• The Barunga Community Archaeology Field School (The Barunga Community Archaeology Field School)Source: The Barunga Community Archaeology Field School
The longest-running archaeological field school in Australia is celebrating 20 years of students learning about Aboriginal culture, from Aboriginal people.
Rae Johnston

20 Oct 2020 - 4:09 PM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2020 - 4:10 PM

On the Bagala clan lands of the Jawoyn people, around 80 km south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory, sits the Barunga Community Archaeology Field School. For over 20 years the school has been part of the postgraduate program in archaeology and cultural heritage at Flinders University.

Held every year for seven days, the school provides more than archaeological experiences. It builds cross-cultural understanding, developing relationships between everyone involved. Students of archaeology, anthropology, nursing, health sciences, medicine and public health can take part.

In the lead up to the school, priorities for the community are discussed. In previous years, the school has worked closely with Traditional Owners to record rock art sites in the region.

In 2020, the priorities have been focused on community health and wellbeing, graveyard recording, rock art recording, and modern material culture.

Run by Professor Claire Smith and Gary Jackson since the very beginning, the remote field school aims to challenge students' understanding. It also bridges the differences in Aboriginal and European ways of sharing and receiving knowledge.

"When community values are central to teaching and assessment, archaeological field schools can be empowering ventures for Indigenous peoples," said Professor Smith.

"Under the guidance of Barunga community members and Aboriginal Elders, this field school provides a special opportunity for learning while sharing daily life with Aboriginal people from a remote area of Australia."

As part of their studies, students need to create something of value to the community. To do this, they need to connect with an individual in the local community and take that person's direction. They need to listen.

Past community projects have included site maps, artefact records and oral histories.

"Within this collaborative process, the role of the students in the field school is transformed from passive observer to active learner," said Professor Smith.

The Barunga region is famous for the Barunga Statement, written on bark and presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1988.

The Barunga Statement called for a national system of land rights, Aboriginal self-management, respect for Aboriginal identity, compensation for loss of lands, an end to discrimination, and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights.

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