Thesis abstract ‘Lake Condah Revisited: Archaeological Constructions of a Cultural Landscape’

04th January 2014

Heather Builth

BA(Hons), Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, University of South Australia, Adelaide, December 1996

This research investigates the combined historical events that have resulted in a failure by archaeologists to reach consensus concerning the interpretation of a particular landscape and its Aboriginal occupation in south-eastern Australia. At a local level, and on a continental scale, the result of the British occupation and settlement patterns, coupled with prevailing anthropological perspectives of Aboriginal primitivism, resulted in the acceptance of pre-contact Aboriginal people as struggling to survive within a hostile environment. My study argues that the history of anthropology in Australia has influenced negatively the ability to perceive anything other than the orthodox hunter-gatherer model for Australian Aboriginal societies.

This study focuses on the Gunditjmara of western Victoria. Their history is of an aggressive European invasion with one consequence being a dearth of local ethnographic records. The result is scant knowledge of Gunditjmara pre-contact socio-economy despite the rich archaeological record, particularly of stone structures interpreted as fish-trapping complexes and stone houses. These have been the subject of contradictory conclusions regarding their interpretation by successive archaeologists. The features were first recorded in the late 1970s by the Victorian Archaeological Survey (Coutts et al. 1978). This was then interpreted as complex Aboriginal adaptation to this environment; a view that was supported in the 1980s by further archaeological finds. However, the 1990s saw a challenge to this view by the publication by the Victoria Archaeological Survey of a resource inventory of the archaeology of the Lake Condah area (Clarke 1991, 1994).

My own study re-examines archaeological research in this region and offers explanations for the different interpretations of the evidence. I argue that traditionally-accepted measures in Australian archaeology such as stone-tool analysis do not enable a full understanding of the complexity of a society which has developed from the management of wetlands. The resource-rich landscape of the Gunditjmara requires a more appropriate interpretative approach which recognises the distinctive archaeological, historical and cultural records of the region.


Clarke, A. 1991 Lake Condah Project, Aboriginal Archaeology – Resource Inventory. Victoria Archaeological Survey Occasional Report 36. Melbourne: Department of Conservation and Environment.

Clarke, A. 1994 Romancing the stones: The cultural construction of archaeological landscape in the western district of Victoria. Archaeology in Oceania 29:1–15.

Coutts, P.J.F., R.K. Frank and P. Hughes 1978 Aboriginal Engineers of the Western District, Victoria. Records of the Victorian Archaeological Survey 7. Melbourne: Ministry for Conservation.

Builth, H.
Thesis abstract 'Lake Condah Revisited: Archaeological Constructions of a Cultural Landscape'
Thesis Abstracts
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