The discovery of a large accumulation of historical artefacts on the site of the new GovHub in Ballarat has left many with expertise in the field wondering how an archeological survey was not undertaken on the former market grounds before work began.
Unearthed by the contracted builder during excavations, a cache of bottles, ceramics, leather remnants and other material dating back to Ballarat's early days was subsequently picked through by collectors and the remains sent to recycling, in what is a breach of the Heritage Act 2017.
Work has been halted and could possibly resume later this week.
Heritage Victoria subsequently called for a cessation of work on the GovHub site, to which the builders, Kane Nicholson Joint Venturer, have agreed. At the direction of Heritage Victoria, an archaeologist has been engaged by the contractor to assess the site.
The site is likely to have a moderate level of significance and may contribute to the understanding of the material culture of Ballarat from the goldrush period, Heritage Victoria added.
The area where the artefacts were found has been secured and is awaiting further study.
The question of whether an archaeological survey should have been done or if there should have been an archeologist on site while diggings were done is a question troubling some historical experts.
While City of Ballarat has no immediate control over the GovHub site - it's currently Crown Land - a heritage professional in the past suggested that council use notes on building permits to ensure the community understood their obligations under the Heritage Act and the high likelihood of archaeological matter in goldfields towns such as Ballarat.
Another professional told The Courier work on a site so close to a historical square like the CBD of Ballarat should have been an obvious candidate for artefact discovery, and been flagged.
The archaeologist said in cases like these Indigenous material is often uncovered, as colonisation often overlaid sites used by the original inhabitants previously.
He said many archaeological discoveries are going unrecorded, and any site developed prior to the 1950s will most likely produce historically-significant material, before the advent of modern-day site clearing for building.
Both heritage experts declined to be identified for professional reasons.
The GovHub site was part of the original Market Square (also known as Haymarket) for Ballarat, prior to the construction of Civic Hall in the 1950s. There had been several other agriculturally related businesses and buildings on the site since its establishment.
A photograph from the 1920s or 1930s shows a number of rustic sheds at the rear of where GovHub will be situated, while a row of terraces and a substantial brick building line the north side of Mair Street, where the two palms at the entrance of Civic Hall stand and where the skate park once was.