Advance Archaeology

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IPWEAQ Member Profile, Archaeologist: Sher Mitchell

Sher Mitchell

Director, Advance Archaeology Pty Ltd

Can you introduce yourself?

I am an Archaeologist and the Company Director of Advance Archaeology Pty Ltd, which is based in Narangba, north Brisbane. Our consultancy is experienced in working with both Aboriginal and Historical cultural heritage, and we are engaged by government departments, Aboriginal parties and local councils for advice on cultural heritage. My own speciality and interest is in stone tool identification and reduction sequences; and in zooarchaeology, which is the bones side of things, both human and animal.

How did you become an Archaeologist, and how long has public works been part of your portfolio?

Archaeology and history is something I have always had a passion for and in 2009 I commenced a Bachelor of Arts in Roman history, and began on the job learning through volunteering with a local archaeological museum.

The director was himself an archaeologist, and I assisted him with researching and curating objects. He was looking for a trainee and I was lucky to be in the right place at the rig ht time. As an archaeologist I have worked at over Queensland —in rail, mining and construction, gas lines — and protection of and mitigation of risk to cultural heritage is part of my daily life. It is brilliant and I am privileged to be doing this work today. You could say that the focus is to ensure that the cultural heritage is identified as accurately as possible and that the legislation is followed as required in the various acts in order to inform all stakeholders of the potential cultural heritage risks.

What projects have you been involved with which have contributed to your career progression?

I have been fortunate to be involved in quite large projects, but many of the small ones have had a really big influence. To date I have been involved in over 80 desktop risk assessments for the cultural heritage component of transport and main roads projects. I was on the survey of the Springfield railway line in 2011, where we found a site that is approximately 2,498 BP (Before Present). Our company is also a little different to some as we are CASA-licenced (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) and utilise drones in many of our engagements. We use drones to do aerial surveys, look at inaccessible areas, and develop three dimensional spatial maps and models of landscapes and specific sites.

My favourite project to date was in 2011 where I undertook a National Parks survey of the Burra Ranges as a trainee and identified a significant area of stencilled art. The park ranger had never seen it either. There was an elder from the local area with us who was blown away. Seeing her reaction and being with her in that moment will stay with me for a long time.

What do you enjoy most about working in this sector?

I think the fact that each project is unique in its requirements and parameters really fuels my enjoyment. They are all guided by legislation with expected outcomes, and being able to influence the ultimate success through building relationships is something I really appreciate as well.

What are the unique challenges of archaeology in public works?

There are a lot of challenges. Communication is the biggest issue. Any breakdown in communication creates room for error or breaches in agreements, and allowing things to happen on site that shouldn’t. You may not have agreement from Traditional Owners to clear vegetation or undertake ground-disturbing activities. And things are not always done in the timeframes that meets the project’s schedule.

From a project perspective there is an often rigid schedule required to keep a handle on various elements and that is absolutely fair. However, it can be difficult to have the project team and applicant group all on the same page.

Lastly, with a lot of projects, confidentiality means it is quite difficult to talk about things in detail. I’m working with someone else’s culture and heritage, and there are confidentiality requirements on the part of the client. In some situations I am the middle woman which is always interesting.

Why did you join IPWEAQ and what services are of most value to you?

I initially became interested in the opportunities for training and development. I noticed a Native Title course (Native Title and Cultural Heritage Compliance for Infrastructure Projects). I am yet to do that and have scoped out my opportunities to undertake it this year. IPWEAQ also offers an opportunity to network directly with the people within the industry who would engage me in works as well. Sometimes I am contracted during a business case or detailed design of a project or I might get a call to come and have a look at a side or artefact and then be asked to mitigate or liaise with the Traditional Owners where required.

What advice would you give to others about the public works sector and becoming involved?

It is important to promote open and direct communication through getting to know the project team and stakeholders. This is the most important thing to me. Cultural heritage can be a tenuous area and is not always smooth sailing. Yet the rewards and outcomes of doing it right are always there.

What challenges have you faced and how do you overcome them?

It comes back to communication every time. I am always available for discussion and queries relating to cultural heritage. The cultural heritage is the focus for me. It is not my role to directly prioritise a particular party; my advice is based on legislation and project-specific requirements. I am guided by the legislation wherever cultural heritage has the potential to be impacted. It is also sometimes a challenge within the industry where stakeholders form agreements. There are time where there won’t be agreement. Where you are dealing with people it is always going to be a challenge.

Also colleagues have said that they have occasional found resistance to women on site. I haven’t experienced that yet. I can banter with the best of them! I’m sure those days are behind us now.

Any advice for professionals who are considering a career in the public works?

The work and opportunities are so diverse. The range of skill sets and number of people needed to make a project run successfully and smoothly is large. It’s so exciting to be involved and central to the successes of public works. Given the amount of development and infrastructure rolling out in Queensland there is fantastic work ahead.