Shortlisted! Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards 2016

I was very happy this morning to open my emails and see that Don’t Forget Your Shovel has been shortlisted for the Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards 2016 in the Diaspora category, sponsored by Littlewoods Ireland.

Thanks to everybody for reading the blog and making comments, and to the judges who thought the blog merited being shortlisted. If you want to cast a vote, you can click on the picture below. Voting closes on 23 August, and 20% of the vote is from blog readers, 80% from the judges.


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Baker’s Flat: a reenactment

In 1880, the Kapunda Herald gave an account of an incident on Baker’s Flat involving several of the Irish women living there and some unfortunate would-be fencers. It went something like this.

Three men – William Grabert, Francis Pinn and Robert Hooper – were employed to fence a section on Baker’s Flat. So, bright and early of a Wednesday morning, the men went fencing. They brought a shovel, a pick and a crowbar.

Their arrival on Baker’s Flat was greeted by scores of ‘wives and mothers, who turned out to drive off the would-be despoilers of their hearths and homes’, armed with brooms, sticks and shovels. The women included Ann Slattery, Mary Callaghan, Mary Lacey, Ann Hoare, Catherine Driscoll and Mary Jose.

The fencers were not deterred. Brave and manly men, they were determined to do their duty and dug a hole for the first post.


The first hole is dug

There were some choice words and threats from the women, who called the fencers ‘vagabonds’, and threatened that they would lose the last drop of their blood before the men could put a pick in the ground. And the men were frightened because the women had sticks, especially Mrs Callaghan who had a ‘good-sized one’. William Grabert told the court later that he had received several pokes in the ribs.

The fencers managed to make a start, but then, after a small skirmish, Mrs Callaghan was able to sit herself in the partially sunk hole, and declare that ‘You will have to sink a hole through my body before you sink a hole in the ground’.


Over my dead body!

The three fencers went into a huddle, examined their options, and took the decision to retreat, ‘leaving the fair army in triumphant possession of the field’.

They had to leave by crossing the River Light, jeered along the way, including by one woman who told another to ‘do something’ in her shovel and she would plaster their faces with it. On the positive side, no stones or cow dung were thrown! The men later stated they were very glad indeed to get safely home.

Full accounts can be found in the following Kapunda Herald reports:
7 May 1880, p.2
1 June 1880, p.2
4 June 1880, p.4

Posted in Baker's Flat, Kapunda, South Australia | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Notes on the Cascades Female Factory, Hobart

In Hobart for a short visit, today I discovered the Cascades Female Factory, Australia’s most significant prison site associated with colonial female convicts. It’s one of the 11 sites that together comprise the World Heritage listed Australian Convict Sites. Although only one building is still intact, the remaining high walls and recent interpretation give a profound sense of what life would have been like at Cascades in the mid-nineteenth century.

Between 1788 and 1853, about 25,000 women were transported to Australia from Britain and Ireland. More than half of these women came to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). And thousands of them spent time at Cascades, which operated from 1828 to 1856.


Representation of a woman and her young child at Cascades

On arrival, the women would wait in the entrance area of Yard 1 until a decision was made about where they would go. The words at the entrance, shown below, are taken from official reports, and highlight the subjective judgments that were made, primarily by men. They indicate how powerless these girls and women would have been in having any influence over what happened next in their lives.


Unmanageable, angry, numb, healthy, beautiful – official judgments

At decision time in Yard 1, the options weren’t great. If you had already been cast as ‘unmanageable’, ‘notorious’ or even ‘savage’, it was off to Crime Class with you – wearing a large C on the back of your dress, lousy food, hard hard work. It got a little better if you were assigned to Second Class – the C was smaller in size and worn on your sleeve, the food was a little better, the work was still hard but mainly sewing rather than backbreaking laundry work. First Class was best – you might work as a cook, task overseer or hospital attendant.

Damp conditions, poor sanitation and inadequate nourishment all took their toll on the inmates. There were high rates of illness and mortality amongst the women, and also in their children. Transported women were sometimes accompanied by their young children, and women who became pregnant would stay with their babies until they were weaned at six months (later nine months). At that point, the mothers had to leave the nursery quarters, and go to another part of the facility to complete their sentence. The children were kept at Cascades until they were three years old, although their mothers only saw them from time to time.


Empty cradles represent the infants who lived at Cascades

For more information about the female convicts of Tasmania, check out the Female Convicts Research Centre; membership is free and entitles you to access their database.

Female Convicts Research Centre 2012 Convict Lives: Women at Cascades Female Factory. Hobart: Convict Women’s Press.
Frost, L. 2004 Footsteps and Voices: A Historical Look into the Cascades Female Factory. Hobart: Female Factory Historic Site.

Posted in Around the world, Migration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The henhouse

‘Very poor people, in the past, were wont to keep their little stock of hens or ducks in a small pen made from an old box in the kitchen …’ (O Danachair 1964). This was a custom in Irish rural houses in the nineteenth and even the twentieth centuries. It made sense, particularly for hatching birds, to keep them in the warmth of the kitchen; dressers were commonly designed to hold the delph (crockery) on the upper part, with the lower section divided into nesting boxes.

And here we are, in the depths of the South Australian winter, and the new guardians of 14 day old chicks. And no, we couldn’t possibly put them out in the cold. So we’re tapping into our Irishness, and they’re carefully penned in the laundry in an old wooden box. Note the canny re-use of an IKEA lamp as a heat source, and some 20 year old sheets as insulation. Four new girls, election hens, yet to be named but possibilities include Julie, Tanya, Billie and Mallie.

O Danachair, C. 1964 The combined byre-and-dwelling in Ireland. Folk Life 2(1):58-75.

Posted in Folk traditions, Ireland, South Australia | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The excavation of Baker’s Flat – a tale of the Trench A dugout

From April through to the beginning of May, I led a trusty band of volunteers in the first excavation at Baker’s Flat. For me, this was an experience that engendered a wide range of emotions. At some stages I was filled with excitement, joy, exhilaration. At others, it was more like fear, apprehension, trepidation. So much thinking – before, during and after the excavation – encapsulated in the photo below, of me deep in thought.

Susan thinking. Photo: C De Leiuen

Susan thinking. This occurred frequently, and sometimes even to good effect. Photo: C De Leiuen

If you glance back to my previous blog post about the geophys and the first picture of the results (scroll down!), you’ll see some clusters of white blobs near the top left. These results helped me make the decision to open Trench A at the location shown below. Sure, it looks like a random spot in an otherwise empty paddock, but it was precisely chosen to cut across the area that I believed held structures.


Trench A, context 002, plough lines exposed. Photo: C De Leiuen

On day five, things started to get interesting. You can see in the photo below that there are metal artefacts emerging. And just as exciting, two round post holes – one near the southern end in the image below, and another under one of the bars from a bedhead (yes, that’s what those twisted bits of wire are). Incidentally, the rusty-looking rectangular object between the post holes turned out to be a very large and heavy door lock case.


Trench A, squares x16:y20 and x16:y21, context 004. Photo: C De Leiuen

At about this stage, I had to say a sad goodbye to the first lot of excavators, the crew from this year’s Conservation Field School. However, in true archaeological tradition, a couple of them returned later in the season bringing, respectively, scones and beer. So yay for Flinders archaeology students!


Students and staff from Flinders University Archaeology Department. Conservation Field School 2016. Photo: H Burke

The digging continued, and when you look at the photo below, you can perhaps marvel at the fact that most of the dirt from this trench was removed using small trowels. In reference to the image above of two squares in Trench A, you can still see the bedhead at the bottom right of the picture below, and the rusty rectangle where the door lock case had been.

We extended the trench west (left side of the picture), and at the stage shown below, we had exposed the dugout wall and were beginning to get hints of the floor surface to the east. The area where most of the work is happening was a collapsed roof comprised of thatch and a later surface of corrugated iron. This was being removed slowly and carefully, and clearly needed at least the same number of people watching as working!


Trench A, workers and watchers. Photo: C De Leiuen

At the completion of this year’s field season, here is Trench A and its dugout revealed. The dugout wall is at the west side. Those hardy Irish migrants would have dug into the rise of the hill to form a shelter wall, and continued to dig out a level floor surface to the east, including channels to form partitions.

Given my recent experiences with dust and wind on the rise of Baker’s Flat, I have new admiration for the resilience of these diggers, but also for the benefits of a limestone floor, which would have been simple enough to keep clean. A light sprinkling of water, and a few moments’ hard work with a broom would have been sufficient to sweep the floor clean of dirt and grubbiness.


Trench A, the dugout revealed. Photo: S Arthure

Notwithstanding my admiration for the limestone floor, I was content enough to lay down the trowel at the end and head for the comforts of a 21st century home.

Posted in Baker's Flat, Excavation, Field work, Migration, South Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments