WA’s oldest building under park

Kent AcottAlbany Advertiser
Notre Dame University's senior lecturer in archaeology Dr Shane Burke at the Parade Street site.
Camera IconNotre Dame University's senior lecturer in archaeology Dr Shane Burke at the Parade Street site. Credit: Laurie Benson/Picture: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the foundations of WA’s oldest colonial building.

Using old survey books and ground-penetrating radar, University of Notre Dame senior lecturer Shane Burke and his team are confident they have found the remains of the 190-year-old commandant’s quarters in Albany.

They are about 1.2m under Foundation Park, a dog and recreation park on Parade Street.

The quarters were built a year before Fremantle’s Round House, considered to be the oldest building still standing in WA.

“In the context of the history of WA and the history of Albany, this is an important find. It has the potential to unlock some valuable insights into early colonial life,” Dr Burke said.

A panoramic view of Princess Royal Harbour, painted by Lt Robert Dale in 1833. The headquarters (commandant’s quarters) is on the far right near the cross roads.
Camera IconA panoramic view of Princess Royal Harbour, painted by Lt Robert Dale in 1833. The headquarters (commandant’s quarters) is on the far right near the cross roads. Credit: Supplied

Dr Burke hopes to work with the City of Albany to excavate the site.

The commandant’s quarters was one of several buildings constructed when Albany was a military outpost of NSW between 1826 and 1831. Measuring 10m x by6m and with four rooms and a chimney, the quarters were built between May and July, 1829. The quarters are of special significance as the home of Captain Collet Barker, whose diary is one of Australia’s best historical documents describing early interaction between Europeans and Aboriginal people.

Capt. Barker was able to build a friendly and co-operative relationship with local Aboriginal people.

Dr Burke and his team used data recorded by colonial surveyor and explorer Alfred Hillman to mark out a likely location of the walls and hearth of the commandant’s quarters.

Hillman prepared the first plan of Perth and did much of the original surveying around Albany. They were then able to use ground-penetrating radar to match underground “anomalies” with the likely locations of the walls.

“It is a quirk of history that the site has never been built on over the last 190 years,” Dr Burke said.

“It means that the building’s foundations have not been disturbed.”

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