Ancient artefacts

A SERIES of reports on Rio Tinto’s Warkworth coalmine have provided a rare public window into the often arcane world of archaeological research.

In order to obtain state and federal government approval to mine, coal companies must satisfy a range of conditions, the most obvious being environmental. But increasingly, Aboriginal heritage is taken seriously by governments and coal companies alike, and while the ultimate outcome might still be the same – a permit to destroy artefacts and the continuation of mining – a considerable amount of knowledge is gained in the process.

So it is with a decade of work on the Warkworth sands, which has resulted in a range of evidence to show human toolmaking in the region at least 10,000 to 15,000years ago. While this might not be extremely old by national standards – various mainland and Tasmanian sites go back 35,000years or more – it is one of the oldest sites found in the Hunter Valley.

Such dating puts Australia’s 220-odd years of European habitation into perspective and reminds us of the true depth of connection that Aboriginal people understandably feel with their country.

One major question is what to do with the materials discovered at Warkworth and other sites across the Hunter.

At one level, Aboriginal people are in the midst of a global effort to have artefacts and remains taken abroad during the colonial era returned to their descendants. Cultural concerns mean that public displays are not always appropriate, but plans for a museum of some sort at Greta – showing at least some of the items recovered during the Hunter Expressway construction project – could mark the start of a new era of public awareness and education. Similarly, a digital database of the archaeological and cultural reports done for coal companies would provide those interested with a wealth of information about the ancient traces of this country’s first custodians.

Olympic success

AFTER a slow start to Australia’s medal haul at the London Olympics, our athletes have again demonstrated their rich talents with a string of outstanding performances in the second week of competition.

We are a demanding lot when it comes to our expectations of sportsmen and women. Maybe that’s because the nation makes a significant investment in sport funding and we, as taxpayers, expect a fair return.

But often that expectation can indirectly affect the performances of our competitors. This was never more evident than in the first week of Olympic competition when Australia’s swimmers in particular appeared shattered when their performances did not live up to expectation.

That should be a trigger for a national reality check. Should we, as a community, expect so much? Should some of our athletes be so quick to talk up their own chances?

Sport – and Olympic sport in particular – should be about participation, dedication and enjoyment.

Victory can always be the goal, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate factor in determining success or failure.

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