Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

The Archaeology of No Man's Land: Indigenous Camps at Corindi Beach, Mid-North Coast New South Wales

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

The Archaeology of No Man's Land: Indigenous Camps at Corindi Beach, Mid-North Coast New South Wales

Article excerpt

   It's the only piece of land that was ever left, No man's land

   (Tony Perkins 27/12/97 quoted in Murphy et al. 2000:5)


At Corindi Beach on the mid-north coast of New South Wales are five twentieth century campsites located on the fringes of the township, beside the town racecourse, an area called by local Aboriginal people 'No man's land'. These campsites are important symbols of the self-sufficient lifestyle followed by the Corindi Beach Indigenous community in the twentieth century and are a physical reminder of cross-cultural relationships between local people over the last hundred years. In a collaborative research project with Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporation, these places are being documented through studying oral history, the cultural landscape and the material culture left behind at these places. We have found although there are rich oral stories of Indigenous life at the camps, material evidence at the sites is limited. When read as part of the cultural landscape this evidence presents a specific kind of archaeological signature that may be generalised for fringe-dweller camps elsewhere. The documentation of this landscape represents a first step towards a better understanding of the hidden history of these places and towards re-assessing their heritage significance.


Behind the dunes at Corindi Beach in northern NSW is No man's land, home to a Gumbaingirr Aboriginal community since the beginning of the last century. 'No man's land' is the term used by Tony Perkins, a local Elder, to describe this area of Crown land where Aboriginal people were able to live and gather food (Figure 1). This is land 'left' after white occupation had parcelled out the remaining territory into private ownership and control. In our research, the term has come to mean the physical space which Aboriginal people reclaimed by squatting and permissive occupancy.


This paper is focussed on the archaeology of No man's land, but our general research objective was to investigate the meaning and significance of No man's land to both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous local community over the last hundred years. In particular, our aims were: to understand the physical aspects of the No man's land settlement, especially its archaeology, material culture and landscape; to document the Indigenous stories of No man's land; and to investigate its history, especially as represented through land tenure. These investigations allow us a glimpse of how the two way relationship between Aborigines and settlers was marked out on the ground, the Indigenous settlement pattern within, around and between the geometric white landscape of fences, houses and legal boundaries.

Until recently Indigenous fringe-dweller camps such as those of No man's land have received little attention from archaeologists and such sites continue to be underrepresented in heritage registers. This paper seeks to redress this through presenting the preliminary findings of the survey of five twentieth century campsites in No man's land and excavation of three of them, documentation of the cultural landscape and the stories of the No man's land campsites. The research findings suggest a pattern of archaeological, landscape and oral history evidence that may be generalised for Indigenous camps, in rural south eastern Australia, on land described by Byrne (n.d.) as 'in-between space' or in this project as 'No man's land'. Similar places are described by Rose (1991) as part of hidden history and by Little (1994) as places belonging to people without history.

In Australia, archaeological research on post-contact Indigenous living sites has primarily investigated mission sites (Birmingham 1992, 2000; Brockwell et al. 1989; Brown et al. 2002) or pastoral station camps (Paterson 2000; Smith 2001; Harrison 2002a, 2002b) rather than 'fringe-dweller' camps such as those on No man's land. …

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