After a break in 2017, the Barunga Community Archaeology Field School runs annually from July 6th to the 12th. This is the blog for the 2018 field school. Staff, students and Barunga community members are all very excited to see what this year has in store. As always, the field school aims are community-driven, making each year a unique opportunity to produce meaningful outcomes that address community concerns. Though our focus is on archaeology, there can be more to the discipline – as the students will learn – than studying human material culture. It is about learning how to listen, how to observe, how to empathise, how to work together, and building relationships that reach beyond individuals and into a larger social network. It can be a powerful tool in addressing social issues affecting many different communities.
This year, we welcome local students and those from interstate; both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students who will no doubt take something away from their experiences here in Barunga. It will be fun, it will be hard; there will be laughs, there will be tears – all of which we – the staff and the community – have come to expect each year. As for the students? You can read their thoughts below.
Welcome, Team 2018!
The number of people in Australia who are homeless is increasing. They lead lives that are often hidden – either hidden from view or hidden from recognition.
Looking at the places they camp and the things they use gives us insights into these private lives in public places. In Darwin, Northern Territory, more than 90% of homeless people are Aboriginal. In contrast to perceptions of other homeless people sleeping rough, these “long-grassers” are applying a long cultural tradition to deal with the situation in which they find themselves.
Two recent films, Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country and Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin, succinctly – but accurately – encapsulate the ease with which people can end up living in the long grass. Many come to the city from remote communities. They may have been visiting someone in hospital, watching friends in an AFL game, or staying with relatives in the city.
After a time, these short-term stays come to an end. Often, these visitors move into the “long grass”, urban fringe areas where tall spear grass grows.
The long grass is shared space – parks, beaches, urban bushland. However, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people behave differently in these spaces. The agency of Aboriginal people can challenge mainstream expectations about the uses of shared public space.
Laws that deny Indigenous custom
The Aboriginal use of long grass spaces contravenes NT laws. Under Darwin City Council Bylaws Regulation 103, it is an offence to camp or sleep in public places. Other bylaws regulate behaviours ranging from the consumption of alcohol to leaving food scraps in public.
People who camp in the long grass risk fines they can’t pay. Sometimes, they are jailed for non-payment. As their disadvantage becomes criminalised, their capacity to improve their lives decreases.
Successive governments and city councils have engaged in campaigns against the long-grassers. George Brown, Darwin lord mayor from 1992 to 2002, said:
… harass, harass, harass … I reckon that if you keep shifting them around, constantly harass them so they can’t settle, they will get sick and tired of it and maybe some of them will go back to their own communities.
While Australians value equality, our multicultural nation contains markers of racial discrimination. Some are so innocuous we may not recognise them.
Experiencing racism is part of the everyday lives of many Australians. What is it like to negotiate daily life in a material world that often excludes you, or selectively seeks to control you?
Let’s try to understand the experience of everyday racism by negotiating the material world of an Aboriginal person in northern Australia. You have come into Katherine, Northern Territory, from a remote community. It might be say, Barunga, 80 kilometres away, or Bulman 300 kilometres away, or Lajamanu, 600 kilometres away. Continue reading The markers of everyday racism in Australia
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- The history we were taught at school: was a manufactured lie.
- The last time I cried like a baby, was yesterday afternoon.
- I am Gummarung.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Day five was the penultimate day of the field school. The students spent the day writing up their final projects before we drove to Mataranka in the evening to unwind in the hot springs. We had dinner at Mataranka Homestead, during which time the teachers and community hosts quizzed the students as part of their assessment, making sure the important lessons they learned during the field school had stuck.
On the fourth day of the field school, the team reunited and visited Doria Guduluk, one of the most important rock art sites in this region. The students took part in rock art recording, learning photogrammetry of art panels and producing scale drawings of individual motifs. Some of the students also helped to produce a site plan and cross-section of the rockshelter using the Total Station.
We were joined by several community members, who are Gitjan (Owners) and Junggayi (Custodians) of this place. They were able to share their knowledge about particular motifs with the group as well as discuss the uses of this place.
During the evening, we showed a short documentary produced by Claire Smith in 1992 called Junggayi: Caring for Country. In this documentary, several Jawoyn Elders, who have now passed away, demonstrated the traditional checks and balances the Elders used to police and administer their Country, whereby the Senior Gitjan (Traditional Owner) would rely on the Junggayi (Custodians) to care for Country, and thr Junggayi would need to seek permission from the Gitjan to perform certain tasks. It was a symbiotic structuring system that worked to uphold Law and ensure everything happened the right way, with the right permissions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
On day three, the group split up and focussed on something different. 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 on the Stuart Highway to produce a site plan for Jordan’s PhD thesis.
In the evening, we were joined by Nell Brown and Margaret Katherine, who shared stories and laughs with the group. Margaret is one of the most captivating storytellers and she had everyone in stitches with her story about her pet cane toad that she uses to get rid of cockroaches!