The archaeology of ‘lost places’: ruin, memory and the heritage of the Aboriginal diaspora in Australia

Harrison, Rodney (2003). The archaeology of ‘lost places’: ruin, memory and the heritage of the Aboriginal diaspora in Australia. Historic Environment, 17(1) pp. 18–23.



The title of this paper invokes the phrase ‘lost places’, coined by historian Peter Read to describe the profound social attachment that people feel towards their former homes, neighbourhoods and homelands when they are divorced from them. In his expose of the connections people feel for lost places, Read was more concerned with the idea of attachment to place and the way in which this articulates itself in the face of threat or loss, than with the relationship between this attachment and the physical things that people leave behind them. Recently in a number of different disciplines, attention has moved away from the oral tradition of memory to the relationship between social remembering and the artefact, and the way in which objects act as memorials that shape the consumption of the past as a shared cultural memory. This, coupled with an increasing global awareness of the phenomenon of diaspora, suggests the need for a consideration of the relationship between the social significance of places from which people have been forcibly removed, and the fabric that remains behind them. Particular reference is made to a case study from western NSW, where I have been mapping the material remains and recording memories associated with a former Aboriginal reserve, abandoned in the period 1938-40. Since its abandonment there has developed a tradition of pilgrimage to Dennawan during which the material traces of the past are interrogated and recontextualised in the light of the present. This tradition of pilgrimage and recollections of interactions between people and objects on the site forms the basis for my contention that the interplay between objects, ruin, landscapes and memory are part of the active ‘creation’ of locality that forms the basis for an understanding of the social significance of such heritage places.

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