South Sea Islander artefacts possibly dating back to the 19th century have been uncovered during an archaeological dig on our Pioneer Mill estate.

The artefacts include stems of clay tobacco pipes and part of a pipe bowl featuring a man’s face. It is hoped these are just the start of what lies beneath the grassed area near Pioneer Mill’s housing estate, with the dig set to continue in July.

The dig has been conducted in an effort to uncover artefacts belonging to South Sea Islanders who lived and worked at Pioneer Mill up until the early 20th century.

It is part of the Archaeology, collections and Australian South Sea Islanders lived identities project – a collaboration between several Australian South Sea Islander organisations in Queensland, and researchers from the Queensland Museum, University of Sydney, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, and Federation University.

University of Queensland PhD Candidate Adele Zubrzycka, who is co-ordinating the project, said the team hoped to uncover remnants of huts that South Sea Islanders lived in while working at Pioneer Mill.

Adele and her team approached Wilmar Sugar last year seeking permission to undertake a shallow excavation of several sites of interest on the Pioneer estate, based off historical maps of the estate.

The team commenced work on the Pioneer estate in early April, and spent most of the month there. The initial dig was so successful the team plans to continue their excavation efforts in mid-July.

Adele said Ground Penetrating Radar investigations, led by Kelsey Lowe from the University of Queensland, were used to help hone in on the excavation area, with several test trenches dug.

She said the discovery of the personal artefacts was encouraging and the team hoped more significant treasures and building features would be uncovered when they returned.

“We don’t expect to have to excavate more than 20cm deep,” Adele said.

“The clay pipe ends were found at about 10-15cm.”

Members of the Burdekin’s Australian South Sea Islander community joined Wilmar employees and their families at a community day held at the dig site on April 9 to see the dig in progress and find out more about the lived identities project. The community day was led and co-ordinated by Imelda Miller and Geraldine Mate from the Queensland Museum.

“We had more than 20 people attend. It went really well; everyone was very engaged,” Adele said.

Any artefacts uncovered during the excavation will be examined for their historical significance and recorded but will remain the property of Wilmar.

Burdekin Regional Operations Manager Paul Turnbull, who has overseen the excavation, said Wilmar would consult with local Australian South Sea Islander representatives about how any artefacts would be best preserved.