Caring for the Kimberley

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Kachana Pastoral Station: Preliminary Archaeological Survey Report.

Researcher: Lee Scott-Virtue. Archaeologist & Historian. Kununurra.

Assessment of the Archaeology of Kachana Pastoral Station (2001):

Lee Scott-Virtue. Archaeologist and Historian.




1. Introduction

In 1989 I was approached by Chris Henggeler to undertake some archaeological work on Kachana Pastoral Station. It was not until April 1999, that I was finally able to fly out to the property.

I was interested in undertaking archaeological research over the area for a number of reasons. Apart from some contract mustering and random government activity, the very isolation and difficulty of access indicated there had probably been very little human activity over much of the property for a very long time. This indicated that much of the extant archaeological remains to be found over the property would be fairly much as the last participants had left them. This proved to be the case with the cultural remains left behind by Aborigines, but was not the case with Afghan and other historical archaeological indicators. The Afghan extant buildings had suffered from the occasional souvenir collector dropping in by helicopter. The carved boab trees had also suffered significantly in some areas from the impact of frequent wild fires. Carvings left behind by the Afghan drovers and early European stockmen and explorers were beginning to disappear. The frequent fire regime has contributed to layers of surface 'skin' being peeled from the boab, and at the same time contributing to a type of 'scaring' effect, resulting in the obscuring of letters and symbols.

Research on Kachana Station offered the following opportunities:

  1. To determine how far south west of El Questro the 'Bradshaw' type paintings extended and of determining if the stylistic variation of some of the 'later' phase of rock art motifs found on parts of El Questro extended any further south west.

  2. The gathering of additional archaeological information and extending the possible Aboriginal trading and traveling routes archaeologically and ethnographically determined over the Wyndham, El Questro and Kurunji areas, and if possible, source some of the trade items. Kachana also offered the opportunity to add to the archaeological database, additional information on the Afghan camel drovers who traveled extensively through this area.

  3. An offer by the owners of the property to use Kachana Station for student research. To this end, the first trip out to the station was purely a reconnaissance trip with Dr Jim Kohen from Macquarie University. This was firstly to determine the extent and range of research opportunities Kachana could offer, and secondly, to determine the best method of approach in undertaking my own proposed research survey. The lack of vehicle access and the need to undertake all survey on foot necessitated some very careful planning and the establishment of a model that would provide adequate information. It took further reconnaissance trips on my behalf before a workable archaeological model could be determined, and how each area could be covered.

This report is only a preliminary archaeological report, and provides information and an interpretation of the archaeological data accumulated to date. Ongoing work may alter some of the hypothesis presented and add to others. Ethnographic and oral traditions research has only just begun, and as such is not used in this report. The following information is based only on the archaeological information retrieved from the areas surveyed.


2. Kachana Pastoral Station

Kachana lies approximately south west of El Questro Station and approximately east of Doon Doon Station and west of Durack River and Kurunji. Once part of the El Questro southern lease holding area it was sold to the present owners in 1985. It comprises a total area of approximately 77,500 hectares, roughly 775 square kilometers. It is an area of rich, diverse and complex Eco systems, having two major perennial river systems, the Salmond and Chamberlain, running through the property. Many creeks, low-lying swamps and lagoons intersect these river systems, producing a varying biodiversity throughout.

The extraordinary and dramatic geological features such as the Elgee Cliffs and the Durack Range have in turn, created a complex system of valleys and permanent creek systems throughout the property. These offer a range of biodiverse systems from sub tropical paperbark forests, to 'refugia' hanging swamps.

Humans, uncontrolled animal and fire impact have taken their toll, and many significant biodiversified areas throughout the Kachana Pastoral leasehold property are struggling to survive.


3. Survey Methods

3.1 Field Approach.

It was determined from the preliminary reconnaissance trips, (one involving a fifty-kilometer round walking trip between the Chamberlain and Salmond Rivers), that eight major areas were important for immediate intensive fieldwork. Two initial base areas were chosen for practical reasons from which to commence all surveys. These were Regular Gorge, the main station homestead area, and Cleanskin Camp ten Kilometers south. The two selected areas lie in the vicinity of the Bedford Stock route, enabling an easy walk between the two and both provide accommodation and airstrips. They also allow preliminary day and overnight trips into the other areas selected for survey.

Four other areas have been selected as bases for future research. North Stock route LA and Barra Creek both have airstrips but no building infrastructure. The Afghan Camp on the Salmond and Starvation Camp have no airstrips and no infrastructure and would require equipment to be helicoptered in, however these latter camps provide more efficient access into the larger areas selected for further survey and research work.

The Barra Creek area lays approx. midway between the Chamberlain and Salmond Rivers, and will enable future reconnaissance trips to cover several kilometers in either direction. The proposed Salmond River base, located near extant Afghan building ruins would allow for more efficient field survey work along the Salmond, and west and south to the Kachana boundaries.

  1. The Ndaba Gorge area. This covers the area south from Cleanskin Gorge, taking in Rock Wallaby Gorge to Honeymoon Camp seven kilometers south, and east from the Durack Range to the unnamed Ridge. This involves an approximate survey area of circa 37 square kilometers.
  2. The Cleanskin Creek area. This covers the valley area from Cleanskin north to Regular Gorge, and west from the main Durack Range, to the unnamed ridge east of the valley. The total area is circa twenty-one square kilometers.
  3. The Barra Creek area. Running due west from the Barra Creek airstrip to the Salmond, this area covers approximately 27 square kilometers and incorporates an ecosystem containing extant Afghan Camp ruins.
  4. The Chamberlain River area. This area essentially covers the length of the river within the Kachana Station boundaries. The boundary of the Chamberlain is very clearly defined by the Elgee Cliffs on its western boundary and the Durack Range on its east.
  5. The Salmond River Area. This area essentially covers the extent of the river within the Kachana Station boundaries, and an extended survey area one-kilometer either side of the riverbanks.
  6. The Durack Range valley system north. This essentially covers the valley system north of Regular Gorge to the El Questro boundary, providing a survey area of approx. 18 square kilometers.
  7. Elgee Cliffs west. Extending south, west and north from the Elgee Cliff line near Starvation Camp, this area essentially covers an area of 28 square kilometers. The western boundary for this survey area is the 'Barra' airstrip ridgeline, running approx. north south.
  8. Eastern Kachana boundary. Essentially covering the area east of the Kachana and Cleanskin Valley system and running into the Doon Doon Station west boundary, the area selected for survey covers approximately 24 square Kilometers.

To cover relevant sections of each of the areas designated for immediate and future comprehensive survey efficiently, and to ensure maximum research results, a number of criteria were built into the planning of each walk. These criteria were based on factors such as water, access and potential food and other survival resources, and topographic features allowing for easy access to and from certain areas. This model allowed for minimum foot coverage and maximum archaeological results.


3.2 Field Objectives

  1. To record and assess the physical archaeological evidence left behind by the Aboriginal people who once exploited the resources within the area now known as Kachana Pastoral lease.
  2. To locate and record any Bradshaw like paintings, if present, within the boundaries of Kachana property.
  3. To record and begin a monitoring program of those rock art sites most likely to suffer from the impact of both wild fires and controlled burning.
  4. To record all archaeological indicators of early European and Afghan activity over the property.
  5. To retrieve and record Afghan artifacts lying on the surface in and around some of the extant Afghan building ruins.
  6. To register potential student research projects and determine those areas on Kachana best suited for these projects.


4. Research Objectives.

  1. To determine, from the archaeological evidence, the settlements, activities and travel routes taken by the Afghan camel drovers across Kachana Pastoral Station.
  2. To add on to the archaeological database, additional information on the Afghan camel drovers who traveled through the Kimberley.
  3. To produce an inventory of the Afghan artifacts and interpret their use by the Afghan Camel drovers.
  4. To generally determine and map the location and direction of the various trade and travel routes used by Aborigines travelling across the Kachana landscape from any given direction.
  5. To determine from the archaeological record, patterns of Aboriginal use and exploitation of the Kachana landscape.
  6. To determine from the archaeological evidence, the spatial and temporal movement of Aboriginal people in and around Kachana Pastoral Station.
  7. To determine, and correlate with historical records, the extent of the archaeological evidence left behind by the early European explorers and settlers who moved across the Kachana landscape.
  8. To add on to the archaeological database, more information that might provide a deeper understanding of the impact and change European impact had on Aboriginal culture(s) in the Kimberley.
  9. To determine and assess those historical and aboriginal cultural features most susceptible to the impact of tourism.
  10. To determine and assess those rock art sites and other physical historical and cultural reminders of our heritage that might be most susceptible to the impact to fire.
  11. To use the archaeological evidence to assist towards formulating a management plan for the protection of the rock art sites and other archaeological remains found throughout the property.
  12. To generally add any relevant archaeological information to the Kimberley archaeological database for future research projects.


5. Surveyed Areas.

The archaeological survey work on Kachana is still very much at the preliminary stage. Only three of the eight areas designated for comprehensive survey work have been completed. Partial and incomplete surveys of three other areas have been undertaken. Only aerial reconnaissance of the remaining two areas designated for intensive survey has been undertaken.

A total of eight visits out to Kachana have taken place since the first reconnaissance trip with Dr Jim Kohen in 1999. A maximum of five weeks was spent on the station during one of the visits. The longest field trip away from the two base camps used to date, involved five days walking, taking in the areas designated as the Barra Creek and Elgee Cliff west area, and a very small section of the area designated as the Salmond River area. This was the second walk into this area. Three other people accompanied me on this field trip and general observation and field notes were taken of the edible bush foods, medicinal plants, bird and animal tracks, unusual geological and topographic features in the landscape, stone anomalies and other unusual archaeological features, and any unusual marks and inscriptions on boab trees. Sketches and photographs of the Afghan structures and an inventory of the artefacts were completed (Scott-Virtue and Goodgame, 2001; Henggeler, B., 2001; Henggeler, R., 2001).

Other archaeological surveys have involved an overnight two-day field trip into the area designated as the Ndaba area, and thirteen one-day trips throughout the section known as the Cleanskin Creek area. This covered the valley, gorges and ridgetop sections. Several smaller half days monitoring and rechecking of recorded sites was also undertaken in this general area. Some of these excursions were in the company of Dr. Jim Kohen during a visit earlier this year (April 2001). This was to confirm the initial general archaeological assessment of the area, and some of the anomalies being picked up in the stone tool assemblages. Several fixed wing aerial flights examining other sections of the property, and one helicopter flight have been undertaken personally, and with Dr Jim Kohen, over other areas of the property.


6. General Archaeological Overview.

It became immediately clear from the archaeological evidence recorded on some of the early reconnaissance and longer survey walks, that the Kachana Pastoral lease holding property has an immensely rich and mixed cultural and archaeological history. Because of the complex topographic and geological features found throughout the property, it was apparent very quickly that there was a certain pattern to Aboriginal, Afghan camel drovers and early European utilization of, and movement across the landscape.

It was also evident that a decision to use any given area, no matter the culture, was dictated by the ease of movement, the presence of water and other human survival resources, and a camp location that provided a clear view of the surrounding countryside. The only exception to this 'rule' appeared to be Aboriginal sites that indicated a specific ceremonial or religious purpose, that is, a 'mens' site.

A few generalized statements providing a brief overview of the archaeological evidence can be made in regards to each of the cultural groups who have used the area making up the Kachana Pastoral lease.


6.1 Aboriginal

1. Open Camp Sites.

Whilst rock art sites have been located throughout the areas surveyed, the dominant evidence on the landscape indicating Aboriginal movement and activity has been the presence of large, and often intensely used, open campsites. Many of these open sites, dominated by the very visible evidence of lithic (stone) artifacts and lithic debitage (waste stone material) cover areas of several hundred meters. They were almost always found near water, and on a saddle or raised area of ground. The range of stone tools indicate post 'small stone tool tradition' suggesting the camp sites may date back to, but after, around 4-5,000 years (Kohen: 1999). Archaeological excavation may reveal an earlier time frame of use.

What is interesting is the evidence of environmental impact or weathering on the undisturbed surface of the lithic material. The buildup of calcareous and lichen layers on some of the stone artifacts suggest they have not been disturbed for hundreds if not thousands of years. This is interesting considering the purported cattle and donkey activity through the area in general. Many of the stone artifacts appear to have not been disturbed since the day they were discarded. The area of any given artifact recorded, and obviously exposed to the elements for a long period of time, showed great weathering and calcareous buildup. The side least exposed, on the other hand, looked as if they had been flaked only yesterday. The only evidence of buildup on the unexposed side was the presence of lichen on areas of the stone tool that may have had some light filtering through.

The location of scattered and random lithic material found along various topographic features provided some information of the various routes taken as the Aboriginal groups moved from one Eco system to another. This was particularly evident as Aboriginal groups moved over major geological barriers such as the Elgee cliffs and Durack Range and related range groups. The lack of archaeological evidence such as random lithic flakes and stone anomalies along ridge lines, and their immediate presence along the lower saddles and more accessible terrain, confirmed the general hypothesis that Aboriginal groups particularly, only used specific areas, with these being those closest to the waterlines and food resources. If there had been any Aboriginal movement along the ridges it was almost certainly infrequent. One pressure flaked tool was found on a ridge top. There was no other archaeological evidence determined after a ten-kilometer survey over the area.

The lithic assemblages showed an amazing and complex range of stone tool types. These pressure flaked tools showed substantial variation from site to site. Some of the lithic sites examined indicated a distinct lack of cores in the debitage, suggesting a core tool was the end result of the stone tool making activity (Kohen: pers. com). Waste flakes, pointing to a very specific objective in mind almost solely dominated these sites. Exploitation of a specific food resource may be one explanation, but any comprehensive understanding of what was happening can only be determined through a thorough analysis of a representative samples from each site. No archaeological collection has been carried out at this stage.

The absence of glass artifacts in 97% of the sites recorded, indicate there was little continued Aboriginal activity after European contact in large parts of the landscape making up Kachana. Two of the sites where glass artifacts were found, were sites also associated with Afghan activity. Some glass Kimberley points have been picked up by the owner of Kachana (pers. com) but again they seem to have been associated with areas either used by Afghan camel drovers, or with station activities such as cattle drives along the Bedford stock route.


2. 'Caches"

One site recorded, indicating specific post European Aboriginal activity, showed evidence of an Aboriginal stockman using one of the overhangs in a gorge just off the Bedford stock route for the securement or 'cache' of metal and wooden implements. These may have been carried with him while he was moving cattle along the Bedford Stock Route for one of the cattle stations, possibly Bedford Downs. The presence of the type of tools required for horse and cattle care, also left at the site, support the presence of an Aboriginal stockman, rather than an Aboriginal individual still using the area for semi traditional purposes. This hypothesis is further supported by the presence of a milk tin, billy, spoon, knife and fork, and other related artifacts associated with a stockman's camp. Only the metal spear and wooden implements had been cached carefully, and out of sight. The ordinary implements associated with horse and cattle care and food preparation were all together, and located in an area that appears to have been a campfire. Dates on some of the utilitarian items such as the billy etc indicate the 'cache' to relate to the late 1950's or early 1960's. The Bedford Stock route was also used extensively during the 1950's and early 1960's (Bob Wainwright pers. com) suggesting the use of this area by the Aboriginal stockman probably relates to this period.

The presence of both the 'cache' and the equipment associated with the Aboriginal stockman's job, suggests he did not return to this location, for whatever reason. Interestingly, whoever was responsible, 'cached' these implements in an 'earlier' Aboriginal burial site, securing the 'implements' in a rock hollow above the burial site. The individual buried in this site appears to have been an important individual. The variety of carefully manufactured stone implements you might find in a hunter's dilly bag was buried also. It is impossible to know whether the Aboriginal Stockman knew of the burial or not. The time span between the burial and the later use by the Aboriginal stockman suggests he was unaware. This might also indicate some unfamiliarity with the area.

Archaeological evidence found approximately 150 meters from the small rock overhang 'cache' and burial site may have been the holding area for the stockman's horse. Metal (old fencing wire) had been forced into the trunk of a boab in a couple of places. An old horseshoe was also present. The topographic features of this area in general lend to the hypothesis the stockman may also have bought his cattle into this holding area. Scattered stone lithic material throughout the area also indicate earlier, more traditional use of the area


3. Rock Art Sites.

The number of rock art sites located and recorded throughout the areas surveyed on the Kachana Pastoral leasehold property indicates a paucity of rock art in general. Significant too, is the very faded state of any of the rock art recorded. The preservation status and general 'lack' of rock art images may indicate a long time span since Aboriginal people used rock overhangs in this location.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this observation. Painted images may have long disappeared, or the Aboriginal groups traveling through the area in general did not use rock overhangs much. There are a number of rock overhangs, which could have been used by the various cultural groups utilizing the resources of the areas in general, but there is little evidence of their having done so.

On the other hand, the presence of large open campsites might suggest open campsites were always preferable. However, the open campsites may also indicate the area was used primarily as part of a 'travel' and trading route, with movement mainly taking place over the dry season.

Only one rock art site recorded on the Kachana Pastoral property shows evidence of a more 'recent' repainting phase. These motifs however, do not represent the 'most' recent or last phase of rock art painting observed in other sites in the Kimberley (pers obs). Most of the later motifs are superimposed over the much older paintings. Most are painted in white ochre, with two in brownish yellow ochre. Although in a fairly protected area, the paintings are badly preserved, with little surface ochre left. Stylistically, the anthropomorphic like motifs are similar to those found towards the El Questro and Wyndham areas. The later Kachana images, like other examples of this art style, show no evidence of recent touching up or repainting. Photographs of the art from El Questro have been shown to a number of Aboriginal people. Other than the comment that they are Wandjina, there has been a general consensus of no one knowing anything about them anymore. They are not Wandjina (pers obs).

Of further archaeological interest in the Kachana rock art, is the general absence of any discernable 'overlapping' of changing motifs and stylistic variation in the much older red ochre images. This would suggest any earlier images, if they had been there, might have long disappeared. It may also suggest there has been little change in how this area was used for thousands of years. Any superimposition is evident in only one site, and this is extremely faded and difficult to read. This phenomenon in the changing perception of use for an area is reflected in most rock art sites of the Kimberley (pers. obs). The exception to this is found only in the 'Bradshaw' style of art, and the true Wandjina ceremonial sites found in parts of the West Kimberley (ibid). Whatever the reason behind painting these two styles of art, the motive appears to have remained the same.

The style of art found on Kachana is dominated primarily by the red ochre infill 'Ulu' spiritual anthropomorphic figures. Other figures appear to have both the Wandjina and the Northern Territories Victoria River Lightning figures influenced in their portrayal. This influence however, is probably less to do with an attempt to copy, but rather more an example of a similar theme coming through. The similarities in theme are the use of ochre patterning resembling rain or water, and the motifs used to symbolize lightning or other weather elements. Other than this, there is no resemblance at all in the style of the figures found on Kachana and other related areas, to the Wandjinas' of the West Kimberley. The stronger influence seems to have come from the Victoria River Region.

Significantly the similar red ochre infill stylistic anthropomorphic figures found in the rock art sites on Kachana are also to be found in sites located further north east, primarily around the Mataeo and Embey Rocks area of El Questro Station, one site near the main working station, and two sites towards Wyndham. This archaeological evidence provides additional information of the possible trade and traveling route scenario suggested from the presence of large open sites found on Kachana. This red ochre anthropomorphic variation has not been found west (pers. obs) and more work is required to see how far south and south east it might have extended.


4. Lithic Quarry Sites.

Substantial lithic (stone) quarry sites have been determined over a number of areas on Kachana. The archaeological evidence indicates these have primarily focused on the valley systems of the Durack Range, Chamberlain and Salmond Rivers and areas indicating the presence of once permanent water systems. A second feature has been the presence of particularly fine-grained quartzite, in 'in-situ' rock form or river pebbles. The outstanding feature of the Durack Range valley quarry sites has been the dominance of massive blade production. While some of the other quarry and tool production sites indicate blade production, they were not the dominant feature of the site. A preference for the manufacturer of spear points and scrapper production seemed to be more the norm in the other quarried sites. An unusual feature of the blade production in the Durack Valley sites was the length of the debitage blades discarded. Many were around 10 cm in length.

Apart from the deliberate choice of a fine-grained quartzite, there is little obvious archaeological reason for the preference of blade production along the Durack Range Valley system. A number of reasons can be hypothesized. If this valley system was part of a major trading route north and south of the area, these blades may well have been a trade item. The blades may have been traded either as completed stone tools or as unrefined blades for the eventual manufacture of specific tools. The latter might explain why the unrefined blades have not been picked up in other areas (pers. obs). If selection of only the best is the answer, it might explain why some of the sites exhibit considerable depth of debitage waste flakes. However, this buildup of waste blades could also be a result of quarry and blade production undertaken in the same area for thousands of years.

One quarry site indicates the specific activity was focussed only on the production of these unusually long blades. The considerable depth and specific nature of the blade production debitage might even suggest a 'teaching' site for young boys. A well-struck blade can then be used for the manufacture of many other types of stone tools, thus allowing a fair assumption this may have been the first step in teaching a young boy the flaking properties of fine-grained quartzite (pers. com).

Supporting any of the above hypotheses is the presence of a large open campsite less then a hundred meters away, indicating the presence of family group activity. Unlike the Quartzite quarry site, the range of stone tools found in this location show a broad range of stone material and stone tools. Many exhibit the pressure flaking common in the small stone tool industry and indicating a possible time frame of occupation within the last 4-5,000 years (Kohen:1999).


5. Ochre Quarries.

Potential ochre quarries have been determined along many of the permanent creek systems. All are of very fine quality ochre and would have been a ready resource for trade. The main source of ochre appears to be located in the Durack Range Valley area in many of the small permanent creek systems. The ochre is of fine quality, and exhibits a broad range of varying colors. The source of the ochre seems to be the predominant clay base that underlies the various creek systems.

Until further archaeological work is undertaken, and an attempt is made to source this ochre along the possible trade routes leading through the Kachana area, it is difficult to determine if Aboriginal people used this particular ochre. Oral traditions for the Kununurra and Wyndham areas speak of special ochre coming from both the south and west of Kununurra (Ju Ju: pers com). It was evident this information did not include where 'further south' however the source west seems to have been around the present Carlton hill area (ibid). It seems this trade stopped happening well before Ju Ju's grandmother's time (ibid). This would place the cessation of ochre trade around the 1930's. The archaeological evidence, on the other hand, suggests ochre trade had probably largely ceased at least by the turn of the century.


6. Carved Boab Trees.

Very little evidence has been found of Aboriginal activity associated with carving motifs and other symbols into boab trees over Kachana Station.

One single boab located in the Cleanskin area showed evidence of several large emu tracks carved deeply into the trunk. The depth of the buildup of lichen, and the extent of raised tree 'scaring' around the perimeter of the carved symbols suggests they may be quite old. Scattered lithic material and some odd stone 'arrangements' surround the tree some distance from its base. It is difficult to hypothesize the meaning of the emu symbols other than they may have been associated with a ceremony to encourage the reproduction of the emu. It is also hard to associate such large emu track motifs with a 'teaching' site for young men.

One other Boab tree, also located in the Cleanskin area, shows some unusual lineal carved scarring, however, it is difficult to determine this as being the exclusive result of Aboriginal activity. A further assessment is required before any hypothesis can be made.


7. Stone Anomalies.

Stone anomalies or 'arrangements' as they are sometimes archaeologically referred to, have been recorded in a number of surveyed areas. Most recorded on Kachana tend to represent markers pointing towards a rock art, or burial site. Other rock arrangements appear to represent 'ceremonial' type activities. Buildup of lichen, calcium and other biological and chemical weathering elements on exposed rock surfaces tend to suggest none of the stone anomalies are recent. There is the general perception that it is a very long time since anything has been disturbed other than as a direct result of animal activity.


8. Burial Sites.

Only one definite burial and two possible burial sites have been recorded in the areas surveyed. The archaeologically determined burial site is located below the cache of Aboriginal post European metal implements. All that remains are fragments of bone and bark, the arranged stones and the owner's own 'cache' of stone implements. The two 'possible' burial sites now contain only the 'arranged' stones. There is no visible evidence of bark or bone. Without any bone or bark remains, it is difficult to know if the area represents a 'cache' which may have held 'special' items, or in fact represents an ancient burial place.

The state of the bone fragments and bark from the archaeologically determined burial indicates considerable age. The burial location lies in a very protected position, with little chance of many disturbances through animal activity. During the wet seasons however, there would have been considerable water flow through the rocks, which may have accelerated the decay process. Without an analysis of the bone material itself, it is difficult to hypothesize the age with any accuracy, other than to estimate it is not a recent burial and probably predates European contact.


6.2 Afghan.

1. Settlements.

The archaeological evidence of the Afghan camel drover's movement across the Kachana Pastoral station property is extraordinarily rich and diverse. Extant building remains and other archaeological evidence on the Salmond River indicate a substantial settlement and stopping off point for the traders moving through the area. It also verifies the Salmond and other areas of Kachana Station were part of a trading route taken by Afghan Camel Drovers trading goods from station to station.

The location of the settlement on the immediate eastern side of the Salmond is interesting. It indicates the perception by the Afghan Camel Drovers that the Salmond flowed all year rather than on an annaul basis. This perception is substantiated by the size of the settlement and the obvious intensive activity that occurred in and around the settlement. The archaeological evidence suggests a number of yards for domestic stock within the main settlement area, three main buildings, two of which are still quite evident, and a main animal holding yard some distance from the settlement. This may have been the holding pen for relief camels. A second pen is located on the other side of the northern creek boundary of the settlement. The archaeological evidence also suggests that while ever the settlement was active, there was a constant human presence established in the camp to assist the traders as they moved through the area.

The archaeological evidence also suggests the settlement was abandoned quite abruptly. Little effort had been made to take any of the day-to-day equipment with them. The very isolation of the camp, and the difficulty in actually moving anything would have been a careful consideration on what to take when leaving the settlement unattended.

The Salmond today is very much a annual watercourse, and after a poor wet, breaks down to only a few permanent waterholes. A reconnaissance flight three years ago indicated the Salmond below the Afghan settlement held little water. The owners of the station have verified this virtually dried up in some years (Chris Henggeler. pers com). There is no archaeological evidence to suggest the choice to abandon the settlement was made for any reason other than for economic and subsistence reasons. There are indications in the archaeological record left behind, that the Afghan drovers may have had every intention of returning at a later date, another reason for leaving so much behind. There also appears to have been little concern in regards to leaving many valuable items. This indicates there was little concern by the Afghans for equipment to go missing. On the basis of the archaeological interpretation of the evidence at hand, Aborigines had probably long left the area.

The settlement appears to have survived for some years, although when the settlement was first established is difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy. Dates carved into a boab tree suggest the settlement was first established sometime around the 1930's. Similar archaeological evidence also supports Afghan activity in the general area of the settlement and immediate area until as late as the 1940's to the early 1950's. However, ethnographic evidence suggests activity by camel drovers in the Kimberley to have been established around 1883 (Scott-Virtue, 1998). The Afghans were reported as passing through Kurunji in the 1890's (Nixon, 1978). Later signatures testify to European activity at the abandoned settlement from the 1950's through to the 1970's.

It is not possible at this stage to determine if the settlement continued to be occupied, or even used continuously throughout. It may have only been used when water was available all year round, suggesting there were probably years when the camp was abandoned for long periods of time. This would still be the case today. This periodic abandoning of the settlement due to water problems may well have preempted the last abandonment, but for whatever reasons, the Afghan Drovers did not return to retrieve any of their equipment.


2. Cultural Material.

The cultural material left behind by the camel drovers has enabled a number of archaeological conclusions to be made. Items used for trade were differentiated from those used for subsistence and survival. Beautiful hand made tools indicating gardening; building, cooking, and animal activities provide a wonderful insight into the day-to-day existence and fortitude of the camel drovers (Scott-Virtue & Goodgame, 2001). Trademark imported wrought iron and ceramic cooking utensils, and other assorted items have also assisted in determining a clearer insight into questions of what trade items were carried, where they were coming from and the time frame these items were finding their way into the Kimberley (Ibid.). The richness of the cultural material left behind by the Afghan camel drovers, and the isolated settlements dotted over the Kimberley landscape, are a reminder of the significant role these intrepid pioneers and traders played in the lives of the early European settlers and the pastoral industry.


3. Carved Boab Trees.

Carved Boab trees located in and around the settlement have been used by many of the Afghan camel drovers to carve their names, signatures and dates into. Future ethnographic work should identify whom many of these camel drovers were, what years they were in the Kimberley and where they may have originated. The boab trees also appear to have been used as tally sheets to itemize some of the equipment either left in the settlement or for trade. Arabic type symbols have been used for this 'tally' system, and more work is required before any real archaeological interpretation can be made.

Part of the trade route used by the Afghan camel drovers moving into and out of the settlement has been determined by carved names left in boab trees along the way. Further survey work on Kachana and related properties, and intensive ethnographic research, should enable these travel routes to be determined fairly accurately for much of the Kimberley area. Because of the repetitive damage to the boab trees through fire, the archaeological component of this work is critical.


4. Afghan and Aboriginal Interaction.

The presence of pressure flaked glass artifacts found in the Afghan settlement indicate there was some interaction, direct or indirect, between the Aboriginal indigenous people and the Afghan camel drovers. All artifacts represented the steep edged blade variety. A number of hypotheses can be raised. The items found may indicate some form of trade between the two cultural groups occurred, and/or that Aboriginal hunters moved freely in and out of the Afghan settlement.

The archaeological indicators may result from Aboriginal hunters visiting the camp only during the times the Afghans 'abandoned' or left the camp. The glass artifacts may also indicate trade further down the track, with the Afghan camel drovers themselves carrying the items into the settlement. Only four items of pressure flaked glass were found in the settlement, suggesting what ever the interaction, it was very brief and probably occurred on only one or two occasions.

Interestingly, three major open Aboriginal campsites located within a few hundred meters of the Afghan settlement showed no evidence of glass or other metals normally associated with post European settlement and the indigenous populations. This would tend to support that whatever the reason behind the presence of the pressure flaked glass, there is no evidence of frequent or constant interaction between the Aborigines and the Afghan Camel drovers on Kachana station.

If Afghan movement and trading activity commenced in the Kachana pastoral station area in the late 1890's, the archaeological evidence suggests this either had little impact on the Aborigines in the area, or that Aboriginal people had already moved away. The preservation status of the rock art and the lack of glass support this later hypothesis as does the lace other European technologically produced items found in 97% of the sites recorded to date.


6.3 European.

1. Carved Boab Trees.

A number of carved boab trees relating to European activity have been located over the Kachana Pastoral Lease. Two phases of active European movement can be determined from these dates. Although other dates associated with names have been located, the two dominant phases of dating relate to a number of different individuals. The 1930's and the 1950's seem to indicate distinctive activity and/or exploration. Several names have been associated with the two decades. What is interesting is that virtually the same route was traveled during the 30's and 50's. Ethnographic research will assist to determine who these individuals were, and if these movements are related to cattle or other station activity. More archaeological work needs to be undertaken to cover a larger area.


2. Stock Routes.

A section of the Bedford Stock Route is still extant in the Durack valley system. Several archaeological surveys on foot along a ten-kilometer stretch, has revealed horseshoes, nail and other tin items associated with stockmen and cattle movement. No pressure flaked glass has been picked up along the stretch surveyed, however more area needs to be covered before any hypothesis can be made. It is along this ten-kilometer stretch that the 'cache' of artifacts relating to an Aboriginal stockman was recorded.

The Bedford Stock Route on Kachana follows the Durack Range and permanent water. Large 'open' camping sites relating to intensive Aboriginal movement through the area at one time can be found along the route. These however, seem to relate to a time prior to the cattle route being put in. The undercutting of the road has disturbed many of the sites. This is particularly evident over saddle landforms when meters of rock and soil have been moved to level out the area.

The presence of European carved boab trees found on other parts of Kachana, and along easy access valley and flat country systems may also indicate old stock routes taken to move cattle from one station to another.


3. General.

Names carved into the main Boab tree in the Afghan settlement dating to the 60's and 70's testify to later European activity in this specific area. Artifacts denoting mining activity may provide answers for the later carved names.


7. Summary.

Although only part of the proposed archaeological research has been undertaken on Kachana Pastoral Station, it has become obvious the area has a rich and varied cultural and historical heritage. The archaeological evidence suggests the property was once part of a vital trading and travel route for a number of different groups. Aboriginal people once traveled through the area, using the various valley and river system to move predominantly north and south. East west movement is only discerned in areas of easy access and movement, with water and food resources playing an important role in where and how family and hunting groups traveled.

The archaeological evidence suggests open campsites were favored over the use of rock shelters. This may also indicate that movement through the area was mainly during the dry season, when access across rivers and creeks would have been easier. This is confirmed by the location of a high percentage of open sites located around permanent water holes.

These large and obviously intensively used open campsites are found primarily along the Durack Range valley and Elgee Cliff's systems. This evidence and the presence of a certain distinctive stylistic anthropomorphic figure found at Kachana and around the El Questro and Wyndham areas suggest the movement of Aboriginal groups was essentially north and south, and probably part of a major trading route. Further archaeological work over a wider area, as well as substantial ethnographic and oral traditions is required also.

The presence of unusually long blade production; the absence of blade cores in some sites and other rather unusual stool tool production techniques and end results provide a unique opportunity to hypothesize a range of activities Aboriginal groups participated in while moving through the area. Further analysis of these stone tool assemblages will provide substantial additional information to the present archaeological assessment.

The archaeological evidence indicates that it has been some time since Aboriginal people have used the Kachana area for traditional purposes. This is confirmed by the preservation status and stylistic variation observed in the rock art sites recorded. Archaeological indicators of 'time' can also be observed in the 'in situ' lithic waste debitage and tools by the buildup of weathering and biological agents. The only burial site still showing signs of bone and paperback, also supports some time has elapsed since Aboriginal people have used the area for traditional living. The absence of pressure flaked glass in a high percentage of sites recorded suggests that if there was continued traditional Aboriginal living, it was very minimal and only took place in some areas.

Afghan Traders have also left their presence over the Kachana landscape. Extant remains of what was obviously an important, and quite large trading outpost evidently established to assist in facilitating trade and other activities, is a reminder of how significant these Afghan traders were to the opening up of the Kimberley. Preliminary ethnographic evidence points to their presence in this area as early as the 1880's. The archaeological evidence conclusively supports the settlement, as trading from at least the 1930's through till the 1950's; however, there is some archaeological evidence, which suggests they were in the general Kachana area from the 1890's. Further work is required in this area before any conclusive assessment can be made.

Early European pastoral activity over the area also shows two dominant phases of activity to have been around the 1930's and again in the 1950's. Further archaeological work may reveal earlier periods of activity. The ethnographic information indicates a much earlier pastoral and exploration phase throughout the Kachana area in general. It is interesting that the dates derived from the archaeological evidence seem to coincide with the Afghan interaction.

There is some archaeological evidence of what may have represented mining exploration in the general area of the Afghan trading post. The type and nature of metals and artifacts suggest sometime around the 1960's/70's. Ethnographic research will add to this information.


8. Conclusions.

On the basis of the archaeological evidence compiled to date several conclusions can be made. An interpretation of the information suggests that-

  1. The preservation status and stylistic variation of the extant rock art to date indicates little or no Aboriginal traditional activity for some time within the areas surveyed. The archaeological evidence indicates this cultural activity relates to before and possibly just around European contact, suggesting over a hundred years since traditional living was carried out in the area in general.
  2. The preference for open campsites indicates more of a seasonal use for the area, suggesting dry season activity.
  3. The painters of the 'Bradshaw' style of rock art painting do not appear to have traveled as far south as the current Kachana lease.
  4. The predominant use of the Durack Range and Elgee Cliff systems for open camping by Aboriginal groups, and the presence of the same stylistic variation of anthropomorphic figures also located in the El Questro and Wyndham areas indicate movement of groups to be north and south. This suggests the trading system also moved in this direction.
  5. The archaeological evidence has provided considerable insight into how Aboriginal groups were exploiting and using the landscape of the Kachana Pastoral lease.
  6. The archaeological evidence of pressure flaked glass and the uses of other metals indicate there was some post European contact by Aboriginal People on Kachana Station. This evidence however, appears to relate specifically to Afghan or pastoral activities, and the direct result of interaction of single individuals rather than with Aboriginal groups.
  7. The carved boab trees, and the presence of the extant Afghan settlement ruins provide significant insight into the impact and presence Afghan camel drovers had in the area.
  8. The archaeological evidence has provided some insight into early European use and exploitation of the area in general.

9. Future Research Objectives.

  1. To complete the archaeological survey of Kachana by the year 2002.
  2. To complete the ethnographic research component by the end of 2001.
  3. To extend the oral traditions research to the Kachana area. This is already in place for other areas.



Henggeler, R. 2001. Kachana historical Cultural Archaeological Walk. Field Report.

Henggeler B. 2001. Historical Walk, Kachana. Field Report.

Kohen, J. 2000. Aboriginal Environmental Impacts. University of NSW Press Ltd.

Nixon, Marion. 1978. The Rivers of Home. Frank Lacy-Kimberley Pioneer. Marion Nixon Pty Ltd.

Scott-Virtue, E. 1998. Potted History of Wyndham. Published articles in The Kimberley Echo. Book unpublished.

Scott-Virtue, E. and Goodgame, D., 2001 An Archaeological Insight into the Afghan History of Kachana Pastoral Station. Research Report. Unpublished.