A day in the life

A mandatory aspect of any project approval process, cultural heritage assessments are important in ensuring that all stakeholders are aware of the cultural significance of a particular site and the impact that a proposed development may impose. With more than a decade of experience in Aboriginal and European historic cultural heritage management, Australian Cultural Heritage Management (ACHM) director and senior archaeologist David Mott reveals to journalist Danica Newnham his love of travelling off the beaten track.

Q. Please explain what your role involves.

A. I’m a director and manager of the company so I manage a lot of internal processes within ACHM. I also prepare a lot of tenders for small and large projects that require heritage management throughout Australia. I manage and conduct Aboriginal culture heritage surveys, both locally in urban environments and in remote areas. I develop standards and systems with my colleagues and provide high-level cultural heritage advice to Aboriginal organisations, private developers, mining companies andgovernment departments.

Q. Can you describe a typical working day?
A. Each day brings something different, so it is diffi cult to describe a typical day. Most days are a combination of things. We have a lot of meetings, report writing and provision of advice via email, written word or verbal advice to clients in relation to heritage management. When I’m lucky enough I get out on field work, and actually go out and meet people and conduct surveys.
Q. How long is your working day?
A. If I’m in the office usually typical working hours are 9am to 5pm – eight or nine hours a day. In the fi eld it’s easily up to 12 hours a day because a lot of the work, particularly in remote areas, requires a lot of travel on top of the survey work. Usually if we work in a hot environment, or a challenging environment in a remote area, we start very early in the morning – at sunrise. We have a briefi ng session over maps and analyse the project area. We do vehicle checks, the usual job hazard analysis and safety talks, and then we may travel. We may be lucky that we’re in close proximity to a survey area so there is not much travel. Sometimes we can travel for two to three hours in a convoy of four-wheel drives to a survey area. We get out with our maps, GPS and equipment, make sure everyone’s got adequate water, and then we identify any archaeology that might be present within the project area. Then we pack up and head back to the mining camp to do it all again the next day.
Q. What is involved in a cultural heritage assessment?
A. At a very high level, it’s about getting out there on the ground and identifying any heritage sites or areas of cultural sensitivity that may need to be factored into the management of that project area for the particular development. Our reports typically go into some background research, in search of any previous works that have gone on in the area in relation to heritage. That could be searching heritage registers, taking that information out with us, and then consulting with Traditional Owners and walking with them to identify heritage sites. We discuss withTraditional Owners and other stakeholders how those sites may be managed in context with the particular development. That, of course, needs to be written up using good data that we collect in the field in relation to the delineation of these sites – where they are and photographs of them – with the purpose of registering those sites for future management.
Q. What are the challenges of your job?
A. We need to find the balance between preserving and managing cultural heritage values while assisting practical developments to proceed. On a more grass-roots, day-to-day level, we’ve got to ensure that the many and varied complexities within particular projects are managed in order to achieve good heritage management and outcomes. Every project’s different so there are always factors relating to logistics: how we get to a project area, and how we survey an area that has lots of [different] areas and caves instead of just a flat paddock. There’s a lot of occupational health and safety challenges.
Q. What do you like most about your job?
A. The people you meet and the places we get to work in are always interesting. I particularly like travelling to remote areas and heading out off the beaten track to [places] where the typical tourist would never see. I also learn a lot about other industries: for example, the mining industry. I’ve learned a lot about oil and gas, iron ore and those sorts of industries that I fi nd quite interesting.
Q. What projects have you worked on?
A. I’ve worked on literally hundreds of projects over the last half a dozen or so years [at ACHM]. It’s ranged from small to large scale. Most of my work’s been in South Australia and WA. In WA, ACHM do a lot of work up in the Pilbara. We’ve worked on the Woodside Pluto project on the Burrup Peninsula and further inland, Rio Tinto’s Hope Downs project and the FMG [Fortescue Metals Group] Solomon railway.
In South Australia, we’ve recently worked on the new Royal Adelaide Hospital and the desalination plant down at Port Stanvac.
Q. What kind of people do you work with?
A. We work very closely with Aboriginal traditional custodians. We work with anthropologists, historians, engineers, project managers, site managers, geologists, government people and private landowners. It really varies, depending on the type of project we’re working on.
Q. What sort of traits do you need to possess for this type of job?
A. You need to be reasonably robust, particularly for the remote area work – which is physically challenging. I think you need to have flexibility and the ability to really listen to a range of issues from a range of stakeholders. You often work in environments with competing interests, so you have to be quite diplomatic. You have to be careful not to be an advocate but always just do your job professionally.
Q. What qualifications and/or training are necessary for your position?
A. You need an undergraduate degree in Archaeology, which is taught in universities in Australia. Here at ACHM, we then require a minimum of Honours or a Graduate Diploma in Cultural Heritage Management on top of the undergraduate degree. That’s not to say undergraduates can’t work at a basic level – quite often they go out on digs and surveys, and things like that.


By Danica Newnham

One Response to A day in the life

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