Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Conducting a Community-Based Archaeological Project: An Archaeologist's and a Koenpul Man's Perspective

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Conducting a Community-Based Archaeological Project: An Archaeologist's and a Koenpul Man's Perspective

Article excerpt


Peel Island is a small island in Moreton Bay in southeast Queensland. The islands and waters of the bay are the country of the people of Quandamooka. There are three family groups or clans in the Quandamooka community: the Nughi, the Noonuccal, and the Koenpul. Today, most of the people of Quandamooka live either on North Stradbroke Island or on the mainland, although there is still interest in and knowledge about the other islands of the bay (Ross and Quandamooka 1998).

Peel Island is situated to the west of Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island (Figure 1). For most of Peel Island's post-invasion history it has been used as a place of isolation and control of people believed by society to be unfit, insane or diseased (Blake 1993; Prangnell 1999). From 1873 to the late 1890s, the island was used as a quarantine station and benevolent asylum. In 1906 the Queensland government gazetted the northwestern portion of the island as a lazaret for the treatment of sufferers of Hansen's disease (leprosy). The lazaret was abandoned in 1959 (Blake 1993). Throughout this period of government use of Peel Island, traditional owners were only permitted to work as domestic help at the lazaret, because both the quarantine station and lazaret were off-limits to visitors. Nevertheless, the people of Quandamooka still utilised the resources around the island.


Archival and historical archaeological investigations of the lazaret and other European institutions on Peel Island have been undertaken over recent years by amateur historian Peter Ludlow (1989, 1991), professional historian Thom Blake (1993) and professional historical archaeologist Jon Prangnell (1999). Until the project described here, however, there had been no formal investigations of the Indigenous history and archaeology of Peel Island. This gap in Aboriginal heritage research had occurred despite the considerable archaeological research interest in the Moreton Bay region generally (Hall 1982; Hall and Bowen 1989; Hall and Hiscock 1988; Hall and Robins 1984; Neal 1984; Neal and Stock 1986; Walters 1989; see also Ulm 1995). The project outlined here was undertaken to redress this gap in knowledge about Moreton Bay. We present a personal view of the evolution of a project to investigate the Aboriginal history and archaeology of a large shell midden on the northern edge of Peel Island Lazaret. We examine the project from the perspective of an archaeologist (Ross) and of a senior Koenpul man from Quandamooka (Coghill). We demonstrate the interrelationships between archaeological knowledge and Koenpul oral history. We discuss the importance of involving the Aboriginal community at all stages of a project, not just at the beginning, and demonstrate the mutual benefits that result from a genuinely collaborative research program.

Community-based archaeological research

The excavation of the Lazaret Midden is a community-based archaeological research project funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Genuinely collaborative archaeological research projects between Aboriginal owners and archaeologists are not common in Australia, although our project is not the only one of its kind (for example, Clarke 1994 and Greer 1996).

Clarke (1994, ch. 5) demonstrates that the negotiation process for doing community-based archaeological fieldwork within an Aboriginal community is more than just gaining access to the archaeological resource (Clarke 1994:2):

   The premise behind a community approach is that research is a negotiated
   process and that the boundaries of a project are open to reassessment and
   renegotiation by any of the parties involved.

She argues (1994:8) that community involvement in decision making about an archaeological research project is rather like other more common constraints on fieldwork, such as archaeological visibility, site preservation factors and terrain difficulties:

   In my research the transformation of the project occurred through the
   medium of the cultural environment. … 
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