Hopes and Fears: Barunga Community Archaeology Field School 2016

One of the aims of this field school is to introduce students to working effectively with Aboriginal people. As many will go on to pursue a career in archaeological consultancy, they will need to be equipped with the capability of working with different groups in a cross-cultural context. Many graduates have never worked with Aboriginal communities, much less visited one. For the week-long field school, participants will stay in the community, and will undertake field work following the rules set down by Senior Traditional Owners and Custodians of this area (see their explanation in We just have to show you: Research ethics blekbalawei).

We asked our students to write a short piece on their experiences during the field school. We’ll be able to follow their progress through three or four updates over the course of the week. Each student has written a blog entry where they have captured their initial hopes, fears and expectations for this field school very early on day one. Those entries are posted below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Is this university gig my midlife crisis?

This trip is an unexpected and exciting opportunity for a first year undergrad; although, I did start the five-day road trip from Adelaide to Barunga with a mild degree of trepidation. I don’t have an overpowered two-door extension of my male genitalia: I have a small underpowered Suzuki Jimny. Is this university gig my midlife crisis?

So how does a middle aged, ex-military, divorcee, communicate and connect with people significantly different, and younger, than me? A big presumption I know; however, I am pretty certain most mature aged students entering university for the first time suffer similar phobias. The only possible non-phobia is that a 30-year solid training regime places me in good stead for the uni bar.

But if the road trip to Burunga is any indication, and I think it is, then the embracing, open, and accepting nature of my road-trip companions eliminated any trepidation I had. Travelling with an eclectic mix of undergrad and post-grads of varying ages, from an array of backgrounds, wielding no judgements or preconceptions, makes it pretty easy to feel comfortable and welcome in any environment.

My expectation of what Barunga looks like is limited to the photographs in the Community Archaeology handbook, Claire’s book County, Kin and Culture: Survival of an Australian Aboriginal Community, and the Barunga Festival website. I do, however, expect that a football oval will be a central recognisable feature, as will a Telstra mobile phone tower. I anticipate the community housing will be of similar design and construction, with palms scattered throughout a red dirt landscape interspersed with native grass.

Writing this in Mataranka Springs, the road trip is almost complete. My earlier trepidation is gone, but now a little fear is creeping in as the field school is about to commence. I fear not understanding accents or local terminology. I fear offending someone, anyone, and fear making a disappointing evening meal. I fear Endi will still smash his shins on Chris’s camper trailer even when it’s not connected to the car. I fear doing a hammy playing football with the community kids: because physical age is no barrier to attempting to kick a goal from outside 50.

Academically, I hope to learn some of the symbology behind rock art; improve my understanding of how communities such as Barunga were ‘born’; and perhaps how to identify some plants, animals, and bush foods specific to the area. But, more than anything I hope to simply keep my eyes and ears wide open: listen carefully to the Community Representatives and ask lots of questions.

Socially, I hope to foster friendships which will last throughout my academic journey and beyond. And if I get an opportunity to improve my limited didgeridoo playing ability, that will be an excellent bonus. I also hope that the abrupt end to my exotic pole dancing career, on our night out in Alice Springs, doesn’t bring disrepute to Flinders or the Archaeology Department. I hope that my peers, now friends, see that this was merely positive demonstration that age and (in)ability is no match for ambition.

Bring on Barunga.


I am looking forward to my encounters with Aboriginal people

The word ‘community’ is the only familiar concept that I have to visualise the coming week in Arnhem Land.

The concept of community carries both inclusive and exclusive connotations. The former allows a sense of comfort, incorporating all people equally as part of the human race. The latter bears the weight of the British colonial displacement of aboriginal people from their lands and the ensuing social division in Australia.

I am looking forward to my encounters with Aboriginal people, culture and their ancient art and artefacts.

My greatest fears and trepidations about the field trip are concerns with my body and its encounter with small invasive fauna, ticks, lice and mosquitos, more so than a chance meeting with a rampaging Brahman cow.

Armed with more insect repellent than I’m sure is needed, I look forward to the experience of the Barunga Community field trip.


I am interested to explore the interaction between ‘law enforcement’ and the community in Barunga

My expectations of the time at Barunga are based on limited exposure to Aboriginal communities, most recently the communities near Ceduna, South Australia. These include long-established communities based on former Lutheran missions, and informal communities established by Aboriginal people travelling and living in the area. The settlements of Yalata and Koonibba are well-serviced and generally supported by Government investment and funding. The services include schools, police stations, health centres, and visiting ‘white specialists’ who provide a limited service in counselling, assisting with management and construction work. The informal settlements include temporary camps, often associated with a common drinking culture, and “Town Camp”, where people visiting Ceduna are able to stay.

There are several major language groups living near Ceduna – Kokoda, Wirrangu, Anangu, and many smaller groups, and these speak a mixture of languages, as well as a type of creole language.  This does not seem to be an established language, but one which draws on each persons’ natal language, with the adoption of words and phrases from the other Aboriginal languages, and from English. I am not aware of a formal and consistent grammar in this combined language, so it may not be as structured as the Kriol of the NT, as described in Smith, C. (2004) Country, Kin and Culture, one of the preparatory readings for the course.

Some of the issues described in Smith seem to be common to many Aboriginal communities. There is a strong sense of alienation and dispossession, and that the people do not have easy access to Australian services and culture. Ceduna is undoubtedly a town coloured by a racist attitude to Indigenous people, with limited understanding of, or empathy with the difficulties experienced by Aboriginal people. The communities include the Maralinga-Tjarutja people, who were moved to Yalata from their red sand country near Ooldea in preparation for the nuclear tests carried out at Maralinga.

There is an excessive Police presence in Ceduna, and I am interested to explore the interaction between ‘law enforcement’ and the community in Barunga, particularly to follow the experience of youth there.  The youth of the Ceduna area are particularly affected by a sense of hopelessness about their future, and this has led to a culture of drink and drug taking; typically ganja, and more recently ice (a methamphetamine derivative).

In my experience, community cohesion and development are often being led by strong women, and I am interested to see whether the same applies in Barunga.  Senior men are less prominent near Ceduna, since many are lost to “the grog”. I would be interested to explore whether senior men have a prominence in the Barunga community, and whether this makes a difference to the problems of young men by providing example and authority.

I would be interested to explore the interaction between the Police and the community, particularly the outcomes of the ‘Intervention’ of the early 2000s. My understanding is the political impetus for this program related to child abuse, but that no successful case has been prosecuted. There is a vast increase in incarceration, but most relate to traffic offences and the failure to pay court fines. I understand that the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people in NT has now exceeded that of WA, one of the highest in the world. I believe this illustrates the narrow range of options that white society uses in dealing with Aboriginal issues. It represents a distorted post hoc justification for what is essentially a politically motivated program.


At the end of the day, this trip for me is mainly about personal growth and to understand a [different] culture

I expect the community in Barunga to have large open fields with a lot of space for their own cultural activities. I believe they will have very close family ties living in smallish houses made of tin or older type of materials. The houses might be on the low economic side. I expect a community of a few hundred people with sports grounds, campfires and communal feasts. Sports grounds I believe will consist of football ovals and basketball courts. I expect the weather to be really warm as I am in Mataranka now and it is warm and beautiful.

At this field school I expect to achieve a sound knowledge of the Indigenous culture that live in Barunga. As an undergraduate student I expect to experience a lot seeing it is my first field trip. I want to achieve knowledge in Indigenous rock art, culture, food, oral histories, dreaming time stories and music. I really would love to learn the didgeridoo and any other Indigenous instruments.  I want to achieve knowledge in stone artefacts if they are available and other material culture from past and modern materials. The major aspect I want to achieve is just to experience archaeology in the field.

My hopes for this field trip are to gain greater knowledge in all aspects of archaeology in the field. I want to understand the racism towards such a proud culture. I hope to learn some music and wish to do some dancing with the culture that live in Barunga, however, I feel this might not happen because they do this in their own ceremonies.

I do not have too many fears as I like new things in life and love challenging myself to any extent. Some of my fears consist of not having enough knowledge for a field school as it is my first. I am not sure if I will be able to record maps and details to the standard the teachers want me to. I also fear cooking for a large group of people as the maximum I have ever cooked for is a handful of people. I have no knowledge in gluten free food or vegan and vegetarian food. However, I am excited for the challenge.

My impressions are based on what I have heard from other archaeology students and the few books I have started reading or completed. The book I have completed is Claire Smith’s ‘Country, Kin and Culture. I have also started reading ‘Decolonizing Methodologies’ and ‘The Archaeologist’s Field Handbook’. I am also coming into this field school with my own life experiences. My experiences in life can relate to Indigenous culture to an extent. These problems included alcohol and substance abuse to escape a dark reality of loneliness and feeling disconnected from the rest of the world as I am alone and have no family or help to guide me along the journey of life. Defeating the dark problems of life, I want to be able to connect to people and help anyone that has similar problems.

At the end of the day, this trip for me is mainly about personal growth and to understand a culture that has been flooded with negativity from the Western world. Meeting new people has always been something I love doing. Finally, I want to understand the archaeology side of Indigenous culture and there is nothing better than sitting around a campfire having a great laugh and sharing stories with new people and friends.


Concerning my research in rock art, it will be a huge opportunity to work and learn the way Indigenous people understand their artistic heritage

When I was told I got the grant to come to Australia from Spain for a PhD research stay I couldn’t imagine the great opportunity I had to come to the Northern Territory and experience living with an aboriginal community in Barunga. Since then, I started reading a large amount of bibliography (books, papers, magazine articles) about Aboriginal communities in Australia. These readings gave me a general idea about their lifestyle and a bit about their current situation in the country, a topic that highly attracts my interest. But during this 5-day-roadtrip up to the NT, I had my first contact with Aboriginal people and experienced the relations and racist prototypes from some non-Aboriginal Australians towards these communities. This rapidly helped me to understand a bit more their current situation. I have also asked several non-Aboriginal people about the position and consideration in society and got some different and interesting answers. But I am pretty sure that all the ideas that I have previously created in my mind will change as soon as we have our first contact with the community that will host us for a week. I would like to know their personal perspective about their situation, learn about their feelings and thoughts and share all their opinions.

The experience of living and working with a local community will be enriching and inspiring at different levels I guess. On one hand, concerning my research in rock art, it will be a huge opportunity to work and learn the way Indigenous people understand their artistic heritage, the symbolic relation they have towards these sacred places, and the link with their ancestors, mythology and the land. I would learn a different way of studying the rock art paintings, new methodology and different techniques as well as sharing my own, trying to find the best way to record, and understand these sites. And all these will be made working with an experienced archaeologist team but also with community people. I look forward to hear all types of stories about these sites that probably old people from the community could remember, giving a meaning to the paintings depicted in those sites full of meaning. This would surely help me to understand and probably change my idea about the prehistoric rock art that I am currently studying in Europe.

In this context, I think communication with community people would be one of the most important parts in this experience. Not only because it would help me filling the gaps of my doctoral research, but also, and which is personally more valuable, trying to know more about the community and the Australian aboriginal society. What I could expect also, and from what I have learnt from other experiences living with indigenous communities in other countries, is to create closed ties and good relationship with this people, through sharing our own background and understanding theirs, observing everything they do and the way they live and trying to act the same way, as to be as much as possible integrated in the community. Considering being a part of that community when your background, costumes and skin color separates you, will be one of the challenges I will be confronted. But at the same time, one of my main concerns is precisely that difference, and above all, the language barrier that could probably establish from the very beginning this difficulty to get more implicated in the community and to learn from them.

The main experience would consist on sharing feelings and thoughts with people from another background. As my first time in this country, everything is new for me. I am going to open my eyes and keep an open mind, observing and participating in every activity, sharing feelings, so as to learn as much as I can in every aspect of this experience.


My interest in archaeology stems (and this will come as no surprise to those who know me) from Star Trek

After spending a total of forty-six hours on various busses first from my hometown of Tumby Bay to Adelaide, then on to Alice Springs, and finally to Katherine. It was a long trip which I passed primarily with Big Finish Audio Dramas.

As far as expectations go, I try not to have them. I find that they impede experiences and so the sum total of my expectations for the coming week is that it is going to be hot, considering the local climate and the fact that I have spent time in the area on several occasions.

My interest in archaeology stems (and this will come as no surprise to those who know me) from Star Trek. Captain Jean Luc Pickard, who has a background in archaeology himself, periodically gives fatherly advice to Wesley Crusher. On one particular occasion when Wesley is preparing to leave for Starfleet Academy, he tells him to make time to study archaeology and to befriend the groundskeeper. The finer implications of this is a discussion for another time, but Pickard’s advice has never failed me before. But I digress.

The experience will be a worthwhile one and I hope a positive one. I must admit to a little apprehension regarding my less than ideal interpersonal skills.


Having worked with the local people in Egypt for a number of years I felt I needed the same with local people in my own country

Having worked with the local people in Egypt for a number of years I felt I needed to experience the same with the local people in my own country.  My main area of interest is art in the ancient world. The art and stories of the peoples of Australia having been maintained from the ancient times and have a living link with this style of art and story that we note today with our local Aboriginal people.  I have read a number of articles on the Intervention and working with the communities and felt that this was a wonderful way to connect and see how this way of thinking can be protected and nurtured.  The opportunity to travel to Barunga was possibly a perfect way to get in touch with true Australian artistic thinking.

I am expecting the site to be fairly open as there are around 200 people living in this community. I don’t expect it to be particularly lush nor do I expect the trappings of the coastal tourist traps around NSW.  The facilities such as store and medical would possibly be fairly basic without any luxuries. I imagine there will be a lot of young people in the community who will occupy their time with games or sports, in any open areas around the community.

I realise that we may be working with the children at a children’s camp so I am looking forward to engaging with them in story, and discussion to see the differences in the way these children connect in conversation with each other and with new people who come into the community. I feel that this communication they offer is the first steps to understanding the stories and art of the present and past for these communities. Their connection to the local environment is also a point of great interest which seems to be drawn into their stories and artworks, be it modern or ancient in style or content. I just hope that I don’t say the wrong thing or offend when asking questions of community members.


I expect that the Barunga Community might perhaps look a little bit like communities I have been to in the Pilbara in WA

This is this first of three blog posts written as part of the ARCH8810 Community Archaeology Field School. This post is about my thoughts and expectations before the field school starts.

I expect that the Barunga Community might perhaps look a little bit like communities I have been to in the Pilbara in Western Australia (WA). Although in an entirely different kind of country, with different geography, topography and plants.

I think there might be a footy oval, or at least an area with AFL goal posts, and an area with a basketball hoop. Maybe there will be lots of children and dogs. I imagine people of all ages, from babies to very old, mostly cyclone proof housing and probably quite a few vehicles, some going and some not going. Maybe the community will be in a bit of a clearing in and amongst trees. For some reason I think there will be lots of trees, I don’t know why.


I am afraid that I may not observe correct social interactions, or unintentionally offend somebody due to my limited contact with Indigenous communities

I have chosen to come to Barunga to better my understanding of Indigenous communities who are living on the land in remote Australia and how they interact with European influence, whilst keeping their sense of cultural identity and connection with the land.

I am hoping that after this field school I will be more culturally aware and knowledgeable about Indigenous life and the realities of working on community. I would like to build relationships with people and find ways to make archaeology something that is both relevant and useful in not only the academic sense, but also for the communities who maintain the culture and heritage that we are studying.

I expect that Barunga will appear like a small country town, although having read Claire Smith’s book on Barunga and articles about community life before and after the intervention, I imagine that there will be a lot of families that have large numbers living in tight quarters. I also don’t imagine that there will be the best of services provided for the community. As there is no drinking allowed on community, I expect that it will be relatively quiet and family oriented with plenty of kids about. I hope that there are facilities for the kids to play footy or soccer. I am not sure whether houses will be close together or spread out like a country town.

My fears are mostly related to my ignorance. I am afraid that I may not observe correct social interactions, or unintentionally offend somebody due to my limited contact with Indigenous communities and people who still live on the land in the past. I know that relationships in Indigenous communities can be complicated, and I hope that I do not do anything to jeopardise a relationship. I am moderately afraid of the water buffalo we have been warned about, but I am not afraid of snakes. I would prefer not to meet a crocodile at any point either.


It has been a long time between field schools and being immersed in the past

I have been both excited and apprehensive of the field school for a number of reasons. I studied rock art as part of my archaeology degree back in 1999. It has been a long time between field schools and being immersed in the past. I have had little interaction with the profession since then though kept a healthy interest in archaeology and the arts – a frequent museum and gallery visitor. I am worried that my lack of currency will be an issue as well as being able to contribute fully.

While I am a little nervous about the experience and assisting in the ongoing studies, this also excites me. My hope is that I am able to learn from the people that we will be staying with and come away with an understanding of telling and sharing stories. I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. I am also a little worried about ensuring that I do not offend through plain ignorance.

I have lived in Australia for 13 years but had very little interaction wit Aboriginal people. I have had the opportunity to spend a little time with Ted Egan and family in Alice Springs and during this trip have also visited both the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.

Thinking about the community, I imagine that there is a primary school but may not have a secondary school. There will be basic houses and buildings made of sheet metal or concrete slab and dogs roaming. There may be a church in the centre of town and if big enough a shop and gas station. As it is the dry season, it will be dusty and grass may be brown.

My experience to Indigenous Australians has in part been framed by living in Australia and popular social culture as well as reading and visiting places. I have done some of the reading provided as well as other artefacts such as the Humans Rights Commission’s report into the stolen generations in perpetration for the trip. In relation to archaeological practise,  I am particularly interested in the concept of engaged archaeology and how it borders both with anthropology/ethnography and social/political activism. In particular the collaboration with the community in determining and then undertaking the projects chosen for study.

As a lesbian living in Sydney, I have been involved in Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for a few years where the notion of cultural celebration regularly clashes with political activism and fighting for both rights and recognition. One comment from an Indigenous gay man has stuck with me over the years – “I’m a black fella and gay – they think I’m the low of the low, there is no hope for me!”

I am interested to explore the different levels of discrimination faced by Aboriginal people in a day to day context as part of the field school as well as the opportunity to visit rock art sites.

It has been a long time since I last took part in a field school and never in Australia so I really have no idea what to expect but am excited about what unfolds over the next week and spending time with the local Community.


I hope to achieve my personal goal with the completion of the field school, which is: is archaeology for me?

What do I expect the community to look like? I expect it to look very rigid, and desert looking almost. I expect the atmosphere to be almost like a welcoming warm feeling although not at first. At first it may be a bit hush because myself and the others are strangers to the Aboriginal people. Overall, I expect it to look like a stereotypical homelessness reserve. Although that does not give justification to the actual place as my perspective and thoughts may be a bit clouded because of the facts I have gotten over the few days, reason why I say this is because I’ve just found out about the long grass people of Darwin and I am attempting to compare the two, all in all though I do expect a good outcome!

What would I like to get from the field school? Honestly, experience. Experience in the field, experience a whole new culture, and just archaeological methods in the field. I’d also like to make some worth while friends out here, make some lasting meaningful relationships with people that’ll last a lifetime and just some great memories.

My hopes. I hope to achieve my own personal goal with the completion of this field school which is: is archaeology for me? I also hope that I gain new worldly knowledge that can help benefit myself in the future if I do decide to stay within the archaeological academic area of things.

My fears. Well now that’s different because I am completely out of my comfort zone here. I am in an entirely different country on my own and that usually never happens. Another one of my fears is that, I’m afraid to mess up the entire process. I’ve never been on a field school and by never, I mean never. I have never volunteered my time or went out on my own, only information I have to go on are the lectures from over the 3 years I’ve been in university.

My first impressions are based largely on the stereotypical imagery of Australia, it’s not a good thing but it happens in the world. In Canada the imagery of Australia is all about giant spiders, crocodile Dundee and all that other type of stuff. So with that said, going up to the field school and seeing the Barunga community is going to be a culture shock for me personally. Why? I am a Native American and I will most likely attempt to compare and contrast the difference between my culture and the culture I am going to emerge myself in.

Overall, I expect a good time and a great adventure!


at this point in my life [I am] figuring out where this degree in archaeology is going to take me

I have little knowledge of this community. I had never heard much about it before undertaking this field school, and therefore had difficulty forming an opinion towards it. I know it is a small Aboriginal community, with a population of approximately 200, and annually holds the Barunga Festival, a cultural festival where tourists from across the country come to experience culture and participate in community activities. I expect a community of this size to only have a small handful of stores, or potentially a single general store, a small medical centre, and a town hall.

Knowing the population of the community, i understand it will be small and may not be considerably technologically advanced, given the simple small size of the community.

I have had little experience with Indigenous Australians and as a result I’m eager to spend time with them. This will be the first field school I have ever been on and is the first time I will engage with a community on this level. I look forward to meeting and working with the locals. This is also the first time I have ever gone camping, as I have never spent more than two nights in a tent. Many might not consider this to be an ideal scenario as it requires using a public shower complex, and is an area with little to no internet access, unless your carrier is Telstra.

If I had to choose something that I fear regarding my time on this field school, it would be the possible contraction of scabies, as the concept of have nearly microscopic mites burrowing under my skin is less than ideal. To make this concept worse, I found out there is nothing that can be done to prevent scabies in the form of medication and/or skin cream, as it can only be prevent by simply not coming into contact with someone with it. This, while unpleasant, would still only be  minor inconvenience as ultimately it isn’t permanent. I have no other concerns regarding my time at Barunga.

One of the largest issues I face at this point in my life is figuring out where this degree in archaeology is going to take me. I am interested in several fields of archaeology but know that I cannot focus on all of them. One of these interests is Indigenous Australian culture, with a further interest in general art. Upon the conclusion of this field school I hope to know if I should pursue this field further or not. Regardless of the answer, what I will have learnt this week will be invaluable.


I would love to learn how to engage with remote Indigenous communities, as I have no experience doing so

This trip is my first field school and first class of my Graduate Diploma through Flinders University therefore my expectations aren’t anything specific. What I want to get out of the field school is a general idea of archaeological and cultural heritage work in the field.

My main interest in the field is natural heritage and Indigenous heritage so this field trip was a natural interest for me. I would love to learn how to engage with remote Indigenous communities, as I have no experience doing so. I am also interested in exploring the surrounding land and seeing new sights and understanding the local connection to land. Above all what I wish to achieve on the trip are practical techniques in recording heritage sights and communication skills for engaging with Indigenous people.

I expect the community of Barunga to be basic and small, and that the people may be reluctant to engage with us. I hope to learn from these people and their livelihoods, so different from mine, and experience life from their perspective.

Financially this trip has been challenging for me, and also being separated from my daughter is also hard for me. I have no fears for the trip – I am just keen to learn and live new experiences.


I hope to gain experience in working with an Aboriginal community which is something I have never done before

This will be my first field school where I actually get to work with people, I was so excited when Claire emailed me to say I had a place in the school. Once I was accepted however I suddenly started to second guess what it would be like and how I would feel being so far from home. I expect Barunga to be open and dusty, but filled with colour and vibrancy. I hope to gain experience in working with an Aboriginal community which is again something I have never done before. I enjoy working with people and learning people’s stories. I hope to also gain further experience in dealing with Aboriginal artefacts and Aboriginal sites. I am afraid of not fitting in and also not knowing how to behave in the community. I’m always excited to learn and this trip is no exception, even if I do have to camp and dodge nits and scabies.

Check back on Monday for a mid-field school update to see how our students are progressing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s