‘We are What we Were’ ~ Thoughts on the archaeological remains of the Mount Kent lease.



by Dr Michael MacLellan Tracey BA Hons (ANU), PhD (ANU).


We cannot live in the past, however, the past may have answers that will assist plan our future. If we do not make an effort to understand our past by recording our experiences those who follow will lack a ‘map’ to the future. Of course future generations may accept or reject our ideals from days gone by. However, those ideals that all Australians hold dearly made our country, formed our societies and nurtured our sense of national pride. One great American statesman, emancipists and politician John  Quincy Adams, admirably summed up human regards for the past when he stated ‘we are what we were.’


Science assure us that humans are one species namely Homo sapiens sapiens. If the theory of evolution is correct and we are one species than we have one past. As part of the human continuum we all share a common past no matter what the colour of our skin, what beliefs we hold, what war we fought or where we were born. All aspects of our past are of equal importance. No historic single event is more important than any other.


The driving forces behind our human continuum are the challenge of environmental change, migration and the resultant demands of technological change in confronting and commanding these challenges. While global environmental conditions continue to fluctuate as they have done for eons past, humans are no longer compelled to migrate to accommodate such changes. Technology has defeated environmental change and arguably there is no environment that humans cannot adapt to by the application of appropriate technology. From the pressured depths of the oceans, to the sub zero temperatures of the ice caps through to the vacuum of space humans have designed their portable environments thus enabling the continuance of human conquests. We take into our future our ‘cultural baggage’ or the accumulation of our past beliefs, laws and aspirations.


In these days of uncertain economics and the far too often decline of smaller towns memoires become confused. As our young head towards the cities in search of work our past can be lost. However, it is not the sole duty of the elderly to record and cherish our past. It is not acceptable to impose our current social constraints on the past. Equally it is important not to attempt to impose the past on current society. Social history must be a blend of the past, the present and our human aspirations for the future.


The statement made by sums up my argument:


Man has always held the past in high esteem; otherwise his knowledge of his existence would be limited to the experience of his own generation, and each individual would have to start anew his voyage of discovery through the complexities of nature. Nothing in this world can be known or understood intelligently without some ideas as to its origin. (Auchmuty 1955:133; Smith: 1962; Tracey 2007:1).


‘We cannot live in the past’, however, we as species must learn from it. Our recent past is extremely important from a technological, philosophical, sociological and perhaps even theological. Any news broadcast or dog-eared reporting amply demonstrates that we have learnt nothing of the principle of respect for our land, our planet and our fellow man. As a democracy ‘we’ – ‘Australians’ must agree to protect our heritage and enact and protect that agreement. We cannot continue to witness the extant remains that formed and guided our society crumble beneath ad nausium, ‘hard hat’ rhetoric and unremitting greed.


It is evident that archaeological remains are extant in the Mount Kent area that are indicative of the foundation of Queensland and the social formation of our country. In admission the remains in the stated area are personally cherished as they carry the interpretative potential to understand one family’s aspirations for the future. This area is one small place when one almost unknown family resolved to see this country attain its potential and enjoy the freedoms, respect and fortunes we once treasured and have to relearn.


Landscape features:


The family kitchen The source of drinking water A water trough ~ iniquity of design and use of natural resources.


Under floor of the house  ~ the extant artefacts are the fibre form which history is derived.


Some surface artefacts: Fused bottle glass ~ Bushfire? House fire? Delicate  cut glass from the family dinner table. Fused bottle glass ~ Bushfire? House fire? Handmade domestic glass.


Metalwork ! The clutch from a lady's purse. Brown glass beer bottle.

Glass cosmetic container. Tool from blacksmith shop. The working of gentlemen's watch. What time does the train arrive? When will the drought end?


Simple objects tell a complex story about those who manufactured the object, and those who used them. We cannot continue to destroy such knowledge with contempt and disdain and believe our future will sustain itself.  We are what we were and must learn an plan what we will be.



Auchmuty, J. J., 1955. 'The Background of Australian History', Royal Australian Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, Volume 41, Part 3, November.


Smith, P., 1962. John Adams 1735-184 Volumes I & II, Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York.


Tracey, M, M., 2007. Wooden Ships, Iron men and Stalwart Ladies: The TSS Douglas Mawson Saga, (unpub) PhD Thesis, The School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra.

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