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.

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

  1. Noel says:

    All very interesting – my great-grandmother (nee Ellen Hogan) was born at Baker’s Flat on 19th November 1860, of Irish Catholic parents; I have a little memory of her as she died age 100 when I was 6. Family tradition has it that she claimed to have been born in a dugout on the banks of the ‘Kapunda Creek’, though she didn’t talk much about her childhood (research in more recent years has shown that there were 6 children born without benefit of marriage, though all baptised in the Kapunda Catholic Church; father apparently a destitute alcoholic – died in the Destitute Asylum in Adelaide – and the children were sent to the Reform School in early 1870s (all pre-teenage) after being found ‘wandering the streets without visible means of support’, and at least two were adopted out.) Their mother (Mary Fraser) was “interested in politics” and has an obituary notice in the Labor Party newspaper in 1912; apparently two of Ellen’s brothers were prominent in the Labor Party in NSW. (Another family tradition has it that Mary liked to spend time in Wallaroo; I have wondered at times if she went there to get money ‘entertaining’ the sailors in the port – but nobody has yet found anything to prove that theory!)

    Not sure I can help much with your work, but I’m contacting my mother’s cousins (now all around 90) and trying to re-establish connections with families of Ellen’s siblings who moved to Sydney in late 1800s.


    Noel Carthew

    They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety” (Benjamin Franklin, 1759)


    • sarthure says:

      Hi Noel
      Great to get your comment. We’ve met before – at a mining history day in Kapunda I think. I had remembered your great-grandmother’s name was Hogan, but not that she had been born in a dugout at Baker’s Flat. It’s one of the things that I love about archaeology – uncovering material evidence that supports community and family stories, really giving proof that people can remember things correctly. And highlighting those hidden histories!

  2. Hugh says:

    Good post. Great pictures.

  3. sarthure says:

    Thank you Hugh.

  4. Hilary Arthure says:

    I am loving this adventure. Congratulations Susan. Brilliantly interesting.

    • sarthure says:

      Thanks Hilary. It’s fun to put it together. And good to write for a different audience than the pure academic.

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