Kaurna and Defence

Mr Shane Wanganeen (Kaurna Yerta), Kaurna Services

This statement has been prepared via consultation between the Kaurna and GML Heritage. Its aim is to provide an overview of the Kaurna’s perspective and experience of cultural heritage management at the Edinburgh Defence Precinct (EDP) and the changes that have occurred between the 1990s and 2020.
– Jeffrey Newchurch

Kaurna and Defence at the Edinburgh Defence Precinct—The Old Way

Despite the EDP being a large land area located near the City of Salisbury, an area with a large Aboriginal population, prior to 2011 the Kaurna were generally excluded from the management of their Aboriginal heritage within the EDP. Kaurna heritage was generally equated to stone artefacts, and the nature of land within and across this suburb meant that little opportunity was afforded to seeking and understanding this or any other type of archaeology.

The EDP was subject to its first archaeological surveys in 1998 and 2000, which culminated in the identification of a few quartz stone artefacts, found in disturbed locations on the RAAF side of the base. The general advice was to avoid the identified sites—no further heritage management or assessment occurred. A heritage report from 2000 hypothesised that the stone artefacts may be connected with a Kaurna habitation area on the margins of a wetland, and that the wider area could be sensitive. It is important to note that the 2018–2020 assessment work conducted in consultation with the Kaurna has determined that these predictions from 20 years before are correct in terms of the wider sensitivity mapping prepared for the EDP.

In 2004 the first major ‘discovery’ of Kaurna heritage within the EDP was made. On the southwestern boundary, south of the runways, the City of Salisbury was excavating a water detention basin when human skeletal material was uncovered. Consultation between the police, Defence, Council and the Kaurna established that an Aboriginal mound, or living site, had been disturbed and a number of our ancestral burials were impacted. A large amount of spoil had been removed from the area, which included ancestral remains. Whilst mitigation for further site works was undertaken, along with reburial of our ancestors’ remains, the process highlighted that significant impact had occurred to the mound site and other burials, which could not be recovered. Reporting connected with the heritage work highlighted the sensitive nature of the EDP and the need for proactive heritage assessment and management.

The 2006 EDP Heritage Management Plan recognised and identified that the EDP was likely to contain further Kaurna burials and that adequate heritage survey and monitoring of works was necessary to inform and prevent further significant impacts to Kaurna heritage, notably burials.

From 2007 the Domestic Precinct was selected for a major redevelopment project—the Hardened and Networked Army (HNA) project. This project represented the first major works within the EDP since its initial construction as the Salisbury Explosive Factory in World War II. Environmental assessment for the project involved a holistic surface archaeological survey; five stone based archaeological sites were identified. This work highlighted the limitations of surface survey work in terms of understanding and identifying Aboriginal heritage. Kaurna heritage management determined that subsurface potential for buried archaeological sites was to be managed through a discovery process and that any excavations below 300mm in depth required cultural monitors. The Kaurna were to be offered the opportunity to move the five identified Aboriginal artefacts.

Translation of these heritage management recommendations into action did not occur as proposed, and the Kaurna became aware of impacts to the heritage sites in early 2011. An assessment of the earthworks confirmed direct impacts to three of the Kaurna sites, and an absence of cultural monitoring during earthworks.

Early 2011 also saw direct impact to a further Aboriginal ancestral burial adjacent to airside, in the Domestic Precinct. Earthworks for the excavation of a deep pipeline resulted in direct impact to a highly significant burial. Whilst work was halted and the advice of the Kaurna was sought, this impact had removed and damaged the ancestral burial. Further heritage management and investigation of this impact identified an absence of Aboriginal heritage assessment, Kaurna involvement or heritage controls for the works.

The two 2011 events resulted in direct impacts to Kaurna heritage sites, and thus values within the EDP.  These impacts greatly affected the Kaurna elders. As a consequence, both Defence and the Kaurna recognised that a new approach to the management of Kaurna heritage was required.

Changing the Way

The impacts consequent of the HNA project brought a realisation to Defence that Kaurna heritage was a living phenomenon, and that Defence actions had a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of Kaurna people. A lengthy conciliation conference and program of future management was undertaken. Defence undertook proactive steps and procedures to rectify and repair damages caused to Kaurna heritage. A HNA project specific management plan was prepared, which established new heritage management directions.

A member of the Kaurna was engaged by the HNA project as a cultural officer with responsibilities for environmental and heritage management. The creation of this position provided a direct conduit between Defence, the contractor and the Kaurna—it immediately established a relationship of trust between all parties. The two remaining identified Kaurna sites were redesigned into the project works, and as a consequence conserved for perpetuity. In collaboration with the Kaurna, native garden beds were established around the two sites, and one area has become a dedicated keeping place for Kaurna stone artefacts recovered from elsewhere in the EDP. Following completion of HNA works, the project’s cultural officer developed heritage interpretation signage that remains installed today. These signs provide information for all persons about Kaurna heritage and serve as a reminder that Kaurna heritage is an integral part of the EDP.

The uncovering of our ancestral remains adjacent to airside brought considerable awareness to Defence. The discovery meant that Defence became directly accountable for actions that could affect key Kaurna heritage places and values in the EDP. The impacts of the uncovering of our ancestors were disturbing to both our Elders but also to numerous Defence staff who became invested in the process of recovery, mitigation, and the traditional reburial process. The Kaurna see this event as the point Defence took ownership for management of Kaurna heritage within the EDP. The attention, focus and new direction taken resulted in a new relationship, and empowerment of all personnel in the heritage management processes.

The New Way

Over the past decade Defence has recognised and involved the Kaurna as the traditional owners to develop a new relationship, new ways of managing heritage, new positions in Defence and enhance mutual and cultural understanding.

New directions in heritage recognition and management has seen considerable change. Larger development projects recognise the need to understand the context of their development area, and involve the Kaurna in a heritage assessment process. Some projects such as the DSTG SATCOMM and DLTP have involved upfront archaeological excavations resulting in the systematic recovery of many traditional stone artefacts. Analysis of these materials has provided new insight into the way of our ancestors, notably informing how this place was used as part of the wider cultural landscape.

Projects such as AIR7000 have engaged a permanent Kaurna cultural heritage officer. The position has involved the Kaurna in the day-to-day management of impacts and the development process. Such positions allow the Kaurna to direct and control the management of our heritage. They have also culminated in the recovery of sizable assemblages of cultural material, thereby avoiding further unmanaged and unmitigated impacts to Kaurna heritage.

Defence has made proactive approaches to the Kaurna to become skilled and employed within the ADF, including the Army, RAAF and DSTG. The upskilling and employment of Kaurna men and women has created significant opportunities for our youth. This includes the creation of the Indigenous Youth Program, which is a three-day Defence residential program ‘designed to expose students to military aviation careers as well as life on an operational air base’.

The RAAF has created and filled an Indigenous Liaison Officer position, based in the EDP. This position provides a direct connection between Defence and Indigenous activities across the region, and has promoted mutual awareness and a culture of education.

Since 2015 the EDP has recognised NAIDOC Week through a joint program celebrating Aboriginal and Kaurna heritage. Each event has been attended by over 100 Kaurna members and 200 Defence staff, who participate in traditional Aboriginal dance and other cultural events. The mutual sharing of culture sees the Kaurna invited to Defence units to experience and understand Defence equipment and culture. Defence recognise the Kaurna’s past involvement in the ADF through the sharing and learning about notable Defence Indigenous veterans. The 2018 NAIDOC week event was specifically notable because Kaurna Elders proudly presented Defence with an AP-3C Orion aircraft propeller blade that was painted by Kaurna artist Shane Cook. This was seen as a symbol of our growing relationship.

The Kaurna see these new directions, engagement and involvement with Defence at the EDP as very significant. The relationship has become mutually beneficial to both parties. Resourcing and engagement of the Kaurna within Defence culture has provided new direction for many of our youth. The development of our relationship has provided assurances to our Elders that our ancient culture and heritage is being respected and looked after. We see that the relationship developed between the Kaurna and Defence could serve as a model for all of Australia. The Kaurna see that relationship as enduring and important for both our futures.