Exceeding Expectations: Barunga Field School 2016, Update

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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!

Photoblog: Barunga Field School 2016, Day Three

Saturday 09/07/2016

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!

Photoblog: Barunga Field School 2016, Day Two

Friday 08/07/2016

On the second day we visited Narritj Bumbalum, another rockshelter and art site near Beswick. We practiced rock art photography and heard stories about the art and the site in general.The site is situated on the (croc free) Waterhouse River and we had time for a quick swim during our time there.

Towards the end of the day, we conducted a team building exercise under the direction of Irene. Pañuelito (translated to ‘little tissue’) is a Spanish game where you have to run and grab the handkerchief when your number is called. You have to get the handkerchief back over your line before you get tackled by your opponent. In short: lots of fun and now everyone is relaxed and comfortable with each other.

On our way back to the cars, we visited a stone tool production site where students learnt about lithic identification. There are literally thousands of stone tools here, but we must make our way back to Barunga as it is getting dark. The benefit of this is that the students got to see a water buffalo (a rare site for people not from ‘the north’).

We had a relatively quiet evening resting up around the campfire, looking at the photos from our day with Nell and other community members.

Photoblog: Barunga Field School 2016, Day One

Thursday 07/07/2016

On the first day of the field school, we visited a rockshelter close to Barunga. We split into smaller groups so the students could each learn a new skill. One group practiced the baseline-offset method for producing a site plan, another group assessed the preservation of the rock art (including the factors that might help or hinder preservation), while the third group learned motif recording with Irene, a visiting PhD student from Spain.

During the day, Isaac and Billy, our community guides (Custodians (Junggayi) for this Country), taught students about how the rock art was made and how ochre was cached around the site. While we were recording, Isaac and Billy shared stories about particular motifs and what they meant to them within the Jawoyn belief system.

At dinner time we were joined by community elders Nell (Senior Junggayi), Joyce, Jocelyn and Melissa who shared stories and gave the students a skin name, to situate them in the Dalabon kinship system, which is used in this Country. We watched an ABC documentary called ‘Bamyili: My Country‘, which is about the original Barunga settlement. An artefact of its time, the narrator speaks in an Australian BBC accent to describe how the local Aboriginal people have been ‘civilised’ by European settlers. It is essentially a description of bygone attempts at assimilation; however, the community elders are more interested in identifying family in the short documentary and remembering people who have now passed away.

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!


Will the impact framework fix the problems the research audit found?


Claire Smith, Flinders University and Dawn Bennett, Curtin University

The results from the latest university research audit indicate that research in Australia is improving.

This suggests that the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise is working: ERA has achieved its main aim of boosting the quality of Australian research.

However, this headline statement masks a plethora of concerns.

Under the government’s latest reform of research funding, academics will be assessed not only on their quality of research through the ERA, but also on the economic, social and environmental impacts of their research through a new impact framework

The impact and engagement measures herald a new era that rewards researchers for collaborating beyond their institutions.

It is timely, then, to reassess ERA’s utility. Is it fit for purpose? Will these two assessment systems complement or contradict one another?

What has gone well in ERA?

The ERA processes have recognised peer review alongside metrics.

Research efforts at universities are arguably now more focused towards areas of strength. There is a clearer (though contested and arguably narrower) understanding of scholarly research, particularly that which is non-traditional.

On paper, ERA has established a system whereby research can be compared nationally and against international benchmarks.

What isn’t working?

Individual researchers are not assessed by ERA per se. However, they are assessed in line with ERA at the institutional level — in a system that awards a single score for an entire discipline cohort.

Inter-disciplinary research has been disadvantaged. ERA’s 1,238 fields of research (FoR) codes make it problematic for researchers to publish outside their discipline or academic unit.

Publishing, performing or exhibiting internationally is perceived to be more prestigious than in Australia. This unjustified exoticism diminishes the importance of Australian research and puts local and Australian publication outlets at risk.

A lack of transparency and accountability remains a critical problem.

The process by which final rankings are calculated remains opaque. It is unclear how the peer review of evaluation units is moderated and benchmarked globally. The rationale for inclusion, exclusion and change in the list of journals recognised by ERA has not been made public.

Whole disciplines ranked “below world average” are reliant on empirical research to fathom what went wrong. There is no feedback other than the score.

Esteem measures are narrow. The category “prestigious work of reference”, for example, is strikingly limited. It has never been opened to public discussion. Why have some publications been chosen and others omitted?

The ERA journal rankings were abolished in 2011. However, their ghost influences decisions from journal selection to academic recruitment and promotion.

Universities still reward publication in high-ranking journals from the list; some institutions recognise only research published in A or A* journals, or those marked “quality” in the current list.

As predicted, the editorial boards of these journals are struggling to cope with the influx of submissions. Lower-ranked journals and those with lower impact factors are struggling to survive. Many Australian journals are disadvantaged by the bias towards international journals.

The audit culture most affects early career academics. They and others struggle to negotiate the system, juggle heavy teaching loads and manage the precarity of casual academic employment.

The international mobility of Australian academics is high and early career academics are the most likely to move overseas or leave higher education.

The loss of young academics from an ageing academic workforce risks Australia’s ability to meet future demand. Moreover, it impairs capacity for innovation.

What are the concerns?

Measuring engagement according to research income from industry is concerning.

How, for example, will collaborative research with not-for-profits and innovative start-up companies be measured? How will the new measures account for these organisations’ exemptions from a cash contribution for Australian Research Council Linkage proposals?

There is a contradiction between a new impact measure that encourages a culture of risk-taking and ERA, which promotes risk-avoidance behaviours and impacts upon academic freedom by directing research behaviour. This is particularly problematic for new researchers, blue-sky research and research with benefits that emerge only in the long term.

Both systems place professional service outside academic workloads. This raises new questions. Who will edit the journals, convene the conferences, become officers of professional associations, or write the handbooks and textbooks?

These activities are essential to the health of all disciplines. Increasingly, they are unrecognised and unrewarded. This has long-term ramifications for both research quality and impact.

Neither system recognises investments in partner communities that are critical to social licence to operate in many disciplines.

Improving ERA

Has ERA run its course? Perhaps. It certainly needs improvement.

The ERA process should be subject to external review. We need greater transparency about the criteria that inform assessment categories. We need discussion of categories not yet opened to consultation.

Given concerns over gaming the system, we need an audit of data that has been excluded from ERA submissions. There should be a review of disciplinary membership of the committees in terms of institutional representation through time.

We need ERA to cease peer reviews of outputs already subject to double-blind peer review.

There is a dire need to review the real cost of each ERA exercise, which runs approximately every three years. We need to consider whether the costs of assessing research excellence exceed the benefits.

While the ARC’s administrative and departmental costs are low, we also need to assess the costs of university compliance and of playing an effective strategic assessment game.

The new impact and engagement measures redress some of ERA’s deficiencies, but the challenges of cost, transparency, audit culture and external oversight remain. And teaching remains out in the cold.

The Conversation

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University and Dawn Bennett, Research Professor, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Socially mediated terrorism poses devilish dilemma for social responses


Claire Smith, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Kyushu University

The terrorist attacks in Paris have resonated around the world. In addition to physical violence, Islamic State (IS) is pursuing a strategy of socially mediated terrorism. The symbolic responses of its opponents can be predicted and may inadvertently further its aims.

In the emotion of the moment, we need to act. We need to be cautious, however, of symbolic reactions that divide Muslims and non-Muslims. We need emblems that act against the xenophobia that is a recruiting tool for jihadists.

Reactions from the West should not erode the Muslim leadership that is essential to overturning “Islamic State”. Queen Rania of Jordan points out:

What the extremists want is to divide our world along fault lines of religion and culture, and so a lot of people in the West may have stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims. But really this fight is a fight between the civilised world and a bunch of crazy people who want to take us back to medieval times. Once we see it that way, we realise that this is about all of us coming together to defend our way of life.

Queen Rania’s statement characterises the Paris attacks as part of a wider conflict around cultural values. How are these values playing out symbolically across the globe?

Propaganda seeks predictable responses

IS’s socially mediated propaganda is sophisticated and planned. This supports an argument that the Paris attacks are the beginning of a global campaign. Symbolic materials characterise IS as invincible. However, other evidence may indicate that it is weak.

The IS representation of the Eiffel Tower.
SITE Intelligence Group

The spontaneous celebration on Twitter by IS supporters was predictable. Its representational coverage of the Paris attacks, however, suggests deep planning.

This planning is embedded in professionally designed images. A reworked image depicts the Eiffel Tower as a triumphal arch with the IS flag flying victoriously on top.

The tower is illuminated and points to the heavens and a God-given victory. The inclusion of a road running through the Eiffel Tower provides a sense of speed, change, even progress. In Arabic, the text states, “We are coming, France” and “The state of Khilafa”.

IS is using symbolic representations of the Paris attacks to garner new recruits.

A sophisticated pre-prepared image of an intrepid fighter walking away from a Paris engulfed in flames was quickly distributed. It is inscribed with the word “France under fire” in Arabic and French.

IS had its ‘France under fire’ image ready to post immediately after the attacks.
INSITE on Terrorism
IGN Entertainment Games

This image keys into the heroic tropes of online video gaming, such as prototype and inFAMOUS. Chillingly, it is designed to turn virtual warriors into actual warriors.

The five million young Muslims in France are particular targets. Among online recruitment materials are videos calling them to join other young French nationals who are with IS.


Support for the victims in Paris and for the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity are embedded in the blue, white and red lights movement. These lights shone in major cities in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and South America. The blue, white and red lights also were displayed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia.

However, the light displays were seen in few countries with Muslim majorities overall. Such countries are in an invidious position. Display the lights and you may be characterized as a lackey of the West. Don’t display the lights and appear unsympathetic to the victims.

Facebook blue white and red Paris
author provided/courtesy J. Smith

Support also is embedded in a parallel Facebook function that allows members to activate a tri-colour filter. Adapted from a rainbow filter used to support same-sex marriage, this filter attracts those with liberal sentiments.

The question of whether to use the French flag to show sympathy for the victims is invidious at a personal level. Many people find themselves exploited and condemned to poverty by neoliberal economic models. They are put in a difficult position. They feel sympathy for the victims. However, they are bitter about how they are being treated by “the West”, including France.

Perils of an ‘us and them’ mindset

As the blue, white and red activism plays out around the globe, there is a potential for this to transform into a symbolic manifestation of an “us and them” mentality. Such a division would support xenophobic forces, which steer recruits towards IS.

The global impact of the attacks can be related to the iconic status of Paris. The attacks hold a personal dimension for millions of people who have visited this city. They have a sense of “there but for the grace of God, go I”. This emotion echoes responses to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

The Japanese and Italian cafes included in the attacks are symbolic targets for their countries. In March 2015, IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnan stated that the group would attack “Paris, before Rome”. Rome is a target because of its symbolic role as the centre of Christianity. Japan is a target because of its role in coalition forces. It has already suffered the execution of Japanese hostages early in 2015.

In Japan, the cultural reaction has been relatively low key, as part of a strategy of minimising terrorist attention. The blue, white and red lights solidarity received minimal press coverage. There have been few reports of the Japanese restaurant that was one of the targets. In addition to factual coverage of the attacks, Japanese reports have concentrated on implications for security at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Are there any symbols indicating good news? The Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers could be a sign of weakness. It could have been “planted” there – why carry a passport on a suicide mission?

If so, its purpose is to increase European xenophobia and encourage the closing of borders to Syrian refugees. This suggests the mass exodus of Muslim refugees from Syria is hurting IS. The propaganda could be a sign of alarm in IS leadership ranks.

In our responses to the Paris attacks, the grief of the West should not be allowed to overshadow the opprobrium of Muslim countries. Muslims are best placed to challenge the Islamic identity of this self-declared state.

As Queen Rania states, the war against IS must be led by Muslims and Arabs. To ensure success, the international community needs to support, not lead, Muslim efforts.

The Conversation

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Research Associate in Archaeology, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Professor of Archaeology, Kyushu University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Social media helps make cultural icons a new target for terrorism


Claire Smith, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Flinders University, and Kevin McDonald, Middlesex University

Recent postings on social media of the destruction of 3,000 year-old Assyrian sculptures by ISIS highlights a new threat to cultural heritage in times of conflict.

Read symbolically, these actions can be interpreted as “cultural payback” for irreverent cartoons of the prophet Mohammad as a dog or with bombs hidden in his turban, themselves likely motivation for recent killings in Copenhagen and at the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

While the symbolic function of cultural icons has made them a target for destruction throughout history, recent changes in the nature of warfare and the media landscape have increased their vulnerability in times of conflict.

Taken together, recent changes in the nature of conflict and in the communication environment have created a new context in which the destruction of cultural icons by one of two individuals can be a relatively low-risk choice for extremists seeking maximum impact for their political agendas.

A modern form of terrorism

The modern communications environment provides extremist groups with the chance to garner unprecedented public attention for their cause. An increasing reliance on the global communication of extreme acts to convey a political message is apparent in videos of radical acts, such as internet videos of beheading prisoners or the multi-angled videoing of the execution of the Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh.

Moreover, recent transformations of the media landscape have opened up new global channels of user-led communication. The pro-active media strategies of terrorist groups reach massive numbers of people. There is no chain of command and no membership roll—only a shared philosophy and a message to take action individually.

This new trend of “sequestered action”, in which individuals act without direction from an organisation but as part of a general ideological movement, protects terrorists from detection and widens the net of their potential effect.

It can be linked to an increase in terrorist attacks by one or two individuals working alone, such as the Boston Marathon bombings by two brothers in March 2013; the siege at the Lindt Café, Sydney by a single individual in December 2014; twin shootings in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher market in Paris; and the twin shootings in Copenhagen at the central synagogue and Krudttønden café.

A protest against the Charlie Hebdo attack in Strasbourg on 11 January 2015.
Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The critical point here is the shift from the elaborate plots that have previously characterised jihadism to independent action by individuals.

While few people are willing to kill, many more would be willing to destroy a cultural monument. The centrality of visual images in the contemporary media environment provides new opportunities for, and increased impact from, the destruction of cultural icons, both locally and globally.

As the gap between rich and poor grows, both internationally and within nations, there are increased numbers of people who feel disenfranchised. A percentage of these will wish to take some form of action.

What can be done?

Firstly, we need to be more aware of the role that cultural icons play in conflict situations.

Robert Bevan argues that:

Cultural genocide is inextricably linked to human genocide and ethnic cleansing. Attacks on a community’s history —- its cultural identity and the ancient monuments that bear witness to centuries of presence —- are calculated.

Secondly, we should use networked media to diminish cultural myopia. A failure on the part of the West to seek understanding is exemplified in criticism of the sympathy that one quarter of Muslim people in Britain feel for the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo killings and in puzzled questioning about the 500 people who attended the funeral of Omar El-Hussein in Copenhagen.

In contrast, the capacity of social media to engender cross-cultural understandings is demonstrated in the twitter conversation that took place on January 30, 2015 between Eleanor Robson, “Vicious Assyrian” and “Dread Muslim”:

Dread Muslim: Walls are all you people care about.

Eleanor Robson: I have several dear friends & colleagues in Mosul, worked with them for 25 years to help protect their cultural heritage. You?

Dread Muslim: I have several brothers and sisters in Syria worked with them to save their future from dying. Saved many years of their life.

Eleanor Robson: We’re not so different; I use my professional skills to support life & work of Iraqi friends who care about its past & future.

Eleanor Robson: I agree that too many people care more about the past than the present but I’m not one of them.

Vicious Assyrian: Thank you.

Dread Muslim: May Allah guide You. Please forgive me if what I said sounded rude to you.

Eleanor Robson: That’s very generous; thank you. There’s nothing to forgive though 🙂 I’ve been feeling the same way today …

Cultural crime

An emergent irony is that many sites of World Heritage significance are in the hands of people who do not adhere to the same notions of heritage.

Consequently, a cultural crime inflicted in the West, such as an offensive caricature, can be met by a cultural crime in another part of the world, such as the destruction of ancient sculptures.

Never before has the world has so much capacity to communicate, so much need to communicate and so little success in people understanding each other.

We need to do better. We have the tools to do better. If we do not do better the destruction of ancient sculptures that are important to people in the west will become as commonplace as the destruction of human beings in the east.

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Anthropologist, Flinders University, and Kevin McDonald, Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Criminology and Sociology, Middlesex University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The Conversation

Load up Adelaidia when you visit Adelaide – and step into the past


Jordan Ralph, Flinders University

Interpretive signage may be a thing of the past in Adelaide thanks to a new interactive mobile app and website from History SA. Launched in early 2014, Adelaidia puts the history of Adelaide’s CBD at the fingertips of anyone with a computer or a smart phone.

Adelaidia allows users to discover the history of people, places, events and organisations that have contributed to the story of Adelaide since European settlement. Users can access biographies uploaded by History SA and Adelaidia’s content partners.

Adelaidia promotes the tangible heritage of Adelaide – that is, the things we can see and touch, such as buildings, places, objects, and so on. It also promotes the intangible heritage of the city – the things we cannot see or touch, such as cultural traditions, events and themes.

The real strength of Adelaidia is the interactive features that allow users to contribute their own personal stories and experiences. From a cultural heritage preservation and research point-of-view, recording the experiences of individuals and groups is imperative; these stories give places and objects meaning. Unfortunately, because the stories are typically “siloed memories” rather than public histories, they are among the first sources of historical information to disappear.

The basics

When accessing Adelaidia on both web and mobile platforms (and its South Australia-wide partner website, SA History Hub), users can choose a topic from the main menu: people, places, events, organisations. Selecting any one of these items will load a list of entries pertaining to the history of Adelaide. Each entry contains at least a biographical account and the option for users to view and upload media and personal stories relating to the entry.

Adelaidia mobile app main menu.
Jordan Ralph

So far, not many users have contributed their oral histories – or in this case digital histories – to Adelaidia. As far as I can see from the “stories” option on the main menu, only two have been uploaded since the launch of the system.

The lack of willingness to engage, on the part of the residents of Adelaide, might be for any combination of reasons. Among them, these might include simply not knowing that the option is there, people thinking that their story might be too mundane to contribute, that it might be perceived as too difficult. Or, of course, they may legitimately have nothing to write.

One way for this issue to be rectified is for History SA to continue to upload its own content – and to form partnerships with additional content partners. That way, more entries will be submitted, including the noticeably absent Victoria Square and Adelaide Oval, allowing people to share their experiences about these places.

Camera and GPS integration with mobile app

Augmented reality in action. Adelaidia displaying direction and distance to Adelaide General Post Office from Victoria Square.
Jordan Ralph

For the most part, the mobile app is a “lite” version of the Adelaidia website; it contains basically the same content in a more streamlined design suitable for a handheld device. The app makes use of the smart phone’s in-built camera and GPS system for users to find out about places near to them and go on themed tours.

When activated, the augmented reality view displays the direction and distance of entries featured in Adelaidia, overlayed on real-time images captured by the phone’s camera.

Similarly, the map view uses the device’s GPS system to display a plan view of Adelaide’s CBD with Adelaidia entries marked by grey pinpoints. Clicking on the pinpoints in both views will load the biographical information of that entry.

Screen shot of Adelaidia web site.

When I road-tested the augmented-reality feature, the system clearly struggled to work in the CBD, supposedly due to interference caused by lack of satellite reception. This meant that, until I used it in the open space of Victoria Square, the direction and distance markers for most entries were inaccurate. This is a small bug in otherwise great software, especially considering this is meant to be a fun extra. On the other hand, the map feature works perfectly.

One option for History SA to consider is to add a check-in feature that may boost the number of users who interact with the software. This could be done by adding the feature locally or by integrating a Swarm or Yelp check-in option.

The future

Adelaidia, along with the SA History Hub, brings interpretive signage into the 21st century. It has the potential to be a valuable, accessible resource to tourists, researchers and even those who are just looking for some entertainment.

History SA has made a revolutionary step in preserving and celebrating the cultural heritage of Adelaide. For this software to reach its full potential, it must continue promoting the valuable user contribution features and engage with more experts to contribute content – especially regarding Adelaide’s Indigenous past. Following that, Adelaidia will mature from its infancy and help turn siloed memories into public histories.

For this review the Adelaidia mobile app was accessed on both a Samsung Galaxy S5 with high accuracy GPS feature enabled and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, with the GPS feature enabled.

The Conversation

Jordan Ralph, Research assistant in archaeology, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tackle fast-tracking of approvals to close nexus between politicians and developers


Claire Smith, Flinders University

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s planned repeal of 9500 redundant regulations and 1000 Acts of Parliament could loosen dangerously close ties between politicians and developers. While such ties are problematic in many parts of Australia, the recent investigation of the Obeid family by NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption has brought this issue to the forefront.

Research that I undertook when I was leading a 2011 bid for a Cooperative Research Centre in Heritage demonstrates that the nexus between politicians and developers in Australia has become perilously close. Over the last decade, red tape involved in the heritage approvals process has resulted in a dramatic increase in direct ministerial approvals for developments.

In New South Wales, for example, the use of ministerial approvals for major projects or infrastructure rocketed from a total of nine during 2001-2005 to 457 in 2010. Forty-three were approved in the two weeks prior to the state government going into caretaker mode.

Red tape is needed to reduce risk and to ensure transparent and equitable processes. However, too much red tape stifles investment. Moreover, frustrated developers seek greater use of ministerial “call in” powers to circumvent slow approvals.

Australia’s current heritage approvals process is fragmented across jurisdictions, between agencies and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage. This has produced mountains of uncoordinated, non-standardised data. This data is inaccessible, often redundant and usually incomplete.

Decision-making power is dispersed across numerous agencies. Decisions depend on the interpretation and knowledge of individuals rather than on a solid evidence base. We need integrated data-sets that make it possible to determine what is common from what is rare or unique. Common approaches to data collection, storage and use should produce consistent decision-making.

The escalation of ministerial approvals for major developments in NSW emerged in 2005. The Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 was amended to include Part 3A for major projects of state and regional significance. Part 3A determined that the only planning approval required was that of the NSW planning minister. Each project had a spend in excess of $50 million.

With Part 3A, both concept and project approval from the minister had statutory force. Part 3A projects circumvented local council approval and both state heritage acts. These projects did not need approvals under either the Heritage Act, 1977 or the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974. Moreover, Part 3A projects were protected from emergency protection orders and third party legal challenges under State environmental or planning statutes.

While the aim of Part 3A was to provide up-front certainty for long-term or complex projects, this provision was abused. When the Liberal government came to power in NSW Part 3A was replaced by two separate assessment frameworks. One is for state significant development. The other is for state significant infrastructure. Importantly, the new system constrains the “call-in” powers of the Minister.

It was anticipated that the number of applications designated as state significant would drop by half. Nevertheless, the level of ministerial approvals for major development projects is still way beyond what it was a decade ago.

Throughout Australia fast-tracking major projects through ministerial approval has become a viable alternative to following due process. Occasional exemptions have become routine and the nexus between politicians and developers has grown murkier.

A sustainable alternative to relying on ministerial approvals for large developments is to lessen delays in heritage approvals. Reducing red tape is one part of this.

Developers need access to sound information. A standardised, integrated and coordinated information system would support sound decision-making. A comprehensive database would make it possible to assess if a cultural heritage place is unique, or one of thousands. Such a system would make it possible to classify and rank heritage assets. It would provide an evidence base for determining what can go and what needs protection.

Uncertainty over heritage approvals is costing investment and jobs throughout Australia. In the resource sector, for example, The Fraser Institute’s annual Global Survey of Mining Companies consistently identifies uncertainty over the protection of wilderness, parks and archaeological sites as a strong deterrent to investment across Australia.

There is an economic need for a streamlined information system that reduces the approvals delay and provides certainty for developers. Such certainty needs to be based on good, irrefutable data. In addition, decision-making should be informed by community values in order to pre-empt conflict and provide long-term confidence.

Australia’s cultural heritage is recognised globally as unique. It includes the world’s oldest continuous cultural traditions, some of the first evidence for modern human behaviours and rich rock art complexes. In addition, it includes the histories of more than 200 migrant groups.

This important heritage needs to be protected. However, we need to grow Australia’s economy and we can’t keep everything. Decisions have to be made about what we pass on to the next generation as heritage and what we let go. These decisions need to be transparent, fair and consistent.

Reliance on ministerial approvals raises concerns about transparency and challenges the integrity of the system. It is possible that the current corruption cases in NSW are only the tip of the iceberg.

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.