Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

Meeting for the first time and building a close relationship with another Aboriginal group from around Australia is very important as we learn from one another and it connects us all to each other.

My name is Susan Betts and I am a Wirangu, Kokatha and Mirning woman from the Far-West Coast of SA. I currently live in Streaky Bay (Wirangu Country). I am looking forward to attending and camping out under the stars on my first field trip as a archaeology student in Barunga with Flinders University. I am studying archaeology online at the University of New England. I have recently completed my first trimester studying ARPA104: Archaeology Principles and Practices.

From this first field trip I hope to gain some experience working on the ground with professionals. I hoping to maybe have a go at using any scientific techniques such as remote sensing/ground penetrating radar (GPR) if possible.

It is good that Flinders University has a partnership with an Aboriginal community, such as the Jawoyn people of Barunga. I would like to learn how to record significant sites, artefacts and stories and how to identify past occupation on a site as well.

It would be interesting to also connect with the community and listening closely to their dreaming and historical stories on the area and how those stories are connected to different sites and star constellations. Meeting for the first time and building a close relationship with another Aboriginal group from around Australia is very important as we learn from one another and it connects us all to each other.

 

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

We also all sat around the fire and introduced ourselves to everyone. Culturally this is the way all introductions should be done, similar to this.

When I arrived in Barunga, I was a little nervous about what to expect as I had never been here before and this was my first ever Field trip as a student archaeologist.

Barunga is in Jawoyn land. The Jawoyn people are the Traditional custodians of this area of the Northern Territory. First night on Barunga community for me, on another Country was a nervous feeling, as I was not knowing what to expect. I didn’t sleep well because of all the different wildlife sounds around, such as buffaloes, donkeys, birds and bats.

Officially our first day, we were introduced to some of the Elders and Traditional Owners (TOs) of this country who were: Guy, Jocelyn, Elizabeth, Rachel. I liked the feeling that we were able to do this before we started with anything on their Country. We also all sat around the fire and introduced ourselves to everyone. Culturally this is the way all introductions should be done, similar to this.

As a group we headed out to the graveyard with the Elders and had a talk about the identification of the graves and their connections to them. This a found difficult to talk to the Elders that were there, as it reminded me of my Country and people who have passed and also because I didn’t want to offend anyone by saying something wrong or walking somewhere I shouldn’t.

We venture out to a very special place with magnificent rock art, right back into bushland. The bushland is so vast and different from my Country and it also had this wonderful feeling of being old and ageless from the Dreamtime. It was an honour and a privilege to be shown such a sacred place to the Jawoyn people.

This for me, as an Aboriginal artist, was an unbelievable experience, as I had never seen cave rock art as old as this, as we (Wirangu people) have not found any of this in my own Country yet. As a group we all went to Manyallaluk community, about 30km north-east of Barunga. Here we met Richard Miller (traditional artist) and his partner, Carol Pamkal (traditional weaver). I was totally in awe especially of Carol’s skill of basket weaving, which I absolutely loved.

It was exciting to be able to head back out again went to Manyallaluk, (Me, Jasmine, Nadine, Racquel, Antoinette and Maggie) met up with Carol again as part of our group project, to go out to look and get the different roots from different plants to dye the grasses. It was an experience to be able to go with her deep into the bush to look for these plants to dig up some of their roots. We were also able to listen to Carol as as she explained about each of the plants, what we were looking for as we walked and drove. We were also lucky to find sugar-bag honey in a termite’s next, which Carol spotted from a long way. I’ve had such an amazing experience so far.

 

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

It makes me think about our Country and what we know and what we still have need to bring back to life, for our Culture and for future generations is so very important.

I just loved the experiences at the different location around Barunga Community from meeting the Elders and having the group and one on one yarns. To also going to Manyallaluk and meeting Carol, her husband, Richard and some of the family as well. The expedition with Carol, where we gathered roots in the bush and discovered sugar bag honey, was one that I’ll never forget. Knowing their Country, however vast it was, was amazing; where the different plants were and how they looked as well. It makes me think about our Country and what we know and what we still have need to bring back to life, for our Culture and for future generations is so very important.

For the rest of the Field camp at Barunga we worked on our group projects and ours was producing a booklet flyer for Carol to use to sell her beautiful work. In my group there is Nadine, Maggie, Racquel and myself. At first, I found the working together as a group very hard, as there were several in the group who butted heads on how the planning process was to go ahead. I ended up calling in Jasmine to give us some advice on what she thought was best for Carol. That worked, we moved forward and agreed producing a beautiful leaflet with Carol’s work. It was good that we had that at the beginning and we sorted it out, as there were some strong opinions in the group on what was best for Carol. To me, sitting back watching it was a good example of, ‘white fellas thinking they know what is best for blackfellas’, so I’m glad I brought Jasmine over to sort it out and inform them, ‘no, blackfellas know what is best for blackfellas’ in other words you need, ‘good consultation and understanding with blackfellas and community before you start anything’.

The whole experience of going to Barunga as a student archaeologist, sitting and working with community and visiting different locations was an honour and an eye-opener, even for me as an Aboriginal person from another community. For me, gaining wisdom and knowledge on how to work with community on another level was a challenge and a privilege. It is good that things are beginning to change as well with the graveyard project that will be happening right across the Top End. We came at a time which was important and significant for the community, as they were needing help in this.

In my opinion, there is more work and understanding from archaeologists on a deeper level that is needed to be done in co-operation with our communities. A strong understanding of our culture and spirituality can be achieved if minds are opened. On this level our culture has so much more to offer and left to discover that is needed for everyone to share. I feel that this may be another level next to be opened in archaeology.  I am so thankful for the new experiences, connections and friends that I have made, that I hope one we will work together as archaeologists.