Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bennelong's Remains Too Fragile To Disturb by Eamonn Duff

SMH - September 17, 2011

The environmental scientist who found the grave of Woollarawarre Bennelong has revealed the site will remain untouched. The Herald understands that time has not been kind to the final resting place of one of the country's most prominent historical figures, located this year alongside the garden of a family home in Putney.
Following preliminary tests, the gravesite has been deemed too fragile to disturb, effectively ending the debate about the fate of any remains. The mayor of Ryde, Artin Etmekdjian, said the council had resolved to protect the area as an ''archaeological site''.

"We have asked the Aboriginal Heritage Office to prepare a 'site card' and management guidelines for the site, which when completed will be provided to the office of Environment and Heritage,'' he said. An honorary associate professor of physical geography at Macquarie University, Dr Peter Mitchell, led a secret investigation with Ryde Council to find the site. He said: ''It has been resolved that nothing else will now happen on that corner. We will leave it as it is and it will become a registered Aboriginal site so if there's any future possibility of disturbance on the site, that will flag it.''

Before urban sprawl took over the land, Bennelong's grave was positioned on the estate of James Squire, Australia's first brewer, who befriended the Aboriginal figure in the years before his death in 1813.

In the decades since, the site has been lost beneath the suburb of Putney, a small commemorative plaque marking the approximate area where it was believed to sit. Dr Mitchell said that ground-penetrating radar had since been used across the site.

''We're planning to conduct tests again in a bit more detail. My expectation … is that some remains will still be there.'' However, he added: ''I think everyone's pretty well agreed we're not going to find that out because nobody's really wanting to dig it up.''

Although there are no firm plans on how to commemorate Bennelong's bicentenary in 2013, Ryde Council has pledged $15,000 towards a ''significant'' project. It has also asked the NSW government for a $200,000 contribution which might pave the way for a monument in a park along the Parramatta River. Mr Etmekdjian said: ''Bennelong remains an important part of our history, not just for Ryde, but for the country as a whole."

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