Mining the landscape: Finding the social in the industrial through an archaeology of the landscapes of Mount Shamrock

01st December 2010

Geraldine Mate

PhD, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, September 2010

In this thesis I offer a fresh approach to the historical archaeology of industry, using landscape as a framework for the investigation of a mining settlement. This approach marries the study of the social with the industrial reality of mining towns, acknowledging the role of landscape in framing people’s understanding of their everyday world. In particular, I examine how people made – created, constructed and understood – their landscape in the gold mining town of Mount Shamrock, in Queensland, Australia, settled in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Landscape as a theoretical perspective provides a means of articulating how people understood the place in which they lived and worked. Although landscape studies have been undertaken in historical archaeology, they have generally not extended to a holistic view that includes the construction and embedding of meaning in landscape. Instead, landscape studies in historical archaeology have tended to limit analyses to the structuring of a landscape, not taking into account the dialectic of creating meaning in and taking meaning from the landscape. Further, in historical archaeology as a whole and in Australia in particular, there is frequently a false dichotomy in the way industrial towns are approached with the separation of industry and settlement.

This study examines social influences in the establishment and layout of Mount Shamrock, identifying significant elements in the construction of the physical and social landscape of the residents. I also consider how people created landscapes of meaning and attachment as they settled in the area and how this meaning was embedded in the landscape through movement, narrative and experiences. The influence of technologies on the social landscape the residents constructed and lived in is analysed and conversely social influences on the way mining and processing were carried out.

Archaeological survey, historical documentation, maps, photographs and experiential reading were used to examine the remnants of Mount Shamrock. From the analysis of results, I argue that there was a constructed landscape at Mount Shamrock with a degree of structuring, evidenced by spatial arrangement and location of particular features in the landscape. People’s social relationships were embedded in landscape, for example with kinship networks represented in the proximity of properties. However, there was also evidence of social mobility within the social landscape of the settlement, the context of Mount Shamrock as a goldmining town, situated in nineteenth century Queensland facilitating that mobility.

Residents initially perceived their landscape as wilderness – quickly transforming the landscape into something they could know and understand. They also regarded the landscape as a resource – they conceptualised it as such, they promoted it that way and they structured it that way – as a mining landscape that was experienced in everyday activity and even through sensory perceptions. The influence of technology on the social hierarchy of Mount Shamrock was clear; technology was integral to how the residents operated and how they perceived the social landscape. Further, analysis also demonstrated the role social influences played in the adoption of particular types of technology.

The analysis of the landscapes of Mount Shamrock shows both the applicability of a landscape framework to historical archaeology and the versatility and depth of interpretation that can be gained by considering landscapes as a whole. Further, it is evident that industry and settlement are integrally linked, and all part of a meaningful and engaged landscape. At Mount Shamrock, gold mining was all pervasive in people’s perceptions of the landscape, part of the lived experience and it is clear that the ‘social’ of everyday life was indeed to be found in the ‘industrial’.

Geraldine Mate
Mining the landscape: Finding the social in the industrial through an archaeology of the landscapes of Mount Shamrock
December 2010
Thesis Abstracts
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