Mulvaney Reflections

Mulvaney, Derek John (John) (1925-) •   Select Bibliography and Sources •   MULVANEY, Derek John – Sources

‘Reflections’ on Arnhem Land history by Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney was created by combining over 800 of his photographs taken since the late 1960s with a recorded commentary made at his home in Yarralumla in 2013. John Mulvaney talks of the pleasurable experience of visiting places where the enormous antiquity of the Australian landscape is evident. He also provides a reflective commentary on places of significance to more contemporary history of Arnhem Land like the Macassan trepang industry sites on the Arnhem Land coast, European exploration tracks and settlements of the 19th century, missions and missionaries of the 1960s, and mine sites in the 1990s. Mulvaney brings his vast knowledge of prehistory together in an informal way, providing an overview of Arnhem Land that takes us through two billion years of time from geological beginnings to the places of enormous creativity of Aboriginal people from around 40,000 years ago.

‘Reflections’ was made for the Deepening Histories of Place ARC Linkage project at ANU by Mary Anne Jebb as production manager, researcher and sound recorder. Rob Paton an experienced archaeologist and PhD scholar on the Deepening Histories of Place project co-directed and filmed the short film and Kathleen Jackson, a Summer Scholar at ANU assisted with scanning the 800 slides and creating a catalogue index. Thanks to Jason Ensor’s experience and skills the website has been designed and built to bring a range of digital data together in an accessible way meeting the needs of the public, researchers and participants in this project like John Mulvaney. The scanned images, interviews and film are now archived and available to the public through this website.

This website is located within the context of Ann McGrath's and Peter Read's ARC Linkage Project (LP100100427) “Deepening Histories of Place: Exploring Indigenous Landscapes of National and International Significance”, The Australian National University and Sydney University, 2011-2013.

Mulvaney, Derek John (John) (1925-)

Derek John (John) Mulvaney AO CMG, archaeologist and historian, was born on 26 October 1925 at Yarram, Victoria, the first child of Irish-immigrant Richard Mulvaney, secondary educator, and his wife Frances, nee Siegenberg. He enlisted the Royal Australian Air Forces (RAAF) and served as a navigator during World War Two (1943-1945). Upon fulfilling his duties, he seized the opportunity to continue his education under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. He enrolled at University of Melbourne (B.A., in History, 1948; M.A., 1950), under the tutelage of the likes of Max Crawford, John O’Brien and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, where he graduated with first-class honours. He then re-trained in archaeology at Clare College, Cambridge (B.A., 1953).  Funded by the Australian National University (ANU), he became the only ANU Travelling Research Scholarship recipient to be awarded the prize in order to pursue an undergraduate degree. In 1954, Mulvaney returned to Australia and began lecturing in classical history at the University of Melbourne. On 6 February 1954, he married Jean Campbell who died in 2004. In 2006 Mulvaney married historian Elizabeth Morrison.

A serendipitous meeting with amateur anthropologist Charles Pearcy Mountford, in 1955, introduced Mulvaney to Australian prehistory, and to the site of his first archaeological dig at Fromm’s Landing, South Australia. At the time Mulvaney was the only prehistoric archaeologist on staff in any Australian universities or museums. Consequently he used his work at Fromm’s Landing to demonstrate the uses of stratigraphy. By 1959, results from Radiocarbon 14 dating proved that the Fromm’s site has been occupied through almost 5,000-years. In 1961, he received the Nuffield Foundation Dominion Travelling Fellowship to work at London’s Institute of Archaeology, learning conservation skills. The fellowship continued to support Mulvaney’s extensive fieldwork, accompanied by Dermot A Casey, in Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory between 1962 and 1963. Most significantly, during the 1962 visit to Kenniff Cave, near Charleville, Queensland, Mulvaney obtained the first stratified Pleistocene dates – 16,000 years - for human occupation.

Persuaded by Jack Golson, Mulvaney joined ANU in 1965. By the mid-1960s the previously neglected Australian prehistory was flourishing, allowing Mulvaney to undertake fieldwork with students, and fellow prehistorians, including Josephine Flood and Isabel McBryde, in far-reaching places. Central to this fieldwork was Mulvaney’s 1965 trip to Arnhem Land to locate macassan trepanging sites. He recalled this period in his 2011 autobiography Digging Up A Past with great nostalgia, stating, “...these weeks provided my great ‘voyage’ of discovery. My travel resembled those of explorers, as I approached new land, challenges and discoveries ...”

In 1969, his pioneering book The Prehistory of Australia was published. In the same year, Mulvaney went to Lake Mungo, in Western New South Wales, along with Jim Bowler and Rhys Jones, to investigate Bowler’s discovery of Pleistocene-age remains – now known as ‘Mungo Lady’. Mulvaney was awarded his PhD by Cambridge in 1970 and became the Foundation Professor of Prehistory at ANU in 1971. He held this position until he took early retirement in 1985 and was inscribed Professor Emeritus at ANU in 1986.

More than a teacher and archaeologist, Mulvaney is an unequivocal advocate of cultural heritage management, and public awareness. He served on the executive of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (now the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) for eighteen years between 1964 and 1984. Between 1976 and 1982 he was a member of the Australian Heritage Commission. In 1974 Mulvaney became a member of the Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections, heading a planning committee that investigated a ‘Gallery of Aboriginal Australia.’ He was also instrumental in the campaign to make culturally significant sites, including Willandra Lakes and Kakadu National Park, World Heritage listed, and to protect the Franklin River, Tasmania from damming, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

The author, co-author and editor of 17 books, the recipient of a litany of awards and honours, including the Order of Australia in 1991. Long-time friend and collegue Jim Bowler, perhaps, best capture Mulvaney in a statement,

In his public and highly political stance, Mulvaney’s actions were not always welcome by some leading members of his own discipline, members in whose training he had been sometimes been highly involved. For Mulvaney, however, much imbued in the rigours of a scholarly style which flushes out truth in every corner, the links between archaeology, modern Indigenous conditions and political actions were transparent and totally demanding. His response was unequivocal. Love me or hate me, I know injustice when I see it and will act accordingly.

Love him or hate him, Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney is a pioneer in archaeological fieldwork in Australia and the undisputed “father of Australian archaeology”.

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Select Bibliography and Sources

Bonyhady, Tim and Tom Griffiths (eds.). Prehistory to Politics: John Mulvaney, the Humanities and the Public Intellectual. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1996.

Bowler, Jim. ‘John Mulvaney: An Amazing Journey,’ UniNews 14, no. 7 (2005).

Oral History Interview with Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney, October 25, 2010. Emeritus Faculty Oral History Project in the Emeritus Faculty, Australian National University. Published by the ANU Emeritus Faculty.

Mulvaney, D. J. Digging Up a Past. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2011.

Mulvaney, D. J. and Johan Kamminga. The Prehistory of Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1999.

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MULVANEY, Derek John – Sources


Butt, Peter (Director). 1984. Out of Darkness. Film. Australia: Independent Productions.


Mulvaney, Derek John, and Johan Kamminga. The prehistory of Australia. Ringwood (Victoria): Penguin Books, 1975.

Mulvaney, Derek John. Encounters in place: outsiders and aboriginal Australians, 1606-1985. University of Queensland Press, 1989.

Bonyhady, Tim. Prehistory to Politics: John Mulvaney, the Humanities and the Public Intellectual. Edited by Tom Griffiths. Melbourne University Press, 1997.

Ambrose, Wallace Raymond. Australian Archaeology: A Guide to Field and Laboratory Techniques. Edited by Derek John Mulvaney. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1968.

Mulvaney, John, Alison Petch, and Howard Morphy. From the Frontier: outback letters to Baldwin Spencer. Allen & Unwin, 2000.

Mulvaney, John. The Axe Had Never Sounded: Place, People and Heritage of Recherche Bay, Tasmania. Vol. 14. ANU E Press, 2007.

Mulvaney, Derek John. Paddy Cahill of Oenpelli. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2004.

Peterson, Nicolas, Lindy Allen, and Louise Hamby, eds. The makers and making of Indigenous Australian museum collections. Melbourne University Press, 2008.

Mulvaney, Derek John, Graham Henry Lawton, and Charles Rowland Twidale. Archaeological excavation of rock shelter no. 6 Fromm's Landing, South Australia. Royal Society of Victoria, 1964.

Mulvaney, John. Digging Up a Past. University of New South Wales Press, 2011.

Mulvaney, John.  Prehistory and heritage: the writings of John Mulvaney. Canberra: Dept. of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1990.

Mulvaney, John, Alison Petch and Howard Morphy (eds.). From the frontier: outback letters to Baldwin Spencer. St Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen &​ Unwin, 2000.

Mulvaney, John and Rex Harcourt. Cricket walkabout: the Australian Aborigines in England. 2nd Ed. South Melbourne: Macmillan in association with the Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs, 1988.

Mulvaney, John, Alison Petch and Howard Morphy (eds.). ‘My dear Spencer’: The Letters of F.J. Gillen to Baldwin Spencer. South Melbourne: Hyland House, 1997.

Mulvaney, John and Colin Steele. Changes in scholarly communication patterns: Australia and the electronic library. Canberra: Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1993.

Mulvaney, John and​ Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe (eds.). Rediscovering Recherche Bay. Canberra: Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, 2007.

Mulvaney, John. “Land and people in Aboriginal Australia.” In The land and the people: the Wik lectures 1998, edited by Richard Morton.

Roberts, David Andrew, and Adrian Parker. Carl Warburton's Buffaloes: adventures in Arnhem Land. 3rd ed. Marleston, S. A.: Gecko Books, [2006?].

Mulvaney, John. “The proposed Gallery of Aboriginal Australia.” Preserving indigenous cultures; a new role for museums; papers from a regional seminar, Adelaide, 1978, edited by Robert Edwards and Jenny Stewart. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1980, 72-78.

Mulvaney, John. “Concluding remarks and recollections.” In World prehistory: Studies in Memory of Grahame Clark, edited by J. M. Coles, Robert Bewley and Paul Mellars. New York: Oxford University Press, c1999.

Mulvaney, John. “‘Difficult to found an opinion’: 1788 Aboriginal population estimates.” In The Aboriginal population revisited: 70,000 years to the present, edited by Gordon Briscoe, and Len Smith. Canberra: Aboriginal History Incorporated, 2002.

Mulvaney, John. “'Annexing All I Can Lay Hands On': Baldwin Spencer as Ethnographic Collector.” In The makers and making of indigenous Australian museum collections,​ edited by Nicolas Peterson, Lindy Allen and Louise Hamby. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Publishing, 2008.

John Jory, Margaret Clunies Ross, Graeme Clarke, Harold Love, and John Mulvaney. “Part III. Public Forum. Who cares about the humanities?” In The Humanities and a creative nation: jubilee essays, edited by Deryck M. Schreuder. Sydney, N.S.W.: Australian Academy of the Humanities. Symposium, 1994.

Mulvaney, John. “The Frontier and Anthropology: Reflections on the Australian and American Experience.” In Approaching Australia: papers from the Harvard Australian Studies Symposium,​ edited by Harold Bolitho &​ Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University, Committee on Australian Studies, c1998.

Hinkson, Melinda and Jeremy Beckett. An Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008.

Harris, David R. (ed.). The archaeology of V. Gordon Childe: contemporary perspectives. London: UCL Press, 1994.

Morton, S. R., and John Mulvaney (ed.). Exploring central Australia: society, the environment and the 1894 Horn Expedition. Chipping Norton, N.S.W.: Surrey Beatty & Sons, 1996.

Mulvaney, John and Peter White (eds.). Australians to 1788. Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, 1987.

Mulvaney, John and Jack Golson (eds.). Aboriginal man and environment in Australia. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1971.

Mulvaney, John. Australian Aboriginal Prehistory. Melbourne: Nelson, 1970.

Mulvaney, John. “Afterword: The View from the Window.” In Through White Eyes, edited by Susan Janson and Stuart Macintyre. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1990.


Mulvaney, Derek John. "The Australian Aborigines 1606–1929: opinion and fieldwork." Australian Historical Studies 8, no. 30 (1958): 131-151.

Mulvaney, John. "Salvaging salvage archaeology." Australian Archaeology 12 (1981): 61.

Mulvaney, John. "'Musing amidst the ruins...'." Australasian Historical Archaeology (1996): 3-8.

Golson, Jack. "Old guards and new waves: Reflections on antipodean archaeology 1954-1975." Archaeology in Oceania (1986): 2-12.

McBryde, Isabel. "Australia's once and future archaeology." Archaeology in Oceania (1986): 13-28.

Mulvaney, D. J. "From Oxford to the Bush: WE Roth, WB Spencer and Australian Anthropology." The Roth Family, Anthropology and Colonial Administration, Left Coast Press, California (2008): 107-20.

May, Sally K., Jennifer F. McKinnon, and Jason T. Raupp. "Boats on Bark: an Analysis of Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Bark‐Paintings featuring Macassan Praus from the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition, Northern Territory, Australia." International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 38, no. 2 (2009): 369-385.

Mulvaney, Derek J. "The anthropologist as tribal elder." Mankind 7, no. 3 (1970): 205-217.

Mulvaney, John and Peter White. “Aboriginal Australians and the Bicentennial History: A Progress Report.” Australian Archaeology, no. 11, Dec 1980: 53-64.

Mulvaney, John. “Australian Anthropology: Foundations and Funding.” Aboriginal History 17, no. 1-2 (1993): 105-128.

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