Challenges associated with interpreting gold rush archaeology for visitors: a case study of the Bendigo Chinese Heritage Precinct
Jennifer Laing (Tourism Research Unit, Monash University)
Keir Reeves (Monash University)
Paper short abstract:
The discovery of a mid-nineteenth century Chinese kiln in Bendigo, Australia provides an opportunity to present the lives of the Chinese to visitors. This paper examines numerous challenges faced in developing the archaeological site into a tourist experience and advocates an approach to heritage interpretation based on ethnography of place.
Paper long abstract:
The discovery of a mid-nineteenth century Chinese kiln in Bendigo, Australia, believed to be the only one of its type still in existence outside of mainland China, provides an opportunity to present the lives of the Chinese in Bendigo to a wider audience. However, this archaeological site will require ethnographic analysis and historic interpretation to make it accessible to visitors. Given its location adjacent to a Chinese 'joss-house', the site is intended to form part of a heritage precinct that can be read as a cultural landscape and understood as a driver of cultural memory and identity for the local community. This paper, based on a program of research aimed at understanding and interpreting the Bendigo goldfields region, examines numerous challenges faced in melding the cultural stories and historical themes associated with the kiln site into tourism opportunities for various audiences. These include issues of authenticity related to site development and choice of interpretive media and heritage dissonance linked with contested themes of diaspora, migration/displacement and colonialism. The paper advocates an approach to heritage interpretation based on ethnography of place, where our understanding of material objects or artefacts is illuminated by uncovering the associated intangible layers of history and meaning, so as to reveal an archaeology 'of knowledge and imagination' (Mayne and Lawrence, 1998). This approach is argued to contribute to richer and more meaningful tourist experiences, as well as acting as a conduit for building social capital, place/multicultural identity and connections with the past.
Imagineering the past: the (mis)uses of anthropology and archaeology in tourism