Travelling through time along the Murray River Valley

Dr Jillian Garvey works with traditional landowners to discover how human occupation and use of land has changed over time.

The Ngintait, Latji Latji, and Nyeri Nyeri people have lived in the Murray river region for 20,000 years. Dr Jillian Garvey is an archaeologist working with the traditional owners to discover how human occupation and use of the landscape has changed over time.

Dr Jillian Garvey wants to break down the stale perception of archaeology as old men studying dead cultures. Archaeology in Australia is a study of a living and continuous culture and academics are working with traditional owners to rediscover the rich cultural heritage of their past and empower them for the future.

Jillian works in central and northwest Victoria in the Lake Boort region, Neds Corner Station and the nearby Murray-Sunset (Yanga Nowie) National Park, with the Ngintait and the First People of the Millewa Mallee Traditional Owners.

“We don’t really know how people have been living along the Murray for the last 20,000 years. The traditional owners want to know how their old people lived on Country. It is important to understand how people lived in the past, and how the environment and animals changed through time; this gives us insights into what might happen in the future,“ Jillian explains.

A rich cultural heritage

The Murray river valleys are rich in archaeological sites. Jillian studies them to understand the changes in the way resources like freshwater shellfish, animals and silcrete were harvested through the millennia. The importance of Jillian’s research has been recognised with ARC DECRA and Discovery grants as well as a prestigious Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellowship from la Trobe in 2020.

One strand of Jillian’s work starts in an ancient silcrete quarry, the only place in Victoria where the local people mined the silcrete to make stone tools. Research is underway to track how widely the silcrete was traded across the country.

Becoming Custodians of Country

Neds Corner Station is in La Trobe Mildura campus country and Jillian is excited to be empowering a whole new generation of traditional owners to be custodians of their land.

Jillian teaches in the Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management, which trains traditional owners to work in the cultural heritage industry. This is a unique program offered by La Trobe in partnership with Aboriginal Victoria and boasts 170 graduates from the central and northwest Victorian communities.

“This is ongoing work and La Trobe are doing it right. This is an exciting space where we can work with traditional owners and raise awareness and increase understanding of the rich cultural heritage of Victoria. We are uncovering the past and laying an important foundation for the future.”

Want to learn more?

Read Jillian’s article on excavating shell middens along the Murray.