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Education stories

Kids join archaeological dig

Edition 194_KerrieLodge

Young archaeologists-in-training have joined the dig at an important excavation as part of an innovative education initiative.

This group of lucky youngsters has been working alongside archaeologists at one of Tasmania’s most significant convict excavations, The Kerry Lodge Probation Station, just south of Launceston.

Road-gangs who toiled on the old Midland Highway from Launceston to Hobart were chained up overnight at Kerry Lodge. But it was also a brutal working station where convicts smashed rocks into road base and hauled enormous blocks of stone from a nearby quarry for a bridge that still stands.

This history came alive for 34 ‘young archaeologists’ – from Invermay and East Tamar Primary Schools in Launceston – who spent a day at Kerry Lodge as part of the Children’s University program.

Among the group were eight-year-olds Bonnie who liked “digging and getting the bones, rocks, forks and wood,” and Aliyah who enjoyed “drawing and tracing the old plates and drawing the patterns.”

The Children’s University encourages youngsters – like Bonnie and Aliyah – who might not normally get the chance, to consider university as a future option.

They take part in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, such as the dig, as a way to expand educational horizons.

“Working alongside archaeologists and actually looking for artefacts with them is an authentic learning experience,” Marcel Kerrison from the Children’s University said.

“This is all about connecting children, and their parents, to higher education and getting them to see that this is something they can aspire to.

“We want them to view university as something that is accessible.”

The Children’s University is a world-wide phenomenon.

The program has only been running in Tasmania for a little over three years, but it has already touched many lives with more than 450 students taking part. 

It is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania (UTAS) Peter Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment and state schools.

And there is also one definite highlight: “The students even get to ‘graduate’ in a real-life university ceremony complete with mortar board and gown,” Ms Kerrison added.

Meantime, as well as being part of a unique educational experience, our ‘young archaeologists’ are helping to unlock stories about life in Van Diemen’s Land.

“We are hoping this archaeological dig will help us find out more about the everyday life of convicts working on road gangs,” archaeologist and UTAS lecturer, Dr Louise Zarmati, said.

“You don’t get these stories from historical records.”

One puzzle archaeologists are trying to solve at Kerry Lodge is how the convicts hauled enormous blocks of stone, some weighing tonnes, up the steep slope from the quarry to the bridge they were building.

“Did they use human labour? Did they use horses? Did they use something with wheels?” Dr Zarmati asks.

“We just don’t know.”

However, what we do know is that infrastructure in Van Diemen’s Land really took off in the wake of the Black War which left settlers free to expand unhindered by attack from aboriginals.

“Everything really went gangbusters from then on,” Dr Zarmati explained.

This included work on the old Midland Highway and construction of the Kerry Lodge Probation station in 1843 which involved accommodation for some 40 convicts and an overseer’s cottage.

Excavation of the site began in 2015, and archaeologists have already uncovered remains of a kitchen from the cottage, but no signs yet of the wooden caravan with bunk-beds that they believe housed the convicts.

Other interesting items have been excavated: flint from a military issue rifle, glass from gin and beer bottles, and broken pieces of pottery including plates and pieces of pipe.

This latest dig at Kerry Lodge was carried out during April, and Dr Zarmati said the importance of the work cannot be overstated.

“We need to understand where we came from, and we need to preserve these things from our past for the future generations,” Dr Zarmati said.

The Kerry Lodge excavation is a collaboration between UTAS, the University of Manchester, the Launceston Historical Society and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG).

Recovered artefacts will be displayed at QVMAG in Launceston.

Image courtesy of Adam Kerrison

8 May 2018, Edition 194

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