Fossils, Middens and the Pastness of the Past

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Last week I walked down to the evocatively named Fossil Beach, not far from my house, and walked beyond the track and the sea-wall over a litter of sharp and chaotic rocks to where they dig for fossils.

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Above: The work of fossil hunters

Fossil Beach is renowned in scientific circles for the fossils that have been found there over the years and I soon saw evidence of places where people had been tapping away, cracking open the rocks, looking for evidence of the ancient past.

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But what struck me, once again, even before I reached the fossils was the layer of shells by the path, the edge of a midden in the process of being revealed.

This was a place where Aboriginal people, the Bunurong people, lived and ate and died, for thousands of years. These shells are remnants of their meals and their community.

It reminded me of a poem that I wrote ages ago when I first realised that the beach I thought of as my own, belonged to someone else, originally.

Maybe it’s worth re-sharing this Australia Day weekend.

Shells

At the end of my street
blackened mussel shells
layered under earth
on the track to my beach

I read Gwen Harwood
about Oyster Bay
without connecting;
is this what dispossession is?

You can read more about Aboriginal middens HERE and HERE and about indigenous Australians on the Mornington Peninsula HERE

Seeing the place for the first time

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(T.S. Eliot)

I like those moments that help you see a place as it might have been in the past, especially places you might have thought you knew pretty well. I’m interested in those juxtapositions of photos you sometimes see, where you overlay the historical image over the modern city, and see how much (or how little) has changed.

Couple that, with the power and pathos of the concept of dispossession and you have the potential to transform your perspective.

So it was for me recently when I was lucky enough to do the Birrarung walk with Dean Stewart from the Koori Heritage Trust. He took us along a non-descript section of the Yarra in Melbourne from near the Aquarium up to the monstrosity that is Crown Casino and allowed us a window into a different world: the world of early Melbourne as well as the place as it existed before there was such a concept as ‘Melbourne’.

It was a privilege to be allowed into the world as he sees it. He showed us images of early Melbourne, from the perspective where they were painted, but more powerfully shared with us the place as it was before: the wetlands, the crossing place over the waterfall and the smells and sounds of the birds, animals and vegetation as it was then. It was a moving experience, not just because of the passion and understanding of the place, but because of the sense of all that has been lost too.

I recommend it if you’re visiting Melbourne, or if you’ve lived in Melbourne all your life and you think you know it. You probably don’t.

You can read more about this walk, from the AGE and the Sydney Morning Herald HERE.