Heritage Gest

Heritage, Exploits, Stories


September 2016

Chinese Kiandra or Gold and Geomancy

‘In front there is a Red Bird followed by a slow-moving Turtle at the rear to the left is the Azure Dragon and to the right a White Tiger’.

Sounds appropriately mystical and treasure-huntey right? Exactly the type of clue your favourite pop culture archaeologist would be following right?

This quote is from the Li Ji or Book of Rites. It is one of the Five Classics of the Confucian Canon and was written around 213 BC and describes the social forms, governmental system and ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC).

One of the topics this book covers is Geomancy, or the art of placing or arranging buildings on sites auspiciously. According to the Li Ji, where you should establish a settlement should be dictated by these features. The Phoenix should be to the south catching the sun. A source of water nearby. The Tortoise, Dragon and Tiger all providing shelter from prevailing winds, giving shelter and privacy to the settlement.

Let’s skip forward about 2200 years to the Snowy Mountains in NSW. Kiandra is a now abandoned town that is located on the Snowy Mountains Highway between Tumut and Adaminaby. The town owes its existence to the discovery of gold at Pollock’s Gully in 1860. For a broad history of the town have a look at the website of the Kiandra Historical Society. Today all that is left are a few buildings and a massive archaeological landscape (tips on how to read such a landscape will form the topic of a future post). Jennifer Hewitson was previously the Historic Heritage Project Coordinator, Kiandra Heritage Precinct and has put together some awesome albums on Kiandra past and present.

By the end of 1860 the population of Kiandra had risen to 7000 people, 10% of which were Chinese. The rush was short and sharp and within 3 years the town had a population of only 650 people. Of these over half were Chinese, reflecting their ongoing success on the goldfields of NSW at that time.

There had always been tensions between European and Chinese miners in the colony, the most notorious event being on the night of 30 June 1861 when about 2000 Europeans drove the Chinese out of their camp at Lambing Flat destroying tents and looting possessions. Back at Kiandra, the good and Christian folk of the town did not want the Chinese camped too close to them, so an initial camp was moved by order of the Gold Commissioner to a location further away from the township.

Only three contemporary newspaper records of the location of the new Chinese Camp survive from the time. These are that the camp was to the ‘east of the township sheltered under the brow of a small hill’, ‘on the hill fronting the government camp on the eastern side of the gully’ and ‘about half a mile down river’.

Exactly where this settlement was located was not known for sure. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that, Lindsay Smith, a Masters student at the Australian National University began the search for the Chinese at Kiandra that the exact location was found. Lindsay’s thesis on identifying Chinese ethnicity in the archaeological record is titled Cold Hard Cash. What is really interesting is how Lindsay found the settlement. He went back to first principles. How did the Chinese like to establish their settlements? They wanted to have a water source where the sun came from (Red Phoenix) (south in the northern hemisphere, north in the southern). A strong protective back (Dark Tortoise) with undulating hills to the west and east (Green Dragon and White Tiger). Using these parameters Lindsay started to look for likely places for the settlement, combined with the information contained in the newspaper accounts he found the lost Chinese settlement of Kiandra (well not completely lost, just a little misplaced).


This picture from Jennifer Hewitson shows an outcrop of rock about a kilometre from the Snowy Mountains Highway. This is the Dark Tortoise behind which the Chinese settlement was located. The principles set out in a book written in 213 BC helped define a perfect place for the camp. A rocky outcropping behind the settlement; protected from prevailing winds by small hills to the east and west; access to its own water and capitalising on the winter sun to the north(ish). Figure 2 in this article by Lindsay shows a plan of the Chinese settlement, the large rock outcropping is the same as in Jennifer’s photo. Obviously the real world doesn’t always match people’s pre-established ideas of how it should work so what we see is a best fit of the ideal on the actual.

The quote that I used at the beginning of this post is actually applicable to real world archaeology, not just treasure hunting movies. Of course in the real world the language would look something like this:

If looking for the ideal place for a Chinese settlement in rural Australia look for somewhere north facing with its own water source. Protected from prevailing winds on the sides and at the rear. Look for somewhere comfortable and private.

I know that it is accurate and prosaic. And that is really how archaeology really works. But sometimes it’s good to have the excitement, the romance, the gest.

So come seeker of treasures. That which you wish to find is hidden by the great shell of the Dark Tortoise. It is guarded by the Azure Dragon and White Tiger. When you reach the Red Phoenix it will show you your goal.

Since we are on the subject of fictional archaeology this is my favorite scene from the Indiana Jones movies.

Coming up next on Heritage Gest….

Mount Panorama or Spooner’s Repression Delief Scheme

Talk Soon.


Shep Woolley or more on Sea Shanties


Sorry for the delay in getting to this but life got in the way. This is part two of my Sea Shanties post following on from my educational yet fun and rousing shanty from early August.

Shep Woolley is an entertainer who served in the Royal Navy. In 1975 he left the Navy to begin a career as a full time entertainer. Have a look at Shep’s  own website to find out a bit more about him. What I did know about him came from the cassettes and later CDs that my father would play. My father had a career in the Royal Australia Navy, a life that two of my siblings have also followed. So I have grown up and continue to be surrounded by stories about life in the Navy. Shep’s songs and stories resonated initially with my father, and now, siblings because they told the stories that were familiar to them. These stories had their own language, their own identity.

There is an introduction of one of Shep’s CD’s that starts with the line “the music he writes today may well be the folk history of tomorrow”. This introduction hints at something important about music and stories.

What is found in Shep’s music and in fact in all music is a something of the culture, the history and society that led to its creation. But how important is this? Why should anyone care? UNESCO does. In 2003 it ratified the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. You can read through it at your own leisure. But the bit I want to draw your attention to is the definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festivals, traditional craftsmanship. All this is an important part of our heritage.

I mentioned in my first post that I didn’t want to just talk about bones and stones well ICH is exactly that, the not bones and stones. Here is just a sample of some of the UNESCO inscribed elements that appealed to me: Slovakian Bagpipes ; Arabic Coffee ; and East Asian Tugging Rituals .

The importance of stories and songs is universal. The theme for NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) week in 2016 was ‘Songlines: The living narrative of our nation.’ This was an opportunity to celebrate the traditional songs, stories, dance and art that carry significant spiritual and cultural connection to knowledge, customs, ceremony and Lore of many Aboriginal nations and Torres Strait Islander language groups. The intangible is as important as, or even more so, than the tangible.

So back to Shep. I grew up hearing about Jimmies and Buffers and Kelligs. Runs ashore in civvies while being up-top. Greenies, Dib Dabs, Stokers and Dhobi Gear. This is the language of serving and past members of the Navy. So when Shep Woolley is singing a shanty he is singing about a lifestyle, a shared history and a comradeship that endures for those who experienced it. Even for me who didn’t go into the Navy, they are a comfortable place, a reminder of my life, my past.

Now I know that Slovakian Bagpipes or mostly unintelligible Navy slang can be a bit obscure so let me give you with two examples of Intangible Cultural Heritage that just about everyone either in Australia or across The Ditch can relate to.

If you want to have some fun sit back, grab a beer and enjoy some ICH that some 6.3 million Australians engage in weekly. If you actually want to hear a proper expert give a really interesting and informative presentation on ICH listen to Professor Máiréad Nic Craith Chair of European Culture and Heritage and Director of Research Heriot-Watt, given in 2015.

My suggestion is check both out. By the way happy Talk Like a Pirate Day for Monday

Coming up next on Heritage Gest….

Chinese Kiandra or Gold and Geomancy

Talk Soon Me Hearties.

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Heritage, Exploits, Stories

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Heritage, Exploits, Stories