ABORIGINAL HERITAGE FIND UNEARTHS EVIDENCE OF EARLY INNOVATION

13 February 2018

Heritage experts have found 32,000 stone items and fragments at the new Sydney Light Rail Randwick Stabling Yard and have uncovered  fascinating insight into colonial Sydney and the ingenuity of the area’s local Aboriginal people.

The artefacts were discovered in 2016 following extensive sampling and archaeological investigation of the site, guided by planning conditions and carried out in collaboration with the project’s Aboriginal stakeholders.

A GML Heritage analysis found the site was probably used by Aboriginal people to make stone tools, while a chemical analysis carried out last year has revealed the stones were made from a type of flint likely originating from a surprising location – the banks of London’s River Thames.

Working with Sydney Living Museums, it was discovered the same type of stones were also found on the site of the first Government House and historical records reveal this type of flint was routinely used as ballast in 18th and early 19th century convict transport ships.

“Some of this ballast was then likely discarded on arrival in Sydney – and it’s thought local Aboriginal people used the opportunity to experiment with a new material,” Mark Goggin, Sydney Living Museums’ Executive Director said.

“The discovery of these distinctive finds both at Randwick and the site of first Government House, indicates that Aboriginal people took or were given the stones, and manufactured some traditional tools from the new material, providing evidence for the ingenuity and active presence of Aboriginal people within the newly established colony.

“It’s incredible to think that more than 200 years later, the Sydney Light Rail project and the Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House, have revealed a window onto this fascinating past.”

At the time of early settlement, Randwick was in an area of dunes and marshes far enough away from early British settlement to be isolated and a location where Aboriginal people could experiment with the flint without being disturbed.

Chris Ingrey of the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, one of the light rail project’s Aboriginal stakeholders, said despite the negative effects the early years of colonisation had on the Aboriginal people of coastal Sydney, surviving Aboriginal families and their descendants successfully engaged in the colonial economy because of their ability to adapt.

“The testing and innovative sampling of resources introduced by Europeans, supported the survival of coastal Sydney Aboriginal families, a practice that is evident within our community over the past 229 years,” Mr Ingrey said.

“The use of River Thames flint is another example of our old people adapting their daily lives and customs to suit the environment around them.”

Transport for NSW and ALTRAC are working with the local Aboriginal community to gather stories about the area as well as developing a visual representation at the Randwick Stabling Yard to share the story with generations to come. 

This story will also feature in a new film series Yura Nura: People and Country, launching at the Museum of Sydney in coming weeks. New displays about Aboriginal Sydney and first Government House will open later in 2018.

To read more about how we came to find the artefacts visit our newsroom.