Despite it being a pretty horrible sleety hail spattered day I had to go into Albury, so I decided to take in the presentation on the results of the archaeological dig that preceded the building of MAMA, the Albury art gallery in 2014-5.
Albury city library have now put some of the finds on display. It was billed as what had been found under QE II square, but it was really what had been found under the MAMA site.
Albury was first gazetted as a town in 1839, and grew slowly through the 1840’s. with two pubs by 1847. It was an important crossing point on the Murray, and after the 1851 separation of New South Wales and Victoria was also the main border crossing between the now separate colonies.
After 1883, the New South Wales standard gauge rail network met the Victorian broad gauge system at Albury, and passengers travelling between Sydney and Melbourne would change trains at Albury, and goods would be transhipped between the two systems.
Albury was also where the Victorian and NSW telegraph systems connected – it’s important to emphasise that this is particularly important, as in the 1870’s the telegraph provided quick, near instantaneous communication between both the big cities on the east coast and overseas, in a continent bedevilled by large distances and poor overland communications. Even the railways didn’t help much due to slow speeds and long distances – for example, even as late as 2014, when we took the train from Brisbane to Cairns the journey still took over 30 hours.
MAMA is built around the old Municipal offices that date from 1907, but the site had previously been the site of the Albury telegraph office dating from 1868 and the old NSW Crown Lands office dating from 1878 where people both bought government land and registered claims to land.
In 1924 the Crown Lands Office, known as Burrows House, was sold to the NSW state savings bank. Prior to that the Telegraph office had moved elsewhere in 1886, and the old building had been used by Albury as municipal offices prior to their building a ‘proper’ town hall on the site.
It might have been suspected that given these changes there might not have been a lot left, but no, under the Burrows house site was a decent layer of administrative debris, pen nibs, pins – used to pin documents together before the adoption of paperclips in the 1890’s and inkwells, as well as thing such as discarded cigarette papers that must have fallen between the floorboards.
The telegraph office was equally interesting. Prior to the dig, it had not been known that the manager lived on site with his family, leading to a decent deposit of domestic rubbish, such as pottery, patent medicine bottles, child’s toys and the like.
The complete excavation report is available from Albury Library Museum, who also hold images of the artefacts, and the artefacts themselves, as well as the complete excavation dataset, which is available on request. The project was carried out by Archlink, a Melbourne based archaeological consultancy.
What is interesting is not only the range of the finds but the complexity of the site with the changes of purpose of the buildings reflected in the deposition layers