Nukunu Country

Landscape near Port Augusta

By Christine Adams, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

As part of my directed study I travelled to Port Augusta to meet the Nukunu community and conduct an oral history interview with two Nukunu men, Doug Turner and Darcy Evans. I took some notes and had permission to record the interview so that I can write up a transcript. Through communicating with Nukunu and visiting sites in their country, I had the opportunity to learn more about their culture.

I learned through the oral history interviews about the Wirrabara and Bundaleer forests, which are both part of Nukunu country. Wirrabara comes from the Nukunu words ‘wirra’ and ‘burra’, and translates as red gum creek. They believe that a spirit made the Wirrabara creek bed and that another spirit made the water; the Nukunu conduct ceremonies to honour these spirits. I learnt that the area had fertile vegetation until the land was cleared. Unfortunately, some cultural sites were destroyed when the land was cleared and some of the Nukunu were driven off their lands and placed on reserves or killed. Later, some of this land was used to plant the Bundaleer and Wirrabara forests. Despite this, the Nukunu still have a strong connection to Country and pass on their knowledge to younger generations. The significance of archaeological sites and cultural landscapes to the Nukunu is demonstrated when those who have felt disconnected spiritually are taken out to their Country, and end up feeling better when re-connecting with their heritage and the broader cultural landscape. There are also some important song-lines connected to the Dreaming on Nukunu lands, and these are also significant to other Indigenous Australian groups.

My industry partner, Kylie Lower of Blackwood Heritage Consulting Pty Ltd, contacted the Department of State Development, Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation division (AAR), to access information on Indigenous sites within a ten-kilometre buffer zone of the Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests. It is also possible that there are sites within this area that AAR are not aware of, due both to cultural sensitivities and the fact that only parts of the forests have been surveyed. Kylie and I also created a preliminary map of the study area on ArcGIS and will be undertaking further mapping in the future.

A New Perspective

By Liam Blines, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student

I enrolled in the Directed Studies subject coordinated by Associate Professor Heather Burke, who will assist me throughout the project’s duration. On reviewing the available Industry Partner study opportunities, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (SA Branch) (PSSA) provided the opportunity to analyse a collection consisting of a wide variety of 19thPSA building and 20th century pharmaceutical products and paraphernalia. I had not previously considered that an institution such as a pharmaceutical society would own such an extensive collection, which changed my perspective in relation to the scope of collection-holders.

The aim of the pharmaceutical project is to catalogue a significant selection of the PSSA’s collection and then produce a report on the catalogued items, ultimately drawing conclusions about their significance from the recorded data.

A nPSA building 2ew topic area personally, the PSSA project will be the most extensive ongoing cultural heritage archaeological volunteer work I have been involved in to date and will provide a great opportunity for skills and knowledge development.

The artful process of cleaning animal bones

By Taryn Feldmann, Graduate Certificate in Archaeology student

In February, this year, eight Archaeology students, including myself, had a chance to apply our knowledge at the field school ARCH8806 – Historical Archaeology Field School at Willow Court (Australia’s oldest asylum, 1826-2000) in New Norfolk, Tasmania.

Among us we had different tasks to complete, such as setting up a trench, photographing trenches and artefacts, recording notes about the site and artefacts, excavating and, yes, cleaning bones.

For about two days, I had the task of cleaning bones with a fellow student. There were trays of animal bones covered in dirt and I was really excited to begin with, as I’d never done it before, but that feeling soon wore off as more kept coming.

There is a technique, for instance you can either use a brush and dental tool (dental scaler) or water and a toothbrush. The scaler is used to remove the soil from any cavities, which can be a daunting job, as it’s important not to scratch the surface of the bone.

In our case, though, we had to use water and a toothbrush, as the soil was sticking to the surface. When using this method, we had to ensure that the water was clean and not hot.

When removing soil from bones, briefly rinse the bone, but don’t soak it. The toothbrush makes it easier to remove stubborn soil, such as clay, but it must be used gently.

The next step is drying. Bone can be air dried but the process should be slow. We turned the bones regularly for even drying and once they were dry, bagged them ready for analysis.

It can become tedious work, especially when bones are plentiful, but archaeologists need to do it as part of the cataloguing process.

Trays of bones drying after being cleaned. Photo credit: Taryn Feldmann


Beisaw, A.M. 2013 Identifying and Interpreting Animal Bones: a Manual. Texas: A&M University Press.

Great things have been achieved by those that lie here.

When do the dead die? When they are forgotten –
Laura Esquivel, The Law of Love.

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

Documenting the burial sites found in St Philip’s Anglican Cemetery, Culham, Toodyay, was like meeting with old friends. A quaint little cemetery, exclusive to original pioneers and their descendants, my past research came over me like a wave. The little gothic church stood by as I recorded, photographed and documented the sites in reverence.

Seventy four burials were identified between 1830-1930, many of which shared a similarity in materials and style.

Syred Family, St Philip’s Cemetery, Culham

As I carefully picked my way through I recognised the names and realised the marital connections of the people who had founded the Toodyay region, donated the land for the church and cemetery at Culham and first settled further along the Avon River, at Bejoording and Bolgart.

Drummond Family, St Philip’s Cemetery, Culham

My arrival at Toodyay Cemetery, however, was met with a greater sense of  foreboding. This was the only cemetery which stood on the Main Street through town, where I was most obvious to curious eyes and it was also the largest cemetery of the four. The enormous space is divided into five sections: three were Roman Catholic which contained 71 sites and two were Anglican, which contained 157 sites. This cemetery took me two days to properly record. There were 228 burial sites in total and, again, an enormous number of familiar names from the district, such as Lee-Steere, Reverend Harper, Butterly and Chitty. Their descendants are still living here today.

Lee Steere Family, Toodyay Cemetery, Toodyay

As I had anticipated, my recording brought the attention of local residents and before long I was hosting an impromptu information session for a small group of elderly people, explaining my purpose, intentions and methods. Once they realised I was not there to desecrate the final resting places of their great grandmothers, aunts, relatives and friends, I was left to complete my work.

I returned home with my precious photographs, careful measurements and descriptions and set about analysing the results.

Chitty Family, Toodyay Cemetery, Toodyay

As I set up tables and documented total burials I felt privileged to be trusted by the Toodyay Cultural Heritage Officer, with such private and precious information; I held the history of the township in my hands and was determined to do it justice in my report.

Butterly Family, Toodyay Cemetery, Toodyay

And so the analysis begins and a careful study of those prominent names of the district. Just how were these people remembered in death and did the burial practices employed reflect the social and economic position they had enjoyed in life? We shall see.

Cultural heritage in the forests

By Christine Adams, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student.

I am currently undertaking a Directed Study in Archaeology as part of my Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management. My industry partner is Kylie Lower of Blackwood Heritage Consulting. The project is to perform a desktop study of the Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests in the southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia, which were burnt during a recent bushfire. A desktop study means researching a site through journal articles and other materials, including websites and books. This project will also involve conducting oral history interviews with one of the local Indigenous groups– the Nukunu—and using ArcGIS software to map the forests.

My first task is to write a cultural and environmental background for the area. Besides the area now covered by the Bundaleer and Wirrabara Forests, the Nukunu also inhabit other areas, including Port Pirie, Mount Remarkable and Port Augusta. The Bundaleer Forest was the first forest planted in Australia in 1875. The Wirrabara Forest was planted shortly after in 1877. The planting of the Wirrabara Forest was on the White family’s land, which they had inhabited since 1844. Not surprisingly, its original name was White’s Forest. These plantations were used for logging. Known historic sites in Bundaleer Forest include the cottage of the first nurseryman, William Curnow, the conservator’s hut and the first forestry office.

Curnow's Cottage, Bundaleer Forest

Curnow’s Cottage, Bundaleer Forest, courtesy of Forestry SA

As loggers’ families lived near the Wirrabara forest, the first provisional school was established there in 1881. This building was also used for church services and became the community’s centre. I look forward to learning more about these places.


Forestry South Australia n.d. Wirrabara Forest Visitor Information. Accessed 17 Mar 2017 from .

Sizer, H. 1974 Yet Still They Live: Wirrabara’s Story. Location unknown: Lutheran Publishing House.


And What Shall Become of our Dead?

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

When among the graves of thy fellows, walk with circumspection; thine own is open at thy feet.  –AMBROSE BIERCE, “Epigrams of a Cynic”, 1912.

Katrine cemetery, Katrine, WA

My directed study project is to learn how Colonial and later burial practices, from 1830-1930, reflect attitudes towards death and the economic and social status of the settlers of the Toodyay region, Avon Valley, in Western Australia.

It was with great reverence and excitement that I took my first steps inside a graveyard. What would I discover? What would it all mean? And how would I decipher and interpret my results?

I started with a rigorous gathering and reading of resources: maps, tourist brochures and texts. This led me, in great anticipation, to identify and locate the four main cemeteries in Toodyay. I plotted each on my own map and set off to photograph and record the gravestones of location number one: Nardie Cemetery.

Nardie Cemetery is the original and first small cemetery in the area. It lines the bank of the Avon River and protects 40 burial plots dated to between 1830 and 1930. It is beautiful; large shady gum trees, a carpet of leaves on the floor, stately cast iron fencing and big, bold, strong headstones.

Nardie cemetery, WA

A bustle of organised recording ensued: photographs of each burial plot, recording the details of each headstone, taking compass points and documenting measurements. How exciting; I was on my way!

Katrine Cemetery is situated just 10km north east and so my journey continued. Burial plots of 21 individuals were recorded and photographed, measured and documented in the shade of large pine trees and St Saviour’s, a towering Gothic Church standing guard over the cemetery.

Katrine cemetery, Katrine, WA

Gentle discoveries were made as I came across matching names, prominent members of the Toodyay district and family connections from times gone by. Not to mention the new and exciting realisation that many of the headstones I was recording and researching belonged to the ancestors of the people whom I  live and work amongst today.

On completion of the recording of the two smaller Toodyay cemeteries, I reflected on the lives of the individuals who lie here, but also on those whose lives have been affected by their deaths.

Never before has such a true realisation of one’s own mortality been so clear and prominent as when once walks amongst the dead.

An exciting start to an enthralling directed study.

Next step: Continue my historical research and record and document Toodyay and Culham Cemeteries.

Reading buildings…


Willow Court Barracks. Photo credit: Ian Edmondson

Reading Buildings

By Ian Edmondson, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student.

The Willow Court complex is architecturally confounding, an eclectic mismatch of buildings liberally scattered over a broad acreage. The observer is engaged initially by a confusing array of architectural styles. Buildings have been adapted, altered or added in response to changes in (mostly European) architectural trends (Georgian, Victorian, Gothic Revival, Art Deco) with varying functional and stylistic features. Changes in use, evolving beliefs, managerial decisions and changing practices and technologies of caregiving have all influenced the architectural decisions taken at the site and added to the complexity of interpreting the standing buildings.

The Willow Court Barracks (1830-1833) creates, envelops and commands space. In 1832, convicts represented almost thirty five percent of Hobart’s population (Solomon 1976) and the commanding architectural style of the Barracks reflects a need to maintain rule and control. The symmetry that is evident is intentional, and typical of the Georgian style (Irving 1985). Where room arrangement or construction materials failed to maintain this order to the outside viewer, false elements were placed instead, including blind windows in trompe l’oeil (blank spaces structured and painted to look like windows) and rough brickwork that was rendered and pointed to mimic fine cut sandstone.


“Blind” windows featuring trompe l’oeil decoration. Photo credit: Ian Edmondson

As archaeologists we strive to read spaces and places more deeply, seeking evidence, signs and symbols to recreate a story of the past. Piddock describes institutional spaces in asylums as artefacts in themselves, not mere buildings (2007).

At a deeper level of reading we observe evidence of human occupation. The wear that is evident on steps from hundreds of feet ascending and descending gives clues to the common paths that people used, indicating areas of greater or lesser use. We imagine the feet that caused them and think about where they might have been coming from, or going to. We read the wear on door handles, hand-smoothed edges of window and door frames, observe changes in floorboards and note former exits, altered claddings and the age of fittings.

Use Wear… Stair, sill and doorstep wear from the Willow Court Barracks. Photo credit Ian Edmondson

On the false external window sills there are obvious marks of wear (presumably from resting bottoms), which show the importance of claiming private space in a public domain. Here is evidence that suggests occupants enjoying a conversation away from watching eyes, and perhaps avoiding being seen while doing it.

The pencil scribbling of letters and numbers on external walls tells a more personal story. They are not coherent words or expression of feelings, but signs and symbols of boredom, confusion, perhaps despair. They might also reflect moments of enjoyment or happiness, tucked into a warm, sheltered corner, claiming personal space.

Written and numeric graffiti, Willow Court complex. Photo credit Ian Edmondson

Through reading buildings we can begin to appreciate the past experiences of those within them. Buildings, in their spatial arrangement, have the capacity shape social interaction, to order and structure human behavior, and to create or prevent social connections. Built environments have the power to condition how we think, feel and behave (Greenman 1988).

The Willow Court complex is sited in an elevated position within a beautiful river valley. Before we consider what lies under the ground, perhaps we need to read the broader aspect of its position and location and look outwards, to appreciate the beauty of the distant hills and trees, imagine the changing seasons, and see beyond the institutional spaces.


New Norfolk from Pulpit Rock Lookout: Photo Credit: JJ Harrison


Greenman, J. 1988 Caring Spaces, Learning Places: Children’s Environments That Work. Redmond, WA: Exchange Press.

Irving, R. 1985 The History and Design of the Australian House. Sydney: Oxford.

Piddock, S. 2007 A Space of Their Own: The Archaeology of Nineteenth Century Lunatic Asylums in Britain, South Australia and Tasmania. New York: Springer.

Solomon, R.J. 1976 Urbanisation: The Evolution of an Australian Capital. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.


Willow Court History Group

Georgian Architecture: False, or “blind” windows

Georgian Architectural Style and Features