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New aspirations uncover old dreams

by Michèle Nardelli

Archaeological site at UniSA.Deep in the footprint of the new City West Learning Centre, there is a strange kind of synergy between what has been uncovered below the surface and what is being constructed above.

In the layers below what was once a Hindley Street car park there are hints of the lives of our first European settlers.

Plates from China, cups and saucers from England, cooking pots and bottles and many more of the everyday items that helped sustain lives in this new world full of aspiration and endeavour.

As part of the process of building the Learning Centre, UniSA has undertaken an archaeological dig. What was uncovered is one of the colony’s original homes, unearthing its cellar and the underground hearth of the home thought to have been built shortly after the land was purchased by William Collins in 1838.

And just like the private eyes in movies, archaeologists also hope to learn a lot about life in colonial Adelaide by rummaging through the garbage – or the 19th century equivalent cesspits uncovered during the dig.

UniSA senior project manager Robert Lustri says while the process of hunting for heritage may complicate a build, particularly a large construction project such as the new Learning Centre, the genuine excitement of uncovering pieces of history make it worthwhile.

“Under section 27 of the Heritage Places Act there are obligations to complete an archaeological assessment of a site if it is probable that something is there,” he says.

“It is extra work and expense but if we don’t make some effort to record and preserve our history we stand to lose an important opportunity to know more about the past than just what the official dates and records can provide.

“Although the site is not considered a designated place of significance, this small foray has still brought forth some really interesting artefacts, more information about the sophistication of housing construction and function, and a better sense of the social fabric of the early days of the colony – and we hope to record that and incorporate some of the artefacts and their stories in the new building.”

Over the years the site of the colonial house and its close surrounds has been home to many things – the original home and its yards, later The Temperance Hotel, built by Methodist teetotaller Samuel Morcom which years after it was built, was awarded a government contract to accommodate new migrants to the colony; the Sun Foundry, and a small brewery which was later to evolve into the West End Brewery covering much of the site until the 1980s.

“The next phase of this space will be squarely focussed on giving students the best chance they can have to achieve their career goals,” Lustri says.

“The Learning Centre will be a wonderful building. I’m glad we have been able to capture just a little of the past of this place and get a sense of the hope and ambition of the people who once lived and worked here. In spirit it fits very well with our bid to create a new space that will give students a memorable and empowering student experience.”