Author Archives: teganburton

A Journey Considering Belief

By Tegan Burton, Community Archaeology Field School


This is me and Rachael Kandino. Rachael accompanied my journey from the first day to the last at the Community Archaeology Field School in Barunga, Northern Territory, June 2014. Rachael gave me the skin name Kotjan, after her mother Lilly Willika, a very special woman to many people. So now I am Rachael’s mother too.

As our first day in Barunga drew to a close I found myself accompanying Rachael and others to a local Christian convention at the nearby community of Beswick. When we arrived the service was well underway. Although it was a cold evening everyone was seated outside, on rugs on the ground, in a large circle, with the occasional small fire amongst the seated groups. While there we saw singing and dancing, preaching and healing, with men, women and children all participating.

As I sat in the role of observer, many questions came to mind that I didn’t know how to ask. Questions about how the dance movements developed, as some appeared reminiscent of traditional dance movements. Questions about the pastor’s emphasis on the involvement of all, the whole family, when I knew already that traditional Aboriginal culture locally was highly segregated by gender and also age. And questions about personal responses to the pastor’s words of hope, support, and healing.

Those first thoughts were to become my community project topic Christianity – Our Way.


A picnic lunch by the water at Beswick Falls became the location of our first detailed conversation about Christianity, Barunga way.

From the very beginning it was clear that there can be different ideas coming from traditional Aboriginal ways and what Westerners generally consider Christian ways. However Aboriginal people are adapting their traditions and ‘can understand God through our way’ (Rachael Kendino, pers. comm. 2014).

Given the traditional Aboriginal connection to the spirit world, it is possible that Aboriginal people understand and embrace the idea of the Holy Spirit more readily than non-Aboriginal people.

Rachael feels that Christianity has brought about a community with less drinking and other drugs, and more discipline and respect. I heard this sentiment echoed by others as I collected the information needed for my community project through ongoing conversations.


Rachael will soon be returning to Manyallaluk (also known as Eva Valley), as a practitioner for the church. As part of her church work she hopes to support the community by having barbecues and film nights, and to sell food to the community, to help them out. Rachael is keen to learn more Munanga (whitefella) way to help make this happen, if the end result can benefit community.

Like so many Aboriginal women I’ve met and worked with, Rachael is incredibly strong in spirit. She also has a great capacity to communicate with those like me – an Anglo student from the city. As my other guide in this journey, Claire Smith, said, Rachael understands a little of both ways and can see the similarities and differences.

Rachael travelled to Adelaide and undertook studies at Flinders University herself in 2011. She has a strong desire to keep on learning, all the time, and pass on what she has learnt to her children and community.

Blackfella way don’t say thank you. Whitefella way do. Thank you Rachael for accepting me in to your world, sharing Barunga, and sharing your stories of flying together, like the black crow and white cockatoo.

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.


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.


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.


Clearing burnt and fallen vegetation from around a rock engraving site


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.


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.

Why Art?

By Tegan Burton, Grad Dip in Archaeology

In considering aspects of ‘connecting Indigenous youth to culture through rock art recording and conservation’ one of the questions that arises is ‘why art?’.  Is rock art, as I have presumed, more applicable to ‘connecting to culture’ than other types of archaeological sites?

Adam Goodes, Andyamathanha man and 2014 Australian of the Year, opened a recent episode of Australian Story by saying ‘It means a lot to Aboriginal people that we’re part of the world’s oldest unbroken tradition of art’ (Australian Story: Set in Stone 2014).

There is a plethora of references asserting the significance of art to Aboriginal culture. This time I stepped away from what has become my regular reference library over the last year – rock art and archaeology texts and journal articles – to track down comments from contemporary Indigenous people.

Richard Walley, in his role as Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board in the early 1990s, said that ‘Art has always been integral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives, as an expression of our spiritual connection with the land and sea, and as a ceremonial and educational tool of lore and Dreaming’ (in Miller 2013). In an Awaye! lecture on Radio National Lydia Miller, current Executive Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, explained that Aboriginal art is an important aspect of cultural expression and both individual and collective identity, which is connected to language, culture, heritage, land and sea and law (Miller 2013).

Ken Upton, a senior Darug man, described cave art and engravings as ‘an historical record, as I can look at hand stencils and they are the stencils of the old ones, the ancient ones’ and ‘a record of Dreamtime stories and the laws’ (Upton 1990:6).

Rock art provides a strong link between traditional and contemporary Aboriginal life and customs (Clottes 2002; Lambert 2007; Rosenfeld 1988). Of the continuing tradition of creating art, Warlpiri woman and Yuendumu artist Judy Napangardi Watson says, ‘Painting makes me in touch with my ancestors’ (Genocchio 2008:92), and Micky Durrug Garrawurra, a Yolngu man painting at Ramingining, says ‘I am the painting, and I am in the story that I tell there. It is my land. It is my story’ (Genocchio 2008:121).

Ken Upton takes the younger generation to visit rock art sites and talk about the stories behind them (Upton 1990). Philip ‘Pussycat’ Gudthaykudthay, highly exhibited artist currently based at Bula’bula Arts in Ramingining, explains that he continues to make art in order to share Aboriginal culture and stories not just with the world, but also with the young people whose lives are impoverished by the loss of tradition (Genocchio 2008:6). There is continual transition between the past and the now. This is ‘connecting to culture’.

Accessibility serves as another assertion as to why rock art is particularly applicable to ‘connecting to culture’. The simple visual accessibility of rock art is demonstrated by the suite of coffee-table style books with a focus on Aboriginal rock art (e.g. Brandl 1973; Chaloupka 1993; Coles and Hunter 2010; Donaldson 2010; McCarthy 1979; Roberts and Parker 2003). Further, it’s not just a photographic or illustrative record in books but also a tangible reality, the richness and complexity of human history and cultural tradition expressed visually in the landscape (Flood 1990, Tacon & Chippindale 1998). No wonder being an archaeologist with an interest in rock art can be so exciting!

Not all sites are publicly accessible, however, and for those that are there might be a walk or a scramble required to get there. But once you’ve arrived at a rock surface with engravings or a shelter with art, there it is right in front of you. There’s no need for excavations or lab analyses before an initial recording and preliminary assessment can be made.

Steven Trezise is the son of Percy Trezise, pilot and Quinkan rock art enthusiast, and now works as an interpretive guide at Jowalbinna, near Laura, Queensland. He summed up the accessibility of rock art nicely when he said ‘that’s what’s so exciting about it, the stone age is not some time in the past that’s not visible. It’s actually visible. There’s the images, there’s the tangible link of the hunter-gatherer past’ (Australian Story: Set in Stone 2014).

Without a similar level of deliberation about other aspects of archaeology, I still can’t say that art is necessarily MORE applicable to ‘connecting to culture’ than the diversity of other features, such as campsites, middens, quarries, grinding grooves, fish traps, stone arrangements, or the overall landscape in which they sit (Flood 1990). In the meantime, it IS irrefutable that art has a significant role to play.


Australian Story: Set in Stone 2014, television program, ABC 1, Sydney, 31 March.

Brandl, E. J. 1973 Australian Aboriginal Paintings in Western and Central Arnhem Land. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Chaloupka, G. 1993 Journey in Time: The 50,000-year Story of the Australian Aboriginal Rock Art of Arnhem Land. Sydney: Reed New Holland.

Clottes, J. 2002 World Rock Art. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.

Coles, R. and R. Hunter 2010 The Ochre Warriors: Peramangk Culture and Rock Art in the Mount Lofty Ranges. Stepney: Axiom Australia.

Donaldson, M. 2010 Burrup Rock Art: Ancient Aboriginal Rock Art of Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago. Mount Lawley: Wildrocks Publications.

Flood, J. 1990 The Riches of Ancient Australia. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Genocchio, B. 2008 Dollar Dreaming: Inside the Aboriginal Art World. Prahran: Hardie Grant Books.

Lambert, D. 2007 Introduction to Rock Art Conservation. Hurstville: Department of Environment and Climate Change.

McCarthy, F. D. 1979 Australian Aboriginal Rock Art , 4th edition. Sydney: The Australian Museum.

Miller, L. 2013 Art Connects and Creates our Culture into the 21st century. Awaye! lecture, Radio National, Australia, 28 December.

Roberts, D. A. and A. Parker. 2003 Ancient Ochres: The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of Mount Borradaile. Marleston: J. B. Books.

Rosenfeld, A. 1988 Rock Art Conservation in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Tacon, P. S. C. and Chippindale, C. 1998 An archaeology of rock-art through informed methods and formal methods. In Chippindale, C. and P. S. C. Tacon (eds) The Archaeology of Rock-Art, pp.1-10. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Upton, K. 1990. A Darug discussion: Oral history. In: G. Hendriksen (ed.), The Pemulwuy Dilemma: The Voice of Koori Art in the Sydney Region, pp6-8. Emu Plains: Penrith Regional Art Gallery.

Being on Ngiyampaa ngurrampaa with a junior board

By Tegan Burton, Grad Dip in Archaeology

In collecting material for case studies that will form part of my Directed Studies topic I found myself with the amazing opportunity to participate in the Mount Grenfell Cultural Heritage Project 17th – 21st March 2014.

North-west of Cobar, NSW, the Mount Grenfell reserve lands (including Mount Grenfell Historic Site and proposed Mount Grenfell National Park) fall within the ngurrampaa (Country) of the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan people (NPWS 2013).

The Historic Site was originally purchased from Mount Grenfell Station in 1979 in recognition of the need to preserve and protect several galleries of yapapuwan karul (rocks with art) (Beckett et al 2003). In 2004 the Historic Site was finally handed back to Aboriginal owners, the second reserve in NSW to be handed back, and then leased back to the Minister of the Environment under Part 4A of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPWS 2013).

In 2010 the remainder of Mount Grenfell Station was purchased, in part as a buffer for the Historic Site and also in recognition of further significant cultural and natural values. The reserve lands now have a combined area of more than 19,000 hectares and are managed through an arrangement where the Mount Grenfell Board of Management (the Board) sets the overall direction for management and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) carries out day-to-day operations (NPWS 2013).

In recent times the Board has identified the need for succession planning for future effective representation of the Aboriginal Owners, and last year established a ‘junior board’ in order to address this issue. It’s a progressive move and which is generating plenty of interest from others involved in joint management arrangements in NSW.

The Mount Grenfell Cultural Heritage Project aims to develop capacity in cultural heritage management, foremost amongst the junior board and also within the broader Ngiyampaa community and local NPWS staff. Stage 1, in which I participated, focused on creating opportunities for industry and cultural experts to share knowledge while on country (Flakelar 2014).

From my city home to Mount Grenfell is not the shortest venture, approximately 760 kms by road, but it was an inspiring week and well worth the trip!

What made it so inspiring?

The stunning landscapes of the Cobar Peneplain (Mitchell 2005) – an expanse of red soils, flat plains dissected by stony slopes and residual ranges, dry creek beds with charismatic gums, all in such contrast to the Hawkesbury Sandstone I now call home.

IMG_6081_sm IMG_6097_smCharismatic gums in a dry river bed; the stony slopes of the Cobar Peneplain

The range of ‘site’ types – small and large rock art shelters; stone hearths along creek banks; numerous and diverse stone tools – and the way they bring to life a whole of landscape perspective, a continuation of the value placed by Aboriginal people on the connectedness of things rather than isolated ‘sites’.

IMG_6064_sm IMG_6066_smAssortment of stone artefacts found within Mount Grenfell reserve lands

IMG_6110_sm IMG_6126_smSmall selection of rock art found at Mount Grenfell reserve lands

Seeing the junior board increasingly engaged. Listening to the board members and elders sharing their knowledge and experience – with the junior board; with archaeologists; with National Parks staff; and with participating students – and rebuilding cultural connections with ngurrampaa. And being a part of community, land managers and archaeologists working together.

IMG_6062_sm Jess, Meredith, Susanne and Hilary record a hearth

Stepping away from archaeology, Aunty Josephine gave me a lesson in making the best johnny cakes ever, while Uncle Lawrence gave me a lesson in the best way to eat them. I also learnt what kangaroo meat to eat – black kangaroo (Eastern Grey) is no good, red kangaroo (male Red Kangaroo) is tolerable, but it’s the blue kangaroo (female Red Kangaroo) that is the best!


Keeping a close eye on ‘the best johnny cakes ever’

I mentioned my education in johnny cakes and kangaroos to participants in an Indigenous mentoring program back home in the city. Calling them the best johnny cakes ever was a big call, but if they were made by an elder chances are it’s true, and it was unbelievable that I didn’t already know about the differences in kangaroo tucker. All that learning I’ve done at university and work . . . what I really needed to do was spend a week on country, with the right people, to learn the things that really matter.


Beckett, J., Donaldson, T., Steadman, B. and Meredith, S. 2003 Yapapunakirri, Let’s Track Back: the Aboriginal works around Mount Grenfell. Sydney: Office of the Registrar.

Flakelar, D. 2014 Mount Grenfell Cultural Heritage Project March 2014. Unpublished project outline for OEH Parks and Wildlife Group.

Mitchell, P. 2005 Landform survey of the Mount Grenfell Historic Site. Report to Mount Grenfell Historic Site Board of Management and DEC Parks and Wildlife Division.

NPWS 2013 Mount Grenfell Historic Site and proposed Mount Grenfell National Park Draft Plan of Management. Sydney: Office of the Environment and Heritage.

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).


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.