Part of the Family: Barunga Field School 2016, Final Update

Our students spent the last three days of the field school visiting one of the most significant places in this region, Doria Guduluk, as well as writing up their final projects. On the last night we visited Mataranka Homestead for a swim in the hot springs and dinner in the bistro. After dinner, the students completed their field test, part of the assessment for this field school. Everyone departed for their respective homes on Tuesday afternoon, following the submission of their assessment projects. It was a good thing they left that afternoon, as it rained for 12 hours from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, leaving the remaining campers a little soggy!

What a great field school! We’d like to thank each of the students for making the week so enjoyable. You can read their final updates below. As you’ll read, the students learned valuable lessons on this field school

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 Irene

In Europe, archaeologists don’t realise the powerful tool that is the information that Aboriginal people can give you about their paintings

These days in Barunga have been more inspirational and enriching than I could expect. I knew I was going to learn new things and discover wonderful rock art sites that would probably change my idea about the rest of the paintings I am studying for my PhD research. However, living with the community and talking with them, asking and listening to these people gave me inspiring lessons of different aspects of life.

One of my main interests was to know from the inside the current situation of Aboriginal people in Australia. I had several testimonies of people of the community and their personal perspective about what do they like and don’t like about the behaviour of the “non-Aboriginal” people who are frequently acting against their wishes and without consent. I realised how can we help them in different ways, and how archaeology is a very useful tool for that.

I had a special curiosity about the complexity of their social system and how it regulates and creates family ties. This kin system establishes social links within a high degree of complexity and organisation levels that I could have never imagined to be created, coming from a long tradition of countless years and created in the imaginary of people, without any technology help. It is important to realise that while other people were thinking about Aboriginal people as a “backward” society, they were having a complex social system that cannot be compared to any other and simpler aspect of daily life.

Understanding the skin system and being given a skin name, as a way of accepting me into the community, made me feel very comfortable and having a large and close family for once. I realised what a privilege it is to have such a large family with a lot of people that look after you and care about you, and the responsibility of having a role in the family.

Another aspect that I learnt is the importance of working with these people for the understanding of rock art. In Europe, archaeologists don’t realise the powerful tool that is the information that Aboriginal people can give you about their paintings, their meaning, significance, artistic traditions and symbolism. We cannot have access to this valuable source of information in Europe to understand the artistic heritage, so in our study of the rock art evidences we try to keep cautious, and very analytic with what we see depicted. However, more than all the hypotheses you can make about their meaning or any aspect, without such a helpful instrument your conclusions would be certainly incomplete or biased.

One of the most important aspects of their life is transmitting information from one generation to another. “Telling stories”, traditions, customs, talking about who they are, where they come from and so on, to their kids is essential and is part of their daily life. I learnt how important it is to keep transmitting messages to the next generations. The kids must learn about culture and beliefs, or origin and traditions, or daily life activities and so the Elders make sure that they understood and internalised all the concepts. Definitively, I perceived a special feeling about Culture and Traditions. All this made me realise how important it is to maintain the strong cultural roots alive in a context where the Culture is considered as the most powerful tool that a society can have. Knowledge about your origins, social system, your country, traditions and beliefs is a valuable thing that must be kept carefully and transmitted to the next generations as one of the main duties in our lives.

Endi

The idea that we are all one and related was always something I believe in and to be in amongst a culture that believes the same has had a huge impact on me

We have come to the final day of our field school and I must say it has by far exceeded my expectations. Coming into this trip I knew I was going to learn a lot, but, I had no idea this field trip would have such a large impact on me. The Barunga community has been fantastic and I have loved every chat I have had with the Indigenous people that live here. I have grown to love the landscapes and nature of Barunga and the Northern Territory, but, most importantly the sites Drupni, Narritj Bumbalum and Doria Guduluk have taken my breath away. I came into this trip with not a whole lot of interest in rock art, however, these beautiful sites have definitely changed my perspective.

I have learnt a lot more than I originally thought I would and the main things that have interested me are learning the kin system, rock art, using the total station and learning more about the spirituality of this proud culture. The kin system really amazed me because it is a very ancient and complex system where everyone becomes family and this was extra important to me because for the first time in many years I can say I have some family. The idea that we are all one and related was always something I believe in and to be in amongst a culture that believes the same has had a huge impact on me. It has been beautiful to feel connected.

I did not expect the rock art sites to be so detailed and so far in the bush. I have always loved adventuring so to be surrounded by nature in every direction took my breath away. Learning the spirituality behind the depictions of rock art was really powerful. Furthermore, this has increased my interest in rock art, and it is definitely a field I will research more of as I continue into my archaeology degree. I was extremely ecstatic when I got to use the total station at Doria rockshelter as this was something I was looking forward to at the start of the trip. It is great to learn the equipment of archaeology out in the field and has made my interest in archaeology grow a lot more. Learning about the Indigenous culture and having chats with Indigenous people such as Margaret Katherine and Nell was a very exciting aspect of this trip, as their stories and beliefs are riveting. This field trip has definitely made me grow more as a person and I look forward to coming back to Barunga many more times in the future. Community and Indigenous archaeology are definitely fields that have grown on me and I look forward to continue studying and experiencing these wonderful aspects of archaeology.

Jack, Serena and myself finally cooked our dinner on Sunday night. I love cooking, but, to cook for that many people were one my fears. I must say I was amazed by our group and myself as we pulled it off and the dinner turned out to be quite amazing and hilarious. Our dessert included marsh mellows and raspberries dipped in hot chocolate with crushed up biscuits and Tim Tams. Other people in the field trip looked at it and described it as road kill, but, to everyone’s surprise it turned out to be very tasty. Finishing this trip has caused me to have no more fears for field schools and I cannot wait to experience the next one and many more to come in the future.

Finally, I have loved working with everyone who attended this field trip. It has been one of the best groups I have worked and associated with. I have met many new friends and I am sure we will hang out outside of university. I have grown to love the teachers and assistants on this trip and I give many, many thanks to Claire, Jacko, Jordan and Antoinette. They are all very lovely people and I look forward to working with them more into the future. This field trip has been a fantastic time and has made my interest in archaeology grow immensely.

Karen

The archaeological techniques taught during the field school have been of great value to me

The small interactions with the Jawoyn people that I previously this week experienced, have now grown into general companionship, friendship and camaraderie.

Many jokes and belly laughs have been exchanged with our Jawoyn teachers. Jasmine, Seventhia, Shane, Lucas, and the other boys have all shared the common bond of seeing the funny side of humanity. For example, the dessert made by Jack, Serena, and Endi was named “Roadkill” by Jasmine, due to its colourful components.

Jawoyn boys, Lucas, Travis and Ricardo worked with Marc and I on Jordan’s Tourist Site Project. Marc, standing in the sun with the laser rod, while we took the points in the shade, was the cause of great amusement, especially when he rushed back and guzzled water.

The student team has worked so well together. Everyone helped each other when they were feeling overwhelmed. I realise now that one of my fears in coming on the Barunga Community Archaeology Field School was going away with a group of complete strangers and the negative group dynamics that may have emerged. This trip has overcome those fears.

The archaeological techniques taught during the field school have been of great value to me. Jordan taught me how to use the total station, Claire showed me how to take down oral histories and Antoinette taught me community kinship. I hope that one day I will be in the field and when I am doing these things I will think of them.

Laura

When we visited a female site a couple of days ago it was interesting to see the divide that emerged. The men (with a few exceptions) remained near the entrance for most of our visit while the women moved more freely

Well, it has come to an end. I almost don’t want to leave. Like many things it is hard to explain without sounding like a lunatic.

In the end I came on the advice of Jean Luc Picard and Karl Urban. I met the latter at a convention recently and among other things he said: ‘Invest in yourself.’ And so, never one to ignore good advice, I did.

When we visited a female site a couple of days ago it was interesting to see the divide that emerged. The men (with a few exceptions) remained near the entrance for most of our visit while the women moved more freely.

The highlight of the trip had to be an incident at Mataranka thermal pools involving a German grey nomad but you probably had to be there.

Marc

The history we were taught at school: was a manufactured lie

This will be short. No waxing lyrically, no retrospective analysis of materialised fears and expectations, no rhetoric of how fantastic the last six days of Community Archaeology at Barunga have been. I will however, mention three things:

  1. The history we were taught at school: was a manufactured lie.
  2. The last time I cried like a baby, was yesterday afternoon.
  3. I am Gummarung.

Fairhead OUT.

Alexis

Living and experiencing the knowledge first hand is the best way to teach and learn

Was this trip anything I expected? No, not at all.

This field school experience was completely amazing, I’ve learned so many worthwhile facts to use in my life and educational career. I’ve met great people whom I’m going to share these memories with for the rest of my life, and I’ve completely immersed myself into another culture which has given me great insight into how a community operates, takes care of another and how complex the kinship systems are.

It was nothing like I expected a field school to be, I assumed field schools were more structured and formal rather than open and informal. What I mean by that, is I assumed that a field school would be all protocols and doing things in a structured university layout rather than kicking back and learning from the local Aboriginal peoples of the land. Living and experiencing the knowledge first hand is the best way to teach and learn, so with that said, I’ve learned a lot on this trip because of the more interactive laid back teaching that was provided.

The entire experience was worth it all. I’ve spent 4 months fundraising, spent 36 hours getting here from Saskatoon, SK and lost my luggage for 2 days in L.A but for this trip, it was totally worth it!

I won’t forget this trip or the people I’ve met here.

Samantha

I have learnt a lot of new things in the short time we have been here, including about myself

Third and final blog which I am writing on my last evening while looking at the stars. I have had an amazing time the past six days, met some amazing and generous people and felt a strong connection both to Country as well as the field of study. I was nervous coming here, not knowing what to expect but I feel like I have reconnected with a passion for the past that I have long subdued as well as a passion for the present and I am excited for the future. This trip is so much more than an archaeological field trip. We were all lucky enough to be invited into a new family.

I have learnt a lot of new things in the short time we have been here, including about myself. While archaeology has been the focus of the trip, the people of Barunga have been gracious with their knowledge and time to help us understand their culture as well as their past through their way of life.

Spending time talking to Nell, Margaret Katherine and JT amongst others and hearing their stories as well as spending time with the kids has been a major highlight. I knew nothing about the Intervention before coming here and have seen both the continuing impact and racism born from it.

While my field techniques continue to be very rusty, I feel richer for the experience and have learnt a lot about people, family, importance of stories and culture in a short time.  I’ve also made some great new friends.

My name is Samantha and I am Kotjan.

Chris

I was impressed by the knowledge and authority of the women we spoke to, and I see the traditional future of the community lying largely in their hands

We had the great privilege of meeting and talking with Margaret Katherine when she visited our camp on two successive nights.  She is not from this area, but from near Oenpellli, where she is the custodian of the famous rock art site, Narwala Gabarnmang and is an important Jawoyn elder.  She demonstrated to us a way of transmitting culture and obligations to young people, by telling stories of her own experiences with young people. She spoke about some girls to whom she had given tucker, but who did not help her clean up. The next day she did not feed them when they asked, because they had not helped her the night before. The focus of the story was the mutual obligations of people in the community, but it had relevance for a young Aboriginal boy in the campground, who had been disruptive and relatively uncooperative in the camp. He listened to her with rapt attention, and after that was quiet and cooperative. I could not help but feel great respect for her, and the whole camp listened closely to her while she was there. She is a great raconteur, and told stories with great knowledge, sense of history, and humour.

Other strong women we met included the Traditional Owners of the area, and of the rock art sites we visited, Esther Bullumbara. The Junggayi, Nell Brown also impressed with a deep knowledge of the Law, and she decides what sites it is appropriate for the students to visit. We did not see any elder men during our time at Barunga.

I was impressed by the knowledge and authority of the women we spoke to, and I see the traditional future of the community lying largely in their hands.

Jack

This trip represents the first time I have ever worked and engaged with Indigenous people on a large level

The final days consisted of visiting Doria Guduluk, one of the more heavily documented sites in this area. This site was very significant to women and it was difficult for Claire to acquire permission for everyone to visit the site. There was a particular image at the site that men could not observe or else they will have bad things happen to them. I have never been one to believe in spiritualism or superstitions but the stories that Jacko and Antoinette shared were oddly very convincing.

I have learned a lot during my time at Barunga, I have learned about skin names, land names, titles, permission requests, racism and white privilege, and that nothing is simple on this land. When working on Aboriginal land, there are multiple levels of permission that one must receive in order to visit and work at a site. I have also learned a lot regarding archaeological methods, including what to look for when analysing rock art, understanding the basic features of the total station. My project involved collecting information on everyone on the field school and compiling it into a book for the community. Claire taught me the specific steps by which an archaeologist should interview someone.

Skin names have been one of the most fascinating surprises of this field school. I was given the skin name ‘Kotjok’. I have been told that skin names are somewhat determined by body language, character, and other micro-expressions. Skin has significantly increased the size of my family, emphasising that family does not have to only be biological.

This trip represents the first time I have ever worked and engaged with Indigenous people on a large level as there were very few Indigenous kids in the suburbs that I grew up in. As a result I have been very surprised with many aspects of this community and Indigenous culture.

My interest in rock art has grown significantly this week and I am now another step closer to determining what I should focus on, as I am nearing the end of my degree and lack any further direction due to my interest in multiple fields. I would certainly love to visit more sites across Australia and the rest of the world, though now know how difficult that might be. This experience in the field has been invaluable particularly towards my issue with determining my future in archaeology, and I would gladly undertake another.

Tasha

Archaeologists, ethnographers and anthropologists have always sought to extract as much information about others as they can, but in a living culture such a one-way relationship is unfair

Leaving Barunga at the end of our field school, I feel proud of myself for growing as a person, experiencing a new culture and pushing myself to work as hard as I could.

I am also sad to be leaving the community, as I now feel like I am leaving my family behind. I come from a culture where your family is only those you are biologically linked to, and often (although I am lucky that this is not the case for me) family cannot be relied upon for support. In Barunga the opposite is true. Not only did Nell Brown and her family welcome us onto their land, they made us a part of their family, and that is something that cannot be taken away from you. Family in Barunga is important, and you can always rely upon your family. I wish that I had been there longer to truly be able to learn about more people in my new family and connect with them. I already have some thoughts on things that we could do to help the community thrive, like a way to get the amazing art and craft made there available through Etsy, increasing the exposure of the great artists there in multiple mediums, and bringing more reliable income.

Coming to Barunga a week ago, I felt ignorant about Aboriginal culture and was unsure of how to interact with people. I am always conscious of the fact that the culture I am from tried very hard to eradicate Aboriginal culture, and I feel a mixture of shame and anger. What surprised me was that my being a ‘whitefella’ was never something that I was made to feel ashamed of. I was never blamed for the past, or made to feel like I was any different. Despite everything that has been perpetrated against Aboriginal people, they are warm, kind and welcoming.

I have learned so much in this field school, but perhaps the most important lesson that I have learned is twofold. First, is the skill to really listen. So often we interject in conversation, ask questions to further our own interest, or make assumptions based on what we want to hear. Truly listening to people is about waiting for them to tell you what they want you to know. This is very important to Aboriginal people. Too often we have failed to listen, or only cared about the information we seek, rather than that which is given freely. We have no right to knowledge, despite what we are taught as children, and learning that has actually been liberating.

The other side of that lesson is that in order to learn about somebody else, you must be willing to share something of yourself in return. Archaeologists, ethnographers and anthropologists have always sought to extract as much information about others as they can, but in a living culture such a one-way relationship is unfair. Truly sharing yourself and connecting with people who have a different world view teaches you far more than arrogant, bespectacled ‘academic study’ ever could. 

I came to Barunga as a naive, ignorant, wide-eyed city girl and I left a Narritjan, sister to the Jungayi, niece of a local artist, niece of my lecturer, Claire Smith, aunty, cousin and mummy to many children and part of a larger family than I ever thought I would have.

Maddy

This field school has helped me figure out who I am as a person and where my future in archaeology lies

I don’t want to go home. The past six days have been some of the most extraordinary of my life and I would say that being and living in the Barunga community has changed my life. I now understand that amazing sense of land and being home that Aboriginal people have.

The field school overall exceeded my expectations, luckily I didn’t really have any in the first place. I did not expect the community to welcome us so openly, I did not expect to feel part of the family and I also did not expect that I would grow so attached to the community and all the people on our field school especially Claire and Jacko.

I’ve learnt so many things on this field school, like how to work with an Aboriginal community, how to work in the field and how to open myself up to people. I also learnt that I will willingly sleep on the ground in order to stay and be somewhere I really want to be. I did not get eaten by a crocodile or get nits or scabies. I did, however get singed on the very last day and have ended up with a very funny set of tan lines.

This field school has helped me figure out who I am as a person and where my future in archaeology lies. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone on the field school, Jordan and Antoinette, the Barunga community and of course Claire, Jacko and Jasmine, for helping me to learn myself and new skills which I will hold onto forever. 

Suzanne

Working with this community has been a real privilege and gave another perspective to the strong bonds of family which are enjoyed by the Bagala people

Our visit the Werenbun Chldren’s Yungbala Christian Camp gave us the opportunity to get to know JT a little better. She is the leader of  a group of Christian workers who spend their time working with the community children of the Jawoyn. She was able to show us a translated version of the bible in the Kriol language for the children to learn; however, this means that the majority of language the children may learn from their bible studies and singing, is in English or Kriol rather than the Jawoyn language of their own people, so the language is slowly being forgotten. Interestingly, all of the leaders at this camp were women, showing the impact that the Christian teachings had on the overt leadership roles that women were taking within these communities.

Our to visit Doria Guduluk ( a women’s secret place) is where men were not to look directly at the artwork for too long and one of the images further into the cave was strictly forbidden for men to look on, in fear of being struck with severe illness.  It was interesting at this point to see all the Aboriginal men (and for a while, Jacko) avoid the area and keep their eyes averted due to the strong belief in the threat of the mimi.

Human bones were also stored in the caves. These were absolutely to be avoided and not photographed due to the need for supreme respect. The area was incredibly quiet and we were joined by olive tree python who appeared at one side of the mouth of the cave, then travelled across in front of us to reappear on the other side. It passed into a hole in the rear of the cave, only to reappear an hour later on a rock, supervising us as we worked. It really was remarkable how it appeared to rest near the image of the Rainbow Serpent, guarding the cave.

It was wonderful to be able to work on a project on Nell’s family while we have been with the community. She is the Junggayi of the Bagala clan and the lady who gave us all our skin name, in conjunction with the traditional owner, Joyce. The important element of this task was to make sure that we had permission to use the name for each person pictured, some of whom had passed.

Working with this community has been a real privilege and gave another perspective to the strong bonds of family which are enjoyed by the Bagala people and long lost to our often isolated and often ill-informed society.

Aylza

I want to thank the Barunga community for having all of the students to visit. It has been a great privilege to be able to stay in the community and learn from the community members

This is my third and last blog post for the Community Archaeology field school at Barunga community. It was hard to decide what to write because I have learnt so much; too much to cram into one small blog post.

Some things I know I have learnt, and I suspect there are other things that I have learnt that I do not know about yet. The second things are the ones that will come to me later, a long time after the field school. The field school has been a great test of team skills. It has also been a fantastic opportunity for all of us students to practice our team building. Perhaps that is one of the most important aspects of the field school. Thanks to everyone for being such an excellent team.

I am pretty sure this field school is unique in Australia. Without the long term relationship Claire and Jacko have with the Barunga community this field school would not be possible. I want to thank the Barunga community for having all of the students to visit. It has been a great privilege to be able to stay in the community and learn from the community members. Thank you also to all of our Community Teachers and Guides, and Claire and Jacko and Antoinette and Jordan. I also have a special thank you to Jasmine for her excellent and patient teaching. I hope that one day I will be able to come back and visit the Barunga community again.

Serena

I have learned about the complexities of Aboriginal culture and the advantages that their culture beholds in comparison to my own

Summing up the trip my criticisms are:

Organisation. We could have fitted in twice as much as what we did if the pace was not so slow. I feel I would have learned more if there were better explanations before going to a site. Explanations were often only heard by certain students and hence I felt I could not answer the questions for the final assessment. However, regardless of the academic credit gained, it still would have been a worthwhile experience that I most highly recommend.

The highlights have been:

I have watched and listened in admiration to elders and community members giving their point of view and sharing their life experiences. I have learned about the complexities of Aboriginal culture and the advantages that their culture beholds in comparison to my own. It has been a privilege to visit sacred sites and hear the accompanying stories, explaining significance of place.

I have met the most amazing people from all walks of life and had many good times. A definite highlight being when Endi was attacked at his most vulnerable, back in Mataranka. These experiences and memories that I will have will me always.

I appreciate that the field school was possible due to the work Claire and Jacko have done with the Barunga community, building relationships and forming trust over the decades they have spent there.

Thanks for following our field school updates!

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