Sydney (Australie): Massive Indigenous artefact find

Jacob Saulwick

Source -

Indigenous heritage consultants are demanding an urgent halt to construction of a section of Sydney's new light rail line, after one of the largest recent discoveries of indigenous artefacts in the city.

About 20,000 artefacts have already been recovered, and heritage experts working at the site say there could be more than 50,000 at the area intended to be used to stable trams in Randwick.

"There is nothing at all like this in Sydney," said Scott Franks, whose company was contracted to advise on indigenous heritage issues for the $2.1b light rail line.

One of the significant elements of the find, Mr Franks said, was that some artefacts appeared to be from the Hunter Valley.
"You have material that's not from Sydney," he said, citing the fine cryptocrystalline stone of some of the artefacts.

"It demonstrates a trading route, or that the mobs out of the Hunter Valley were working with the mobs in Sydney."

But the site, near the corner of Alison Road and Doncaster Avenue, could be at risk. Transport for NSW has acknowledged the significance of the find but has not said if it would comply with the request to stop work on a transport project with tight time frames.

"Archaeological work undertaken in late 2015 and January 2016 identified a high density of Aboriginal artefacts on a specific section of the Randwick Stabling Yard site," a Transport for NSW spokesman said.

"Transport for NSW and ALTRAC Light Rail [the public-private partnership consortium] are investigating, in conjunction with the Aboriginal representatives, opportunities to recognise the items found on site, for example in displays or education programs."

1459301802534Some of the more than 20,000 artefacts located at the proposed stabling yard. Photo: Tocomwall
As part of its conditions of approval, archeological work on the light rail line is to be observed by four Registered Aboriginal Parties. One is Mr Franks' organisation, Tocomwall, and another is Darug Land Observation (DLO).

"If we do find that this is a significant site, we want to make it into an Aboriginal place," said Uncle Gordon Workman, from the DLO.

"We want to save everything that we can."

1459301802634Heritage consultants have estimated there may be around 50,000 artefacts at the site Photo: Tocomwall
Jakub Czastka, a senior archeologist at Tocomwall, said the density of the find - more than 20,000 artefacts in just over 100 square metres - was "ridiculous" and indicative of a ceremonial meeting place.

"I would suggest quite strongly that this site is of state significance," Mr Czastka said.

And Mr Franks suggested the area could be a site of early conflict between organised Indigenous groups and colonial armed forces.

1459301802418Artefacts found at the Randwick site Photo: Tocomwall
Greens MP David Shoebridge said there needed to be an immediate stop work in the area to allow the significance of the site to be digested.

"It's downright criminal that what may well be one of the most important recent heritage finds is being literally torn up without even the most rudimentary consideration," Mr Shoebridge said.

"Given the construction has been outsourced to a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) it appears that the timetable and contractual penalties are driving this destruction regardless of the loss of priceless aboriginal heritage.

Because the tram project is classified as "state significant infrastructure" it is difficult for environmental or indigenous campaigners to challenge the initiative in court and to get a stop work order.

A Darug elder, Uncle Des Dyer, visiting the site on Tuesday said a Moreton Bay fig adjacent to the excavation bore markings of a place used for burials.

"As an elder I get annoyed because I can't teach what I'm supposed to," he said. "The role of an elder is to pass down to people things about our culture - but how can I when I can't take people to places where they learn it?"

The Transport spokesman said: "The social value of the site to the local Aboriginal community is very high and we are continuing to work with the RAPs to identify the artefacts and how they came to be found in Randwick."