Heritage Gest

Heritage, Exploits, Stories


December 2016

I guess I will get into the spirit of the season or here is your obligatory Christmas related post.

A little late but here is my Christmas post.

I spent a bit of time trying to work out where I was going to go with this post. After I began to do a bit of research I discovered one thing. Halloween is the holiday that we tend to associate with witches; forget that. Christmas is not all Santa and Elves; Christmas is all about the witches.

So if you have children and are somewhere around Germany at Christmas time listen up. Frau Perchta will pop on in and all things being well drop off a coin for the good little kiddies. Lovely isn’t it. Unfortunately for the bad kids they get their bellies slit and innards replaced with garbage. Not too sure exactly why the garbage. It may be useful if, well there is actually no way that is useful. Frau Perchta has many different names across most of Europe including Bertha, Holda, Posterli, Quatemberca and Fronfastenweiber. In the interest of gender equality not all of these are female.

The Italians have a better time of it. Probably the most well-known of the Christmas witches. La Befana is the Italian version of Saint Nicholas. Distributing presents or coal as necessary. No belly slitting just a kindly old woman who sheltered the magi on their journey to see the baby Jesus. The Russian equivalent is Babushka

Those crazy Icelanders have the witch/troll Gryla. Once again we head into more terrifying territory with child eating de rigour for this icy maiden.

The connection between witches and Christmas don’t stop there. Those colourful baubles we hang on our trees with glee are just old fashioned Scottish witch balls. Hung to protect against witches, evil spells, negativity and ill fortune. Which, with proliferation of witchery around Christmas seems not only a quint tradition but a bloody good idea. Kind of like making sure you carry a pointy stick with you everywhere after the zombie apocalypse.

Based on all the hype it would seem that Halloween is the annual event of the witch but not really. Halloween is just a time when witches hang out, maybe do some rituals and if the current trend of costumes is anything to go by wear really short skirts. But Christmas is when they get down to actual work. Dropping off presents, killing and eating children; that sort of thing. Now I may be in the minority here but if I had to pick a time of the year that was most associated with witches, for me, it’s Christmas.

So for any witches out there, I hope you had a good Christmas.

Talk soon.



They listed what or the 5 things you wouldn’t guess were heritage listed in NSW

When people think of heritage listing it is quite easy to pick the things that are likely to be listed. The Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Old Parliament House. You know the big important stuff. Just for some fun I thought I would look at only the NSW State Heritage Register and pick 5 items that I bet not many people would pick as heritage items.


  1. Sharpies Golf House Sign (The Golf House)

I was never a regular resident of NSW but one thing that I remember was that sign with the golfer on it that you could see from the window travelling into Central by train. This neon gem is listed on the State Heritage Register. Just the sign; not the building, the land or site but only the sign and the metal structure supporting it. As of 2013 it was the only animated neon sign from the 1950s left insitu in Sydney. Now it is gone, the building on Elizabeth Street demolished for redevelopment. But fear not, this gem is currently under the care of the Powerhouse Museum so it is likely that at some point again we will be able to see that iconic golfer taking his chip shot.

View of Bondi Ocean Outfall Sewer showing Ben Buckler and Vent Chimney.

  1. BOOS (Bondi Ocean Outfall Sewer)

Because when you think of heritage you think of sewerage right. The BOOS (I will be using the acronym because I really like using it, BOOS), anyway back to BOOS. BOOS was an engineering marvel. BOOS is a brick lined gravity fed tunnel that replaced the 5 sewerage outlets into Sydney Harbour. Completed in 1889 BOOS was the first ocean outfall sewer of its type to be built in Australia. This was at a time before Melbourne had its first reticulated sewer (burn Melbourne). BOOS was so well engineered they could start lining it with bricks before the tunnels had even been completed. BOOS was an important element in the development of the city and become an element in the psyche of Maroubra and the surrounding area. Go BOOS.


  1. Egyptian Room Scottish Temple

The Papyrus of Ani is an Egyptian Funerary text dating from about 1450 B.C. It was written for a Theban scribe named Ani and is basically an instruction manual, complete with spells about what Ani’s journey to the land of the dead will be like. So what do you do when you are building a masonic temple in Sydney? Why you recreate sections of this scroll in low relief plaster around the room of course. Obvious when you think about it. Included are thrilling episodes from the after-life of Ani including the release of his soul from his body and his judgement by Anubis. The frieze was saved when the original lodge (Scottish Royal Arch Temple) in College Street was demolished in 1969. It took 8 years until a suitable new home was found in Petersham. Actually, the work is phenomenal. The colours and iconography are beautiful. The room is open to the public on one night a year I have heard so maybe call out the Petersham Temple, it can’t hurt. The original Papyrus of Ani was stolen from the Egyptian government for the British Museum. They still haven’t returned it. Apparently theft is entirely fine as long it is being done for such a venerable institution. Okay, I have some very definite thoughts on this issue that I will make the subject of a future post.


  1. Shand Mason Curricle Ladders (1898)

Having listed a sewerage pipe, sign and hieroglyphics the next obvious choice for this list is a ladder. But not just any ladder, the extraordinary Shand Mason 50 foot ladder. These ladders were telescopic and supported on a hose box that sits over the axle of the carriage. I am going to stop being flippant about these now. These ladders are rare surviving relics from the early for brigade in Sydney. If you are near Penrith go to the Museum of Fire and check them out. These ladders saved lives and show how the early fire brigade was continually improving its technologies and capabilities. These ladders are a step in the progression to modern day firefighting technology such as the Turbine Aided Fire Fighting Machine (the slightly underwhelmingly named TAF20), drones loaded up with chemicals to start controlled burns and face masks with thermal imaging technology built in.


  1. Bundian Way

The final entry I have chosen is a pathway. Now I am not talking the path across your front lawn or down to the shops; we are going for big here. The pathway from Targangal (Kosciuszko) to Bilgalera (Fisheries Beach) links the highest point in Australia to the east coast. This is 265km of tracks, roads and firetrails that follows a traditional Aboriginal pathway from mountain to coast. What this 20m wide heritage listed tracks represents is a tangible link to the past and present life of Aboriginal people in NSW. It is associated with seasonal gatherings of Aboriginal people and also provides direct evidence of the crucial role Aboriginal people played in early exploration and settlement by white colonists. What makes this particular pathway unusual is that it has been surveyed along its length and verified by physical evidence in the form of archaeology, food resources and markings on trees; further verification has been undertaken by cross-referencing with diaries and journals of early white settlers and explorers.

So there you have it 5 items that I bet you didn’t realise were heritage listed in NSW. From sewers to signs and hieroglyphics to highlands the NSW state heritage register is not all about buildings and bridges. But it is not only NSW that peddles in the unusual. Do you know that Historic England has listed about 15 bike sheds or that Heritage Victoria is fond of listing a toilet.

Heritage is often seen as boring and staid but there are many things that are listed that are unusual, unexpected or just super interesting. Go have a look for them.

Coming up next on Heritage Gest….

I guess I will get into the spirit of the season or here is your obligatory Christmas related post.

Talk Soon.

AAA just like xXx except without Vin Diesel or any extreme sports

Last week I was at the Australian Archaeological Association annual conference held at Terrigal, NSW.  You know archaeologists, a group of adventurous individuals, doing really adventurous things. I admit it isn’t Vin Diesel but this is somewhat the real life of an archaeologist. When they are not in the field archaeologists spend most of their time writing about being int he field and a part of their time telling other archaeologists what they have been doing.

AAA was three jam packed days of the latest in archaeological research in Australia. What was significant was that this year it was held in conjunction with the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council. The conference theme was Interwoven: Indigenous and Western Knowledge in Archaeology and Heritage. This theme was chosen to celebrate the growing trend in Australian archaeology for Indigenous knowledge to be incorporated in western ways of understanding the archaeological and heritage record.

There were a wide range of sessions from those concerned with incorporating traditional knowledge into the science of zooarchaeology to the interweaving of archaeological and cultural connections in the mid-north coast area of NSW to a session on translating archaeology into education. Have a look at the Facebook event page.

What I think was really important was there was a focus on how the research that was being undertaken was contributing to communities, to people. There was too much happening for me to do credit to everything. I found the session on Coastal Subsistence in Australia to be brilliant. The work being done to re-visualize submerged landscapes is awesome. Literally, 3D graphics of landscapes that were submerged thousands of years ago are being generated. Another favourite was the session on The Clarence and Richmond River Valleys. I am a landscape geek from way back so seeing how these cultural landscapes and the stories and sites in them are related worked for me. But my pick was the work being done in geophysics and the way that the results from Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) are impacting management of important archaeological sites and the real world benefits for the Aboriginal communities that are the traditional owners of these lands blew me away. There was also a session on Australian Heritage Legislation. Okay, not as sexy as GPR or cultural landscapes but really important in looking at ways we here in Australia are going to look after and manage our cultural heritage into the future.

People think that archaeology is a discipline that exists in the past. Although its roots are firmly in the past, the once was; archaeology in Australia is at its core a discipline that represents the stories and culture of the people who are here today. Don’t believe me? The Aboriginal shell midden that gets excavated and tells us how people thousands of years ago subsisted is still an important part of the living culture of its current traditional owners. It represents a link with the past. More than likely it is a burial site; a place where people today can engage with their ancestors. And with archaeologists working with the community the protection and management of such a site can provide a sense of social cohesion, an opportunity for a new generation to understand their past, an opportunity to learn new skills and have a hands on role in protecting their future.

Generally when archaeologists gather in groups it is either a face melting good time and at least one person gets high.

However when I woke up on Friday morning Terrigal didn’t look anything like this so it couldn’t have been too big a night.

Coming up next on Heritage Gest….

They listed what or the 5 things you wouldn’t guess were heritage listed in NSW.

Talk Soon.

Reading the land or Archaeologist do it all over the landscape

So when it comes to picturing what archaeologists do it usually involves someone standing in holes or as Willie Scott put it ‘men searching for their mummies’.

Archaeologists can generally be defined either by the time periods they look at (prehistoric, medieval), the places they look at (Egyptologists) or the things they look at (industrial, maritime).

Landscape archaeology is one such sub-discipline. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology defines Landscape Archaeology as:

Landscape Archaeology is concerned with both the conscious and unconscious shaping of the land: with the processes or organising space or altering the land for a particular purpose, be it religious, economic, social, political, cultural, or symbolic; with the unintended consequences of land use and alteration; with the role and symbolic content of landscape in its various contexts and its role in the construction of myth and history; and with the enactment and shaping of human behaviour within the landscape.

Simple, pithy and to the point. I admit it could have been worse, the words ‘epistemological’ or ‘heuristic’ could have been in there.

Basically it is looking at how the landscape has been shaped or how it has shaped how we have used it. So, where a Chinese mining camp would be located or where a church is placed within a town fall into this category. But it is so much more. In August this year the 4th International Landscape Archaeology Conference was held at Uppsala University, Sweden. I didn’t get to go but check out the abstracts to get a real feel for the breath of topics that were covered.

Want to know why looking at things this way is important. Because what I see in the landscape how I perceive it and the value it has to me is not necessarily the same as what you see. I can have a look at the south coast of NSW and see a network of settlements, both extinct and extant, that reflect early European colonisation. They place a layer of meaning that links timber tramways, maritime infrastructure, roads, managed forests and any other number of elements that have organised and shaped the landscape. It has a meaning that I can understand and relate to.

Yet this landscape also has a different layer of meaning. The largest complex of Aboriginal middens on the south coast of NSW, Gulaga and Didthul  (Mount Dromedary and Pigeon House Mountain). This is a landscape that was created by the Dreamtime serpent. It has a meaning that came from and also informed how this landscape was used. Where Aboriginal people feasted, met, hunted, gathered and buried their dead are all intertwined with the meaning and significance of this area. You cannot understand the people without understanding how they viewed or lived in this landscape. This is a meaning that others can understand and relate to.

Then again there is someone else who spent their childhood holidaying at Kioloa. Coming back to the same caravan park. The beaches they went to, places they visited, shops, footpaths, trees, lakes and rivers are all imbued with a meaning for them that no one else quite has.

So next time you think about the types of things that archaeologists do, keep in mind that it is bigger than this. Many archaeologists are looking at landscapes as a whole. This gives an understanding and context to what they see and where it is. But a landscape doesn’t have to be large to benefit from this type of analysis. A landscape can be as simple as a complex of buildings. A homestead, outbuildings and gardens are their own cultural landscape that can tell us more about the people who used it when viewed as a whole.

The symbolic and mythological, mundane and practical all place layers of meaning on the landscape. All you have to do is try to find them.

Also just wanted to shout out to Willie Scott.

Coming up next on Heritage Gest….

AAA just like xXx except without Vin Diesel or any extreme sports.

Talk Soon.

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Heritage, Exploits, Stories

Heritage Gest

Heritage, Exploits, Stories