Archaeology of life in an isolated land

Author: Bart King

King, Bart, 2021 Archaeology of life in an isolated land, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The ability to adapt to new landscapes and environments is an essential aspect of moving into a new land and infrastructure can provide insight into how people adapted, survived and lived in new landscapes. The Pilbara region of Australia was first surveyed for agriculture in 1861, with the first non-Indigenous people taking up pastoral leases in the mid-1860s. Adapting infrastructure and agricultural practices to this new environment required detailed and ongoing landscape learning, which can be determined through interpretation of the remaining standing structures. The aim of this thesis is to assess the surviving infrastructure at one pastoral station to understand landscape learning, environmental adaptation and how architectural decisions influenced human life.

This thesis focuses on the historic precinct of Balmoral Station in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It presents the case that life was impacted significantly by infrastructure in Australia’s isolated north-west. Determining how the infrastructure impacted life requires an understanding of the environment, landscape, isolation, available information, resources and the people who settled in the region to establish pastoral properties.

The leaseholders’ adaptations to the climate that impacted the property since 1866 influenced the construction of the current infrastructure that was built in 1952. The use of concrete walls, strong timber framing and hip roofs made the buildings robust. The designs adopted for structures inhabited year round made the buildings comfortable in the extreme summer heat. Architectural adaptation to cyclones and heat made life bearable. Landscape learning and understanding influenced the location for infrastructure. Using the landscape to provide shelter from wind and promote cooling through cross ventilation of buildings also contributed to liveability.

The historic precinct of Balmoral is one of the last surviving remnants of shearing history in the Pilbara. All shearing infrastructure in the Pilbara was abandoned between 1999 and 2000 to make way for cattle, leaving the infrastructure to degrade and be destroyed. Balmoral is thus a rare example of what life was like in the Pilbara and its archaeology is essential to understanding how people adapted and lived in Australia’s remote northwest.

Keywords: Mardie, Balmoral, Station, PIlbara, agriculture, sheep, shearing shed, Indigenous, architectural adaptation

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Heather Burke