Australian century-old wartime artefacts provide glimpse into lives of ANZACs

Erin Taaffe and Dr Shane Burke on the dig site at the former Blackboy Hill army training camp in Greenmount, WA.

A map of the former Blackboy Hill army training camp dating back to 1925.

11 February 2014

Century-old wartime artefacts, held by the first ANZACs in the First World War, were uncovered from an archaeological dig by The University of Notre Dame Australia at the Blackboy Hill army training camp in the Perth hills suburb of Greenmount on Friday 24 January 2014.

The dig, which coincides with the war’s centenary this year, was lead by archaeology student Erin Taaffe, as part of her honours research, with assistance from Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and History at Notre Dame, Dr Shane Burke.

Glass fragments, ceramics, buttons, bullets, pieces of leather, bone fragments, harmonic reeds bases and .303 cartridges were just some of the items found, reflecting the various uses of the site during the war years in Perth.

Blackboy Hill was used as a military training camp and housed large numbers of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) before they left for the European and Middle Eastern battlefronts between 1914 and 1919; for accommodation for Spanish flu victims in 1919; and again by the AIF during the Second World War. It is now a Commemoration Site and memorial to the troops who passed through the training camp.

“Most places associated with Western Australians in the First World War are many thousands of kilometres from Western Australia. However, Blackboy Hill army training camp, where men from all walks of life had their first taste of the military, is a tangible reminder of Western Australia’s involvement in the First World War. It is therefore highly significant, particularly that 2014 is the war’s centenary,” Dr Burke said.

“This archaeological material opens a window into the personal lives of the first ANZACs that the written record cannot achieve.” 

Erin is currently completing her thesis as a final year student in the University’s School of Arts & Sciences. She said her studies in archaeology were driven by a passion to understand how past civilisations and human behaviour have evolved over time.

“Archaeology allows us to understand the people, civilisations and events of the past, and gives us an opportunity to preserve them for future generations,” Erin said.

“Being at Notre Dame has allowed me to take part in a number of diverse units, including maritime and Indigenous archaeology which has facilitated my further research into WA’s history. The Blackboy Hill excavation brought meaning to my studies knowing that I was making a contribution in archiving and sharing these artefacts with the broader Australian community.” 

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;