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Mount William Stone Hatchet Quarry, Powells Trk, Lancefield, VIC, Australia

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List National Heritage List
Class Indigenous
Legal Status Listed place (25/02/2008)
Place ID 105936
Place File No 2/06/078/0002
Summary Statement of Significance
During the late Holocene, as woodlands expanded, ground-edged stone hatchets became an essential part of the Aboriginal toolkit in eastern Australia. They were an important all-purpose tool as well as being an item of prestige. Material for these tools was obtained from specific quarries. The Mount William stone hatchet quarry was an important source of stone hatchet heads which were traded over a wide area of south-east Australia. The quarry area has evidence for both surface and underground mining, with 268 pits and shafts, some several metres deep, where sub-surface stone was quarried (McBryde & Watchman, 1976:169). There are 34 discrete production areas providing evidence for the shaping of stone into hatchet head blanks. Some of these areas contain mounds of manufacturing debris up to 20 metres in diameter. At Mount William, the number, size and density of the quarry pits; the number and size of flaking floors and associated debris; and the distance over which hatchet heads were traded is outstanding for showing the social and technological response by Aboriginal people to the expansion of eastern Australian woodlands in the late Holocene.
 
The Mount William hatchet quarry was well-known to Europeans when Blandowski (1855) visited the place during the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s people from all walks of life were visiting Mount William to see the remains of the intensive Aboriginal quarrying and extensive flaking floors. The place's importance and the need for protection attracted the interest of a number of well respected Victorians who sought Mount William's protection from 1910 to 1923. While the place was not formally protected until 1976, the early public interest and recognition that the place showed that the Aboriginal history of Australia extended back well before the arrival of Europeans is exceptional in the course of Australia's cultural history.
 
Although there are no first hand descriptions of the operations of Mount William, in 1882 and 1884 William Barak, a Wurundjeri man who witnessed the final operations of the quarry, described aspects of the custodial control over this resource to the anthropologist Alfred Howitt (1904:311).  Records of Aboriginal custodial control of stone resources are uncommon in Australia, and the information on Aboriginal custodial control at Mt William is one of two examples in Australia (McBryde, 2000:248; Jones & White, 1988:54-55).  The detailed ethnographic records of custodial control of the valuable stone resource at Mount William quarry by an individual, Billi-billeri of the Wurundjeri, demonstrate a rare occurrence that makes this place of outstanding significance in Australia’s cultural history.
 
Official Values
Criterion A Events, Processes
During the late Holocene, as woodlands expanded, ground-edged stone hatchets became an essential part of the Aboriginal toolkit in eastern Australia. They were an important all-purpose tool as well as being an item of prestige. Material for these tools was obtained from specific quarries. The Mount William stone hatchet quarry was an important source of stone hatchet heads which were traded over a wide area of south-east Australia. The quarry area has evidence for both surface and underground mining, with 268 pits and shafts, some several metres deep, where sub-surface stone was quarried (McBryde & Watchman, 1976:169). There are 34 discrete production areas providing evidence for the shaping of stone into hatchet head blanks. Some of these areas contain mounds of manufacturing debris up to 20 metres in diameter. At Mount William, the number, size and density of the quarry pits; the number and size of flaking floors and associated debris; and the distance over which hatchet heads were traded is outstanding for showing the social and technological response by Aboriginal people to the expansion of eastern Australian woodlands in the late Holocene.
 
The Mount William hatchet quarry was well-known to Europeans when Blandowski (1855) visited the place during the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s people from all walks of life were visiting Mount William to see the remains of the intensive Aboriginal quarrying and extensive flaking floors. The place's importance and the need for protection attracted the interest of a number of well respected Victorians who sought Mount William's protection from 1910 to 1923. While the place was not formally protected until 1976, the early public interest and recognition that the place showed that the Aboriginal history of Australia extended back well before the arrival of Europeans is exceptional in the course of Australia's cultural history.
Criterion B Rarity
Although there are no first hand descriptions of the operations of Mount William, in 1882 and 1884 William Barak, a Wurundjeri man who witnessed the final operations of the quarry, described aspects of the custodial control over this resource to the anthropologist Alfred Howitt (1904:311).  Records of Aboriginal custodial control of stone resources are uncommon in Australia, and the information on Aboriginal custodial control at Mt William is one of two examples in Australia (McBryde, 2000:248; Jones & White, 1988:54-55).  The detailed ethnographic records of custodial control of the valuable stone resource at Mount William quarry by an individual, Billi-billeri of the Wurundjeri, demonstrate a rare occurrence that makes this place of outstanding significance in Australia’s cultural history. 
Description
The Mount William stone hatchet quarry is located near the town of Lancefield in central Victoria, approximately 60 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.  The quarry is sited at the northern end of the Mount William Range on a ridgeline that extends to the northeast of Mount William itself (Coutts & Miller, 1977:1; Goodison, 1996:1). The place straddles a narrow ridgeline plateau (at an altitude of 550–620 metres above sea level) that drops off steeply to the west to a major gully.  Outcrops of greenstone (diabase), some of which are several metres high, stretch for a kilometre along this slope.  The slopes to the north and east of Mount William are more gently rounded.
 
The boundary encompasses an area of approximately 18 hectares; the boundary between the Macedon Ranges Shire and the Mitchell Shire divides the area approximately in half.  The southern part is about ten hectares; eight hectares is owned by the ILC and is surrounded by a 2.4 metre high fence; the remaining two hectares are two small portions on private land.  The northern part of the place is on private land and about seven hectares and is unfenced. 
 
The vegetation in the quarry area has been subjected to a long history of disturbances including clearance for grazing.  Originally the area was probably covered by dry sclerophyll forest.  Areas of open manna gum woodland (Eucalyptus viminalis), open mixed species woodland (Eucalyptus dives, Eucalyptus goniocalyx and Eucalyptus melliodora) and kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) grassland occur on the ridgeline plateau (Goodison 1996: 38-42).
 
There are two hundred and sixty eight circular hollows, the remains of mining pits, eighteen of which had shafts several metres deep where the greenstone was quarried from the bedrock; the other two hundred and fifty are shallow mining pits, several metres in diameter and over a metre deep (McBryde, 1984b:273-274).  Many of the mining pits have associated areas (flaking floors) where stone was shaped by flaking to create rough hatchet head blanks.  In some instances, these flaking floors have a rock outcrop in the centre which was used as an anvil to shape the quarried rock (McBryde, 1976:168).  A total of thirty four flaking floors occur downslope from the mining pits.
 
On the western slopes of the ridge, shattered rocks and debris surround the large, exposed boulders, indicating that they were worked at the base.  The accumulated waste from this activity extends fifty metres down-slope; McBryde (1984b:273) reported fifty such areas.  Flaking floors represented as circular mounds of worked stone, some twenty metres in diameter, and sometimes a metre high, are found close to, and downslope from the quarried boulders (McBryde & Watchman, 1976:168;).  Most of the flaking floors in this area have a rock outcrop in the centre that was used as an anvil.
 
On the northern and eastern side of the ridge, the rocky outcrop is less exposed.  A number of circular hollows grouped in clusters of up to twenty indicate subsurface quarrying of greenstone.  Many of these mining pits are several metres in diameter and over a metre deep (McBryde, 1984b:273).  Debris from this quarrying is found downslope from the hollows (McBryde & Watchman, 1976:169).
 
None of the hatchet heads found at Mount William have been ground and polished into finished hatchet heads (Coutts & Miller, 1977).  The nearest axe grinding grooves are found approximately 29 kilometres away at Mount Macedon.  An analysis of stone fragments at this site showed they were diabase, the same stone that occurs at Mount William (West, 1972:198-200).
 
In 1854 when Mount William was first described by Blandowski, the overall extent of quarrying activity extended for more than forty hectares (Mulvaney and Kamminga 1999:99).  The evidence of quarrying activities at Mount William in 1993 extended to an area of approximately twenty eight hectares (McBryde, et. al., 1993).  Much of what was originally described by Blandowski is today now covered by soil and vegetation (Mulvaney and Kamminga, 1999:99; Paton, 2005:283).
 
History
Early historic accounts of Aboriginal custodianship of Mt William and the associated exchange networks for stone hatchets
The Wurundjeri, a sub-group of the Woiworung, quarried greenstone at Mount William to make hatchet blanks.  Although we do not know exactly when this started, it must have been sometime in the last 1,500 years, the period during which Aboriginal people in south-east Australia used greenstone hatchets (McBryde, 2006, pers. comm. 1 Nov, File 2006/09587).  During this period Aboriginal people in eastern Australia relied on ground-edged stone hatchets as a general purpose tool used in a variety of ways: to cut open the limbs of trees to get possums from hollows; to split open trunks to get honey or grubs or the eggs of insects; to cut off sheets of bark for huts or canoe; to cut down trees; to shape wood into shields or clubs or spears; and, to butcher larger animals. Unlike many other utilitarian Aboriginal stone tools ground-edged stone hatchets, especially those from important quarry sites, were traded over long distances. They were treated as valued items, with prestige attaching to their owners.  The trade in stone hatchet heads therefore created social links and obligations between Aboriginal groups.
 
The Mount William Quarry
William Buckley, an escaped convict living in the bush from 1803 to 1833 provides the earliest European reference to the Mount William quarry, describing a hard, black stone from a place called Kar-keen which was shaped into stone heads (Brough-Smyth, 1876:360).
 
Historical accounts indicate that greenstone from Mount William was still being quarried and traded in the 1830s when Melbourne first became a colonial settlement (William Bradley [1838] as cited in McBryde, 1984a:142) but it seems to have ended by the time William von Blandowski, the first zoologist at the Melbourne Museum, visited Mount William in 1854 (Blandowski, 1855:56).  It is clear from his record that Mount William was well-known to Europeans during the mid-1800s as was its importance as a site that supplied a rare and restricted stone resource to Aboriginal people across a large area:
 
"The celebrated spot which supplies the natives with stone (phonolite) for their tomohawks, and of which I had been informed by the tribes 400 miles distant…Having observed on the tops of these hills a multitude of fragments of stones which appeared to have been broken artificially…Here I unexpectedly found the deserted quarries (kinohahm) of the aboriginals …The quarries …. extend over an area of upwards of 100 acres …..  They are situated midway between the territories of two friendly tribes, - the Mount Macedon and Goulburn, - who are too weak to resist the invasion of the more powerful tribes; many of whom, I was informed, travel hither several hundred of miles in quest of this invaluable rock.  The hostile intruders, however, acknowledge and respect the rights of the owners, and always meet them in peace" (Blandowski, 1855:56-57).
 
Blandowski also provided the first known written description of the environment and commented on the quarries:
 
"the quarries which extend over an area of upwards of one hundred acres, present an appearance somewhat similar to that of a deserted goldfield, and convey a faithful idea of the great determination displayed by the aboriginals" (Blandowski, 1855, in McBryde & Watchman, 1976:169).
 
Another early visitor, Taylor noted that, "from the amount of broken stone covering a large area this quarry must have been in use for a very lengthened period" (Taylor, 1875, in Goodison, 1996:19).
 
Although there are no first hand descriptions of the operations of the quarry, in 1882 and 1884 William Barak, a prominent Wurundjeri man, described aspects of the custodial control over this resource to the anthropologist Alfred Howitt.  Barak witnessed the final operations of the quarry, and was himself part of the Mount William network.
 
"When Barak was interviewed by Howitt he was the sole surviving traditionally designated Wurundjeri leader among the Woiwurrung.  The remaining Woiwurrung had long been dispossessed of their lands and relocated to government-controlled settlements at Acheron and the Mohican station, then from 1863 at Coranderrk."  (McBryde, 2000: 248)
 
Barak described to Howitt places that "a group of people claimed for some special reason, and in which the whole tribe had an interest"; such a place was Mount William which had a network of leading men who jointly had custodial rights in the quarry (Howitt, 1904:311).  The leading men were of two intermarrying clans: the Kurnung-willam clan and the Kurnaje-berreing clan which were two of three clans that made up the Wurundjeri (Howitt, 1904:72).  There were four men who acquired the responsibility of ownership and control of the quarry: Ningu-labul and Nurrum-nurrum-bin of the Kurnung-willam clan and Billi-billeri and Bebejan of Kurnaje-berreing clan.  Despite the network of interests, Howitt (1904:311-313) makes it clear that Billi-billeri was the headman in occupation of the site and that he was the principal defender of the stone hatchet material.  Howitt's records were astounding for their time and according to McBryde (2000:249), "brought the quarry to the attention of an international anthropological audience".
 
The Trade in Hatchet Heads from Mount William
There are a number of early descriptions of the trade in greenstone hatchets from Mount William.  One of the earliest was written by William Bradley on 12 November 1838.  He recorded the exchange of Mount William material in the following way:
 
"Today two groups of blacks met at the encampment by the deep hole in the creek … The stranger groups as I will call them had travelled from the south and they had carried with them a number [of] …stone hatchets…Some of these hatchets were polished while others were still quite rough and I imagine still require further work. The group of blacks who are camped on the creek were eager to obtain these hatchets and in return for one polished axe they gave two of their opossum skin covers. For a hatchet still in a roughened state they gave in return a number of their light bamboo spears. This bartering as I shall call it went on for some time, but only amongst the menfolk" (Bradley, 1838, in McBryde, 1984a:142).
 
The importance of the Mount William quarry and the hatchets produced there was recognised by other European settlers.  Robert Brough-Smyth (1876: 181 & 359) described the importance of Mount William as a source of hatchet blanks which were traded over wide areas, and noted that Aboriginal people often travelled long distances to obtain the preferred stone.  He also described certain customs associated with visits to the quarry, and stated that the "interchange of weapons and implements … in early times was quite an important business between natives of the south and those of the north, and that Aboriginal groups that did not engage were held in lower regard than those who did" (Brough-Smyth, 1876:359).
 
Isaac Batey, a Victorian pioneer, described an Aboriginal drover from the Lachlan saying that "stone tomahawks were obtained…from a hill down in the Melbourne country" (Batey, 1862, in McBryde & Harrison, 1981:183).  Other accounts describe the types of items traded for stone hatchets.  These included reeds from the Murray and Goulburn Rivers groups to make spears (Guthridge 1907:5; Brough-Smyth 1876:181) as well as rugs, weapons, ornaments, belts, necklaces.  In some cases, people gave presents in advance to get stones (Howitt, n.d., cited in McBryde, 1984b:272).
 
Frederick McCarthy's later research on trade routes throughout Australia uses these early historic accounts of the Mount William stone hatchet exchange network.  For instance one of the seven trunk-trade routes identified by McCarthy is the south-east Australia route which connects with the trade from Mount William.
 
            "(the south-east Australia route) extends from south and central Queensland down the Paroo and Warrego River to the Darling, which it follows to the Murray River and links up with the barter along this river; it then passes down the Lower Murray where it connects with a route from central Victoria (Mount William), and at Lake Alexandrina joins the Glenelg River-Coorong-Port Augusta-Lake Eyre route" (McCarthy, 1940:100).
 
McBryde's subsequent archaeological research on the distribution of Mount William hatchets shows that the Aboriginal exchange networks for Mount William stone hatchets extended several hundred kilometres (McBryde, 1978:355). She also showed that the distribution of Mount William stone hatchets was determined by the social and political relations between the Kulin and neighbouring groups and the social and political relations between the neighbouring groups. For example, Mount William hatchet heads are sparsely distributed or absent in south-eastern Victoria and have a wider distribution in WesternVictoria (McBryde, 1984b:269, 279).

Public recognition and transferral of custodianship
It has been estimated that by the late 1800s, thousands of members of the general public had visited Mount William.  Organised excursions to the place were still popular in the early 1900s, and when the District Teachers Association organised an excursion in 1906 the day was "proclaimed a public holiday in the Shire of Lancefield, so that an opportunity will be afforded to all to be present" (Lancefield Mercury, 1906, in Goodison, 1996:21). 
 
It was a popular place for field trips by schools, public enthusiasts and scientists, and this popularity as an educational resource resulted in many articles being written about the quarry (Paton, 2005:275-277).  Many visitors to Mount William at this time commented on the impressive expanse of material still evident of Aboriginal quarrying.  One visitor found it "hard to realise, from the appearance of the heaps, that more than fifty years had elapsed since the last axes had been shaped there" (Hall, 1908, in Goodison, 1996:22).
 
Acknowledgement of the place's importance resulted in a number of well respected Victorians seeking to protect Mount William.  The first attempt was in 1910 by Baldwin Spencer, the then director of the Museum of Victoria.  A committee was established in association with the Historical Society of Victoria to purchase a portion of the area to form a reserve.  The landowner however declined to sell their land (Mulvaney and Calaby, 1985: 260-261; Goodison, 1996:22).  Then in 1917, the member for Dalhousie, Mr A.F. Cameron, made the following representation in the Victorian Legislative Assembly on behalf of members of the Historical Society, field naturalists and men who take an interest in that sort of thing:
 
"Something like twenty-five acres of land could be procured at a reasonable price, and fenced in, to be held for all time as the great historic landmark of Australia, furnishing the only indication or proof that we have that this country was inhabited for hundreds of years before the white man came here" (Victorian Parliamentary Debates: Legislative Assembly Vol. 147: 1917; Paton, 2005:278).
 
In 1918 Mr Cameron asked for an appropriation to purchase the land on which the quarry is located (Victorian Parliamentary Debates: Legislative Assembly vol 151 1918; Paton, 2005:278) and in 1919 he suggested that the place be purchased so that Aboriginal people could be returned to the area (Victorian Parliamentary Debates: Legislative Assembly 1919; Paton, 2005:278).  Then in 1921 Mr Cameron reported to Parliament that "a gentleman in Melbourne [offered] 300 pounds towards the purchase of that land as a reserve.  He wished it to be handed over to the State or to some organisation" (Paton, 2005:279).  Mr Cameron requested of the Parliament that this matter "be gone on with".  Mr Cameron fell seriously ill shortly after this, and died in December 1923.  After his death, no further action was taken by the Parliament regarding Mount William (Paton, 2005: 279).
 
Archaeological research at Mount William
Mount William became a focus for archaeological research in the 1960s and 1970s (Paton, 2005:280).  The anthropologist, Donald Thomson visited Mt William in 1969 noting that the place held significance beyond its economic importance and great research potential (McBryde, 2000:250).  In the 1970s Isobel McBryde undertook a major study into trade systems and production for trade, investigating the Mount William quarries and the distribution of ground-edged stone hatchets from this and other quarries in Victoria and New South Wales (McBryde, 1984a; 1984b; McBryde & Watchman, 1976; McBryde & Harrison, 1981).  McBryde's research drew upon ethno-historical sources, including linguistic evidence, together with archaeological evidence and petrological studies to explore the workings of Mount William, and the distribution trends and social value of its material (Paton, 2005:281-282).  This cross-disciplinary approach to the study of Mount William influenced a change in approach to understanding stone quarries and stone tool technology (McBryde & Paton, n.d.:3).  Previously understood from a purely utilitarian perspective, McBryde's studies uncovered the social dimension of exchange within Aboriginal society and the value of stone tools.  McBryde's work was also influential overseas, particularly in Britain, Europe and North America (Paton, 2005:4).
 
Eventual protection of the place
In 1969 Mr Powell, the then landowner of Crown Allotment (CA) 24 (the land on which the southern portion of the archaeological area lies), concerned about the damage to the place, offered to sell a portion of CA 24 to the then Shire of Romsey.  In 1971, the Shire was successful in receiving financial support from the Victorian government to purchase the land, and in 1972 the title of an eight hectare portion of CA 24 was transferred to the Shire.
 
In 1976, under the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972 an archaeological area was declared over a seven hectare portion of Crown Allotment 16A (north of CA 24) and the Shire's land (Goodison, 1996:24 – 27).  The area is protected under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.
 
In 1997 the Shire of Romsey (now the Macedon Ranges Shire Council) gifted their land to the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC).  By gifting the land to the ILC, the Shire has set in place the eventual return of the quarry to Wurundjeri who have a strong and continuing attachment to the quarry as part of their heritage.
 
Condition and Integrity
There are a number of exposed generally flat areas containing rock rubble, at least part of which appears to be debris from stone flaking.  Soil and grass overlies some areas of rock rubble.  Reportedly, a substantial quantity of stone material (not hatchet heads) has been removed from the site as a result of souveniring, but it is not possible to establish the extent to which the site has been degraded by such activity.  The entire fenced portion is overgrown with high grass, but is easily accessible by foot.  Surficial damage to some flaking floors and mining pits has occurred as a result of the activities of rabbits, wombats and feral pigs.
 
Location
About 18ha, 9km north east of Lancefield, off Powells Track, being an area enclosed by a line joining the following MGA points consecutively: 305577E 5879227N, 305630E 5879507N, 305909E 5879457N, 305886E 5879154N, 305748E 5879071N, 305661E 5879087N, 305623E 5879055N, 305567E 5878927N, 305637E 5878910N, 305632E 5878885N, 305541E 5878868N, 305476E 5878889N, 305456E 5878890N, 305377E 5878896N, 305355E 5878958N, 305394E 5879066N, 305444E 5879147N, 305568E 5879230N, then directly to the commencement point.
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Mulvaney, D.J. & Kamminga, J. (1999). Prehistory of Australia. Crows Nest, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd
 
Paton, R (2005). Trading places: changing social values of the Mt William Aboriginal stone quarry. In Macfarlane, I, Mountain, M and Paton, R (eds.) Many Exchanges: archaeology, history, community and the work of Isabel McBryde. Canberra: Aboriginal History Inc (271-286)
 
Sharp, L (1952). Steel axes for stone-age Australians. Human Organization vol. 1 no. 2:17-22
 
Tibbett, K (2005). Community specialisation, standardisation and exchange in a hunter-gatherer society: a case study from Kalkadoon country, northwest Queensland, Australia. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Townsville: James Cook University  
West, A.L. (1972). An Aboriginal axe-grinding rock near Mount Macedon, Victoria. Victorian Naturalist vol. 89: 198 – 200.

Report Produced  Fri Aug 1 07:13:04 2014