In Yuin Country, between Bega and Merimbula, lie three unlikely neighbours: an array of NBN satellites, the Wolumla township, and the Bega Central Waste Facility; all recent arrivals in the New South Wales south coast hinterland, an area occupied by the Yuin for 20,000 years based on current evidence.
Operated by the Bega Valley Shire Council, the waste facility is so neatly managed amongst the rolling hillsides that it is only given away by the intermittent arrival of trucks and the odd cross-breeze. Council plans to expand the facility and have engaged AMAC Group to manage the Aboriginal cultural heritage aspects of their project.
The first step was to establish Due Diligence per the Code of Practice for the Protection of Aboriginal Objects in New South Wales. The results of this study found that further work was needed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. AMAC Group thus began the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment Report process, consulted with the Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council and placed public advertisements to seek expressions of interest from Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs).
Community consultation arrived at a team of people for test excavation that included members of the Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council, Djirringanj Elders Federation, Yurwang Gundana Cultural Heritage Services, and Goobah Development Pty Ltd. Together, our task was to understand the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the area, through stories of place and people, and to understand the site’s potential for Aboriginal archaeology through a program of test excavation.
For two chilly weeks in May, AMAC Group, the LALC and RAPs gathered in the misty morning sunlight to make our way through 70 test pits spread across an area of 200 hectares. Yuin territory extends from coastal Shoalhaven in the north to Eden in the south and as far inland as the Great Dividing Range, placing the study site in the coastal southern extent of that area in a region with numerous archaeological sites dating to the Mid-Holocene (<5000 years before present).
Soil profile demonstration
Although we were quiet at first, within days it felt like our team had worked together for weeks - our vanguard pushed ahead to clear vegetation and mark-out trenches, our central force excavated and sieved, and our rear-guard photographed and recorded each trench. Watchful wallabies kept their distance.
Stories were swapped over the sieve stations. The RAPs shared their knowledge of the white and yellow wattle flowers and the local rhyolite and quartz stone material and the importance of handing that knowledge to the next generation. Black cockatoos squawked at us from the trees.
We heard tales of meeting Charlie Perkins and how influential he was to the course of their lives. We all applauded the local projects to teach traditional land clearing and bushfire management. And we laughed at stories of old friends from Redfern sharehouses in the 1980s. Eagles patrolled over head.
As the days wore on, and we knew each other a little better again and again, we heard recent memories of racism entangled with government bureaucracy, but there was always the hope of spearfishing on the weekend.
In the end, with the helpful co-operation of the Bega Waste Facility staff and the LALC and RAPs, we completed the excavation on time, in budget, and with a hope that one day we would reunite our little group on another project in this beautiful region amongst the cool wooded hills of the Yuin peoples.