Field Work, News

Searching the Land of Nothing

By Antoinette Hennessy

We all search for something. Palaeontoligsts have the Lost World, treasure hunters have El Dorado, and cryptozoologists have the chupacabra. Something stirs the mind, makes it race with ideas and fantastic notions of what something could have been, or even better: what once was. Something like the Seven Stars Hotel, Redbanks, South Australia.

Imagine this: a bustling Victorian-era pub almost out of place in the middle of the Adelaide Plains. Aptly named the “Seven Stars Hotel” it stands on the corner of a seven-road junction, and offers relief to weary merchants, farmers and the local population of Redbanks town; blessing their heads with showers of beer, liquor and merriment.

Out the back are the stables with fresh feed for the horses, and the outhouse for other business. The walls are a sturdy and strong patchwork of cobblestones and mortar atop brick foundations that seem unbreakable; a formidable opponent against the labours of time.

The stained-glass windows resemble those of classic Irish and English pubs, barely illuminating the interior with adequate lighting, but enough to spread a homely glow.

On a seemingly endless journey towards the developing settlement of Adelaide, the smoking chimney beckoned the traveller to rest and enjoy a most desirable home-cooked meal – freshly made, served with a warm and welcoming smile of the barmaid of bosom most ample.


But there was none of that.

The vastness of the plains amplified the sadness of the sight: flat, heavily worked farmland with no visible remnants of any sort of building. There were no known photos, or paintings, and the only memories were that of its demolished grandeur – if there ever was. But the mental images poured out like paint on a canvas, plotting themselves on the land itself. I could see the hotel, and how it stretched and splayed itself along the fenceline; see where stables, sheds, outhouses were built within the dried wheat boundary. On the ground itself, you couldn’t take a step without coming across an artefact: a piece of gingerbeer bottle, glass from a once beautiful vase, or a piece of ceramic with elegant blue paint that, when put together with the other pieces of the jigsaw, would reveal an elaborate pond scene with weeping willows.

While the scientist analysed patterns and artefacts, the artist inside me was painting a new picture. A grand picture of a huge hotel based on the vast emptiness of the land, regardless of inaccuracies; knowing that something, and someone had once occupied this space. And as archaeologists, we would find it again.