By Jacqueline Matthews. Based on the article ‘Gummingurru – A community archaeology knowledge journey‘ by Annie Ross, Sean Ulm and Brian Tobane in Australian Archaeology 76.
Community archaeology projects are an important facet of contemporary archaeological research in Australia. Increasingly our projects feature close collaborations with Aboriginal communities. This is in part due to recognition that Aboriginal people are the primary knowledge holders about their own heritage and should have the right to choose what, if any, research is undertaken on their heritage. It is also a form of practical reconciliation where Western scientists come together with Aboriginal communities to share knowledge, and assist communities in maintaining their culture and connection to Country, as well as providing training, and communities can assist scientists in presenting alternative views and sharing cultural information that otherwise would not be known. Gummingurru is an important example of this work in action.
Gummingurru is a stone arrangement complex in the Darling Downs region of southeast Queensland (Qld) in the traditional lands of the Jarowair people (stone arrangements, where generally non-modified stones are arranged to form recognisable patterns, are termed as a complex when a series of them are found together). The stone arrangements at Gummingurru include numerous motifs (including many animals) and a large initiation ring. Initiation rings are important as they were used for important ceremonies, specifically for the initiation of young males. Indeed, the past use of Gummingurru was restricted to certain members of Aboriginal society because of its important ceremonial function. The animal motifs at Gummingurru are also extremely important. They represent yurees (or totems), which as part of initiation are assigned to individuals who are educated in the habits and habitats of their yuree and then become responsible for the care and management of that particular animal or plant and its ecosystem.
As a result of the particular history of Aboriginal people in colonial Qld and the removal of the majority of the Jarowair to missions in the 1950s and 1960s, cultural knowledge and connections to Country were severed. The rediscovering of knowledge about sites such as Gummingurru has been a collaborative process of piecing together memories, stories, archival records and the archaeological record. Over the course of this project, the memories of the Jarowair people of Gummingurru and the cultural landscape associated with the site have fundamentally enhanced understandings of the stone arrangements.
Landscape archaeology is a common thread in contemporary archaeology. By considering a landscape holistically, rather than as a series of isolated sites, archaeologists are moving towards a more nuanced understanding of the way that Aboriginal people in the past might have experienced and lived in their Country. Whilst singularly Gummingurru could be considered to be an important site, it is by no means isolated. Rather, it is part of a wider network of sites that includes men’s and women’s ceremonial places, campsites, art sites, scarred trees and at least one ochre quarry. The Aboriginal people who used Gummingurru in the past would have been intimately aware of their position in this wider cultural landscape. Further, as part of the journey that people made to get to the Bunya Nut festivals (triennial gatherings of many groups in the Bunya Mountains for the purpose of sharing knowledge, creating alliances, trade and exchange), the Gummingurru cultural landscape was, and still is, linked into a much larger landscape. This is a potent reminder for those with any interest in archaeology and heritage that no site exists in isolation.
For those without an exposure to Aboriginal cultures it is critically important to understand that culture heritage involves so much more than the physical structure of a site. For outsiders, the physical site is the obvious feature requiring preservation; however, for the traditional owners, these places are often imbued with significant meaning and memories which are vital to understanding their significance. At places like Gummingurru, the tangible aspects of heritage (that is, the stones and the physical landscape) are intimately intertwined with the intangible aspects of the place (that is, the personal memories, stories and experiences of people associated with it). This complex interplay and understanding of place is what keeps the ancient site of Gummingurru firmly in the present and makes it a critical part of Jarowair futures, not just the past.
The past ceremonial use of Gummingurru as a place to teach young men about culture is continued in the present, with the site now providing the opportunity for cultural learning through school visits and ongoing university research, which involves students working at and interacting with the site. Through deliberate choice of the traditional owners, Gummingurru is no longer restricted only to young men; this important site and its history and future are now open to all Australians to learn about Aboriginal culture, and specifically the Gummingurru cultural landscape.
For more information:
Visit the Gummingurru website
Bruno, D. and J. Thomas 2008 (eds) Handbook of Landscape Archaeology. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.
Ross, A., K. Pickering Sherman, J.G. Snodgrass, H.D. Delcore and R. Sherman 2011 Indigenous Peoples and the Collaborative Stewardship of Nature: Knowledge Binds and Institutional Conflicts. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.