People and Places
02/07/2018
Precious Indigenous artefacts open a window on Portsea’s past By Liz Rogers

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There was once a carnation farm near London Bridge on the Mornington Peninsula, and on that farm beneath the ancient earth was an Indigenous archaeological site of noteworthy quality.

Helen Begg was an exceptional woman. She and her husband Kenneth got involved in the carnation-growing business in the early 1960s on their Portsea property, which encapsulated the Portsea Lagoon, and while preparing the land for planting she came across something very special: a midden and occupation site.

Helen was fascinated, so much so that for a further 15 years she continued to dig and find precious remnants of an Indigenous people who once gathered by the waterhole at Portsea Lagoon to eat and connect. Stone tools, shell middens, stone axes, hammer stones and ground stones were revealed, and Helen meticulously labelled each one and stored them downstairs in the home that is now occupied by her 80-something son Michael and his wife Judy.

There were 30 or so boxes full of living Indigenous history stored by the time Helen (who was also an avid letter and poetry writer, but that’s another story) passed. Aboriginal Victoria specialists in bone and wood came to view the collection and identified a small percentage of objects that weren’t from Bunurong country, which made sense because Helen was a spirited traveller too. They are still only halfway through analysing the collection, which currently resides temporarily at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery. There are bags and bags of artefacts in existence.

Michael and Judy thought long and hard about where to house this amazing collection of flora, fauna and Indigenous artefacts that Helen had chronicled so meticulously. Her tiny writing on tags. Her thoughtful and informative detailed descriptions. The collection has been handed back to the Bunurong people, who are the rightful owners, but where to put it so that everyone can learn from the amazing story of Australia’s first people and admire the ahead-of-her-time woman who knew she was on to something and was prepared to follow it through? The Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation is working with Parks Victoria to set up a cultural centre at Point Nepean.

If you hold any Indigenous collections, please contact the Bunurong Land Council on 9770 1273. The Aboriginal Heritage Council has appointed the Bunurong council as the peak body for gathering these incredibly important compendiums.

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