Dr Matthew Kelly, Curio Projects

In October 1942, during the Kokoda Campaign in Papua New Guinea (PNG), two Japanese soldiers died in a small pit in the Eora Creek valley opposing the Australian Army’s advance north.Archaeological work between 2011 and 2019 has recovered their remains, identified their role in the battle and more recently uncovered what probably killed these two young men.

An archaeological survey of the Etoa site, near Eora Creek, was undertaken in July 2011 with a team of six Australian archaeologists and members of the local community of Alola.[1] During that survey a small single man fighting pit (EB-11-1053) was excavated, by several villagers, and a number of artefacts were recovered from the fill. At the very base of the pit a large rectangular artefact was retrieved (Figure 1). In addition, several small artefacts were also recovered which included, some lengths of cloth covered wire, Japanese 6.5 mm shell casings, live Japanese 6.5 mm rounds and the fragments of earpieces and microphones of a radio (Figure 2). It was difficult to identify the large artefact as it was encased by the adhering soil matrix and corrosion. The obvious fragility of the artefact required the careful removal of successive layers of corrosion back at the camp to reveal what it was.With the soil etc. removed the remains of a Japanese Model 94 Type 5 Radio transmitter were exposed (Figure 3).

Japanese radio remains as excavated from pit. (Photo source: M Kelly 2011)
Figure 1. Japanese radio remains as excavated from pit. (Photo source: J Sterenberg 2011)

Figure 2. Japanese radio remains as excavated from pit. (Photo source: J Sterenberg 2011)

Japanese Type 94-5 Radio transmitter.  (Photo source: TM-E 30-480, p. 307)
Figure 3. Japanese Type 94-5 Radio transmitter. (Photo source: TM-E 30-480, p. 307)

Previous historical research had revealed that the Australian Army had captured a Japanese radio during the October 1942 battle.[2] It appears therefore that the Australians dumped the captured transmitter into an empty weapons pit after recording its capture.However, the pit that had once contained the operators, receiver, power generator, as well as their associated equipment, had yet to be identified.

Eight years later, in August 2019, excavations were taking place in several weapons pits across the site of Etoa (see Figure 4).[3] One large pit was severely disturbed by massive root growth that entirely enveloped the contents.The partial remains of two bodies were exposed in this pit (EB-19-51). The paucity of skeletal remains precluded any attempt to identify the cause of these men’s death.

Pit EB-19-051 in the course of excavation in 2019 by NMAG staff and locals.  (Photo source: M Kelly 2019)
Figure 4. Pit EB-19-051 in the course of excavation in 2019 by NMAG staff and locals. (Photo source: M Kelly 2019)

The artefacts recovered from within this pit included: an unexploded Australian No. 36 grenade; a Japanese bayonet, still in its scabbard; two morphine vials; buttons from a Japanese shirt; a clip of Japanese 6.5 mm rounds; a coiled length of fabric covered copper wire; and earpieces from a radio which matched some of those found in 2011.Here was the radio pit, with apparently the two radio operators lying where they had been killed, with remnants of their radio equipment.This pit was approximately 50 m south of pit EB-11-1053 which had the radio transmitter buried in it. [4]

Several additional artefacts were recovered of which some were easily identifiable while others took some more research to classify (Figure 5).The identifications included personal items such as a Seiko watch, equipment for servicing the radio, nails and screws from carrying boxes but one small metal fragment’s final identification provided the information on the probable way these radio men lost their lives.The fragment turned out to be the guide for a striker spring of an Australian No 36 Grenade. The force of the grenade’s explosion forces the thin tube to crush against the spring creating a characteristic spiral groove on the inside of the tube. This fragment indicated that an Australian grenade had exploded within the pit, no doubt killing or mortally wounding the occupants of the pit where they lay until 2019.

Selection of artefacts from pit EB-19-051.  They include portion of Japanese helmet liner (1), small multi-head screwdriver (2), Seiko wristwatch (3), press stud (4), small buckle (5), belt/strap keeper (6), and small spanner (7).  The striker spring guide of an Australian No 36 Grenade is indicated by arrow. (Photo source: M Kelly 2019)
Figure 5. Selection of artefacts from pit EB-19-051. They include portion of Japanese helmet liner (1), small multi-head screwdriver (2), Seiko wristwatch (3), press stud (4), small buckle (5), belt/strap keeper (6), and small spanner (7). The striker spring guide of an Australian No 36 Grenade is indicated by arrow. (Photo source: M Kelly 2019)


AHMS, 2011, Eora Creek, Stage 2, Final Report, report for the Lost Battlefield Trust.

AWM52 8/3/3/16, 2/3 Infantry Battalion War Diary July-December 1942, Canberra.

Curio Projects, 2019, Interim Report on Archaeological Work, August 2019, Etoa Battlefield, report for PNG National Museum and Art Gallery.

US War Department, 1944, Technical Manual TM-E 30-480, Handbook on Japanese Forces 1944, Washington.

[1] AHMS, 2011, Eora Creek, Stage 2, Final Report, report for the Lost Battlefield Trust.

[2] 2/3 Infantry Battalion War Diary July-December 1942.

[3] The current work is being undertaken in association with the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) and the Japanese Association for Recovery and Repatriation of War Casualties (JARRWC), Curio Projects, 2019, Interim Report on Archaeological Work, August 2019, Etoa Battlefield, report for PNG National Museum and Art Gallery.

[4] The larger radio receiver unit and hand crank power generator are yet to be found.


Author: Blog Editor


David Frankel has written a great blog featuring Judy Birmingham on the AAIA website. It deals with historical archaeology and has some really great photos.

The link is below if you would like to check it out

Andrew Wilson (University of Sydney)

While ASHA is celebrating its 50th this year one of its founders, Judy Birmingham, is celebrating her 90th. Judy arrived in Australia in 1961 as a specialist in Mediterranean and West Asian archaeology appointed on the recommendation of Max Mallowan.

In less than a decade she was participating in the beginnings of Australian historical archaeology, most notably at Irrawang and Wybalenna. We now know that Wybalenna played a central role in the establishment of ASHA by Judy and a small dedicated group of supporters. So, it is fitting to mark the occasion with an on-line presentation of the site.

Happy Birthday Judy!

Photo 1: Judy Birmingham relaxing in Sydney in the early 1960s. Photographer unknown.

Author: Andrew Wilson (University of Sydney)

Governors' Domain and Civic Precinct listing

ASHA members will have been pleased with the announcement that a large section of central Sydney has been added to the National Heritage List as the Governors' Domain and Civic Precinct. (

The 100-hectare area includes Macquarie Place, First Government House site, Government House, the Conservatorium of Music, Parliament House, the Mint, Hyde Park Barracks, St James, Hyde Park, the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Most of the sites and buildings have existing heritage protections but this listing defines and protects a large cultural landscape. The rarity and research potential of the archaeology of the area is specifically identified in the listing criteria.

The marshaling of the data collected from a wide variety of experts and contributors required for the nomination was undertaken by Context in Melbourne. Ian Jack was one of the participants and having just worked closely with him on the joint Heritage Council – Land & Property Management Authority centenary book on Macquarie’s Towns, he suggested I produce a set of historic map overlays to support the nomination, then called Colonial Sydney.

At the Fiftieth Anniversary meeting Mary Casey reminded us all of the important contribution to ASHA and to HA generally made by Ian. With the announcement of the listing it is good to reflect on the fact this his efforts are still bearing fruit.






Authors: Matthew Kelly and Alexandra Thorn (Curio Projects, Sydney)

When is a Brick not Building Material?

In 2013 AHMS Pty Ltd (now Extent Heritage) completed an archaeological excavation at 478 George Street in Sydney’s CBD known as the ‘Mick Simmons’ site-after the famous sporting goods store which traded there until 2 012.

The excavation yielded evidence of European occupation, from perhaps as early as 1813, through to the site’s last identity as the iconic sports goods store. During the usual post excavation artefact analysis several items, originally identified as building materials due to their size and form, were found to be anything but.

They are in fact ‘Bath Bricks’. They appear to be ordinary bricks, of similar dimensions and are usually impressed with maker's names. However, they are not building materials at all but are domestic cleaning items used for scouring floors, and other surfaces, cutlery and other household items (photo 1). The dust from a bath brick, for example, could be also used to create a substance known as ‘breeches ball’, for cleaning breeches and for shining boots. The altered bricks were also utilised as moulds for casting gears for machinery.

The bath bricks were manufactured at the small Somerset town of Bridgwater, already noted as a brick and tile manufacturing town. The first patent for the scouring bricks was issued in 1823 to John Browne and William Champion. The bricks consisted of a locally available mud, from the Parrett River, comprised primarily of alumina and silica particles, pressed into brick form, fired in a kiln to approximately 500-600°, wrapped in a paper cover and sold worldwide as a cleaning a scouring agent. Bath bricks were used worldwide, and another patent was issued in the US in 1865 to meet the desire to manufacture these ‘bricks’ directly for the US market. That patent notes that the US source material was discovered:

at Wood bridge, New Jersey, in large quantities, a pulverulent mineral of which a scouring-brick in all respects equal, and in some respects Superior, to the imported Bath brick can be made at a greatly reduced cost.

Several large fragments of bath bricks were found on the Mick Simmons site in a construction trench probably dated to around 1870 (photos 2 and 3). The examples at Mick Simmons were from Edward Sealy’s works manufacturing 1811-1839 and Browne and Co, 1840-1899, which later traded as the Somerset Trading Company. The site at George Street had traded as general merchants and grocery store between 1833 and 1870 under a number of owners – the earliest of whom was Frederick Gibson.

Photo 1: 19th Century advice for using bath bricks.


Photo 2 Fragment of Bath Brick - “[B]rowne & C[o].” C.f. photo 4P Photo 3: Fragment of Bath Brick from Edward Sealy’s works impressed “Imp[erial] Ba[th]”.C.f. photo 5.

Photo 4: Bath Brick from Browne and Co.


Photo 5: Bath Brick from Edward Sealy’s works.


AHMS, 2016, 478 George Street Archaeological Excavation Report, for Amalgamated Holdings Ltd

Anon., 1855, The Footman, London, Houlston and Stoneman, pp. 27, 28, 37 and 48.

Adams, S and Adams, S, 1825, The Complete Servant, London, Knight and Lacey, pp. 366 and 392.

Murless, B, 1976, "The Bath Brick Industry at Bridgwater: A Preliminary Survey", Journal of the Somerset Industrial Archaeology Society, v 1, p. 21

“Improved Scouring Brick”, US Patent No. 50,862, November 7, 1865.

Compiled by Richard Tuffin

Port Arthur Convict Workshops Investigation

Since March 2020 the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (PAHSMA), in collaboration with Richard Tuffin, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of New England, have been undertaking an excavation of the Port Arthur workshops complex. Situated on the original waterfront since 1830, these workshops housed the trades-focussed activities undertaken at the penal station. Over 47 years of occupation, an evolving suite of buildings housed shoemakers, blacksmiths, tailors, turners and wheelwrights, the prisoners applying skills they brought with them or learnt whilst under sentence.

Despite the usual Covid-related hiccups - including the downsizing of our hand-picked crew of professional archaeologists - we are still investigating. Sylvana Szydzik, PAHSMA, and Richard continue to plug away at the site. The targets and scope of the work have had to be refined, though the research aims of finding out more about the processes and products of coerced labour remain the same.

The images are from the first day of the excavation

If you are interested in learning about the excavation and want to follow our progress, visit the site blog at:

Compiled by Blog Editor

50 years ago, on the 26th November 1970, the first Australian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) meeting was held at the University of Sydney. That evening, ASHA was founded to promote the study of historical archaeology in Australia. In 1991, the Society was expanded to include New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region, and its name was changed to the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology. To celebrate 50 years of ASHA, we will be holding a special event and hope you can join us.

The event will take place on Thursday 26 November 2020 and run for 2 hours:

•6:30pm AEDT (3:30pm AWST, 5:30pm AEST, 6:00pm ACDT, 8:30pm NZDT)

•8:30pm AEDT (5:30pm AWST, 7:30pm AEST, 8:00pm ACDT, 10:30pm NZDT)

Schedule for the evening

6:30pm - Opening - ASHA President Anita Yousif

6:35pm - Welcome to Country

6:40pm - The Establishment of ASHA - Andrew Wilson

6:50-7:30pm ASHA 1970 - 2020 Past Presidents

7:30pm - 50 Sites 50 Stories announcement - Anita Yousif

7:35pm - ASHA Awards winners revealed Dr Matthew Kelly

7:45pm - A Reminiscence - Judy Birmingham

8:00pm - Raise a glass to the founding of ASHA.

Raise a glass to ASHA's 50th Anniversary- Denis Gojak

8:05-8:30 - Display of photos celebrating ASHA and historical archaeology in Australasia.

The celebration will take place at the University of Sydney with a limited number of tickets to attend and an unlimited zoom attendence.

To register see link below

On the evening Andrew Wilson, from the University of Sydney, will be talking about the establishment of ASHA. To help start the celebrations, Andrew has provided us with some great images from the Archives

ASHA 50 Years-From the Archives

The establishment of the society and especially the early newsletters brought responses from all over Australia from people interested in historical sites and artefacts. Many had associations with existing organisations such as the National Trust or local historical societies while others saw the society as validating their personal interests or experiences and wished to contribute where they could.


ASHA News [logo] 
ASHA News [logo]

On Friday 3 July 2020, all major archaeological associations in Australia released the following joint statement on the value of archaeology and the teaching of archaeology in our universities in response to Commonwealth Government changes to University Funding. A PDF version of this statement is available here.

Archaeology and the Humanities - promoting critical thinking and informed reflection

In January 2020 Minister of Education Dan Tehan stated, “the Morrison Government … recognise[s] the importance of research into Australian society, history and culture”. Five months later, the Morrison Government has proposed dramatic changes to university fee structures that double the cost of study in these same disciplines. This move will amplify the perceived divide between the natural sciences and HASS (humanities and social sciences). What 21st century science, business and society need is an integration of these fields of expertise; archaeology plays a vital role in this endeavour. By applying scientific techniques to social issues, including climate change and adaptive technologies, archaeology remains the only discipline able to study the full spectrum of Australia’s deep human history. The history of humanity – the story of us – is a common, binding thread that crosses barriers such as age, gender, culture and religion.

Archaeology – skills rich

Archaeology is a professional discipline with graduates in high demand across the sector, applying training that is specialised, skills-rich and transferrable. University-trained practitioners provide expert management advice and essential compliance documentation to support major infrastructure and development projects that support our economy. We also provide evidence of human ingenuity through time that is a source of national pride and social integration. Archaeology has a long and successful commitment to achieving excellence in training and job-readiness. Since 2005 we have conducted five-yearly reviews of the training needs of our industry and continue to adjust our university training and courses accordingly. We have developed National Benchmarking Guidelines which clearly articulate the knowledge and specific skills expected of graduates upon completion of a 4-year Honours degree – the industry minimum standard. In 2019, we launched the Australian Archaeology Skills Passport, a national program aimed at streamlining skills training across the discipline, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the sector.

Archaeology – socially engaged

Archaeology uses both history and science to understand social issues. For example, the impact and legacy of British colonisation/invasion manifests today in a divided society and a contested heritage. In partnership with Traditional Custodians, archaeologists work to understand not only the depth of time but also the cultural richness of Australian Indigenous societies prior to British invasion. Archaeologists also work to understand more recent colonial entanglements and impacts as they explore the material culture of social, economic and environmental change since First Contact. Land-based and maritime heritage sites not only serve as a reminder of the past but also continue to contribute to the character and economy of Australia today. HASS graduates, who can think laterally, critically and creatively, make up a large proportion of people working for Indigenous organisations as teachers, social workers, anthropologists, historians, archaeologists and government officials. The proposed fee changes will not only curtail this work, but will also disadvantage women, who make up to 60% of HASS students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from non-traditional education backgrounds who use HASS degrees as pathways into universities.

Archaeology – global and local

All Australian archaeology departments maintain international research and engagement collaborations with key institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. These collaborations elevate Australia’s standing within the international research community on globally important issues. These international connections help promote greater understanding and appreciation of our own unique Indigenous cultures. We also maintain relationships locally with communities in every State.

The Australian archaeological community is united. We ask the government to rethink its proposed fee restructure to ensure the HASS sector continues to produce socially engaged and scientifically excellent graduates.


Author: Nadia Bajzelj,Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants

In 2019, GML Heritage Pty Ltd (GML) were engaged by ISPT Pty Ltd (ISPT) to undertake an historical archaeological investigation of 364-378 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. This location encompasses two sites listed on the Victorian Heritage Inventory (H7822-1024 and H7822-1025). The sites were used as domestic residences (1864-1918) before the construction of a Women’s VD Clinic (1918) and a Tuberculosis Bureau (1928) (GML 2019). The recovered artefact collection, comprising approximately 40,000 artefact fragments, was catalogued and analysed by Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants.

364-378 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne toilet wares

Photo 1: toilet wares from 364-378 Little Lonsdale Street (photograph by Grace Stephenson-Gordon, Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants)

The items pictured are ceramic artefacts relating to 19th-century hygiene practises. The majority of these items are chamber pots, but a chamber pot lid, wash basin and a brush box and lid were also identified. All are made from earthenware and decorated with transfer printed designs in black, blue, green and purple. These artefacts are from high significance contexts associated with the single-storey cottages of 366, 368 and 370 Little Lonsdale Street.

Concepts of hygiene during the 19th-century were evolving and changing dramatically from those of previous centuries. In earlier eras a link had been made between bathing and the spread of disease, but the people of the 19th-century began to see the relationship between cleanliness and disease prevention, with cleanliness becoming closely tied with a person’s respectability (Davidoff and Hall 2002: 382; Everleigh 2002: 65; Grigg 2008; Halliday 1999: 17). 'Cleanliness, like good manners became an indicator of respectability while dirt and squalor were seen as threats to moral as well as physical health' (Everleigh 2002: 65). Having a full toilet service was therefore highly desirable for 19th-century homes, and would have included items such as the chamber pot (possibly with a cover), large and small wash basins and ewers, a covered soap box with drainer, a covered sponge bowl, a covered toothbrush box or toothbrush vase, a foot bath and many additional extras (Copeland 2000: 24).

The chamber pots excavated from 364-378 Little Lonsdale Street represent the most common hygiene items recovered from 19th-century domestic sites. Chamber pots were stored under the bed or in a nightstand. When looking at the alternative toilet solution of the 19th-century – the water closet – which was located outside the house, the usefulness of the chamber pot is obvious. The chamber pot was a convenient option when needing to use the toilet in the middle of the night as it did not necessitate trudging outside in the cold and dark. In the morning, the pot would be emptied and cleaned and the waste disposed of. But wouldn’t this smell be rather overwhelming when you went back to bed? Yes, strangely enough human waste was no better then, than it is now. In order to minimise odours, chamber pots were usually (but not always) covered with pieces of cloth, newspapers, or a chamber pot lid (as pictured).

364-378 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne toilet wares

Photo 2: chamber pot with lid from 364-378 Little Lonsdale Street (photograph by Grace Stephenson-Gordon, Christine Williamson Heritage Consultants)

COPELAND, R. 2000: Ceramic Bygones and other unusual domestic pottery. A Shire Book. Great Britain.
DAVIDOFF, L. and C. HALL 2002: "'My own fireside': the creation of the middle-class home." Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850. Revised Edition. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 357-396.
EVELEIGH, D.J. 2002: Bogs, Baths and Basins: The Story of Domestic Sanitation. Stroud, England: Sutton.
GML 2019: 364-378 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Historical Archaeological Research Design. Report to Case Meallin Pty Ltd & ISPT Pty Ltd.
GRIGG, T. 2008: Health & Hygiene in Nineteenth Century England in Museums Victoria Collections, accessed 02 May 2019.
HALLIDAY, S. 1999: The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Capital. Sutton Publishing Ltd, England.


Willow fragments 
Willow fragments
Author: Helen Nicholson

Commonly found on historical sites in Australia, Willow pattern ceramics have stood the test of time and been produced for the last 230 years. Here are two online Willow pattern jigsaws for you to do [i].

Virtual Jigsaw #1
Photo 1: Virtual Jigsaw 1

Virtual Jigsaw #2
Photo 2: Virtual Jigsaw 2

The arts of Asia, and especially China, were extremely influential on art and design in Europe. Chinoiserie styles reached the peak of their popularity in Britain in the 18th century and whether on Chinese porcelain or Staffordshire earthenware are found on Australian historical sites, especially in contexts from the first half of the 19th century.

The late 18th century saw a dramatic increase in the duty charged for Chinese ceramics imported on East India Company ships, shipping disruptions with Napoleonic Wars and America trading directly with China.At the same time, the tax on tea was reduced dramatically in 1784 and a duty imposed on silver plate so by the beginning of the 19th century the popularity of drinking tea grew rapidly in Britain.[ii] Blue and white ceramics and tea were no longer the preserve of the wealthy.

Aspects of Chinese patterns and landscapes first found on imported Chinese porcelain were, by the end of the 18th century, decorating earthenware tableware. Willow pattern was among the first standardised and by the early 19th century a story was ascribed to the pattern.It was believed to be a Chinese story – but it was not. It started to circulate after 1810, but the earliest publication is in The Family Friend in 1849. Published as The Story of the Common Willow-Pattern Plate,this title suggests that Willow pattern had become commonplace.[iii] In 1851, the story was even turned into a play, The Mandarin’s Daughter. [iv]

Essentially the story goes that a Mandarin had a beautiful daughter, Koong-Se, who fell in love with the Mandarin’s secretary, Chang. He was banished as he was considered unworthy of a Mandarin’s daughter and her father arranged for her to marry a nobleman.At the celebrations of her betrothal, Koong-Se and Chang met and eloped.Her father caught sight of them and gave chase but they escaped and hid in the house of a maid who the Mandarin had dismissed for conspiring to help the lovers. When their whereabouts became known, they escaped in a boat to a distant island. Chang, however, became famous for his writings and the Mandarin sent guards who killed him. Koong-Se set fire to their house while she was inside so both perished. Touched by their love, the gods immortalised them as two doves eternally flying in the sky together [v].

[i] Thanks to the help from Nick Pitt with the jigsaws.

[ii] R. Copeland, 1990, Spode’s Willow Pattern and other designs after the Chinese, Cassell, London

[iii] Spode and Willow Pattern

[iv] P. O’Hara, 1993, The Willow pattern that we knew: The Victorian Literature of Blue Willow, Victorian Studies, Vol 36 No. 4, Indiana University Press, 421 – 442, 427