University of Notre Dame research could rewrite WA’s early colonial history


University of Notre Dame archaeology co-ordinator Shane Burke.
University of Notre Dame archaeology co-ordinator Shane Burke.

WA’s early colonial history could be rewritten thanks to new research from University of Notre Dame archaeology co-ordinator Shane Burke.

For more than a century the demise of WA’s first camps at Peel Town in the 1830s had been attributed to the poor leadership of Thomas Peel, however new evidence suggests it was likely the extreme conditions of the geographical area that forced the settlers to burn furniture in a bid to stay warm that could have been the catalyst for the abandonment of Peel Town.

Dr Burke said as part of the study he analysed more than 5700 charcoal fragments from the heaths, fireplaces and ash pits of five Peel Town camp dwellings, which showed that once local wood supplies of jarrah, tuart and candle banksia were exhausted they were forced to turn to less conventional items to burn.

“Imagine priceless antique furniture, shipped across from Britain by new arrivals as a sign of their wealth and status, was instead thrown into the fireplace to be used as fuel for cooking and heating,” he said.

“The historical record gives the impression that settlers living in the Swan River camps sat around doing nothing but this new research suggests that WA’s new arrivals were continually looking for resources and trying to adapt to their radically changed circumstances.

“Until now it has been suggested that low morale and disquiet towards lead Thomas Peel was the cause of the camp’s eventual collapse but the new evidence clearly suggests that extreme hardship was the major factor in their decision to abandon the area.”

His findings were published in the international journal Historical Archaeology.