Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

This field school will be my first practical experience in archaeology. To date, my knowledge of archaeology has only been academic in nature.

My name is Anja Becker, I live in Perth and I am a second year archaeology student at UWA. When the opportunity to attend the Barunga Community Field School came up, I jumped at the chance to take part.

Driving through the beautiful landscape between Darwin and Katherine, I was struck by how different the vegetation was compared to my home in Perth. The contrast between the bright blue sky, the vivid red of the earth and the fresh green of new growth on the trees, was such a change to the land I am familiar with. This field school will be my first practical experience in archaeology. To date, my knowledge of archaeology has only been academic in nature. I am very keen to develop my skill set into a practical, physical one.

Australian rock art is a particular interest of mine and so I am hoping I can see some rock art sites and take part in the recording. I am also very keen to learn about ground penetrating radar and its use in identifying burials. I want to see all of the things I have learned about in theory and have never seen in person.

I am excited to take part in a community archaeology project, it is deeply important that archaeologists find a way to work with and for communities. Barunga has been a great example of a functional and cooperative system of community archaeology. Witnessing it will be wonderful, and I hope I can contribute meaningfully to the community in some way.

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

Seeing the layers of art and the huge meaning imbued in them moved me. This is definitely what I want to do with my life.

Day 1:

We arrived in Barunga today, after a detour to Katherine Hot Springs. Dangling our feet in the water and getting to know each other was such a great start to our trip. The landscape around Barunga is stunning. Vast expanses of Mulga, termite mounds and grass. It’s a visually stunning part of the world. In Barunga, we pitched our swags and tents and headed over to the football field to watch the Barunga vs Beswick AFL grand final. The men on the Barunga team played with such natural athleticism and style. The marks were impressive. Barunga won (of course!). Seeing the community celebrating such a massive win was very fun. The kids were decked out in streamers and dancing on the field in half and quarter time. What an introduction to the community!

Day 2:

Today we went to Drupni rock art shelter. This has been the thing I have been looking forward to the most and it did not disappoint. We saw a 50m long gallery of multi layered motifs in a huge rock overhang. Seeing the layers of art and the huge meaning imbued in them moved me. This is definitely what I want to do with my life. I am going to be recording the shelter with Jordan, Ryan, Rob and Kate.

Day 3:

We returned to Drupni today for the recording component of our project. We worked alongside community members in recording the art. Two of the women dug out a sugar bag and we all tried the bush honey it contained. I’ve never tried anything so delicious. The women were so capable and generous with their knowledge. I am loving being here. Tonight my team is cooking for the field school and the community, it should be a fun evening. Something I have no noticed is our total lack of mirrors at camp. Instead of feeling disappointed or frustrated, though, I feel liberated. The last thing that any of us are thinking about is how we look. We are all focussing on our own characters and behaviour. It is so freeing to not have to think about how I look and if I am presenting myself as perfectly as I could be. Personal growth.

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

[Claire’s] vision for a functional community archaeology model that respects all points of view and knowledge systems and empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is something all archaeologists should experience during their careers.

Barunga fieldschool has been a life changing experience. Working with and for this amazing community has shown me what a truly collaborative archaeology project should look like. The long-term relationship that Claire has forged with the Barunga people is a testament to the kindness and respect she shows everyone here. Her vision for a functional community archaeology model that respects all points of view and knowledge systems and empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is something all archaeologists should experience during their careers.

The Barunga community has embraced me and welcomed me onto their land. I will keep this experience close to my heart for years to come. The friends I have made from our team, the children I have quickly grown to love, the dogs I have cuddled and the buffalo I have successfully avoided.

I have discovered that I can happily do without regular showers and that I am capable of cooking for forty people. I can share a swag with ants and a phone charger with twelve other students. I can’t go without iced coffee though.

I will miss the wide-open spaces, the endless sunshine and the kindness and generosity that the Barunga community has shown me. Their willingness to share their lives and their knowledge with me has touched me deeply. I feel so privileged to have lived this experience.