Archaeological excavations under the floors of the house at Ellensbrook have recovered objects that slipped through the cracks of the floorboards during the 19th century. Remnants of household activities, such as pieces of broken glass bottles and ceramic dishes, buttons, clay pipes, sewing pins and pieces of embroidery were all preserved in the dry underfloor conditions.
Jessica Green from the University of Western Australia recently analysed this archaeological evidence as part of her Honours thesis. She was particularly interested in the many objects found that related to childhood, like marbles, slate pencils, a model cricket bat and fragments of a miniature tea set. Many of these were likely associated with the Aboriginal children of the Ellensbrook Farm Home, who lived at Ellensbrook from 1899.
During the excavations hundreds of shells were found underneath the floors but these don’t occur in the ground naturally. They had been likely brought into the house by a child who had collected them from the nearby beach. In 1904 two of the girls staying at the farm home, Ivy Hadji and Jane Councillor, describe visiting the nearby beach to go fishing and to collect shells.
I have been fishing today but never caught any fish. I found a few shells.
Ivy Hadji, 1904
The high number of collected shells in comparison to the small number of toys like marbles and game pieces found suggests that the children were restricted in the numbers of toys they were given and instead had to use their imaginations.
The children of Ellensbrook had voices; we have to remember that. They were real people trying to figure out the world they had been thrown into. Holding the marbles and the shells that they once played with showed me just how real these kids were, and how much the toys must have meant to them.
Jess Green, 2019