Friday, 04 January 2013

Kimberley archaeological site tells Aboriginal and settlers' interactions

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CallianceCalliance (1865) shipwreck, ballast mound with Mount Lookover to the West. Photo: J.Stedman, Courtesy of Western Australian Museum.A MARITIME archaeologist says the Camden Harbour settlement site is in urgent need of a proper management plan.

WA Museum curator Corioli Souter, who is completing a paper about the short-lived settlement, has studied contemporary accounts and conducted a brief site survey with assistant curator Jim Stedman.

Occupation began in the summer of 1864-65 when three boatloads of hopeful settlers arrived on the rugged Kimberley coast, about 600km north-east of Broome, with a quantity of sheep.

“A whole bunch of Melburnians had got involved, thinking they were on the back of favourable reports from people who really should know better, suggesting it would be a great place to settle,” Ms Souter says.

“Of course they didn’t last a year before the sheep and a number of people died.”

While some blamed the unfamiliar country and tension with the Aborigines for the settlement’s failure, a government representative noted an additional factor, "all were masters – there were no servants”.

Ms Souter says the site, which has no access road, is in a generally good state of preservation as it has been little visited by non-Aboriginal people since the settlement folded, and the local Worora people have not lived in the area for many years.

She recorded the wreck of the ship Calliance and several settlers’ camps during the 2009 site visit with Mr Stedman.

“When people looked at it in the 70s they looked at it as a European settlement only, without real acknowledgement of the Aboriginal presence.

“Besides looking at the settlement itself, we went around the hinterland and to the other parts of the shores by boat … and we found a lot of the colonial material, particularly ceramics and glass, had been picked up by Aboriginal people and taken out and re-used.

“You could see that the stuff had actually had a second life after its initial life by the settlers.”

She noted the Aboriginal camps included many useful vantage points they could use to view the settlers’ activities.

Ms Souter says the site is in need of a more thorough survey and a test excavation, as well as a proper management plan.

She would also like to see more Indigenous input into the site’s management.

She said casual visitors tend to take objects as souvenirs, or simply collect and discard them, destroying their context by changing their locations.

Proper signage and defined walking paths would do much to deter this type of activity.

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