Footprints and Fingerprints

This component of the project concerns the forensic mapping of minerals in the Shoalhaven Catchment as a means to understand human occupation and modification of the landscape.

The catchment of the Shoalhaven River was subject to exploration and mining for gold predominantly from the 1860s to 1900. The most well-known goldfield is that of Yawal that lies in the headwater of the Shoalhaven, upstream from Bundanon. The mines were last reworked during the depression years of the 1930s and have since been abandoned. Nevertheless, the environmental activities and impacts are not well described but what information exists indicates the mining resulted in a range of upstream environmental impacts including deforestation, damming and sluicing. Downstream, the ‘fingerprints’ of mining activities on the landscape are even less well known. However, this knowledge-gap provides a unique opportunity to understand how mining affected the floodplain environments through the dispersal and accumulation of contaminants over time.

Consequently, this project will analyse floodplain sediments for gold, silver, lead and zinc, which are common contamination markers of anthropogenic activity. Sampling of floodplain sediments will effectively provide a temporal sequence, with sediments ageing with depth. Shifts in geochemical profile will be linked to the European catchment history relating to the ebb and flow of mining activity.

The project will investigate the geochemical footprint created by European occupation, which began in earnest after the 600-acre Bundanon property was granted to Richard Henry Browne in the 1830s. This project will analyse soil across the site to assess the land at Bundanon for ‘footprints’ of former human activities. Values will also be benchmarked against natural background values to understand the extent and impact of anthropogenic activity.

The data obtained from this survey will be developed into a creative work for hand-held mobile devices whereby visitors will be able to walk through the Bundanon landscape and listen to a sonification of the mineral content of the soil (literally) beneath their feet.