ABOVE: On site at 200 George Street, Sydney- Sub-consultants & GMLers Angela So, Sally MacLennan & Natalie Vinton
1. What led you into working in heritage?
From a very young age I was always drawn towards objects and places that have a ‘story’ to tell. As a child and all through my teens, I’d spend my pocket money and hard-earned cash on ‘vintage’ (read: cheap junk) items that sparked an interest in me—anything ranging from old cigarette cards, 1950s movie posters, beaded handbags, hats, bottles and any old thing that met my rather loose criteria of decorative, used, intriguing and, in my non-expert opinion, ‘rare’!
2. What are your areas of expertise?
I would love to be able to say that I’m a world expert on eighteenth-century bone toothbrush patterns or something equally obscure, but the reality is I’m a bit of a jack of all trades. My passion is for ensuring that the heritage work we do, whether the conservation of buildings or the excavation of an archaeological site, provides us with outcomes that are sustainable and relevant to the everyday person. I’ve worked in various areas of local and State Government heritage management and heritage policy development, with a particular focus on raising the profile of the importance of public dissemination and interpretation of archaeological research through to the revitalisation of NSW National Parks historic heritage assets. Now, in the private sector again, I love working with property owners, developers, consent authorities and other specialists to create heritage management options for places of significance that are engaging, practical and, most importantly, will inspire new people to show an interest in the past.
3. What do you love most about archaeology?
There’s always an unexpected story to be told. One site or even a single object has the power to completely turn our thinking upside down, in terms of our preconceived notions of how people used certain places over time, or indeed who was where and when. It’s always interesting to me that one of the most asked questions I get is ‘What archaeology is there in Australia?’ To which I get the chance to talk about the thousands of years of Aboriginal occupation and the more recent archaeology of our convict past. This always gets people thinking about the past and our relationship with it.
ABOVE: Natalie on site at 200 George Street, Sydney, with GML Consultant Sally MacLennan
4. Are there any benefits to having archaeology on site that clients perhaps don’t realise?
Yes! Having archaeology on a site, if significant and managed well during the archaeological investigation process, can create a positive community interest in the redevelopment. It may also offer the potential for greater public access and connections to the site in a way that other development projects can’t. When clients are willing to allow for public open days to occur during excavation programs, this can lead to media and heritage interpretation opportunities related to the discovery of any significant archaeology, and such positive impacts can be long term and far reaching.
To be honest, I’ve worked closely with many developers and clients over the years who were petrified about the prospect of the archaeology on their sites. Yet, each time, they reached the end of the process with huge smiles on their faces due to the swag of development, heritage and other industry awards, and consequently media attention, the work has received—all through working with the archaeologists, communities and the consent authorities to ensure that the archaeological research and resources are shared with the general public in a variety of innovative ways.
5. What’s your favourite project/site and why?
I have lots of favourite projects for many reasons, but if I have to pick one, it would have to be Yarrangobilly Caves House in Yarangobilly, NSW. When I first went to the site to meet with the National Parks Ranger managing it, he showed me a terribly run-down, but amazing two-storey and one-storey former nineteenth-century guest accommodation. He described how he had spent years and years showing managers and heritage experts the site, in a bid to secure some type of funding to keep it standing because he knew if something wasn’t done soon it would be lost forever. He also said he knew that there was probably nothing that I could do either, but that he wanted to show it to me anyway.
It took several years of innovative thinking, hard work, changes to funding programs, and lobbying by a huge range of people in National Parks to secure the funds to get the site sorted out, but we never gave up and now the adaptive reuse project to restore Yarrangobilly Caves House to its former glory as recreational accommodation is due to complete by the end of this year!
The project has included aspects of everything that I love about working in heritage, including reuse of heritage assets, archaeology, heritage interpretation, and great conservation outcomes.
6. Do you have a great interpretive spot you’d recommend to visit?
Sydney is full of great spots to see the results of archaeological investigations interpreted. My favourites include the little known Foundation Park in the Rocks, next door to Bel Mondo Restaurant. It has contains the archaeological remains of several neighbouring terraces that you can explore, complete with oversized interpretive furniture. Then there’s the Tank Stream interpretation within the lower ground floor level of the former GPO building in Martin Place. I love taking my son to ‘spot’ new interpretation panels, features and sites of interest in and around the central CBD, the Rocks and East Circular Quay—interpretation exists everywhere in these parts of the city—on footpaths, walls, in lobbies and incorporated in artworks.
ABOVE: On site at 200 George Street, Sydney