Aboriginal artefacts at Randwick stabling yard

1 April 2016

There has understandably been considerable interest from the community in the large Aboriginal heritage discovery at the CBD and South East Light Rail’s Randwick Stabling Yard construction site.

How did we come to find Aboriginal artefacts at the Randwick Stabling Yard site? What have we found? Where is it from? How has it been extracted? Why is construction continuing while an archaeological dig takes place? We answer those questions below to paint a clearer picture for all who are interested.

How did we know to look for Aboriginal artefacts at the site?

We expected to encounter Aboriginal artefacts during the construction of the CBD and South East Light Rail.

The 2013 Environmental Impact Assessment identified likely zones for Aboriginal objects to be found and the Randwick Stabling Yard is within an area considered “most likely” to find Aboriginal artefacts.

Where it is known that there is high potential for Aboriginal objects, archaeological investigation will be undertaken.

How did we prepare for potential Aboriginal discoveries?

We prepared an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment Report and Archaeological Technical Report (available in the Resources section of the Sydney Light Rail website) and established a relationship with four “Registered Aboriginal Parties”. They are:

  • La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council
  • Tocomwall
  • Darug Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessments (DACHA)
  • Darug Land Observation

We contracted GML Heritage to develop the above documents and lead any archaeological work – the same firm that investigated Aboriginal discoveries at Transport for NSW’s Wynyard Walk worksite in 2014.

How are archaeological investigations undertaken?

Before any work took place at the Randwick Stabling Yard, we drew samples of the soil from about 40 bore holes to investigate whether any Aboriginal artefacts lay where we planned to excavate to install underground infrastructure for the stabling facility.

At the site of the 22,000-plus artefacts that we have discovered, the soil we extracted appeared to contain stone tools and other fragments. The archaeologists and Aboriginal groups noticed that the artefacts did not look similar to others found nearby and so further investigation would be required to determine their origin and use.

Elsewhere on the stabling yard site, the bore holes found no indication of areas likely to contain historic artefacts.

Across the area of the site known to contain artefacts, the archaeologist  dug in accordance with the agreed methods – to a depth of at least one metre, with the vast majority of artefacts found at a depth of 40 to 60 centimetres. The Aboriginal groups were present during this process.

What is it that we have found?

Based on advice from Aboriginal groups and GML, we believe that what has been unearthed is a substantial collection of tools and stone off-cuts, suggesting this as the site where such things were manufactured.

Perhaps of importance for Aboriginal nations’ understanding of their histories, it’s thought by all who’ve participated in the work that the stone in question is not local, with the Nepean, Upper Hunter and coastal areas of the Illawarra viewed as possible places where the stone originated.

Further study of this find could yield new understanding of how Aboriginal tribes travelled, traded and interacted between one other.

Why hasn’t work stopped completely at the Randwick Stabling Yard site?

During excavation of the artefacts, the Aboriginal groups recognised that it was a unique site, and we stopped work in that area immediately.

Work was suspended while we investigated how the Aboriginal groups wished to treat the artefacts – with the option to leave them in-situ or extract them from the ground – and further examinations took place to test other parts of the site.

Only once the Aboriginal groups had advised us how to proceed did work recommence and Tocomwall supervised the installation of temporary measures to allow work to continue nearby.

The area of Aboriginal historic interest is less than 200 square metres on a site measuring more than 20,000 square metres – less than 1 per cent of the overall site.

It is critical that the artefacts are extracted delicately and respectfully and we are making sure that area is accessed sensitively.

Elsewhere on the site, it’s critical that we continue preparations for building a city-changing public transport project. The good news is that the two are not mutually exclusive and can continue simultaneously.

This allows an agreed scope of work to continue, minimising risk to the artefacts.

We have met regularly with the Aboriginal groups to discuss works and protection of the area and we gave all Aboriginal groups the option to supervise all work that is taking place at the site.

Who decided to extract the artefacts rather than leaving them in-situ?

We offered the Aboriginal groups the choice to retain part of the find in-situ or extract the artefacts to allow them to be studied, investigated and commemorated.

Detailed design identified that leaving the artefacts in the ground would result in ground compaction which would likely impact them, so the Aboriginal groups agreed that it would be preferable to extract them.

An option to preserve about a quarter of the artefacts in-situ was presented to the Aboriginal groups, but further detailed design, even alternate design that worked around that location, would have resulted in compaction of the site that would potentially further damage the artefacts in the ground.

The Aboriginal groups expressed a preference to salvage the remaining artefacts subject to development of a strategy on how the artefacts would be stored, further investigation and community benefits.

How involved have the Aboriginal groups been in the archaeological dig?

All four Aboriginal groups have had significant involvement in all major decisions about the find, have guided Transport for NSW and ALTRAC Light Rail on how to proceed and have participated in investigations and salvage of the artefacts.

An archaeological excavation took place on 23-24 February, carried out by GML, La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council, Tocomwall and DACHA.

This excavation and subsequent protection work has established a clear area within which the deposit of artefacts exists. This allows an agreed scope of work to continue, minimising risk to the artefacts.

Tocomwall also assisted GML with auger hole sampling in February, both during the initial investigation and additional assessment following the find.

What happens next?

Transport for NSW and ALTRAC Light Rail are investigating, in conjunction with the Aboriginal representatives, a strategy to manage the items found on site to protect the local Aboriginal heritage.

This includes possibly acknowledging its importance through educational material for local schools and universities and interpretation displays to increase community understanding of Randwick’s rich local Aboriginal history and carrying out cultural mapping to learn more about the materials and their origin.

We hope to continue working with the four Aboriginal groups to ensure the best outcome not only for this find, but for any other heritage that may be encountered as construction continues along the 12-kilometre light rail route.


June 2017 – update

Around 32,000 stone items were discovered in 2016 at the Randwick Stabling Yard. A Plan of Management has been developed, in conjunction with the four Registered Aboriginal Parties to identify the composition and origin, suitably store and protect the items, and establish the best way to recognise and commemorate this important find.

This Plan of Management also outlines the additional research required, and suggests measures to be implemented to mitigate impacts. It considers cultural mapping to learn more about the materials and their origin, interpretation displays to increase community understanding of Randwick’s rich local Aboriginal history and examines the potential to acknowledge its importance through educational material for local schools and universities.

Under the guidelines established, the stone items are currently being stored with the Heritage Consultants where chemical analysis is being used to accurately determine their composition and origin.

We will continue to work with the Aboriginal groups and the Office of Environment and Heritage to ensure the best outcome for this find and for any others as construction continues along the 12-kilometre light rail route.