The road to fieldwork

At the beginning of June last year, I set off for Barunga from my home in Adelaide with my partner, Antoinette, and our friend Jasmine. We’ve made this trip a number of times before, but this one was a little different. Ant and I were going to live in Barunga for several months for my PhD fieldwork. Jasmine, of course, is from Barunga but now lives in Adelaide while she finishes her degree.

Barunga is an Aboriginal community in Jawoyn Country, roughly 80km south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory. It’s home to around 300 people and hosts an annual sport, culture and music festival. My supervisor, Claire, has worked there for almost 30 years with her anthropologist husband, Jacko.

Jawoyn Country, featuring the three largest communities: Barunga, Beswick and Manyallaluk. The map also shows the location of past and present shelters where the consumption of liquor is legal.
The three largest communities in Jawoyn Country: Barunga, Beswick and Manyallaluk. The map also shows the location of various ‘drinking places’

I’ve been working in Barunga since 2010 when I started my Honours research, looking at visual and material responses to the Howard Government’s Northern Territory National Emergency Response (or the Intervention). After graduating Honours, I continued visiting Barunga during the dry season each year while I taught on the Community Archaeology Field School and developed my next research project.

While the roughly 2,500km drive to Barunga was old news to us, the prospect of the next few months was daunting. We stopped at the usual spots along the way Continue reading “The road to fieldwork”

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Contested spaces: the ‘long-grassers’, living private lives in public places

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People have camped in the long grass since colonisation. From this perspective, bans on the practice are a denial of Indigenous agency, culture and rights to country. Photo: K. Pollard

Kellie Pollard, Flinders University; Claire Smith, Flinders University, and Jordan Ralph, Flinders University

This is the final article in The Conversation’s Contested Spaces series. These pieces look at the conflicting uses, expectations and norms that people bring to public spaces, the clashes that result and how we can resolve these.


The number of people in Australia who are homeless is increasing. They lead lives that are often hidden – either hidden from view or hidden from recognition.

Looking at the places they camp and the things they use gives us insights into these private lives in public places. In Darwin, Northern Territory, more than 90% of homeless people are Aboriginal. In contrast to perceptions of other homeless people sleeping rough, these “long-grassers” are applying a long cultural tradition to deal with the situation in which they find themselves.

Two recent films, Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country and Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin, succinctly – but accurately – encapsulate the ease with which people can end up living in the long grass. Many come to the city from remote communities. They may have been visiting someone in hospital, watching friends in an AFL game, or staying with relatives in the city.

After a time, these short-term stays come to an end. Often, these visitors move into the “long grass”, urban fringe areas where tall spear grass grows.

The long grass is shared space – parks, beaches, urban bushland. However, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people behave differently in these spaces. The agency of Aboriginal people can challenge mainstream expectations about the uses of shared public space.

Laws that deny Indigenous custom

The Aboriginal use of long grass spaces contravenes NT laws. Under Darwin City Council Bylaws Regulation 103, it is an offence to camp or sleep in public places. Other bylaws regulate behaviours ranging from the consumption of alcohol to leaving food scraps in public.

People who camp in the long grass risk fines they can’t pay. Sometimes, they are jailed for non-payment. As their disadvantage becomes criminalised, their capacity to improve their lives decreases.

Successive governments and city councils have engaged in campaigns against the long-grassers. George Brown, Darwin lord mayor from 1992 to 2002, said:

… harass, harass, harass … I reckon that if you keep shifting them around, constantly harass them so they can’t settle, they will get sick and tired of it and maybe some of them will go back to their own communities.

Continue reading “Contested spaces: the ‘long-grassers’, living private lives in public places”

The markers of everyday racism in Australia

Claire Smith, Flinders University; Jordan Ralph, Flinders University, and Kellie Pollard, Flinders University

Children representing the diversity of contemporary multicultural Australia stand near a sign depicting an ‘idealised’ white Australia. Blackwood Recreation Centre, South Australia, 2015. Photo: C. Smith
Children representing the diversity of contemporary multicultural Australia stand near a sign depicting an ‘idealised’ white Australia. Blackwood Recreation Centre, South Australia, 2015. Photo: C. Smith

While Australians value equality, our multicultural nation contains markers of racial discrimination. Some are so innocuous we may not recognise them.

Experiencing racism is part of the everyday lives of many Australians. What is it like to negotiate daily life in a material world that often excludes you, or selectively seeks to control you?

Let’s try to understand the experience of everyday racism by negotiating the material world of an Aboriginal person in northern Australia. You have come into Katherine, Northern Territory, from a remote community. It might be say, Barunga, 80 kilometres away, or Bulman Continue reading “The markers of everyday racism in Australia”

AAA/ASHA Conference, Cairns, Australia

Antoinette Hennessy

Every year, the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) holds its annual conference somewhere around Australia. Students and professional heritage practitioners gather from all around the country to present and share their ideas and experiences for three solid days – usually beginning and ending on a high (and hazy) note.

This year, the conference was held in Cairns, in northern Queensland, as a joint effort with the Australian Society for Australian Archaeology (ASHA). With a particular emphasis on archaeology in the tropics, many sessions and papers were dedicated to archaeological undertakings in tropical areas around the world, including South-East Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and of course Australia. But as the biggest AAA conference to date (over 530 delegates), a number of sessions were also dedicated to engaging the school curriculum, public/community archaeology projects, identity and gender, the Federated Archaeological Information Management System (FAIMS), contemporary archaeology, and much more.

The number of student (or recent graduate) papers and posters this year was impressive, and it is great to see continuing support from the professionals in the field, but also the strengthening of confidence among the student body. Many students produce very high quality research, but many are not confident enough to present in public, so the large number of presentations this year gives us hope of a continuing trend.

Sessions on Australian school curriculum, as well as reports on recent (and successful!) public/community archaeology projects provided valuable insight into the issues affecting the current school (i.e. primary and secondary) curriculum – and teachers – and it is wonderful to see that archaeological practices provide an effective means of engagement for students and public alike. New resources for teachers are available, or will be available soon, so it is worth keeping an eye out for the upcoming ‘ArchaeoHub‘ project, and also for a new textbook ‘Ancient Australia Unearthed‘ which is now available for purchase.

But perhaps one of the best highlights was meeting the ‘father of Australian archaeology’, John Mulvaney. His work on Australian prehistory and his efforts to foster archaeology in Australia has inspired and won the admiration of many students and professionals alike. Unfortunately, we were too late to organise an interview with him, but he did not object to having a photo taken with me.

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Read more about John Mulvaney here.

You can see what went on at AAA/ASHA on Twitter: #AAA37

Heritage Alert: Z Ward, Glenside Hospital, Adelaide

Jordan Ralph

Glenside Z Ward Insane Asylum
Z Ward at Glenside Hospital (formerly Parkside Insane Asylum). Photograph: Brad Shepherd, Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

This Saturday may be the last chance for the public to visit the State Heritage registered Z Ward of Glenside Hospital (formerly Parkside Lunatic Asylum) free of charge. Z Ward is due to undergo renovations to convert it into office space for SA company, Beach Energy early in 2015. Thanks to negotiations between the National Trust (SA), the Glenside Hospital Historical Society, and Beach Energy there will be a second open day on 15/11/14.

The first open day was held on 02/11/14 and was attended by over 5,000 people, most of whom had to be turned away due to the lack of space within the building. To address the problem encountered at the previous open day, those who want to attend on Saturday must book a spot via the National Trust (SA)’s new website, Heritage Watch. Tickets are free; to book you must sign up to the Heritage Watch newsletter, then click the link titled ‘Second open day at Z Ward, November 15’ once the page loads.

Over the next few months, there will be guided day and night tours available for a fee (more information at Heritage Watch):

These tours will be available for a fee, which will be used by the National Trust to undertake the work of documenting the history of the Z Ward building and capturing the many stories we have heard from people who have a connection to the building and its past.

About Z Ward

Dave Walsh – a blogger from South Australia – has published a number of articles on the website Weekend Notes about Adelaide and its natural and built heritage, including Glenside Hospital and Z Ward. Of interest to those who want to find out more about Z Ward, Dave has written about the Glenside Hospital historical precinct, Z Ward, and the first and second open days.

Heritage significance

According to the National Trust, architectural heritage consultants are involved in the Z Ward project; however, I cannot find any mention about how (or even if) cultural heritage managers and archaeological consultants were engaged:

South Australia’s former Hospital for Criminal Mental Defectives known as Z Ward was sold by the State Government in August to local company Beach Energy. It had been hoped that this important State Heritage listed building designed by Edward John Woods, SA Architect in Chief from 1878 to 1886, would become a South Australian medical museum. The new owners are in the process of appointing a heritage architect to oversee their plans to re-use the building as office space. They have met with the National Trust and the Glenside Hospital Historical Society to discuss the site’s future. We are looking forward to working with Beach Energy to achieve an adaptive reuse which respects the building’s significant history and provides for regular public access to parts of the building. (Heritage Watch).

From my point-of-view, the supposed lack of engagement with archaeological and other heritage consultants is problematic. Can anyone confirm no archaeological consultants were/are involved?

While it is important to work with architectural heritage professionals for built heritage projects such as the Glenside Hospital and Z Ward, the heritage significance of these places is multi-faceted and needs to be assessed from more than one viewpoint. By viewing the heritage significance of these sites through more than one lens (e.g. archaeological, historical, social, cultural as well as architectural), we are able to arrive at a more holistic, comprehensive assessment that focusses on more than one layer of a multi-layered story. Perhaps then we will have a greater chance at protecting these places.

Z Ward in the news

Here are a couple of recent news articles about Z Ward and the open days from the ABC and The Eastern Courier Messenger and a photoblog from the ABC. Don’t forget to check out the National Trust (SA)’s Heritage Watch website for more updates about Z Ward and at-risk heritage sites in South Australia.

Look out for our article about Z Ward next week after our visit. Please leave some feedback below or on Twitter (@talkarchaeology) if you want us to expand on anything in our next post. 

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

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

By 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.

Adelaidia website

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 receives funding from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities for the Sharing Community Heritage Stories subprogram of the Your Community Heritage program.