Promoting Descendant Communities in Urban Community Archaeology: A study of Canberra, Australia

  • Bridget San Miguel
  • Matilda House
Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)


Community archaeology gives partial control of a project to stakeholder communities, allowing nuanced understandings of archaeological data to emerge. In Australia, this framework has focused on non-urban areas where Aboriginal communities are perceived to have stronger connections to the past. Australian community archaeology is rarely conducted in urban areas, and no projects in urban settings have focused on promoting Aboriginal, descendant community voices. To address this research gap, a collaborative project was conducted in Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), with Dr Matilda House, a Ngunnawal/Ngambri Elder in the region. Promoting Matilda’s voice as an Aboriginal woman, this project investigated her personal perspective in an urban setting. Six sites of significance were reassessed following a “stories first” methodological approach within the community archaeology framework.

This approach uncovered two layers of cultural landscape in Canberra. The first is a traditional landscape of cultural links to natural features, ceremonial sites, and sites where food and other resources were obtained. Elements of this landscape had been previously recorded at the six case study sites, although further information was revealed during this project. The second layer is contemporary, in which heritage management of the traditional landscape has led to new relationships with and between sites. This contemporary landscape emphasises strong links between all Aboriginal sites in the ACT, the educational value of heritage sites and the significance of personal involvement in heritage processes.

Focusing on Matilda’s perspective gave value to her personal story, revealing a multilayered landscape rarely documented in Australian community archaeology and not documented elsewhere in the ACT. In Canberra’s urban environment, where much archaeological information has been lost, this personal approach to community archaeology has proved effective in opening discussions about the way heritage and archaeology are managed.


Community archaeology Australia Canberra Heritage management Cultural landscapes Urban archaeology Stories first 



Thank you to Duncan Wright for reviewing early drafts of this chapter, Dave Johnston for his support during this project and assistance with fieldwork, Tiana House for her valuable insights, and Tom Sapienza for contributing the maps in Fig. 1.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bridget San Miguel
    • 1
  • Matilda House
    • 2
  1. 1.Extent HeritageSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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