Toward an archaeology of the twentieth-century suburban backyard



The archaeology of twentieth-century suburbs, in contrast to city centres, has received little attention from archaeologists in Australia. This paper presents the results of an archaeological investigation of a suburban block, a bounded space 347m2 in size, created in 1905 and located in the Sydney suburb of Arncliffe. An extensive collection of objects has been recovered while undertaking gardening activities and six test pit excavations has produced an assemblage of 3600 things. A qualitative analysis of the material remains reveals a wide range of past suburban activities, encompassing building construction, domestic consumption/production and home-making practices. The paper explores links between past activities/behaviours and routine processes of material decay, waste disposal and loss in order to consider the archaeological research potential of the suburban block. Two specific areas of research are outlined — consumption with particular reference to the role of the female head of the house and ecology/health. On the basis of the study a case is made for the development of a ‘suburban archaeology’ in Australia.