Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this story contains photos of a person who has died.
Archaeologists found more than 600 artefacts on the cultural lands of the Brinja Yuin people, where preparations are underway for the construction of the Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.
Brinja Yuin Gadu elder Maureen Davis remembers hunting on the site as a child before it became farmland, and says the discovery is clear evidence of her people’s connection to country.
“It shows something that we know in our heart — who we are, how we connect, and where we connect to,” she said.
“We knew they would be here.
“They are significant to us; they are significant to the land.”
The new hospital is a pilot project for the Government Architect NSW’s Connecting with Country framework.
- More than 600 Aboriginal artefacts have been found at the site
- They include stone tools that could be up to 5,000 years old
- Elders say the discovery provides further proof of their connection to country
Aunty Loretta Parsley and Aunty Maureen Davis at the future site of the hospital in Moruya.()
Tools up to 5,000 years old
Artefacts were found at the site after teams dug and sieved dirt across 100 square metres of soil in 100 salvage pits, said archaeologist Ashleigh Keevers-Eastman.
“These stone artefacts are made of raw materials, such as quartz, that have been sourced locally or far afield and brought onto site,” she said.
“It’s clear Aboriginal people have been making tools and undertaking resource gathering. We can use those tools to tell a story.”
More than 600 artefacts have been found across 100 salvage pits.(ABC South East NSW: Holly Tregenza)
It is too early to tell the age of the items but early indications suggest they may be anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 years old.
“The artefacts we have found have generally been really small and would have been carried by a person as they moved through the landscape,” Ms Keevers-Eastman said.
“We’re still learning about what was actually happening here.
“We’re gathering the information so it can be preserved and given back to this community.”
Archaeologist Ashleigh Keevers-Eastman at the dig site where the Eurobodalla Hospital will be built.(ABC South East NSW: Holly Tregenza)
Ms Davis remembers the land before its transformation for farming.
“There were trees all over. The water would run off into the gully,” she said.
“We also used it for hunting rabbits. We didn’t shop in town for food all the time. We didn’t have the dollars to go to the butchers.”
The presence of a birthing place not far from the site in Bingi further indicated the area was likely a significant Aboriginal camp, Ms Davis said.
A long and proud history
Ms Davis said her ancestors had a long and proud history of advocating for Aboriginal education and healthcare on the South Coast.
Traditional elder Grannie Jane Duren, who was born in Moruya in the 1800s, routinely wrote to the government of the day as well as King George V about improved education and hospital access for Aboriginal children and families in the area.
An Indigenous land-cleansing ceremony took place at the site last year in a NSW first for a hospital development project.
Hundreds of stone tools, likely thousands of years old, have been recovered from the site.()
One important change in the design of the hospital was to have the maternity ward on the bottom level, so Indigenous mothers could give birth as close to country as possible.
Walbunja Yuin Elder and traditional custodian Aunty Loretta Parsley said access to country before, during and after the hospital was built, was critical.
“It’s a new beginning for organisations like the Health Department to embrace Aboriginal people and to say, ‘We need your input,'” she said.
Ms Parsley said it was powerful to see how the work of those before them had allowed modern community leaders to influence the hospital’s design.
“The women in our communities are still very strong leaders,” she said.
“We have followed people like Grannie Duren.”
The project team will work with Registered Aboriginal Parties to determine what happens next with the discovered artefacts.
Construction of the hospital is expected to be completed by 2025.