I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Measuring Time at Tower Hill

When I visited the Melbourne Museum a few weeks ago, I went to the bookstore and saw an enormous book for over $200 on Victorian geology. I thought about it briefly, but frankly, I was a bit daunted by it. I ended up buying just a small booklet called Volcanoes in Victoria. Easy to understand and read for the non-specialist, but the main thing I could remember was this factoid I have just found again on p.13.
Who first saw the volcanoes?
Some of the youngest eruptions on the Western District plains must have been seen by Aboriginal people. Early historians reported that Aboriginal people told stories of rocks and fire coming from some mountains. Some stone tools have been found buried in layers of volcanic ash near Warrnambool. 
Now that's what I call a memorable fact, especially given our common understanding of Australia as an ancient continent, formed beyond most human memory. Of course I have more questions: which historians? which stories? So there's some more work for me to do here too. (I love this form of research: I use the blog to defer work I'll plan to do later...) There is a picture (too small to reproduce well here) of a stone axe (14 by 12cm) found buried under volcanic ash from the Tower Hill volcano (near Warrnambool) with a Museum of Victoria catalogue number (X72234), though I couldn't find it online to make a good link. But this stone object, lying under ash for thousands of years, is the kind of object that comes to find its own special place in the brain, too.

When did all this happen? The oldest recognisable volcanoes are about 6 or 7 million years old. By contrast, one of the youngest is Mt Napier, near Hamilton, formed around 30,000 years ago. Tower Hill was probably active around 25,000 years ago: http://www.hamiltonvictoria.com.au/Main.asp?_=Volcanic%20Plain

I like to think I have a reason to go back and visit Tower Hill. I've visited on a number of occasions, most recently on a medievalists' road trip, when as we were leaving at dusk, a koala obligingly took her baby for a walk across the car park. Now that was a good day. 


flipsockgrrl said...

Not specifically about bluestone but might be of interest. . . First, a recent article in Scientific American about the durability of indigenous memory, as evidenced by language and stories; the Uni of New England researchers cite an example of Aboriginal people (Wurundjeri or Wathaurong, perhaps?) remembering kangaroos grazing on Port Phillip Bay around 10,000 years ago.

Second, Lynne Kelly's "Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory, and the Transmission of Culture" is available for pre-order at Amazon. Lynne is a Victorian science writer who for her recent PhD looked into the mechanisms of how knowledge is encoded -- not only religion but plants, navigation, genealogy, resource rights, animal classifications and characteristics, and many more. She's identified a set ephemeral (song, story, dance, mythology) and physical (monuments, landscape, portable devices) memory aids that seem to be common across many different cultures. I don't know whether she's specifically encountered bluestone, but it might be worth asking her.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

You know my family had some of the very best days we've had together -- and that is saying something -- when we spent a few nights in a house at the Tower Hill reserve's edge where we could walk into the park by coming over the crater. It was unforgettable!