Chamber pots, tea sets, ceramic laying eggs, an opium pipe bowl.
Chipped, broken, fragmented, stained.
The precious detritus of former lives is currently on show at the Post Office Gallery on Pall Mall.
Hidden Worlds is the first chance for Bendigonians to see what archaeologists dug up in 2009 from the Forest Street site owned by RSD Chartered Accountants and Haven (Loddon Mallee Housing Services).
David Bannear from Heritage Victoria and Bendigo archaeologist Helen Cronin explain how the dig came about in the small book accompanying the exhibition.
The Heritage Act introduced in 1995 obliged developers to fund archeological excavations on sites that are likely to yield useful and important historical information.
Forest Street was just such a site, and for five weeks, a team led by well-known archaeologist Adam Ford, scraped, sifted and collected.
Dennis O’Hoy, who has done so much for Bendigo colonial history both as a collector and an academic historian, was on hand to document the process.
The exhibition has a display of photographs supplied by Dennis, to give us an idea of how the work progressed.
This is not the first important dig of recent years, and two other sites are documented on video as part of Hidden Worlds – the Chinese settlement from the 1870s and the Cornish Miner settlement in Golden Gully from the 1880s.But this Forest Street dig show seems so current, so new, that the atmosphere in the gallery is almost spooky.
There are distant voices rising from beneath the floorboards, swirling around the little broken doll’s head, the fragment of china, the William White clay pipe.
In the stillness of the gallery, there is a stirring of the past, somehow more powerfully real in each small partial object than even big-budget films.
Mr Bannear and Ms Cronin explain how this project used a hand-in-hand process, where history and archaeology moved forward in tandem.
A historian fossicked in the archives of the Goldfields Library as well as the State Library and the Public Records Office.
From official documents and rates books, as well as one-off documents such as a 1935 fire insurance survey, they pieced together a story about the kinds of buildings that occupied the Forest Street site, and their uses from as early as 1856.
We gather clues about not only who lived in this part of Bendigo in the 19th century, but also about what was important to them.
One of the lucky things about this particular site – and why it was deemed of interest under the Heritage Act – was the fact that it had been used in the recent past as a car park and warehouse.
“Open air carparks have one archaeologically friendly feature,” the Heritage Victoria team tells us.
“They have no foundations.“The car parks effectively sealed the story of the site at the time the last building was demolished.
”They do, however, note that pre-colonial history is much harder to trace in the ground.
While the Jaara people were in the area before European settlement, any evidence of their lives has most likely been destroyed by the busy digging and building that went on in the frenzied goldrush days.
What’s really interesting about this show is how we have come to value, and even find beautiful, broken things.
There was a time when no self-respecting gallery would put on show a bowl with its sides cracked and its base missing.
Now, as we accept and embrace a kind of new-Romanticism born of a desire to link with the past (think of the passion for genealogy), we find such an object poignant and lovely.
Heritage Victoria archaeologist Jeremy Smith was in town yesterday to talk about the show.
He said it will take another six months to stabilise all the objects found on the site, including things made from perishable materials such as leather.
He said HV is keen to see the objects eventually returned to go on show in Bendigo.
“If a proposal comes forward, we’d like to support that,” he said.“There are a few tentative ideas from the owners themselves, but if the objects don’t find a home in Bendigo they will become part of our collection and still be accessible to students and community groups.”
Mr Smith said, providing the site is identified early, before building begins, corporate owners are often very proud of being custodians of history.
Hidden Worlds: glimpses from Bendigo’s Forest Street archaeological excavation is at the Post Office Gallery, in the Information Centre building on Pall Mall, until June 24.