What was life like for the convicts who spent eight gruelling years building the Midlands Highway between Hobart and Launceston? In partnership with the Southern Midlands Council, the University of Tasmania has conducted a two-week long archaeological dig at Picton Convict Station in Kempton to learn more about this chapter of Tasmania’s 19th-century colonial history.

Ten undergraduate students were given a rare opportunity to learn hands-on skills in the authentic archaeological dig. Dakota Gallagher is a third-year Bachelor of Arts student, and as a History major, gained valuable insights about the process of heritage research.

“The experience was pretty unique, to actually get to do something practical out in the field. It was really good to learn archaeological techniques, since many of us didn’t have any prior experience with that,” Dakota said.

You get to be part of the whole process: finding the site, excavating it, discovering the artefacts, and doing some interpretation. It’s a more complete picture of how to find primary evidence, which as a History student, is really valuable to learn.

Dakota signed up for the Summer School opportunity to complement his career ambitions.

“In terms of my future career, I would love to work in heritage preservation or heritage tourism.

While you’re at university, there’s going to be a lot of different educational and networking opportunities that come your way, so just take as many as you can. It’s only going to be beneficial.

Led by Dr Eleanor Casella, Adjunct Professor with the University of Tasmania’s School of Humanities, the team discovered walls from the original quadrangle and found fragments of rock-breaking tools, revealing details about the harsh working and living conditions that the convicts endured.

“We had a wonderful mix of local and interstate students undertaking the unit, which has been rich in work-integrated professional learning experiences,” Dr Casella said.

Archaeology is both a remarkable and rewarding profession, and this field school is a fantastic example of where studying History with the University of Tasmania can take our students.

Interested in studying humanities and social sciences? Apply now.