Northern Territory

A Precious Day Off in Kakadu National Park

A quite belated Day of Archaeology post since I’m in the field at the moment and am quite restricted for time, which is basically what this post will be about.

I’m an honours student in archaeology at the University of Queensland and for the past month I have been volunteering on archaeological excavations across Arnhem Land in the north of Australia. When I’m not being a student and volunteering on digs I’m also the Membership Secretary for the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA).

Currently I’m working with a fabulous multi-disciplinary team on the re-excavation of Malakunanja II, which is in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, Australia. This is a key site in Australian archaeology due to its early age and potential to improve what we currently know about the early occupation of Australia. Due to agreements made with the Traditional Owners of this area I cannot post details on what we’re doing at the site, so it is quite fortuitous for me that the 29th falls on a day off for us and the first one I’ve had since arriving in the Northern Territory.

On this Day of Archaeology I am busy catching up on my work for the AAA, which is run exclusively by a small number of volunteers who keep the Association running and continually improving. Even though I have internet access of an evening finding the time to attend my AAA responsibilities (as well as my own research!) after a full day of excavation (7am-6pm in the field) is near impossible. So this precious day off is being filled with yet more work.

As the Membership Secretary for AAA my main responsibility is to manage our membership base, e.g. making sure memberships are processed correctly, updating member details, providing access to the member only pages of the website.  I’ve spent most of the 29th working on AAA’s new website and sending out individual login details to our members. This has essentially meant sitting at my computer all day and sending practically the same email to AAA’s 800+ current members.

My main reason for devoting my day off to such a tedious job is not just out of a sense of responsibility, but also out of genuine affection for the Association and the work that it does in the Australian archaeological community. Whilst the responsibility of being an executive member of AAA can be overwhelming and time consuming, it is extremely rewarding and has provided me with an incredible number of unique opportunities. So I should probably consider myself lucky to have it taking up my first day off in a month.

Ultimately time is precious to archaeologists in more ways than one. I think this is a valuable lesson to learn as a student, and balancing competing responsibilities and demands on my time is something that I will likely spend the rest of my career working on.

We’re returning to excavation tomorrow with the privilege of starting work at 7am! You’ll be able to follow some of our progress by following me on twitter, @archaeo_jacq.

Jacq 🙂

Some of the beautiful scenery I’ve been lucky enough to experience whilst doing fieldwork in Arnhem Land for the past month.

Stronger Futures: An Archaeology of Contemporary Indigenous Graffiti in the Northern Territory, Australia

I am an archaeology Honours student with Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. For the last year I have been undertaking research into contemporary Indigenous graffiti in an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. I am due to submit my thesis next Monday.

I am taking time out of my research to post this blog for the Day of Archaeology. Today I have been sitting at my computer, writing about some of the issues I discuss in my thesis, so I will relay them to you here.

To begin, I just wanted to draw your attention to two recent events that are of significance to Australia and will soon find their place in Australian history:

  • Australian racehorse, Black Caviar won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at the Royal Ascot; and
  • the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2012 passed through the Australian Senate with bipartisan support and is now legislation.

Black Caviar’s recent win is significant because with 22 races undefeated (including Royal Ascot), it is the current living racehorse with the most undefeated wins (and it’s Australian).

The passing of the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2012 into legislation is significant because it extends the Howard government’s controversial Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (NTER) for a further ten years. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights condemned the NTER in 2010, claiming that it stigmatises already stigmatised communities.

Have a guess which of these stories featured more prominently in the Australian media?


Permission to disturb

Today has been a day of tidying up on a number of jobs. My first task of the day was to pick up a total station and other surveying equipment that my company is hiring for a job next week. Then I headed out of town (Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia) to do a site recording and collection job. The day finished up in the office writing up reports (and this blog post), and packing up for next week’s travels.

The site that I needed to locate had been recorded years previously, and registered in the Northern Territory Heritage branch’s archaeological sites database. It was a background scatter of stone artefacts, located in a road reserve adjacent to a river where the government is building a bridge. The artefact scatter had been assessed as having low Aboriginal and archaeological significance, and a permit to disturb had been approved by the Heritage branch, under delegation from the Minister.

In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal places and objects are protected under the terms of the Heritage Conservation Act (1991), and any disturbance requires consent from the Minister under section 39(a) of the Act. The application process requires archaeologists to determine the Aboriginal and archaeological significance of the site, outline consultation with Traditional Owners that has occurred, and identify future curation of salvaged artefacts.

When I arrived at the site, I discovered that it had already been disturbed by heavy machinery, most likely in the course of road works to maintain the gravel road and river crossing where the bridge will be built. I was unable to locate any of the artefacts originally recorded. I recorded the condition of the site, and conducted a survey transect of the wider area to assess whether there was further background scatter in the vicinity. I didn’t find anything, so I came back to the office to write up the report.

Work in the tropical north of the Northern Territory is highly seasonal. Unlike most of Australia, we don’t have the standard seasons – we have a wet season (October to April) and a dry season (May to September). Most archaeological work happens between July and November. The work is mainly archaeological survey related to development, but can include salvage and research excavations. Highlights of the last two months include working in remote areas of Arnhemland, commuting to work by helicopter each day, and working with some of the most spectacular rock art in the world. We also found a stone quarry where we made a conservative estimate of 1 million + artefacts. It was huge!

I am currently balancing the busy work season with post-graduate study at Flinders University (Adelaide, South Australia). I find the archaeology department (and the screen & media department, where I also study) are very flexible and helpful when it comes to supporting students with other commitments. Before I finish up tonight, I should check the university’s online learning system so I can download this semester’s unit guides. No rest for the wicked…

Yours in the Top End,