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Jordan River levee site, Andrew St, Brighton, TAS, Australia

Photographs None
List National Heritage List
Class Indigenous
Legal Status Listed place (23/12/2011)
Place ID 106168
Place File No 6/01/001/0032
Nominator's Summary Statement of Significance
The site is of outstanding significance to the archaeological and scientific community, both nationally and internationally, as outlined in the Interim Report on the Jordan River Levee excavation, April 2010. Author Rob Paton, consultant archaeologist engaged by the Tasmanian State Government, presents findings on analyses completed on materials excavated from the Jordan River Levee (JRL) to date. He assesses the site thus:
'The JRL site is the oldest and best stratified open site in Tasmania and one of the oldest sites in Australia.'

It is extremely ancient. The flood plain on which the levee lies has been dated to about 60000 years ago. The levee began to be formed about 40000 years ago and contains artefacts showing Aboriginal occupation from at least 37000 years ago and possibly to 40000 years.

The levee contains an extraordinarily high density of stone tools. On average about 100 stone tools per square metre of excavated deposit were found. If this density is consistent over the length of the whole levee, an estimated 3 million tools are on site. To date only 1% of the site has been excavated, and only 1/8th of the excavated material analysed.

The site is intact, the layers of the levee are in their natural order without having been disturbed. This is 'exceptionally rare in Australia, with most open sites subject to continual erosion over time and the subsequent merging of occupation layers with one another.'

Another unique feature is the presence of two living floors containing evidence of the manufacture of stone tools (knapping) as a complete event. 'Knapping floors such as this are extremely rare', particularly if further analysis shows they were undisturbed.

Some tools found in the top layer date from the time of invasion and colonisation, linking Aboriginal use of the levee in comparatively recent times to a site of great antiquity. It is exceptionally rare and of very high cultural and scientific significance for a place to show consistent Aboriginal occupation from 40000 years ago through to the present day.

The levee can provide 'invaluable', 'detailed and intact information regarding prehistoric Aboriginal behaviour' and subsistence, and 'snapshots of human behaviour in time' over a 40000 year period. To obtain such information is 'all but impossible in 99% of archaeological sites.'

The report concludes 'The great antiquity of the JRL site means that not only is the site of great cultural significance to Aboriginal people but it is also important to the human population as a whole.'
It is therefore '..a site of high cultural and archaeological significance on both a national and international scale. As such, it is imperative that the site be conserved' and 'it is imperative that time be given to analyse the remainder of the artefact assemblage and that a full suite of radiometric analyses be undertaken in order to provide a complete history of the site.'
Official Values
Criterion G Social value
After a century of being denied their identity, Tasmanian Aboriginal people reassert their Aboriginality through their cultural places that have indigenous heritage value. The Jordan River [Kutalayna] Levee site is important to Tasmanian Aboriginal people as the place and its stone artefacts provide a connection to their collective ancestors, to their way of living and to their traditional cultural practices that can be handed on to succeeding generations. The place is of outstanding heritage value to the nation because of its special cultural association with Tasmanian Aboriginal people and its exceptional symbolic importance arising from their collective defence of their identity in the face of the threats to their heritage.
The Jordan River Levee site is located on the western bank of the Jordan River, near Brighton 30 km north of Hobart, in southern Tasmania (Paton 2010:6). The levee bank is situated on alluvial floodplain deposits which began to rapidly accumulate some time before 60 000 years ago. The Jordan River then cut through these sediments forming the current river channel (Paton 2010:55). The floodplain measures approximately 1000 m long, 300 m wide and is at least 1 m thick (CHMA 2010a:21; Paton 2010:13). It is currently covered in pasture with sparse patches of native trees and shrubs growing between the levee bank and the river (Paton 2010:8).
The Jordan River levee is 600 m long, 60 m wide and 67-80 cm deep with its length running north-northwest parallel to the Jordan River. Native vegetation has been cleared and replaced by pasture (Paton 2010:6, 8; CHMA 2010a:1, 21). The levee formed over a 30 000 year period from about 41 000 to 12 000 years ago when repeated overbank flooding events of the Jordan River deposited the levee sediments. The sediment was transported by water flowing outside the Jordan River channel and onto the floodplain where the water flow slowed and became shallower (CHMA 2010a:21; Paton 2010:55). This resulted in coarser sediment being 'deposited rapidly adjacent to the channel while the finest sediment (clay) is deposited away from the channel' (Paton 2010:14). After this period the levee and floodplain landforms have remained relatively stable (Paton 2010:55).
Due to meanders in the Jordan River, the distance between the levee bank and the river has fluctuated over time. The current distance of the levee bank to the Jordan River varies between approximately 50 and 150 meters (Paton 2010:8, 13-14). Recent research by Paton has found that the Aboriginal cultural material is largely confined to the levee bank deposits. A survey of the land owned by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources found that the surface exposure of cultural material was limited to one artefact located to west of the levee and three to the east between the levee and the river (CHMA 2010b:6-7).
The majority of the cultural material retrieved from the site during archaeological excavations comprises flaked stone artefacts. Stone artefacts were found to a maximum depth of about 70 cm below the surface of the levee, with an average of 70 artefacts per square metre of excavated deposit. The site also contains worked historic glass and ceramic artefacts, indicating the continuity of Aboriginal occupation up to the very recent past (Paton 2010:98).
For decades Tasmanian Aboriginal people were denied their identity as Aboriginal people. As a result of being considered an extinct race, Tasmanian Aboriginal people have developed a special association with their heritage places as a tangible connection to their collective ancestors and their land. The Jordan River (kutalayna) Levee site has become symbolically important in the identity of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, providing an uninterrupted connection to their ancestors, to their way of living and to their traditional cultural practices.
The establishment of a penal settlement in Van Diemen’s Land in 1803 triggered a violent and protracted conflict between the Aboriginal people of Tasmania and newly arrived settlers. This conflict, coupled with disease and starvation, quickly and significantly reduced the Tasmanian Aboriginal population. In an attempt to negotiate a settlement to the ongoing conflict, Colonel George Arthur, Governor of the penal settlement, appointed George Augustus Robinson to bring the remaining Aboriginal people in from the remote areas of Tasmania.
Robinson initially persuaded and later forced Aboriginal people in Tasmania to settle at Wybalenna, a reserve created on Flinders Island located off the Tasmanian northeast coast. He indicated that in return for moving to Wybalenna, they would be provided with food, clothing, shelter and most significantly he assured them that their cultural traditions would be respected and that they could regularly visit their homelands. In 1833 more than 200 Aboriginal people were relocated to Wybalenna from the Tasmanian mainland. When the reserve closed in 1847 only 46 Aboriginal people survived. The children were removed to the Orphan School in Hobart ‘as a means of expunging Aboriginal identity and of controlling the parents’ (Ryan 1996:200). The adults alternatively were moved to Oyster Cove on the Tasmanian mainland, 30 km from Hobart (Attwood et al. 1999:30; Pocock 2008:10-11). They were removed as there were concerns about the continuing relationship between the sealing community and Aboriginal people on the island, in that they ‘would contaminate the remaining “fullbloods” and feared that their offspring would become a future charge upon the colonial government’ (Ryan 1996:202).
In parallel with the events at Wybalenna and Oyster Cove, there was a growing Aboriginal population on the Bass Strait islands. From the late 1700s, Tasmanian Aboriginal people had encountered sealers hunting the large seal colonies on islands in the Bass Strait. For the next one and a half centuries the Tasmanian government disregarded the Aboriginal identity of the descendents of the sealers and Aboriginal women on these islands and simply referred to this group as ‘islanders’ (Haebich 2000: 70-71; Pocock 2008:11).
The recognised Aboriginal population on the mainland of Tasmania continued to decrease and the authorities considered them a 'doomed race', on the brink of extermination (Haebich 2000:123). By the 1860s William Lanne was generally referred to as the last Tasmanian Aboriginal male and after his death in 1869, Truganini became known as the last Tasmanian Aboriginal. Her death in 1876 had a devastating impact on the surviving Aboriginal people, as the fiction of the extinction of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people became firmly embedded in colonial consciousness (Haebich 2000:125).
After the death of William Lanne and Truganini, officials continued to treat the Aboriginal people on the Bass Strait islands ambiguously, failing to recognise them as either Aboriginal or European, and denied the Aboriginality of others living on the mainland of Tasmania (Haebich 2000:126). By 1901 Tasmania was officially recording its Aboriginal population as zero (Chesterman and Gilligan 1997:151). This allowed the Tasmanian government to ignore policy, legislation and expenditure to assist Aboriginal people (Haebich 2000). The lack of government attention was highlighted when the Tasmanian government indicated that it had 'no admitted reason to be represented' at the first conference of Commonwealth, State and Territory Aboriginal Authorities in 1937 (Rowley 1973:25).
Although their Aboriginality was denied by authorities, there continued to be a high degree of intervention in the lives of islanders and other Tasmanian Aboriginal people (Pocock 2008:39). Aboriginal families were known because they usually had surnames which marked them as 'half-castes'. These families suffered from discrimination, 'racial hatred, prejudice and rejection' because of their Aboriginality (Haebich 2000:495; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1999).
From the early 1970s the descendants of the Aboriginal women on the islands in the Bass Strait and on the Tasmanian mainland began publically to reassert their Aboriginal identity. A meeting held in 1971 was attended by 200 Tasmanian Aboriginal people to consider the government’s education policy and they resolved that:
'…we do not wish the Tasmanian Government to attempt to dilute and breed out our people and our cultural heritage' (as quoted in Haebich 2000:497).
Similarly in 1977 Mrs Gardiner, a Palawa woman, wrote to the Launceston Examiner stating:
'We are claiming land rights…What is wrong with that? It is our ancestors calling from their graves. Claim what is rightfully yours' (as quoted in Haebich 2000:76).
Simultaneously the interest in the archaeology of Aboriginal Australia was growing. In the 1960s Rhys Jones began the first academic archaeological research in Tasmania. With an increased interest in Australia's prehistory occurring at the same time when Tasmanian Aboriginal people were asserting their identity, Tasmanian Aboriginal people had to contend with claims about their heritage, including the inappropriate interpretation of their culture. In particular, Tasmanian Aboriginal people were confronted by the suggestion that before the arrival of Europeans, their ancestors were maladapted because they stopped eating fish about 4 000 years ago (Jones 1975:46). Jones's archaeological evidence indicated that the remains of fish refuse are not found in middens dating from about 3 000 BP (before present c. 1950). Seeing no ecological reason to explain the non-presence of fish, Jones surmised that Tasmanian Aboriginal people had selected a 'grossly maladaptive strategy' as a result of their long term isolation as a small population (Jones 1975:46).
Tasmanian Aboriginal people also had to contend with the inappropriate treatment of their cultural heritage by some archaeologists and other heritage professionals. In 1994 the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council sought the return of more than 400 000 artefacts excavated from sites in southwest and northwest Tasmania by archaeologists from La Trobe University after the researcher’s permits had expired (Allen 1995). The subsequent public debate over this material resulted in the Federal Court considering the validity of the permits issued to collect the material and the return of the cultural material (Roy Sainty and Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council Aboriginal Corp v Allen &Murray  [I995] VG643). This resulted in the return of the material to Tasmanian Aboriginal people in 1995 (Allen 1995:48).
This controversy was important because it did not involve human skeletal material or objects that were generally considered sacred items. It raised questions over the ownership of Aboriginal heritage and the tension between the cultural significance, the scientific significance or the research potential of Aboriginal heritage (Harris 1996; Laster 2001:230). It also highlighted the importance of Aboriginal heritage places and cultural material in the formulation of Tasmanian Aboriginal identity by academics and others. Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples’ affirmation of their identity through the assertion of their rights to their cultural material, heritage places and its interpretation played an important role in redefining Indigenous heritage and its significance to Indigenous people throughout Australia (Attwood et al. 1999:23; Harris 1996:32; Laster 2001:230; Langford 1983; TALC 1996). This was particularly challenging given contemporary Australian legislation relating to native title, heritage and conservation, which tend to require an unbroken connection to places as a criterion to recognise the significance of such places to Indigenous people.
The century long denial by the wider society of an Aboriginal identity to all Aboriginal people in Tasmania resulted in widespread disruption of connections to particular places. This makes the places occupied by the collective ancestors of Tasmanian Aboriginal people particularly important in the assertion of a state-wide Tasmanian Aboriginal identity. The Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples’ association with the Jordan River Levee site is particularly special:
'The Jordan River valley is one such place where Aboriginal people have an uninterrupted connection to our ancestors, to their way of living and to the traditional cultural practices. A connection carried through time until present day' (Everett, S. 2010:1).
The Jordan River valley through which the river flows is within the territory of the Murmirimina (say: Mu mee ree mee nah), one of the nine bands that make up the Oyster Bay tribe (TAC 2010a:2). The site is located on a levee, on the western bank of the Jordan River. Archaeological investigations at the Jordan River Levee site suggests that the levee site contains evidence of Aboriginal occupation dating from 40 000 years ago to more recent times (CHMA 2010a:58; Paton 2010:110; TAC 2010a:8).
Sometime after about 40 000 years ago the Murmirimina and members of the other nine bands comprising the 'Oyster Bay' tribe, used the kutalayna (say: ku tah lie nah, the Aboriginal word for the Jordan River) as a travelling route following seasonal foods and resources for traditional practices (TAC 2010b:2). The Jordan River Levee site was frequented by Aboriginal people to rework and rejuvenate the edges of their stone tools or to work raw materials that they brought with them (Paton 2010:101). The lack of locally available raw material at the Jordan River Levee site forced the visiting groups to bring their own raw materials to the site (Paton 2010:103). In order to conserve this scarce resource, they mainly undertook tool maintenance and rejuvenation activities at the site, while the evidence for the manufacture of formal tools was considered to be minimal (Paton 2010:103).
The stone artefacts excavated from the Jordan River Levee site are mainly unmodified flakes and there are very low numbers of retouched flakes and cores. The artefacts are made on a wide range of raw materials with a particular preference for chert (Paton 2010:100-101). These people were highly mobile and left behind the results of their rejuvenation of stone tools during multiple short-stays at different times over thousands of years (Paton 2010:102). It is predicted that the levee is likely to contain several million artefacts (Paton 2010:102).
In addition to the stone artefacts in the upper levels of the site, there are historic artefacts, including worked glass and ceramics indicating that Aboriginal occupation of the kutalayna was concurrent with European contact and settlement of the area from c. 1820 to present day (Paton 2010:43, 100). Even though these upper levels (~20 to 25 cm) of the levee have been disturbed by agricultural activities such as ploughing, the connection that Tasmanian Aboriginal people feel with the place is still very strong.
The Jordan River Levee site is symbolically important in Tasmanian Aboriginal identity because its survival provides a connection to their ancestors and their land (TAC 2010b). This is exemplified in the following descriptions of the place by some Tasmanian Aboriginal people:
'... it holds the stories of the land and history of my people, just being there to me continues on that connection. Stone tools are a visible symbols of a site, but to me it holds a lot more, the landscape, the [Jordan] river (kutalayna) the native vegetation and animals, and knowing that my people lived, died, gathered, hunted, and had grown up here over thousands of years' (Everett, A. 2010:1).
'On our doorstep is a place of antiquity, with a story to tell...The artefacts merely signal something special and unique happened by the Jordan River. It is the tale of how humans existed as part of Tasmania’s past that holds an inherent beauty that we should grasp and be all the better culturally for having done so. It is not the artefacts that are important: the importance is in the story of the people who left the artefacts there' (Mansell 2010:2).
This special association that the Tasmanian Aboriginal people have with the Jordan River Levee site is also demonstrated through their response to the proposed construction of the Brighton Bypass bridge that will span the levee. The potential impact that the construction of the bridge will have on the site is seen by Tasmanian Aboriginal people as a lack of respect for, even an attack on their identity:
'[We] feel that the impending destruction of our heritage site is an attack on our identity as a people; this area gives us a sense of place, and pride it is our connectedness, and link to a very special and sacred past' (Maynard 2010:2).
'Unlike white Tasmanian heritage, Aboriginal heritage is represented in the landscape where Tasmanian Aboriginal societal activity occurred for thousands of years. The artefacts are important identifiers of the area where Aboriginal people from many clans gathered for seasonal hunting and gathering, corroboree, to tell stories and enjoy life where water and food were in abundance. Many thousands of generations of Tasmanian Aboriginal people used the Jordan River levee over such a long period. The artefacts are not a sole signifier of Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage, and removing them from the site destroys the broader significance of the place and how it was used' (Everett, J. 2011).
Condition and Integrity
The floodplain and levee bank have been subject to natural processes of sediment erosion and deposition and soil formation, however these landforms have remained relatively stable for the last 12 000 years (Paton 2010:55). After European settlement in the lower Jordan River valley, large portions of the floodplains were cleared of native remnant vegetation and ploughed for agricultural purposes (Wilson et al. 2003:ii). Twenty 1 metre square test pits in the Jordan River Levee were excavated to depths of between 60 and 200 cm (Paton 2010). The upper 20 to 25 cm of the ground surface across the entire Jordan River Levee site had been disturbed by ploughing which combined and mixed artefacts from different periods into a single upper deposit (Paton 2010). Installation of fence posts and an optic fibre cable has resulted in localised disturbance of the archaeological deposits to depths of 50 cm (CHMA 2010a:32; Paton 2010:34-35, 47, 64, 69, 70; Spyrou 2010: Appendix page 1).
The current use and management of the land is mixed. The majority of the Jordan River Levee site is freehold land owned by three separate landholders and is largely used for agricultural purposes. The remainder of the land is Crown land and is classified as public reserve. Southern Water and Telstra own pipelines and cabling respectively, within the area.
The Tasmanian government is constructing a single 70 m arched bridge to span the levee bank deposits as part of the construction of the Brighton Bypass. This is expected to physically impact on approximately 4% of the site (DPIPWE 2010;  DIER 2010:1;  Evans 2010;  Wightman 2010). The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre commissioned a heritage assessment of the potential impacts of this proposal which concluded that the bridge would have a physical and spatial impact on the heritage values of the site (Davies 2010:10).
About 4ha, 1km south-east of Brighton, comprising an area bounded by a line commencing at the northern most point of LPI 1/38762, then south easterly to MGA point Zone 55 521745E 5272130N, then south easterly directly to the intersection of the east bank of Jordan River with MGA northing 5272040N (approximate MGA point 521835E 5272040N), then southerly via the east bank of the Jordan River to its intersection with the easterly alignment of the northern boundary of LPI 1/113205 (approximate MGA point 521955E 5271870N), then westerly via that alignment and the northern boundary of LPI 1/113205 to its north west corner, then south westerly via the northern boundary of LPI 3/113204 to its north west corner, then northerly via the western boundary of LPI 1/113204 to its north west corner, then northerly to the south west corner of LPI 1/26119, then northerly via the western boundary of LPI 1/26119 to the north west corner of LPI 1/26119, then easterly via the northern boundary of LPI 1/26119 to its north east corner, then north westerly via the eastern boundary of LPI 1/199233 to its north east corner, then northerly via the eastern boundary of LPI 1/38762 to the point of commencement.
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Report Produced  Tue Sep 23 23:26:25 2014