Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

…understanding the provision of ethical and culturally appropriate practice and communication is important.

I’m not very good with expectations, because sometimes the reality doesn’t quite match with what I think will happen.  In the previous decade I was a remote community driver for an Aboriginal Women’s Council and I know that arriving at a community or homelands was an expectation. The days before smartphones were invented and when the brick satellite phones were limited to the anthropologist/archaeologist , I relied on memory and mud maps. But sometimes it can go wrong. Once, I relied on verbal directions and expected to arrive at a community. Instead I took a wrong turn and became completely lost and bogged with a sixteen-month-old baby in tow. If it wasn’t for the community commodore coming out to shoot a weekly kangaroo,  my toddler and I would have been severely dehydrated. For many years I carried a blue lighter the the fellas gave me for keeps.

But this has nothing much to do with writing a blog about my expectations in attending a Community Archaeology field trip. Or maybe it does, because understanding the provision of ethical and culturally appropriate practice and communication is important. Reading Country , Kin and Culture : Survival of an Australian Aboriginal Community (Smith 2004) provides a historical context about the Burrunga-Wugularr region that formed the social, economic and political fabric of the community and their descendants. Understanding this context, I hope to develop practicable, personal and group archaeological skills relevant to the Barunga community.

 

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

There are new people to meet, a new environment to adapt and a plethora of personal and practical skills necessary to co-operate, collaborate and participate.

The context in which I am learning is new. I am representing Flinders University as a student within an Aboriginal community. There are new people to meet, a new environment to adapt and a plethora of personal and practical skills necessary to co-operate, collaborate and participate. All within an itinerary of assessment, group expectations and social norms.  The challenge is learning how to develop a project from idea to product within a team framework. I am also challenged by demeaning behaviour from a team member which I feel is culturally insensitive.  I am asking myself this question: How may I develop my personal skills in order to best express myself and maintain integral to ethical and culturally sensitive research?

 

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

And this is what was most significant to me; in being aware of the nuances of communication during field trips, field camp and the surrounding community.

My reflections began by sharing a conversation with fellow field trip students during our travels back home.  While waiting at Darwin airport in the early hours of the morning, a fellow student and I (aside from establishing lack of sleep and fatigue within the last 48 hours) reflected on how understanding the layers of information exchanged between Traditional Owners, Custodians (Junggai) and us as students are critical to the way we understand ethical and culturally appropriate practice. And this is what was most significant to me; in being aware of the nuances of communication during field trips, field camp and the surrounding community. For example, during a field trip of locating and excavating plant material,  I decided to focus on following fibre artist, Caroline Pamkal, as soon as she got out of the car and on site. I literally became her shadow. After walking approximately 20 metres from the car, Caroline stopped, surveyed and pointed out to a tree site. She then literally swivelled on her feet, and with purposeful action and within arms reach, pulled out a purple plant.

This reflection flows back to one of our topic aims that I noted as we entered the ‘Drupni’ rock art site; that is, to be aware of the ethical dimensions of working with Aboriginal communities. In a later journal entry I suggested that the Custodians may need to be verbally explicit with students when entering Drupni, and therefore ensure the safety of visitors. In reflection, however, the student that enters an ancestral site may need to become familiar with the nuances of the Custodians and how living heritage is managed.  What we can and can’t see are equally important when under the guidance of the Traditional Owners and Custodians.