Charter emphasises: ‘that do as much as necessary to care for the place and to make it useable, but otherwise change it as little as possible so that its cultural significance is retained.’

In the case of the Western Sister, in order for the site to be protected properly from erosion and potential use, it must first be fully identified, assessed and recorded. Without these steps the site may remain partially unrecorded until it slips into the sea during a storm. Where will the archaeological record be then?

1803 Collins Settlement and the National Trust

Blog Post 2: David Tutchener

The background research of the Collins 1803 Settlement site continues. For my directed studies unit I am attempting to compare the historical data and the results of a geo-survey in order to find a likely place for the possible lost burial ground of the 1803 settlement in Sorrento. A question that came out of my current research is a contemplation regarding national identity, heritage and significance. All three concepts are dynamic constructs, which are all mutually informing. I found where these constructs intersect with the Collins Settlement to be of interest during this project.

The Collins Settlement site is currently considered of national level of significance. This is partially due to the site being remarkable as an early colonial site within Australia, as the state of Victoria had not even been founded yet. The National Trust however still regards the site as being of only state level significance. The statement of significance for the Sorrento Graves Site is as follows:

The Collins Settlement Site is of State historical, social, political and cultural significance regardless of physical deposit or evidence. It is important as a place because of the role that the site plays in the colonising and settlement of Australia, and how its location and the nature of its landscape informs our understanding of this it is of great significance to all Australians… The location, history and landscape values of the site informs our community of its early history in terms of European and Aboriginal occupation and European strategies of colonisation. (National Trust, 2012)

Comments like ‘great significance to all Australians’ make me question the National Trust’s state level of significance assigned to the Collins Settlement site.

National/ state level significance, heritage/ identity: Is this really a case of forgetting the failures of our colonial past? Has this attempted settlement and its graves become a portion of Australia’s forgotten history? This site contributes greatly to the national cultural record of white Australia and to the early contact period with Indigenous people. This site is great reflection of how ‘identity’, for us, Australianness, can be manipulated and changed depending upon how we judge our own heritage. This is due to the fact the site itself has almost been developed a number times and the loss of the burial ground location indicates that this site is one that could be removed from our nation’s past. Perhaps this is why the National Trust only attaches a state level of significance to the site. Or perhaps it is just a way to conveniently forget a failure of colonial Britain. What if what it means to be Australian was not based on colonial success, but instead on failure? How would this reflect on our present national identity?

The 1803 Collins Settlement of Sorrento Victoria

Blog Post 1: David Tutchener

This is the subject of my Directed Studies research project at Flinders University as a part of my Graduate Diploma in Archaeology.

Okay I live in Victoria (I’ll just apologize now, sorry) so I based a relevant research project around the little known 1803 Settlement of Sorrento. This was Victoria’s and in fact Australia’s first official attempted settlement outside of Port Jackson. There were a number of British sealing and whaling stations based around Bass Strait, but these were fairly basic camps without official approval. The 1803 settlement is a moment of failure in Australia’s early frontier history as it barely lasted a year because there was inadequate fresh water nearby. It is a period of the nations past that involved violent conflict with indigenous groups, convict labour and exploitation. The same group of convicts, free settlers and Royal Navy Marines later travelled to Van Diemen’s Land and set up the successful colony later known as Hobart.

One of the biggest mysteries of the settlement is the whereabouts of the 1803 Sorrento Graves. The settlement site is based in a small bay with a bluff on each side, named for their feminine shape (imagine being a 19th Century explorer), the Eastern and Western Sisters (See Map). There are currently four marked graves on the Eastern Sister, but a total of sixteen people died during this short settlement. The question remains, where are their bodies? This research project aims to create a background report that synthesizes historical information and a recent geo-survey of the area in order to later perform subsurface archaeological testing that can hopefully help solve this mystery.

General Map of Sullivan’s Bay, featuring the Western and Eastern Sisters:

The Burrup Peninsula

The issue of development in Western Australia brings with it a number of social tensions. One of the most blatant is the inherent tension between development and heritage. A prominent example in Western Australia in the Pilbara region is the case of the Burrup Peninsula and Woodside Petroleum Development Pty. Ltd. It has also been one of the most complicated native title claims in Australian history.

Image: Vinnicombe, 1987

But what is the Burrup Peninsula?

In case you have been hiding under a rock (with lots of really old art on it) the Burrup is one of the largest known gallery of petroglyphs with the greatest abundance and highest concentration of any known site in the world. The Pilbara has been described as ‘… without doubt the richest and most exciting region of rock engravings in Australia’ (McCarthy, 1968: vi). The site is a unique cultural landscape with over 20,000 years of history recorded on the rocks.

The Yaburara people, were the pre-European inhabitants of the Burrup Peninsula and associated islands of the Dampier Archipelago. They became indentured laborers to European whalers and pearlers during the latter half of the 19th century, but were mostly killed during one incident. The majority of their numbers were killed during the ‘Flying Foam Massacre’ in 1868; an event that was sparked by a Yaburara man caught attempting to steal a bag of flour. The Yaburara man was imprisoned, but later rescued by fellow tribesmen, during his escape they speared a policeman and a pearler who was camping nearby. The retributive justice of an early colonial settlement resulted in the massacre of up to 60 Yaburara members.

The Burrup Peninsula was first industrially developed during the 1960’s. This was due to the introduction of Mt. Tom Price, an inland iron ore mine that required a need for a deep-water port for transportation somewhere along the coast. With the discovery of natural gas off the northeast continental shelf, the Burrup Peninsula seemed to be a logical place for further development.

A helicopter survey of the area was conducted in 1979 by the Western Australian Museum, which concluded that a southern development site would have a lesser impact on the island. It was recommended by various government departments in 1979 that Woodside Petroleum Development Pty. Ltd. who became the operator on behalf of the Joint Venture partners of the North West Shelf Gas Project, employ an archaeologist to ensure compliance with the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act. There were some delays through this process and the end result was that the archaeological team involved didn’t have enough time to record all the sites on the peninsula prior to development. This meant that there is no complete archaeological record for the area, making it impossible to estimate how much of the peninsula has been impacted by development. Some conservative estimates place the impact of this development at under 10%, while others (probably more accurate) place the damage at over 20% of all sites.

According to Vinniecomb (1987) during the natural gas period of development, of the 720 indigenous archaeological sites recorded: 349 were destroyed to make way for development, 56 were partially destroyed, and 315, those on the periphery of the prime areas of operation, are preserved in situ.

Timeline of heritage listing:

– 2002 National Trust Endangered Places list

– 2004 the World Monuments Fund provided funding with the goal of achieving national heritage status for the site.

– 2006 the Australian Heritage Council advised the federal Environment and Heritage Minister that the site was suitable for National Heritage listing.

– 2007 Dampier Archipelago is listed as a National Heritage Site

The National Heritage list classes this site as significant for a number of different reasons. These include fulfilling the official values of the National Heritage list through the following:

Criterion A: Events, Processes

Criterion B: Rarity

Criterion C: Research

Criterion D: Principal characteristics of a class of places

Criterion F: Creative or technical achievement

The statement of significance for the National Heritage listing of the Dampier Archipelago comments that the area has:

The rock engravings comprise images of avian, marine and terrestrial fauna, schematised human figures, figures with mixed human and animal characteristics and geometric designs. At a national level it has an exceptionally diverse and dynamic range of schematised human figures some of which are arranged in complex scenes (National Heritage List, 2007)

The native title claimants for the Burrup Peninsula are; Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo, Ngarluma Yindjibarndi, and Yaburara Mardudhunera, they signed a “State Government heritage protection and compensation package” with Eric Ripper, Deputy Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Energy of Western Australia in 2003. The agreement has been described as the most complex native title and development agreement of its kind in Australia. It allows for industrial development for over 40% of the area, while protecting the remaining %60 in a conservation reserve. Included in this agreement was Indigenous training and jobs programs in total the agreement was worth approximately 15 million dollars.

The major question now is: Is this place safe? The short answer is, no.

Pollution and industry on the peninsula is a major problem to the integrity of the heritage-listed area. In 2010 a cement company agreed to pay $280,000 in remediation after admitting that it had severely damaged rock art during quarrying activities. While according to some, air borne pollution is slowly degrading the rock art.

Vandalism has become another major problem in the battle to conserve the Burrup Peninsula. This was highlighted in 2011 when Local MP and rock art expert Robin Chapple discovered graffiti on an Aboriginal rock art site.


In 2007 Woodside began the relocation of rock art from the Burrup Peninsula. This involved moving whole rocks that display Indigenous art, out of their original context. This has preserved some of the rock art, and allows some development to go ahead, but it also destroys the context in which the rock art was created.

The 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act, which is relevant to the Burrup Peninsula and its industrial development, is obviously inadequate to protect the best interests of heritage and heritage stakeholders in this region. Even more recently heritage sites have been impacted by development in the Pilbara region, which makes me question if this legislation is still relevant in a modern Australia. A better balance needs to be struck between development and heritage conservation in Western Australia and the only vehicle really available is the state legislation. Perhaps the end of the current mining boom will allow for more flexibility in updating the validity of this legislation.

David Tutchener

This short blog has only been intended as a brief introduction to this topic and is by no means authoritative or exhaustive, some references used are below.


Department of Conservation and Environment, Proposed Burrup Peninsula Conservation Reserve, 2006 Draft Management Plan 2006-2016, Site Accessed 29/8/2012…/burrup_draft.pdf

Laurie V, 2011 Aboriginal rock art site vandalised, Australian Geographic, Site Accessed 29/8/2012

Lawrence, C. 2011, Want to preserve Australian values? Start with the Burrup Peninsula, The Conversation. Site Accessed 29/8/2012.

McCarthy, F. 1968.  Foreword. In B.J. Wright (ed.) Rock art of the Pilbara region, Northwest Australia. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, pg. iv.

National Heritage List, 2007, Site Accessed 29/08/2012

Vinnicombe, P. 1987 Dampier Archaeological project:  resource document, survey and salvage of Aboriginal sites, Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia.  WA Museum, Perth.

World Monuments Fund, 2012 Site Accessed 29/08/2012