Australian History

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Mount Burr Primary School discovers ABC film buried for 50 years in a time capsule and a surprise link to our news reporter

Man sitting at old film machine with film laced up on reels. He is gesturing towards film in mid-conversation.
Jon Steiner watching the old film on the Steenbeck machine.(ABC News)

AceHistoryDesk – Whitlam was in the Lodge, flares were in fashion, man had walked on the moon, and in the South Australian regional town of Mount Burr, children were walking into open space


Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Nov.27: 2023: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link

It was 1973 and that space was a prototype of what was still a fairly new concept — the “open area school”.

Black and white photo of children sitting at desks in a large, open classroom.
ABC News documented the opening of the school which pioneered open plan design.(ABC Archives)

There was so much excitement around the opening of the new school, the ABC sent a film crew to the tiny timber town to document the moment.

After that it was long forgotten, but the opening of a 50-year-old time capsule buried on school grounds has revealed a snapshot of life in 1970s regional Australia.

The time capsule, the teacher and the reporter — a surprise connection

When the time capsule was dug up, the film came as a surprise, but it had an ABC label so the school sent it to the broadcaster’s Sydney offices and asked if it could be digitised for them to view.

Its arrival sparked interest and, as a journalist based in South Australia, I was asked if I could take a look at it and turn it into a story.

As soon as I heard about the film, I had one main thought — I wonder if my mum is in it?

By pure coincidence, my mum, Ann MacLennan, had worked at the Mount Burr Primary School in the early 1970s.

Once it was processed and entered into the ABC’s digital archive there my mum was — almost a decade before I was born — a young teacher standing in the back row of a school assembly.

Black and white photo of children sitting on floor and two teachers standing at the back watching, some children stand also.
The old film captured Leah MacLennan’s mum, Ann, (in a black top) and her friend, Bettina Richie, (next to her) standing at the back of the assembly.(ABC Archives)

Teaching at Mount Burr was mum’s first job straight out of college, part of a program that sent newly-trained teachers to regional areas.

“I had never heard of Mount Burr and it was a big adjustment for a city girl,” she says.

Despite being in the vision, mum couldn’t recall being filmed — the memory was lost in the blur of dignitaries frequently visiting the school.

“Because it was such a new concept, we had visits from many politicians, principals and teachers wanting to observe how the idea of open space teaching worked in practice,” she says.

“It was certainly an exciting start to my teaching career.”

Mum wasn’t the only person I recognised in the vision.

Standing next to her was another long-haired young teacher, Bettina Ritchie, mum’s lifelong friend.

Ms Ritchie says she has many fond memories of her time in Mount Burr.

“The staff was wonderful, everyone got on well and they had a good sense of humour,” she recalls.

“I met many great parents and children and the school council was really good too.

“We had a staff barbecue one night and we finished off with all of us dancing to Credence Clearwater Revival.”

Group of men women, a child and a baby standing together for a family photo.
ABC journalist Leah MacLennan (second from left) and her mum, Ann, (far right) with the rest of the family.(Supplied: Leah MacLennan)

Mum and Ms Ritchie both travelled to Mount Burr for the opening of the time capsule, but said they didn’t remember where it was or what was in it.

“The capsule contained a lot of printed information about the forestry industry and how important it was for the area,” Ms Ritchie says.

“But there were no writings by teachers or students and no children’s artworks which surprised us.

“I would definitely be adding them if I was burying it today.”

Surviving five decades underground

ABC archivist Jon Steiner was the first to see what was on the film, lacing it up on an old Steenbeck film machine and transferring it into the ABC’s digital archive.

Man sitting at old film machine with film laced up on reels. He is gesturing towards film in mid-conversation.
Jon Steiner watching the old film on the Steenbeck machine.(ABC News)

Running just over a minute in duration, the silent, black and white film appears to have been recorded to mark the opening of the school and shows children in the playground and inside the new open-plan classrooms and a local MP, Des Corcoran, speaking to students.

“The film is in pretty amazingly good condition which I think is a testament to the robustness of film as a format because I don’t think a video tape or a digital file would have lasted 50 years underground in South Australia,” Mr Steiner says.

Jon Steiner standing on a ladder looking at a can of film in between shelves packed full of cans.
The ABC has a vast film collection that is being digitised to preserve it.(ABC News: Nathaniel Harding)

Steiner and his colleagues are in a process of transferring the ABC’s video and film records to a digital database, preserving and making them more accessible to staff across the country.

“For me it’s always that connection,” he says.

“You look at archival vision and think this is a different world but then you realise those are actually people and they are still around and it isn’t just some abstract history.

“It’s a crucial role because the ABC has been there to document all of these very significant events in the nation’s history both culturally, artistically, politically, socially and the ABC’s been there recording it.”

The more things change…

In the 50 years since it opened, the school has added a few partitions, but it still largely adheres to its original open air philosophy.Mount Burr Primary School today.

Exterior, aerial view of a school building surrounded by green grass.
The town is located in south-east South Australia, about 400 kilometres from Adelaide. (ABC News)

Current principal Anne-Marie Fitzgerald says it works for their small school.

“Certainly there are not doors that close anywhere and fortunately we’ve always had staff who are happy to work together in those spaces and we have a lot of collaboration between staff,” she says.

Group of children sitting on the floor with paper in front of them, adults sitting at back watch on.
“There’s never any yelling.”Staff and students at Mount Burr Primary were intrigued to know what was on the ABC film.(ABC News)

And while smart boards have replaced chalk boards, Ms Fitzgerald says what students care about the most hasn’t changed much.

“When we ask the children what they like about the school, they talk about they like the teachers,” she says.

“A lot about relationships which is probably no different to what it was 50 years ago.”

While mum and Bettina spent a few years at Mount Burr before moving on, former teacher Julia Whennen has a lifelong connection to the school and says things have changed for the better.

“I think the school’s a much happier place now,” she says.

“It’s a beautiful school, smaller numbers in classes, more variety in the curriculum definitely probably due to technology these days.

Woman sitting between two girls in green school uniforms at small desk in a classroom.
There’s just no comparison.”Julia Whennen still volunteers at the school.(ABC News)

Ms Whennen was a teacher at Mount Burr when the time capsule was buried, and still volunteers there now.

“I didn’t think I’d [still] be here when I was younger,” she says.

“I thought I would be here on a walking stick.

“I’m privileged to work right across the school now when I come and this school’s amazing.

“It’s my whole life, it always will be, this school and the people of Mount Burr and the children.”

Ms Whennen said she’d been looking forward to seeing the film.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” she says.

“It brought back many memories.

“Probably some I didn’t like, like the milk delivery and kids having to drink this revolting milk, things like that.”

Black and white image of shoes on a shelf.
Mount Burr Primary School discovers ABC film buried for 50 years in a time capsule and a surprise link to our news reporter – ABC News

Current Mount Burr year three student Eloise Teagle says the school has changed a lot since the film was made.

“I thought [the film] was cool and it was weird how they took their shoes off in the classroom,” she says.

“You don’t need to take your shoes off and there used to be different things in different places.”

Year two student Michael Williams says his grandfather also went to the school, and it was interesting to see what life was like when he was young.

“[It was] really different from young to old,” he says.

ABC BACKSTORY Mount Burr Primary School discovers ABC film buried for 50 years in a time capsule and a surprise link to our news reporter

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World History & Research Reports

HISTORY TODAY: Ancient Amazon River rock carvings exposed by drought

A carving that looks like a face on a rock.
Ancient stone carvings on a rocky point of the Amazon River.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)

AceHistoryDesk – Human faces sculpted into stone up to 2,000 years ago have appeared on a rocky outcropping along the Amazon River since water levels dropped to record lows in the region’s worst drought in more than a century.


Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Nov.25: 2023: Reuters News Agency: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link

A carving in stone that looks like a face.
It is believed rock carvings discovered on the Amazon River are between 1,000 to 2,000 years old.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)none

National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute archaeologist Jaime de Santana Oliveira said some rock carvings had been sighted before, but now there was a greater variety that would help researchers establish their origins.

A man squats down on top of rocks.
Institute for Public Health and Medicine archaeologist Jaime de Santana Oliveira squats near tool sharpening marks carved into stone.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)

One area shows smooth grooves in the rock, thought to be where Indigenous inhabitants once sharpened their arrows and spears long before Europeans arrived.

“The engravings are prehistoric, or precolonial. We cannot date them exactly, but based on evidence of human occupation of the area, we believe they are about 1,000 to 2,000 years old,” Mr Oliveira said.

A carving that looks like a face on a rock.
Ancient stone carvings on a rocky point of the Amazon River.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)

The rocky point is called Ponto das Lajes on the north shore of the Amazon near where the Rio Negro and Solimoes rivers join.

Mr Oliveira said the carvings were first seen there in 2010, but this year’s drought has been more severe, with the Rio Negro dropping 15 metres since July, exposing vast expanses of rocks and sand where there had been no beaches.

An ancient carving in rock.
Water levels dropped to record lows during a drought in Manaus.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)

“ This time we found not just more carvings but the sculpture of a human face cut into the rock,” Mr Oliveira said.

A view from above showing a large section of rock surrounded by water and trees.
The area where ancient stone carvings on a rocky point of the Amazon River.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)

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A carving that looks like a face on a rock.
Ancient stone carvings on a rocky point of the Amazon River.(Reuters: Suamy Beydoun)
World History & Research Reports

HISTORY TODAY: The rise and fall of the East India Company in 18th & 19th Centuries here’s how ?

Flag and illustrations of the British East India Company

AceHistoryDesk – Today, Walmart is the biggest corporation in the world. Imagine, if you will, that in addition to making money from its global retail operation, Walmart was also the ruler of a country, collected taxes from millions of people and maintained a standing army of a quarter of a million men. The idea is absurd, and yet, that’s exactly the position the East India Company found itself in in the 18th and 19th centuries. But how?


Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Nov.21: 2023: Sky History News: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link

Flag and illustrations of the British East India Company

Humble beginnings

The year was 1599 and a group of English businessmen and adventurers gathered together in London. They agreed to form a company to exploit the growing demand for goods such as textiles and spices coming from the East Indies, in particular India and parts of Southeast Asia. The aim was to get a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I that would grant them the exclusive rights to trade with the East. In 1600, the charter was granted and the East India Company came into being. 

Eight years after gaining its charter, the East India Company founded its first permanent settlement in India – Fort St. George on the Bay of Bengal. At the time, England was just one of several European countries vying to dominate trade with the East Indies. England’s main competitors were the Netherlands and France, both of which established trading posts on the subcontinent. It remained to be seen who of the three would win the race to exploit the fabulous wealth of what was then the largest economy in the world.


Following the establishment of Fort St. George, the company was keen to expand operations as its coffers began to fill up from its Bengal operation. The turning point came in 1613 when the company obtained a permit from the Mughal Emperor Nur-ud-din Salim Jahangir to open a factory in the Mughal city of Surat. The establishment of this new trading post further cemented the company’s grip on trade in the region. 

After Surat, the East India Company continued to expand its operations across India throughout the 17th century and into the 18th. Times were good and the profits were rolling in, but what turned a trading company into the biggest, most powerful corporation on the planet and a de facto sovereign state? 

Firstly, the company became very adept at forming alliances and backing the right horse. The East India Company started to take sides with one local ruler over another when provinces it was interested in expanding into went to war. In return for their support, the company was rewarded with more contracts and more opportunities. The East India Company had gone into the diplomacy game, and it proved remarkably good at it. 

Secondly, the company’s main rivals, France and the Netherlands, were eventually pushed out of the subcontinent except for a handful of mostly irrelevant trading settlements. The Netherlands pretty much bowed out of India following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the appointment of Dutchman William of Orange as the new King of England. Now allies, England focussed its efforts on protecting and exploiting its Indian interests, while the Dutch increasingly turned their attention to exploiting the spice trade of the Far East. England’s only other serious rival, France, was knocked out of the game when she and her ally Spain lost the Seven Years War of the 1750s and 1760s. With no rivals left on the board, the East India Company could now focus on the next phase of their corporate expansion – rule.

Rulers of India

By the 1750s, the East India Company had its own private army, and it was this army, under the command of Robert Clive, that defeated the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Following Clive’s victory, Bengal came under company control. It now had the power to raise taxes from millions of people and this marked the start of an expansion that would eventually see the company rule India. 

One by one, the company’s armies – made up of enlisted men from Britain and native regiments known as ‘sepoys’ – scored victory after victory over the country’s network of regional rulers. The four Anglo-Mysore wars during the last three decades of the 18th century saw the company take control of most of the subcontinent, and the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s brought the Punjab and its fearsome warriors under the company’s wing. By the 1850s, the East India Company was the ruler of India. Any threat to the company’s dominance was kept at bay by Britain’s vast, nigh-on unbeatable Royal Navy. It seemed that the company was unstoppable. Trouble, however, was on the horizon. 


The end of the East India Company came not from defeat on the battlefield, but from within the ranks of ‘John Company’, its native army of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. In 1857, a rumour began doing the rounds that a new type of rifle cartridge was about to be foisted on the troops that were greased with forbidden pork and cow fat. Before long, the company’s troops were in open rebellion, killing British officers and their families, burning their homes to the ground and rampaging across the countryside. The Indian Mutiny could have toppled the company had it not been brutally brought under control by the British. 

After the rebellion was quashed, it was concluded in London that India must come under direct British rule. In 1858, Britain took over the government of the subcontinent, bringing an end to 100 years of company control, and marking the start of the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire – the British Raj. The East India Company limped on for a few more years before finally being wound up on 1st June 1874. 

‘It accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other trading Company ever attempted,’ said The Times of London as the company was in its death throes, ‘and such as none, surely, is likely to attempt in the years to come.’ 

Facts about the East India Company 

  • The British government granted the company the right to sell Chinese tea in America without paying the same taxes other exporters were forced to pay. The outrage this caused amongst colonists led to the Boston Tea Party, which in turn sparked the American War of Independence. 
  • The company’s involvement in the Chinese opium trade led to the two Opium Wars of the 1830s and the 1850s. When China decided to ban opium and destroy the company’s stocks, the British government sent a naval expedition to force the Chinese to pay reparations and keep the trade open. The second war, waged against China by Britain and France, led to the legalisation of opium – something which China is still understandably angry about to this day. 
  • The biggest blot in the company’s copybook is the Great Bengal Famine of 1770. The company, in charge of Bengal at the time following its victory at Plassey in 1757, bought up most of the region’s rice supplies for its troops and refused to lower taxes, both of which were major contributing factors in the deaths of between eight and ten million people.

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@acenewsservices @acenewsservices
World History & Research Reports

HISTORY TODAY: Orkney’s lost tomb – how the team made the Neolithic discovery


AceHistoryDesk – Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland, is renowned for its remarkably well-preserved monuments. Many of these are Neolithic (10,000 BC to 2,200 BC) and consist of stone circles and chambered tombs, which are still highly visible in the landscape. Chambered tombs are monuments built of stone with a chamber area designed to hold the remains of the dead.


Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Nov.21: 2023: The Conversation By Published: November 13, 2023 5.33pm GMT: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link

A woman in a beanie hat excavating a skeleton.
National Museums Scotland

In many parts of Britain, chambered tombs have been robbed for stone, and while this was also the case on Orkney, most sites do not seem to have been as badly affected as in other parts of the country.

In 2020 one of my team encountered a series of letters preserved in National Museums Scotland’s library relating to a dispute over some Neolithic objects discovered in Orkney in the 19th century. 

This led us to a newspaper account in the Orkney Herald in 1896, which reported that Orkney antiques specialist James Walls Cursiter had encountered a series of archaeological discoveries made by the son of the landowner at Holm, on the east side of Orkney’s mainland. 

The finds included a mace-head made from gneiss (a metamorphic rock with a distinct banding), a plain stone ball and eight skeletons. They were found within the ruins of a stone mound that had previously supplied stone to build a nearby farmhouse. The surviving stonework was interpreted by Cursiter as the remains of a “chambered burial mound”. 

This discovery was rapidly forgotten. By coincidence, a recently discovered archaeological notebook belonging to Cursiter revealed further details of the finds. This included a sketch of the monument and, most importantly, an approximate location of the discovery. 

All of this appeared to suggest that there may well be an unknown chambered tomb, mostly destroyed, but surviving to some extent nevertheless awaiting rediscovery.

Discovering the tomb

In 2022 a geophysical survey was carried out in the same location as described by Cursiter. Among other features, these surveys located a substantial archaeological anomaly on top of a prominent mound almost precisely in the location described as a position of the monument.

In 2023, we decided to open up a trench to see if anything survived. When we arrived at the site, it did not look promising. All that remained on the ground was a very slight grassy dome which had clearly been ploughed over the years. In a field of many grassy knolls, it was hard to see how this was anything exceptional. Yet, the location was quite prominent, with views out over the landscape in many directions, comparable to other passage tombs in the area. A passage tomb is a type of chambered tomb with a long thin passage leading to a central chamber with smaller cells off the main chamber. 

As we peeled off the turf, we quickly came down onto heavily disturbed soil containing smashed Victorian ceramics and stone rubble. This came from a nearby farmhouse that had robbed stone from the tomb in order to build their barn. There was no rubbish collection then, so their waste went out on to the fields. But scattered among this recent material were small fragments of bone which looked much older. 

As we dug further down, we started to encounter the lower walls of a stone structure, exactly as described by Cursiter. Much of the bone within the stone structure was highly fragmentary, which seemed to reinforce the idea that this monument had been mostly destroyed in the 19th century. 

The team excavate the find.
The team excavate the find. National Museums Scotland

However, in one of the side cells off the main passage – which was largely filled with small stone rubble that accumulated from the dismantling of an intact side cell which would once have had a high roof – we found a perfectly preserved and undisturbed Neolithic tomb deposit.

This consisted of a minimum of 14 burials of seven adults and seven children. The skeletons were placed in a variety of different positions. Two were crouched (knees to chest) and laid on their side, while another was tightly flexed with the knees pulled tight to the chest, and placed face down. Two were placed in the grave embracing one another, with the remains of two young children placed on their heads. 

This level of preservation is remarkable. It is quite unusual to find tomb deposits intact and so well preserved.

In revealing and excavating these remains, we have found a lost passage tomb, but also revealed that these finds will not be preserved forever. The soil added into the monument during the Victorian destruction of the site has been eroding the bones ever since, so it is now a race against time to retrieve what survives. 

The human remains will enable to us discover many different aspects of peoples’ lives in the Neolithic age, including what they ate and how they died. It also shows that in a landscape where many monuments are exceptionally well preserved, there are still new and exciting discoveries to be made.

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Australian History

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Norah Head lighthouse reserve celebrates 120 year anniversary as descendants return to care for site

A lighthouse with storm clouds behind it.
The Norah Head lighthouse is an iconic structure on the Central Coast.(ABC Central Coast: Keira Proust)none

AceHistoryDesk – The descendants of lighthouse keepers who manned an iconic site on the New South Wales Central Coast in the 1900s have returned to celebrate its 120-year anniversary.


Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Nov.15: 2023: ABC Australian History News: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link

A lighthouse with storm clouds behind it.
The Norah Head lighthouse is an iconic structure on the Central Coast.(ABC Central Coast: Keira Proust)none

Local resident Matt Smith, who grew up hearing grand tales about life on the iconic Norah Head lighthouse reserve, is one of those descendants.

His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all manned the lighthouse at various points in the last century.

Two people standing in front of a lighthouse.
Jacki Lamphee and Matt Smith are both descendants of lighthouse keepers at Norah Head.(ABC Central Coast: Keira Proust)

Now, he and other locals hope they can also play a role in caring for the site.

“While we’re not manning the lighthouse or tending to it, we’re hopeful we can preserve this,” he says.

“And help in any way possible to make sure it’s here for everyone because it’s such an iconic location.”

Mr Smith is part of a newly formed group that hopes to protect the the lighthouse and the surrounding reserve.

Norah Head Reserve Community Liaison Group chair Ian Rhodes said the reserve was an important mainstay for the community today.

“I feel like it’s an anchor and a point of reference,” he says.

A photo of the top of a lighthouse during a storm.
“It’s something everyone holds to.”Norah Head lighthouse first opened on November 15, 1903.(ABC Central Coast: Keira Proust)

Celebrating 120 years

The lighthouse turned 120 years old on Wednesday.

In the late 1800s, well-known Noraville resident Edward Hargraves pushed for it to be built after he witnessed several shipwrecks off the coast.

Construction began in 1901 and cost about £24,000 to complete.

It was first opened and illuminated on November 15, 1903.

Since that time, it has helped protect ships travelling with vital cargo and passengers off the coast.

A family having tea at a lighthouse keeper cottage in the 1930s
People having tea in the Norah Head lighthouse keeper’s cottage in the 1930s.(Supplied: State Library of New South Wales)

Mr Rhodes says a lot of ships were lost at sea off Norah Head before the lighthouse opened.

He says it was the last one to be built along a dangerous part of the state’s coastline.

“All the other sites that were a danger to ships up and down the coast were built well before Norah Head,” he says.

A man looking out from a brick room.
“This was the very last one that went in.”Ian Rhodes says the community liaison group will help preserve the reserve for tourists and locals.(ABC Central Coast: Keira Proust)

A lonely but ‘idyllic’ existence

People who lived in lighthouses during the 1900s said the lifestyle was often isolated and exhilarating.

Jacki Lamphee spent her early childhood living in lighthouses across NSW, including the Norah Head lighthouse.

She too is part of the new community group caring for the site.

“I do remember it as idyllic,” she says.

“I just remember every afternoon we were on the beach exploring.”

An old photograph of a woman hanging out washing near a lighthouse.
Many families lived at the Norah Head lighthouse site during the 1900s.(Supplied: State Library of New South Wales)

She says her dad had to find another job once the systems were automated in the late 1900s.

“When we first started there were lots of lighthouse keepers and a relief lighthouse keeper, so a couple of families living in each place,” she says.

“And then over time because it became more automated all the families and men weren’t needed, so they started going to new careers.”

Mr Smith said it was important that the history of these places was remembered.

“The [lighthouse keepers] were providing an essential service — people’s lives were in these guys’ hands,” he says.

“If they did their job properly people survived [but] if they did their jobs poorly people would die.”

These days the lighthouse and reserve, now managed by Reflections Holiday Parks, is a popular wedding venue and lookout for whale watching.

Reflections says it will work with the Norah Head Reserve Community Liaison Group and a passionate group of volunteers to care for and preserve the historic site.

The group will celebrate the lighthouse’s 120th birthday this Saturday.

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