Author Archives: rjpower

What I have learnt…

Rachel Power

I started the practicum with little research experience.  But after three months researching the stable site in Penola and the Seven Stars Hotel in Mallala, I now feel that I can approach any research task with confidence.  I have a better understanding of where to begin research and what sources can be useful, as well as how those which may appear to be irrelevant (i.e. rate books) can actually provide you with plenty of information.  I think the most valuable lesson I have learnt is that you don’t always find what you are looking for.  Participating in the excavation at Penola was definitely the highlight of the practicum, not only did it increase my experience in the field and add to my understanding of how an excavation is run, but it also reinforced my love of archaeology and strengthened my belief that this is the career for me.

This whole experience has provided me with a taste of what Australian archaeology is all about and the challenges you can come across.  While I know that research is a major part of being an archaeologist, it is getting out in the field, meeting with local community members and discovering artefacts from our past that really motivates me.  I am so glad that I chose to take this topic and I know it has helped prepare me for the future – whatever it may hold!

Rain, slate pencils and cheese scones!

Rachel Power

In September over the mid semester break, a group of 16 Students and Associate Professor Heather Burke, headed south to Penola (near the SA and Vic border) for a week filled with rain, group sing-a-longs and delicious cheese scones. Our mission: to find the stable site in which Mary Mackillop first began teaching.

Having been researching the site for the practicum in the lead up to the excavation, I was particularly excited to visit MacKillop Park and find evidence of the building that had been giving me so much strife!

Three trenches were excavated across the week we were there, one at the front of the property, and two at the rear. Trench A (opened where a previous electromag survey had identified a ‘hot spot’) was without a doubt the most successful of the three. While the said ‘hot spot’ turned out to only be the limestone bedrock for which the limestone coast is famous for, trench A yielded the majority of the artefacts (which the occupants of trench B jealously ohhed and ahhed over!). Finds included a wide range of domestic items, such as ceramic and glass fragments, black facetted glass buttons, glass and ceramic beads, shell buttons, copper alloy hooks and eyes, thimbles, pins, slate pencils, a lamp base and coins dating variously from 1839, 1860 and the 1870s.

Trench A

That said, life in trench B was not so bad and morale was kept high by Disney sing-a-longs, visiting children from the local primary school and the fact that we were covered by a marquee, while trench A were forced to work under makeshift tarps.

Trench B - Clare Leevers (left) and myself

At around 11am every day, all rivalries were put aside and everyone came together to enjoy hot coffee and the delicious assortment of cakes and scones provided by the WONDERFUL Sisters of St Joseph. On the final day of excavations, the perseverance of those in trench B was rewarded when they found a slate pencil of their own!

The infamous trench B slate pencil!

While we didn’t find the location of the stables building, the high number of slate pencils found does suggest a schooling function for the site.  All in all, my week in Penola was a wonderful experience that reinforced my love of archaeology and I am grateful to have been involved in the project.

See for more information on the site and Mary Mackillop.

The trials and tribulations of historical research

Rachel Power

When first assigned the task of researching the Mackillop stables, I felt that while perhaps time consuming, finding records about the building would be relatively easy. After all, the stable is where Mary Mackillop first began teaching (in 1866) and as such, is the accepted site of the foundation of the Josephite order. The aim of the research was to find any information that could help in determining where on the property the building was located, in preparation for the excavation of the site (which took place in September).

The stables in 1866 (State Library Pictorial Collection B 23828)

My first stop was Land Services, where I found a digitalised copy of the Certificate of Title dated 1882.  While an interesting document in itself, the title unfortunately made no reference to any buildings on the site. Undeterred, I headed to State Records, where an extremely helpful archivist walked me through the steps of ‘requesting’ documents for viewing. Over many subsequent sessions, I poured through records of the Penola district relevant to the timeframe. But again I am sad to say, little was found in regard to the property.  While the boundaries of the allotment were marked on town plans, there was no indication of where the stable, let alone any other buildings, may have stood.

It can be quite frustrating to spend hours trawling through documents yet failing to find anything. Patience is the key ingredient to getting it done. In the case of the stables, the lack of information can primarily be attributed to the early date of the building and its remote location to Adelaide city.  While I was disappointed with how little I found I also learnt a valuable lesson, one which archaeologists must come across on a day to day basis: research does not always yield results!

Related links:

Putting it into practice

Rachel Power

For graduate students due to complete their studies in 2011 the daunting task of ‘finding a real job’ is fast approaching.  Even when picking my semester 2 topics earlier in the year, this played heavily on my mind.  What I wanted was a subject that would allow me to put skills learnt in the classroom into practice and give me some valuable experience in the field.  Enter Cultural Heritage Practicum, a topic designed to do exactly that.

As part of the practicum, my role this semester has involved assisting our own Assoc. Prof. Heather Burke with research into two historically significant (yet very different!) South Australian buildings – the Mary Mackillop stables in Penola, and the notorious Seven Stars Hotel in Mallala, neither of which survive today.

Up until now, my research experience has been limited to libraries and online journals.  Given this, the practicum presented a completely new and exciting challenge for me.  Not only has it developed my research skills, but it also led to my participation in the excavation at Penola, which greatly increased my field experience and knowledge of how a ‘dig’ is conducted.

My next three blogs will outline my many adventures to archival repositories such as Land Titles and State Records, and my time in Penola.  I hope to share with you the information I have learnt and how it has affected my understanding of these two sites.

The practicum has given me a taste of what historical archaeology is all about – both the excitement of making a find, as well as the difficulties one can come across when conducting historical research.  All in all, it has been a great experience.