Grounded in history

Shane Burke warms up the ground probing radar. Photo by Steve Grant.

THE Herald always gets a bit excited when archaeologist Shane Burke fires up his ground probing radar.

A few years back Notre Dame’s senior lecturer in archaeology and history used the stroller-like machine to discover the graves which almost certainly pinpointed one of WA’s first colonial settlements, Clarence Town, at the base of Mt Brown in Henderson.

So we were intrigued to find Dr Burke just up the road from the Chookhouse in Fremantle’s West End the other week, trying out the radar on a carpark which was once ground zero for European colonisation of the Swan River Colony.

Dr Burke says he was preparing the site for a GPR survey by his students.

“The results were interesting and a bit surprising,” Dr Burke said. “The images gathered showed the corners of buildings and even a hallway possibly associated with Samson’s house.”

The carpark had been the site of former Fremantle mayor and prominent businessman William Samson’s two-storey house from the mid-1850s to its demolition in 1954-55.

“What was surprising was the depth of these features – 0.6m – for I thought they would have been much shallower,” Dr Burke said.

A few months ago one of his honours students surveyed one of Notre Dame’s courtyards on Cliff Street and picked up the rear foundations of another early merchant’s store, Sam Moore, which Dr Burke says dates from the 1830s till its demolition in 1896.

“These results are just a reminder that the physical evidence of Fremantle’s near past is still with us just under our feet,” Dr Burke said.

“Fremantle, unlike Perth, never went through a high rise building phases requiring different construction techniques compared to double and tripe storey structure that exist in Fremantle.

“The foundations of very early structures – and by default other artefacts – are still well preserved.”

by Steve Grant

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