Long, empty expanse of red dirt, saltpans, mountainside, coastline, and a small package of civilisation neatly tucked in amongst it all. That was the scenery flying into Karratha airport, coupled with the town’s warm, humid embrace.
And it was pleasant from the beginning. KMAC’s Acting Cultural Heritage Manager Hannah Corbett picked me up from the airport, took me to buy groceries, helped me set up smoothly into my living environment, and drove me to work every day. Hannah was great at explaining the company and the Australian heritage situation at large, and was generally a very friendly person. The KMAC CEO Franklin Gaffney explained his directions very clearly from the outset, and continually offered insightful career advice. Also, all the people I met in the workplace were very friendly and welcoming.
Now to the work. One of the priorities of KMAC is to prevent mining companies taking advantage of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which scan the Act for loopholes that allow them to utilise land that contains Aboriginal sites. One site in particular called the Robe River, has been recently deregistered and will soon be impacted by future projects. Coincidence? I think not. The Robe River is very important to the Kuruma Marthudunera (KM) people, and other Traditional Owners of the land that the river intersects. Its importance is shown not only as a provider for fresh water and habitat for a multitude of flora and fauna (many endangered), but also having spiritual significance of the Warlu (according to traditional owners the Warlu was a giant serpent whose movements through the area a long time ago shaped the landscape), which caused the shape and nature of the river. Without help the Robe River’s ecosystem, values, and significance will fall to the hands of the rich.
Hence, I was given the task of organising a large number of documents concerning the particular clause in the Act (Section 18) that determines the authorisations for land use, which in this case was specifically mining companies who’s work would ultimately impact the Robe River, and Bungaroo Creek. This involved tracking down evidence of: any misinterpretation of the act, mishandling of authority, missing information, and more. It also required the chronological organisation of information into an Excel spreadsheet, describing each piece of information in terms of its typology, content, authorship, and any other important information, including a summary of what each document actually says. It shed enormous light on the logistics of cultural heritage operations, and provided good initial practice working within an office environment.
I was also in charge of writing the KMAC newsletter. This involved tracking down and compiling information for KMAC’s December edition. This required searching through the KMAC information system, talking with KMAC staff, discussing traditional Kuruma language with one of the KMAC Aboriginal Heritage Officers, calling St John’s Ambulance for information and photos, stopping at a Christmas-style decorated tree on the side of a main road, taking photos of artefacts held in preservation with the KMAC office area, and other forms of information collection. Most of my time was spent writing the text and compiling an 11-page text and photos word document, which was sent to the company’s newsletter editor to be put into KMAC’s pre-defined business format.
I was given a variety of other tasks, such as: organising an Australian Archaeological Association membership for the KMAC Aboriginal Heritage Officer, organising reading portfolios for the KM Board Meeting, and copying documents related to the Robe River. Another assignment was to review, comment, and present a condensed report on the environmental impact of the West Pilbara Iron Ore Project mining extensions, and the construction of a Haul Road, by Australian Premium Iron Joint Venture (APIJV).
My last duty was to compile a high level breakdown of KMAC’s major Land use agreements, focusing on: the date the agreements were signed, the parties and people who signed the agreements, when the agreements were/are next up for renewal, the monetary conditions (including the required compensation to KM members) and non-monetary conditions of the agreement. The land use agreements were either “Claim Wide” (land use within the entire boundary of KM owned land) or based on the specific boundaries agreed to by particular projects or land tenements.
If there is was ever a perfect place to stay during an internship, it was here. I stayed in a separate room within a shared living complex in the beautiful Point Samson area. The room offered: air conditioning (perfect for the extreme heat), wireless internet, TV, bar fridge, large cupboard space, large bed, iron and ironing board, bedside tables, power board, built in bathroom, the works! Even better was the common area upstairs, which had a large kitchen with all necessary cooking apparatus, an even a bigger TV, comfy lounges, washing machine, clothesline, dishwasher, and a balcony with a view of the coast. The locals are all very friendly too, and one weekend we were even visited by a large group of Port Samson locals who were traveling from house to house to celebrate the Christmas holidays.
Initially, I spent my free time working on my MA thesis, or relaxing after a busy day’s work. The place is great to just put your feet up and unwind, and there is a fishing line to use, but unfortunately I really can’t fish! Nonetheless there is a beach up the road at Port Samson, the famous Honeymoon Cove, which has beautiful warm and clear water. There are plenty of fish and coral to see, so it’s a picturesque snorkel.
On the last night of the full moon Hannah, her boyfriend and I went to see the beautiful Staircase Moonlight from a lookout at Cossack. We had a beer watching the phenomena and met a real Aussie character who mentioned some nice pubs and fish restaurants close by. When my thesis was finally done we took trip to Millstream National Park, seeing the Millstream Homestead/museum, and taking a swim in Deep Reach pool along the Fortescue River, passing the Harding Dam on our way back to Port Samson.
Should you want to find out more about this project, or would like to enquire about an internship, please get in touch, using the information below:
Aurora Internship Program website: http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aboutapplyinginternship
Applications for the Winter 2016 round of Aurora internships will open online from 9am AEST Monday 7th March through to 5pm AEST Friday 1st April 2016.
Michael Williams, BA in Ancient History, GDip in Maritime Archaeology. Particularly interested in Maritime Heritage of the ancient Mediterranean. I have worked in Indigenous Aboriginal sites around New South Wales and in underwater sites in Port Macdonnell. Experience with archaeological drawing.