Exceeding Expectations: Barunga Field School 2016, Update

After writing about their expectations of the field school, our students have submitted an update about how those expectations stacked up to their experiences halfway through their time here.

We’ve visited a couple of the surrounding rock art sites to practise recording techniques over the first two days, while on the third day our group split up to focus on different things, which the community asked of us. One group visited a youth camp in a neighbouring community, Werenbun, where they recorded contemporary Christian practices and material culture. The second group visited the historical Maranboy tin mine to record artefact scatters associated with the now closed mine. The final group set up the Total Station at the King River tourist rest stop an the Stuart Highway to produce a site plan for Jordan’s PhD thesis.

You can catch up on the field school by reading the blogs below.

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Chris

A fascinating element of this location is that here there are people who are connected to the culture that created the art, and who could explain and interpret the subject art

By the middle of the field school we had visited the site of ‘Drupni’ and examined rock art dated to 2800BP.  We analysed the rock art with the help of Irene, who is doing a PhD based in the Basque country of north western Spain.

A fascinating element of this location is that here there are people who are connected to the culture that created the art, and who could explain and interpret the subject art.   So compared with European rock art we have the capacity to relate the art to current culture.  So we know of the existence of Mimi spirits and their capabilities and behaviour in a way that is inaccessible to the academics of Europe.  Much of the ‘classical’ description of rock art relies on interpretation and inferences of ‘cloistered academics’ rather than accurate and contemporary cultural interpretation.  However, we must be cautious about accepting the stories presented to outsiders about the art, since some stories are so sensitive that they cannot be shared with outsiders.

We visited a second site on 8 July – Narritj Bumbalum, an initiation site for young men.  The art included “rainbows” (snake like beings) above a series of Mook-Mooks – (owls)- vomiting or spitting them into existence.  ‘Jacko’ said that the names of many species reflected the noise they made, which means that people could talk to the land and the animals.   (So is the “Mook mook” related to the “Book -Book” owl from down south.  (Check biology*), or do the two owl species make a similar call? Even though they are different species?  An older site in the area showed a line of bats, in approximately the same orientation of a line of animals.  Is it coincidental that both were animals that are nocturnal?

Another element of the site was a circle of kangaroo leg bones, painted with ochre, and arranged in a partly buried ‘crown’ of bones.  Jacko told us these were to demonstrate the skills of young men as hunters.  Kangaroo bones are presented to the prospective mother-in-law to prove he can provide for a wife.  This circle was so sacred and important that we could not photograph it.

In examining the bones I hoped to determine the MNI (minimum number of individuals) using the techniques acquired in the Paleontology course I did last year.  These were partly buried so I was not able to analyse these accurately.  I counted 33 tibiae, 2 fibulae, 1 femur, 1 metatarsal.  Left and Right bones were not easily distinguishable, so an MNI was not calculable.  I had hoped to estimate how many animals were required to ‘satisfy’ the mother’s requirements, but this was not possible, due to the uneven level of burial of the bones, and one cannot assume these were all contemporaneous.

Endi

This trip has definitely made me further develop myself as a person

We are now half way through our field trip in Barunga and I must say this trip has exceeded my expectations. The Barunga community itself has surprised me. I knew it would be quite a large community with a couple hundred people, however, I did not expect it to have the open space that it does. I think it is great that each house has large blocks of land as it gives the children more opportunity for playing around and sporting activities. The weather is what I expected except the nights are a lot colder than I originally thought.

From my learning point of view, my knowledge of Indigenous rock art has increased immensely. Going to Drupni rockshelter was really eye opening as I did not expect how far in the bush this site and others are. The depictions of rock art at Drupni were incredible as I believe in the spirits personally as well. The thought of oral histories going through so many generations and keeping the stories and traditions the same is very loyal and powerful. I love how proud the Aboriginal people are about their art. It is very influential for my life. I have learnt about interpreting rock art to a higher standard and also superimposition more thanks to the field trip to Drupni. Beswick Cultural Centre also intrigued me as the art represented there was created by famous Indigenous artists and looked extremely beautiful and detailed.

Narritj Bumbalum was also very fascinating as the scenery and the river were amazing. Learning that the depictions of the owls or also known as ‘Mook Mook’ was intriguing too. It was very interesting to learn that the animal sounds were their names. I was also fascinated that this site was a ceremonial spot for initiation for young boys. I came into this trip wanting to understand stone artefacts more and the seeing the scatter at Narritj Bumbalum taught me more about the striking points, bulb of percussion and generally taught me the difference between natural and cultural stone artefacts. I loved learning more about the complex kinship system implemented in Indigenous culture and further understanding the racism aspect towards them. I have loved this because the talks with Nell has shown that they are hurt and disappointed and it really proves that they are a very proud culture.

My fear of being in my first field trip has vanished as the teachers and students have been very supportive. My group consisting of Jack, Serena and myself have not cooked yet, but, I still worry about cooking for a lot of people even though I think we have ourselves organised for the challenge. I am quite disappointed I have not seen any Indigenous music or had a go at playing the didgeridoo. I am just as passionate in music as I am with archaeology and I really wanted to come out of this field trip with some knowledge on how to play the didgeridoo. It is such a large part of their culture, I am surprised this has not happened. I am very interested in the archaeology of music as Indigenous instruments represent art as well as music. I am not fussed, but, it would be nice to learn more about field methods such as baseline offsets, dumpy level and total stations. As I am an undergraduate student I know there will be plenty more opportunities in the future.

This trip has definitely made me further develop myself as a person. I have not worked in a community since I was a tennis player and coach a decade ago. It has been great sharing communal feasts and I enjoy helping with tasks even when I am not rostered on. I believe this is what life is about and people take these type of things for granted. Being alone in life really really makes me appreciate any community work. I am looking forward for the rest of the field school and very keen to learn as much as I can in the final days.

Irene

I found that all my technical skills that I had developed in other context for the study of the rock art had a limit as long as knowing deeply the culture of these communities

Living in a community for a few days is definitely the best way to understand their culture, their daily life, their thoughts and beliefs. These days in Barunga helped me to reconstruct my idea of Aboriginal communities. More than all the books, articles, journals about these communities that you can read, without experiencing living with them, asking, listening and observing every aspect of their life we all probably would have a wrong idea about their culture and current situation.

Everyday has been a constant learning of a large amount of new things, life values, cultural aspects and beliefs that inspire me in all senses. First, concerning the study of rock art I realised what a privilege it is to have these people with you, and have access to the knowledge of the meaning of some paintings. How these people were happy to explain the symbolism of the motifs and help you with the understanding of their artistic culture and thoughts impressed me very positively. After that, I found that all my technical skills that I had developed in other context for the study of the rock art had a limit as long as knowing deeply the culture of these communities could change the whole understanding and the results of the study of the artistic depictions.

In a more personal aspect, after listening to their concerns, I realised all the work we can make for helping Aboriginal communities and how things are working wrongly in our “non-Aboriginal reality”. At one point, the problem of the language barrier which was one of my main concerns, was not a problem or a difficulty anymore as the body language, a simple smile or their warm acceptance of all of us in their community made me really comfortable when conversing with them. Everyday I am surprised with a new story, a new learning, a new person that I meet, a new community that I visit, a new rock art site I discover. It made me realise how important it is to keep a strong culture, and the big advantage they have for this made me have a special admiration for them in this sense. One of the most valuable things that a society can have is a strong culture, and that helped me to increase significantly the appreciation to my own culture and to keep it as a very precious treasure that I will need to transmit to my children.

Tasha

I have learned to listen to the information that is offered, rather than asking questions to guide the conversation where I wish it to go

We have been in Barunga for a few days now and the Junggayi Nell, and Traditional Owner, Joyce, have been very welcoming to us, and I have learned to listen to the information that is offered, rather than asking questions to guide the conversation where I wish it to go. After offering information about ourselves as a group, each of us talking about where we are from and our families, we were treated to more open conversation and a kind welcoming into Nell’s family. We had already received a ‘skin name,’ giving us family relationships to each other and people in the community. The strong sense of family as the most important aspect of daily life has been imparted to us through this process of sharing, allocation of skin name and welcoming. This strong sense of family is something which many people of European descent often do not have. It has become clear that there is a marked and enforced separation of Indigenous people from ‘European society’ in the Northern Territory, with unspoken but rather overt exclusion techniques such as paid toilets with posted guards and fenced off seating areas systematically moving Indigenous people on, or excluding them from services based on their race, and on their financially strained position. I find this personally extremely confronting and there is a strong sense of shame attached to my observation of these inequities. Although some actions by the government are undertaken with good intentions, there is clearly yet to be any meaningful helpful measures that empower Indigenous people to live their life with strong family, culture and land, in balance with the accoutrements of European life. The European dismissal of Indigenous people and their traditional lifestyle as inferior cannot viably exist within a balanced framework. So many assumptions about Indigenous groups are plainly incorrect, and would need to be changed before meaningful changes can occur within community.

Laura

I don’t feel as much like Daniel Jackson as I thought I would but I am enjoying myself.

I’m glad I didn’t come in with expectations, as I always am, because I doubt they would have been met.

My earlier apprehension about my interpersonal skills, or lack thereof, were largely unfounded. Picard’s advice has again served me well. I don’t feel as much like Daniel Jackson as I thought I would but I am enjoying myself.

We have been allowed into several sites that are not open to the public. One in particular was breathtakingly beautiful.

Thankfully it has not been as hot as I was anticipating. The nights too have been warmer than expected, so much so that I have regretted more than once not bringing my lighter sleeping bag. It certainly would have left me some wriggle room in my oak.

Jack

I also have an answer to my dilemma on determining my future in archaeology. Thanks to our visit to Drupni and Narritj Bumbalum, my fascination in rock art is growing

At the end of the third day I asked myself what I was surprised about, and the truth is, a great deal. The community is well developed though the public bathroom and laundry facilities appear rundown. The shower and toilet block lacks a working light and one of the two toilets doesn’t flush. Despite this, the shower itself is excellent with sufficient heat and water pressure.

The community is noticeably spacious with many houses positioned far apart from each other, very different to the crowded streets of the Adelaide suburbs. This gives the residents a large area where they can walk. Much of this area is used as a camp ground for people that attend the Barunga Festival in June.

The ‘Hut’, our small building which contains cooking and kitchen utilities, is one of the remnants of forced assimilation dating back to the 1960s. It acts as a storage facility for valuables, notably laptops, while we are out of Barunga.

Many of the locals are friendly, though they are also very shy. Every day they are talking more with the group, with some not being shy at all.

The field school has been reasonably relaxed so far. We have spent several hours at sites in the heat, though the curiosity and excitement behind analysing rock art distracts me from the heat. There hasn’t been a great deal of stress and everything is flowing, now that the assessment tasks have been properly explained. The community has a peaceful atmosphere to it which helps me relax and work on my blog and field journal. I would argue that the peaceful and somewhat isolated nature of the community has helped everyone relax over the last few days.

I have found my project. Nell has asked me to construct a book for the community, compiled of photos and personal information about the students and staff in our group. This will provide the community with documentation on each student, helping the locals understand why were are visiting, and provided a permanent record of this trip.

I also have an answer to my dilemma on determining my future in archaeology. Thanks to our visit to Drupni and Narritj Bumbalum, my fascination in rock art is growing. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s trip where we will be visiting the rock art, what is being alluded to as the grandest site that we will be visiting this week.

Suzanne

Having two of the Jawoyn young men, Junior and Isaac with us meant that they were able to check our ideas when we made suggestions about what we thought the images represented

Half way through the Field School and feeling that the community is such a calm and welcoming family.

I have received my skin-name of Wamutjan which places me as the mother of Nell who is the Traditional Custodian for the Bagala clan of Jawoyn Country.  This was a wonderful welcome into the family of this community. The manner by which the name is chosen is quite mysterious with the statement that your stance, hair colour, presence gives the indication as to what your ‘skin’ you are.

Viewing the rock art on the Thursday was quite exciting with the trek into the bush in 4 wheel drives to get to the site.  Having two of the Jawoyn young men, Junior and Isaac with us meant that they were able to check our ideas when we made suggestions about what we thought the images represented and which order the images may have been painted (giving us an idea of a timeline of application). It was also very interesting to hear the explanations of Irene, a researcher in Rock Art from Spain. With her assistance and ideas, we inspected and discussed the overlaying of paint that helped us to work through the layers.  From these layers, a form of matrix can be drawn to give the different levels of the rock art.

The group visit to one of the rivers in the area was good for swimming and having some great ‘down time’ with the group and some of the gorgeous community children.  The game of ‘little tissue’ which involved good Aussie League tackles to steal a red bandana from competitors showed the true ‘grit’ and sometimes bloodthirsty competitiveness of these archaeo-adventurers.

On the serious side, we were also able to view cave paintings and ochre painted kangaroo bones, an important artefact for young Aboriginal men who wished to take a wife.  On the way back to the cars we investigated an area where stone tools were manufactured and we spent a while searching for examples and confirming these finds with Jacko while receiving extra information on the types of stone and whether they were natural to the region, or imported.

Maddy

I am Narritjan and I am now part of the family, I have additional sisters and daughters and sons

After being here for a few days we are starting to get into the swing of things, I am still unused to sleeping on the ground even after two nights. The rock art sites are more beautiful and more awe inspiring than I could have imagined. The first site (Drupni) we visited we had two of the traditional owners with us, Isaac and Junior. It was awesome to have first hand knowledge of sites that are thousands of years old. Drupni is a large rock shelter with multiple motifs and paintings drawn upon it, as we learnt it would have been used by hunters and people seeking shelter in the wet season. I have always loved the interpretation of art and Drupni was no exception, however these locations always bring up the same question as to whether Aboriginal paintings are art, this question is a constant through my head as we look and interpret these sites. Our second site Narritj Bumbalum involved a trek down through some serious brambles and clambering down amongst some rocks, we were greeted by an amazing vista down along a river with the sound of the wind rustling through the eucalyptus leaves. The sounds of splashing and screaming were intertwined with the peacefulness of the landscape, we all jumped in Claire first with an almighty SPLOOSH! This for was the most memorable day for me so far because of the fun connected with the spiritual peacefulness of this special site, a boys initiation ceremonial site.

Accompanying the visiting of sites we dine each night with the community elders and each of us have been given our skin names.  I am Narritjan and I am now part of the family, I have additional sisters and daughters and sons, although I do seem to now be mother to everyone. It takes some getting used to, being called mummy when I have only ever been mummy to a dog and a cat is a little daunting but I am now family so I shall get used to it and accept it and it does seem to go with the territory.

The final site we have looked at was just a few of us were taken out to Maranboy tin mine and police station. My comfort zone is with early 19th century history and machinery, so to have a muck about with some machinery and post contact history particularly with Junior and Isaac with us. Most excitingly there was a huge lathe and some other steam powered machines all in awesome nick because of the dry conditions in Barunga. As exciting as the material culture is here, it’s also amazing to be in the community and talking to everyone here, it is an opportunity I thought I would never have.

Karen

These small interactions with the Jawoyn people have been my most valued and touching experiences so far to remember always

The fear of insects has abated along with that of crocodiles. After a relaxing day at Narritj Bumbalum swimming and playing tag with everyone a sense of general happiness has taken over from fear.

The rock art and art artefacts at Narritj Bumbalum have exceeded my expectations. They display the ancient culture of the Jawoyn people. The rock art tells the mysterious stories of the dreamtime and the artefacts in caves and on the ground allow a glimpse of the rituals practiced and everyday activities such as carving, skinning and hunting. Stone tools, still as sharp as perhaps they were thousands of years ago, are lying on the ground and are evidence of a very efficient technology. Engaging with the Indigenous people has allowed me to understand better the art and the artefacts, and many things seem much less complicated than I previously thought.

After Jocelyn explained the artworks of contemporary paintings at the Beswick Art Centre, I understood the depictions much better very quickly. Watching the Indigenous men interpret the ancient rock art showed me to look at the scene, rather than the individual elements.

After being given my skin name I felt included in the community, which dispelled my fears of being thought of as another racist white person. Nell, a community elder, said that we were all part of her family, a wonderful gesture of generosity of spirit and compassion to us and such a privilege.

These small interactions with the Jawoyn people have been my most valued and touching experiences so far to remember always.

Aylza

Seems to me all the field schools operate similarly. They are all are built on the principle of working everyone hard … always a complex balancing act between the ‘doing’ and ‘writing’

This is this second of three blog posts written as part of the ARCH8810 Community Archaeology Field School. In this post I’m reflecting on some of the field school process.

This is the third Flinders Archaeology Department field school I have been on. There are elements in common with all of them, and some things that are totally different.

One similarity is the challenge of balancing writing coherent field notes about sites and keeping records of the daily activities while actually doing all the field school activities.  Maintaining any kind of balance between ‘doing’ and ‘writing about doing’ is the ultimate challenge.

At this field school there is an additional complexity level. At previous field schools I’ve been able to catch up on documentation in the evenings. Here we are camping in the community and senior people are joining us for dinner. There is so much to learn from them that sneaking away to write up notes is not an option for me. So the only way to deal with this challenge is to stay up even later, or get up even earlier.

Seems to me all the field schools operate similarly. They are all are built on the principle of working everyone hard. It’s an endurance test, constantly learning new stuff, always a complex balancing act between the ‘doing’ and ‘writing’. I now realise why there are so many marks for team work. It is a preparation for what it is really like to work in the field.  Learning how to be a good team player regardless of anything, while maintaining grace, charm, enthusiasim, and a sense of humour. Perhaps most importantly of all, always looking after each other and helping each other.

As I was typing up this blog post I suddenly realised I was on dishwashing duties – and should have been doing that. Only it’s time to give Jordan my blog post so he can upload it. A perfect example of the challenges of ‘doing’ and ‘writing about doing’. The best thing about being in this field school team is all the fantastic team members. Karen said to me not to worry about dishes because she would sort them out, so I could finish typing my blog post.

Marc

Most significantly on night two, the community elders including the senior Junggayi joined us around our campfire, gazed upon each of us and gave us our skin names

Three days in and we have been welcomed with open arms, warmth and respect by Barunga community. As the sun rises, we awake to the screech of Koynpam that have returned to their roosting trees and the caw of Wakwak. Nature’s alarm clock signals the time for aching bodies to emerge from the tents, eat a lazy breakfast, and then disguising an internal panic; we catch up on field notebook and blog entries before heading out into the field.

Halfway into the field school, the rock art sites of Drupnee and Narritj Bumbalum have been a real opener. Drupnee was extraordinary with young boys of around eight to ten years old explaining the symbology represented by the art. At Narritj Bumbalum the young lads sifted through the mud and rock holes of the Waterhouse River for Marttarr and Parknoy.

Under Jordan’s supervision, Karen and I ably assisted by three community members participated in our first Total Station survey of a modern archaeology site at the King River tourist park: a serviced roadside parking area overflowing with RVs, caravans and camper vans. I also spent some time photographing a drinking shelter on the Central Arnhem Road. The contrasting nature of the two shelters provided for ‘public’ use, noticeably provisioned with different demographics in mind have formulated the initial stages of my community project. More on that next blog.

Most significantly on night two, the community elders including the senior Junggayi joined us around our campfire, gazed upon each of us and gave us our skin names. I am Gummarung, and getting to know my family here in Barunga is a genuine privilege.

So looking back at my first blog what have I got wrong so far?

The community housing is not the same and the landscape is a little different than first envisaged. The thing I got most wrong was the ‘ask lots of questions’. At the campfire the other night the senior Junggayi made the point that Indigenous Australians don’t like too many questions.

What I got right about my expectations of the community were the football overall and the mobile, Telstra, reception. The sporting facilities also include a soccer pitch and a basketball court.

In a way I almost wish that we didn’t have the benefit (?) of connectivity. Connectivity is a distraction, mainly because I want to call friends and family and share what we have done or seen each day. While hopefully enlightening for then, it only serves to distract me from updating my field notebook and blog entry.

That’s it for now. Time to update my notebook, fix my budget and regain my composure and not wet myself after listening to Aylza’s morning commentary.

Serena

From what I have experienced to date I have realised that I do want to continue this path of archaeology and cultural heritage

What I appreciate is the variety of experiences of this field trip. We have visited three communities, three rock art sites and two swimming holes, which have been incredibly spectacular. Hearing elder’s stories and perspectives has allowed us to understand, respect and value their way of life. Many are not just bilingual, but multilingual. We have witnessed the advantages and richness of this traditional life. Furthermore their system of kinship fosters interconnectedness and entitles each individual a position within the community where they are entitled the specific rights. Every individual is born with an identity and connection to everyone in the community.

What has made this trip extraordinary is the people. Thanks to Claire and Jacko and the Barunga community we have been able to have unique cultural experiences. We are very lucky to have Claire as the head teacher of this field trip. She has great relations in the community and is so inclusive. Just driving around the community in search of buffalos demonstrates how adventurous she is. Jacko is a wealth of knowledge of the anthropology of the local people and his commentary along the way is so informative. From Jordan I have learnt practical skills about site recording and using the total station. Ant has been great teaching about customs and culture along the way.

The actual community of Barunga is far different to what I had envisioned. It is spacious and with decent, well-maintained facilities such as a library, women’s centre, basketball court, football fields, playground, hall and general store. The benefit of which, the community is rather self-sufficient.

The only aspect which has been rather frustrating for me is the slow mornings hanging around the camp. This is because I am eager to learn and see as much as I can. Also I would have preferred that all the assignments could be completed in the week after the field school to be able to experience more here at camp.

From what I have experienced to date I have realised that I do want to continue this path of archaeology and cultural heritage. I definitely plan on doing other field schools during my diploma.

Life at camp is by no means ‘roughing it’. It is comfortable. Fellow students are not only pleasant – they’re incredible. If only the field school wasn’t nearing its end…. It has exceeded all my expectations!

Alexis

Camping in the outback underneath the stars surrounded by all new friends is great

Did my expectations exceed or fall short of my first blog entry? It did. I did not expect any of this!

I assumed that an archaeological field school would include just straight work with strict bosses and a right schedule to get everything done but it’s not, it’s honestly super amazing!

Camping in the outback underneath the stars surrounded by all new friends is great. Surveying, interpreting and photographing rock art from 3000 years ago is great. And swimming in a river? That right there is the cherry on top. The entire trip so far has been amazing, met all new people whom have the same archaeological interest is amazing, talking and debating about certain things is definitely a great learning experience. Learning about an entirely new culture, to me anyways is overwhelming but satisfying because of my background and also just seeing things I’ve never seen before. This trip is nothing I have expected at all.

Hands down, greatest thing I’ve done in my life so far.

Samantha

I was excited about visiting rock art sites on this trip but spending time with the Community has been my highlight

Sunday morning and I’ve had my first good sleep. Think my body has finally succumbed to the fact it’s camping and got used to the background noises – bats, music boxes, dogs and snores.

I really struggled in the first couple of days to keep my field journal but I am now enjoying writing each evening as a way to wind down.

The structure of the field school so far is relaxed and open to change depending on the permission we are granted each day. Sometimes it feels like we are wasting time but I think this is because everyone are sponges for knowledge. It’s also dawning on me that down time is just as important as busy time. I’m used to flying from one thing to another, but it’s been great to have time to process and think about what we have done each day and who we have met. I guess the whole point of the journal – the challenge between experiencing things and then having time to write about them.

We have a great bunch of people and everyone is pulling their weight and helping each other. Even though we didn’t do introductions on the first day, some traveled together and we have a formed a great team.

I was excited about visiting rock art sites on this trip but spending time with the Community has been my highlight. The kids are great fun and enjoying being kids but listening to Margaret Katherine last night talk to Adam about learning his Country and the Jawoyn language was very special. It really drove home the importance of family, language, knowledge and how tenuous the links are from generation to generation to ensure culture continues.

We spoke about advantage and disadvantage the previous night, advantage of reading and writing in English but also the advantage of having Country and knowledge. With a large number of the kids going away for school, they have less opportunity to learn about their Country and its traditions and language. But they come home and spend time with their Community. The best of both worlds? Changing times?

A theme of our trip is to explore racism. I noticed a sign in the shop in Barunga – “all children should be in school all day, everyday and not shopping”. In Katherine – Woolworths provides free fruit to children who are shopping with their parents, but you don’t see many Aboriginal people shopping in the supermarket.

I feel like I am just starting to find my feet and have shaken off the dust. Looking forward to the rest of the time here.

Check back on Wednesday for the final update from our field school students!

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