Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

I also know next to nothing about Australian history and culture, whether Aboriginal, colonial, etc., let alone much about archaeology in this country.

For me, it feels less out of my comfort zone, and more out of my time zone! Anticipating my arrival in Barunga, I am curious to learn if I will earn the distinction of having traveled the farthest for this year’s field school. I am flying from my home in NYC, and this will be my first time in Australia. Needless to say, I am very excited!

Presuming that most of the other participants will be from Australia, and that some will be students working toward their degrees, my journey to Barunga brings with it extra challenges. I completed my degree 12 years ago, and this will be my first class since then. I also know next to nothing about Australian history and culture, whether Aboriginal, colonial, etc., let alone much about archaeology in this country. So, despite the fact that I have been taking time to read as much as I can before the field school, I still feel behind in that sense. I have already learned so much, but feel that there is so much yet to learn.

I have worked on a community archaeology project before, in Belize, and I am looking forward to seeing how the two experiences compare. I very much enjoyed working closely with the community in Belize, and am glad to be doing to that type of work again. Additionally, for the last couple of years I have been working with a cooperative in Italy that documents and studies rock art in the Alps, so I am looking forward to seeing the rock art in Barunga and learning about it from the community. Where we work in Italy, the stories and traditions surrounding the rock art have largely been lost to time, so I hope to learn from the Barunga community what their rock art means to them, if the art is still used ritually by people today, and if rock art still being produced.

Seven days seems like such a short period of time to do so much, so I hope that I can do something meaningful for the community while in Barunga, obtain knowledge and experiences that I can carry with me in my professional life, and make friends, relax and have a good time.

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

Some of the ladies we’ve spoken to have mentioned wanting historical markers at old buildings or sites so that everyone could learn about them and remember them. Hopefully this can help make that happen for them.

So far, and in so many ways, this has been something very different than anything I’ve experienced before. True cultural immersion. Not only am I learning from and experiencing the Barunga community, but Aussie life in the NT in general. It’s at times a bit overwhelming and exhausting, because I often don’t know what people are talking about, either because I don’t know certain words and phrases, or just do not have relatable experiences. And I think it would be exhausting to everyone if I were constantly asking them to explain what they were talking about.

I’m having a bit of a difficult time with the unstructured nature of the field school, but I guess that’s the point. I’m also having a hard time engaging with people; I’m not someone who likes to ask people lots of questions, especially when I don’t know them well, so I’m having a hard time getting started on my project. I am, however, learning a lot about working with Aboriginal communities in a way that is respectful, community-driven, and mutually beneficial. I still feel like we have a lot of work to get done in a very short period of time, but I’m excited about my project on old buildings in Barunga, and I think it could be very beneficial for the community. Some of the ladies we’ve spoken to have mentioned wanting historical markers at old buildings or sites so that everyone could learn about them and remember them. Hopefully this can help make that happen for them.

One of the most surprising and amazing things so far has been witnessing how knowledge is passed down to younger generations in Barunga. Kids from the community often come with us on site visits, and on a recent visit to a rock art site, some of them were telling me about how the rock art is made, what they use for pigment and where to find it, as well as all about different plants and animals in the area. I was really struck by how much kids no more than 14 years old knew about these kinds of things. They told me they like coming out to these rock art sites because it reminds them of their grandfathers. This, for me, reinforced the importance of protecting these sites, and protecting the rights of Traditional Owners and communities to control access to them on their own terms.

One final thing I keep thinking about is something Claire said at the rock shelter we visited. She said that even though she had studied this rock shelter for a long time, there were some images she knew very little about (if anything), and would probably never know anything about, because the community did not want to share that information with her. And that that was ok. Considering that archaeologists are out to gather as much information about sites as possible, I was stuck by her acceptance of the limitations of her work in order to honor and respect the community’s wishes. It seems like such a simple and obvious thing—to be respectful of others—but of course this has not how archaeology has been conducted for most of its existence. I thought her statement was a great example of what this field school is all about.

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

Now I have a network of friends and colleagues on the other side of the world, and I hope to be back to visit, and see people again.

I wish I was staying in Barunga for 3 more weeks. It seems like now is the time when everyone has warmed up to each other, both field school participants and community members, and we’re all talking, joking, and sharing a lot more. Also, things that I was worried about initially are now no big deal. For instance, a dog peed on my tent the other morning, but a spritz of cleaner and wipe with a paper towel and it wasn’t a problem anymore. I’ve adapted to NT life.

It has been a great experience getting to know community members and learning from them, and getting to know and work with my fellow field schoolers. Now I have a network of friends and colleagues on the other side of the world, and I hope to be back to visit, and see people again. And I’ve picked up a bit of Aussie slang and Kriol that I’ll take back with me to the states.

Big thanks to everyone – you’ve given me a lot to think about and improve upon on as I continue my work in the field of archaeology. It has been an experience I will never forget.