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The First University Positions in Prehistoric Archaeology in New Zealand and Australia


Harry Allen

Anthropology, School of Social Studies, University of Auckland, NZ
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University Departments employing prehistoric archaeologists have a long history in the United States and the United Kingdom, going back to the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Developments in prehistoric archaeology in Australia and New Zealand, however, began only in the 1950s, generally within Anthropology or History Departments. The initial appointments of prehistoric archaeologists in New Zealand and Australia are considered here, involving the Universities of Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, New England and the Australian National University. While circumstances and influences varied between these places, there was also considerable cross-fertilization. British Universities, particularly the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics were the main influences on developments in Australia and New Zealand. Individuals, such as Raymond Firth, were also important. Similarly, Gordon Childe played an unacknowledged role in the creation of a position in prehistoric archaeology at the Australian National University.
How to Cite: Allen, H., 2019. The First University Positions in Prehistoric Archaeology in New Zealand and Australia. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 29(1), p.2. DOI:
  Published on 06 Mar 2019
 Accepted on 14 Feb 2019            Submitted on 31 Jan 2018


Academic disciplines draw boundaries around their theories, subject matters and methods as part of the struggle for recognition. The fluidity of classificatory boundaries, however, represents a difficulty for the historiography of disciplines such as anthropology and archaeology. The term ‘prehistoric archaeology’ has been problematical since its inception (Goodrum 2012). It implies the study of the ancient past, but in Australia and New Zealand, this past extended into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this context, the term is applied to university appointments aiming to teach both prehistory and archaeology, where research is directed to the study of the past of the indigenous inhabitants of Australia and the wider Pacific.

The initial appointment of prehistoric archaeologists at Auckland, Otago, Sydney and the Australian National University were within Departments of Anthropology turning these into multi-field anthropology departments. One of the questions to be considered here is the extent to which these developments were influenced by Americanist anthropology. Conventionally, North American Cultural Anthropology, which generally includes archaeology, is distinguished from British Social Anthropology, which generally does not. However, this is to project contemporary disciplinary boundaries onto the past. Hicks (2013) points out the trans-Atlantic origins of both in the discipline of ethnology. He (2013: 755) notes that Boas, the ancestor-figure for American four-field anthropology, and the British Ethnologist A.C. Haddon, presented similar ideas to the International Congress of Arts and Science held in St. Louis in 1904. Haddon’s paper “Ethnology: Its Scope and Problems” acknowledged a further paper by Daniel Garrison Brinton–Proposed Classification and International Nomenclature for the Anthropological Sciences published in 1892, recommending a multi-field anthropology (Hicks 2013: 755). In 1898, Boas went on to head the Anthropology Department at Columbia University, bringing professors of the subdivisions of anthropology into a single department over a twenty year period (Darnell 1998: 151–9). Harvard set up a Division of Anthropology and Ethnology in 1890, in collaboration with the Peabody Museum, with archaeology teaching beginning in 1906 (Darnell 1998: 119–20).

In Great Britain, prehistoric archaeology and ethnology emerged together at the University of Cambridge, with a Board of Anthropological Studies being formed in 1904. In 1915, members of that Board, A.C. Haddon and W.L.H. Duckworth, Disney Professor of Archaeology, approved the first course in prehistoric archaeology to be taught by Miles Burkitt as a one-part Tripos course ‘Prehistoric Archaeology and Primitive Art’ (Smith 2009a: 1–2). In Oxford, the creation of a Diploma in Anthropology in 1906 took anthropology away from its museum base in the direction of sociocultural studies (Hicks 2013: 761). Teaching in prehistoric archaeology began there in 1946 with the appointment of Christopher Hawkes as the first Professor of European Prehistory (University of Oxford 2018).

Ethnology, as a parent discipline of prehistoric archaeology, had an impact in New Zealand and Australia. H.D. Skinner, a New Zealand WW1 veteran, took up a place at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and began his museum and ethnological studies under von Hügel and A.C. Haddon. He gained a Diploma in Anthropology in 1917 and an MA subsequently. In 1919, Skinner was appointed to a joint-position at the University of Otago, Assistant Curator at the University Museum (later Otago Museum) and Lecturer in Ethnology, teaching the first courses in anthropology there (Freeman 1959: 14–175). While Skinner did not conduct archaeological research, he utilised a team of museum volunteers to excavate sites in Otago and beyond (Teviotdale 1932). Through the 1940s and 50s, archaeology was also conducted at Canterbury and Auckland Museums by Roger Duff and V.F. Fisher respectively.

Similarly, research into prehistoric archaeology in Australia in the 1940s and 50s was carried out in the state museums by Norman Tindale at the South Australian Museum and Frederick McCarthy at the Australian Museum in Sydney (see Moser 1995: 78–98). Both were ethnologists rather than trained archaeologists. Tindale began his career as an entomologist, and McCarthy had a Diploma in Anthropology from the University of Sydney, with a thesis on Aboriginal material culture (Encyclopedia of Australian Science, 2007, Khan 1993: 2).

A carry-over from ethnology into anthropology is found in University of Sydney Calendars. The Department of Anthropology was founded in 1925 with A.R. Radcliffe Brown as Professor. The School of Anthropology offered a Diploma, and later an MA, in Anthropology. The University Calendar for 1932 notes that candidates in the School: ‘– may offer themselves for examination in one or more of the three following subjects: (i) Sociology. (ii) Ethnology and Archaeology, (iii) Linguistics’. This provision remained in the university statutes until 1955, the year that A.P. Elkin retired as professor. While Linguistics was taught as a part of the anthropology degree from 1947, archaeology was not. No appointment in prehistoric archaeology was made over that time1 and while a number of candidates completed their degrees in ethnology, e.g., F.D. McCarthy, there were no students in archaeology (Moser 1995: 136–7, University of Sydney Calendars 1932: 185, 1955: 252).

Archaeology, in the sense of Classical and Near-Eastern Archaeology, has been taught at Sydney University since the 1930’s. A Department of Archaeology was formed in 1948 with J. R. B. Stewart as lecturer and later Professor of Near Eastern Studies (Knapp et al. 2013). The teaching of archaeology did not include the study of the Aboriginal past (Moser 1995: 137–8).2 A part of the reason for this, and for the late inclusion of prehistoric archaeology in Australian universities, was the prevailing idea that Australian Aboriginal people arrived late on the continent, that Aboriginal culture was homogenous and that the Aborigines had effected few material changes since their arrival (Mulvaney 1961: 58–60).

In 1957, in an address on the national network of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Gordon Childe observed ‘…the archaeological sources for Australia’s prehistory are less well-studied in 1957 than the sources for European prehistory were in 1857 (Childe 1990: 27). It was the relative absence of archaeological research in Australia up to that time that led Moser (1995: 73) to conclude,

‘…institutional support did not come about simply as a result of major research breakthroughs having taken place, or in recognition of the existence of a long tradition of research. Institutional support for prehistory came as a result of major university expansion and government support for Aboriginal studies. Broadly speaking, it can be viewed in the light of the social climate of the 1960s which was characterised by economic growth and expansion in science and education. It can also be considered in terms of the context of post-war Australia, where issues of national identity and culture were of great concern…’

A difficulty in examining factors behind the appointment of prehistoric archaeologists to Australian and New Zealand universities is that appointments did not occur serially, but over a decade from 1954 to 1965. As a result, a chronological approach does not work well. Instead developments at the University of Auckland and Otago will be discussed first, followed by Melbourne University and the University of New England (Armidale), then the Australian National University, and finally, the University of Sydney. In terms of overseas institutional influences, the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology (now divided up into separate Departments of Archaeology and Anthropology) of the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics will be considered, as will the role of significant individuals and academic networks in Australia, New Zealand and beyond.

New Zealand: The Universities of Auckland and Otago

As noted previously, H.D. Skinner, held a joint teaching appointment with the University of Otago and Otago Museum3 from 1919 to his retirement in 1952, providing lectures on anthropology over that period (Freeman 1959). Outside Otago, there was a course on anthropology at Victoria University College, initiated by Ernest Beaglehole, a psychologist teaching in mental and moral philosophy.

Recognition of the need for Anthropology and Maori Studies in New Zealand dates back to the1930s. However, it was not until the post-war period, at a time of university expansion when there was new interest in the social sciences that changes occurred. In 1947, Auckland University College (AUC, now the University of Auckland) set up a committee to examine the question of a Chair of Anthropology.4 In submissions, Ernest Beaglehole advocated a general anthropology department, one that included social anthropology, material culture, linguistics and archaeology, with special reference to Maori and Polynesian culture5 (Gray and Munro 2011a: 56).

In 1948, the Committee recommended that a Chair be established and that the proposed department should ‘…provide for the whole field of anthropological science’, including a lectureship in Maori linguistics (Gray and Munro 2011a: 49–62, Sinclair 1983: 201–2, 205, 216). Despite opposition from the Professorial Board, a Chair in Anthropology was advertised. The Committee of Appointment sought advice from Association of the Universities of the Commonwealth in Britain, which formed a Committee of Raymond Firth (Chairman), E. Evans-Pritchard and Darryl Forde (Gray et al. 2012: 14). Initially the chair was offered to the Australian W.E.H. Stanner, who declined. It was then offered to Ralph Piddington, another Australian, who took up the position in 1950 (Gray and Munro 2011a: 70–1).

Piddington was supported by Raymond Firth (Gray and Munro 2011a: 66), the two having known each other since the 1930’s, when Piddington was completing his MA degree in Psychology and Anthropology and Firth was acting-Professor of Anthropology at Sydney. Firth advised Piddington when he fell out with the Australian National Research Council over criticism of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Western Australia (Gray 1994).6 They overlapped again between 1933 and 1936, when Piddington was completing his PhD under Malinowski at the London School of Economics and Firth was a lecturer there.

A question is whether Piddington in setting up the Auckland department was influenced by American four-field approaches as Golson (2004: 27) and others have suggested. Piddington was keeper of the museum and lecturer in Anthropology at Aberdeen from 1936 to 1939, prior to moving to Edinburgh following war service. His theoretical approach was that of a Malinowskian functionalist (Gray, et al. 2012: 14). The Advisory Committee for the Chair accepted the need for linguistics and Maori/Polynesian studies in the Department. Beaglehole, who had studied at LSE and Yale and worked with Peter Buck in the Pacific, included archaeology in his suggested mix. Piddington took the committee’s advice to create a department that included languages and archaeology (Gray and Munro 2011a: 64–5, 73–4). As noted previously, by the 1950s, multi-field anthropology existed on both sides of the Atlantic, with Darryl Forde teaching a multi-field anthropology at University College London, having been influenced by his time at UC Berkeley (Beckett 2001: 84). In 1951, Piddington put forward his vision for both synchronic and diachronic studies of Polynesian culture. He noted mostly British and some American influences, listing social anthropologists: Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Firth, Keesing, Sutherland, Kluckhohn, Buck and Beaglehole; archaeologists: Gordon Childe, Grahame Clark, and Roger Duff, and also H.D.Skinner.7 Piddington had a rich tapestry of both early and later views of the discipline to draw on, without explicitly replicating an Americanist department. The deciding point was the need to study the Pacific in terms of the interrelationships between language, material and social culture, psychology and history (Piddington 1951: 113–4).

The Department of Anthropology was formed in 1951 with W.R. (Bill) Geddes appointed lecturer in Social Anthropology. Bruce Biggs, a teacher in a Maori school, was appointed to a Lectureship in Maori Language in 1952 (University of Auckland 1958: 24). In July 1953, Discovery magazine (Volume 14) carried an advertisement from the University of Auckland for a lectureship in Prehistory, the first university position in prehistoric archaeology in either Australia or New Zealand (Jones 1993: 107).

Mulvaney (2011: 90), studying at Cambridge, notes that on seeing this advertisement Grahame Clark called him into his office and said that he would nominate him for the position if he wanted it. Mulvaney declined and Clark declared ‘Golson will go’. Peter Gathercole (1993: 3), a long-time friend from the Cambridge days, recalls a conversation with Jack Golson that Clark was ‘…urging him to apply’. Golson relates that, at a summer party in Clark’s home the host thrust a piece of paper into his left hand while filling a sherry glass in his right. The paper was an advertisement for the Auckland position. This took him somewhat aback as he was part way through PhD research in mediaeval archaeology. Reminding Clark of this, Clark replied, ‘You only do a PhD when you haven’t got a job’, making it clear that if Golson rejected his advice, he might find support less easy to get for any subsequent job application that Golson might make (pers. comm. September 2017, see also Golson 2004).

Golson was appointed to Piddington’s Department in 1953 and set off by boat to Auckland in early 1954, about the same time that Mulvaney was returning to Australia. At Cambridge, Golson was exposed to a scientific approach to archaeology exemplified in the Fenland Research Committee and he helped form the Deserted Medieval Villages Research Group, providing an excellent background for his work in New Zealand (Gathercole 1993: 2, Smith 2009a: 53–8). Having arrived in New Zealand, Golson attacked his new role with vigour. In the six years between 1954 and 1960, he reordered the institutional and knowledge base of New Zealand archaeology through the formation of the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA), its newsletter and annual conference; the NZAA site recording scheme (with others) and its first site recording handbook; founded the Auckland University Archaeological Society; introduced the natural sciences, radiometric dating and stratigraphic excavation techniques into New Zealand archaeology; carried out field research in Auckland, the Bay of Plenty and the Central Plateau; took New Zealand archaeology away from its reliance on Maori traditions; and, finally, published some 20 scientific papers, including a major reformation of the country’s prehistoric past using both British and American theoretical frameworks (Golson 1959a, see papers in Spriggs et al. 1993). In 1957. Golson began research in the wider Pacific and carried out field reconnaissance in Tonga and Samoa, with a major review article in 1959 (Golson 1959b, Green 1993).

In 1955, the University of Otago advertised Skinner’s position and Golson wrote to Peter Gathercole encouraging him to apply. With Childe’s support, Gathercole was appointed in 1956, and by 1963, Otago, his new Department, was offering a degree course in anthropology that included specialist papers in prehistoric archaeology (University of Otago 2014). With the appointment of Golson and Gathercole research and training in prehistoric archaeology was well established in Auckland in the north and Otago in the south.

Australia: The Melbourne Connection

Saha and Klovdahl (1979) document the importance of international networks in the recruitment of overseas graduates to Australian academic positions. National networks of patronage were also important, particularly in the 1950s and 60s when the university world was more intimately constituted than it is today. An example is the History Department at the University of Melbourne which had a profound influence on John Mulvaney’s academic career and consequently on the development of prehistoric archaeology in Australia.

In his autobiography (2011), Mulvaney documents the assistance he received from Max Crawford, who was Professor of History at Melbourne from 1937 to 1970. Crawford incorporated Ancient History, taught by J.L. O’Brien, into the History Department, enabling Mulvaney to research Roman Britain for his MA, sparking his interest in archaeology (2011: 69). Crawford supported Mulvaney’s application for a scholarship to Cambridge and later, on a visit to Cambridge, assured Mulvaney that he would have an academic position in Melbourne on his return (2011: 63, 71–2). Mulvaney was lecturer and senior lecturer in Crawford’s Department between 1954 and 1964, introducing the first course in Pacific Prehistory in 1957 with Crawford’s encouragement. This was a post-graduate course in a teaching programme of Greek and Roman history (Mulvaney in Smith 2009b: 168). Crawford also provided departmental funds for Mulvaney’s excavation at Fromm’s Landing, where members of the department, including Crawford’s son, Ian, provided the labour (2011: 98, 104–5). Mulvaney remained in Melbourne until early 1965, when he took up at position at the ANU.

There are additional archaeological connections with Melbourne. Isabel McBryde graduated from Melbourne University with a BA Hons in Latin and History and an MA in Roman History. Following graduation, in 1958, she took up a temporary lectureship at the University of New England teaching classical history. Her position was in the History Department chaired by a newly appointed Professor Mick Williams from Melbourne. Isabel left UNE in September 1958 to study for a Diploma in Prehistoric Archaeology at Cambridge. Late in 1959, following her return from Cambridge, Williams appointed her to a tenured lectureship in Prehistory and Ancient History, the first position in prehistory in an Australian university.

Golson (2005: 17) comments that Williams, a close colleague of Mulvaney,

‘…was attracted by the possibility, through Isabel, of securing for his new department at New England a dual-purpose appointment similar to that occupied by Mulvaney in Melbourne. Certainly a post was advertised in 1958…for the teaching of ancient history and the initiation of teaching and research in Australian archaeology, and Isabel was appointed to it’. (see also Davidson et al. 1998).

McBryde remained at UNE until 1973, becoming an Associate Professor in charge of Prehistory in the Department of Classics and Ancient History. She then moved to John Mulvaney’s newly formed Department of Prehistory and Anthropology at the ANU in 1974 (see below) (Moser 1995: 119).

Australian National University and the Research School of Pacific Studies

In 1948, Raymond Firth advised the ANU on the establishment of the Research School of Pacific Studies RSPacS),8 where it was envisaged he would become its first Director (Forster and Varghese 2009: 26–9). In the following year, Firth put forward his plan for the School. Arguing that its major field of research should be the Pacific Island Territories, he thought that there should be three ‘Sections’–a section of sociology including anthropology, history and linguistics; a section of economics; and, tentatively, a section of ecology, including geography and cartography. It was proposed that the underlying theme of the School’s work should be the study of social change, where Anthropology, for example, would emphasise the study of acculturation and race relations (RSPacS 1958a). The final blueprint for the School (dated March, 1949) was prepared by the Vice-Chancellor in consultation with Frederick Eggleston, and combined Firth’s and Eggleston’s ideas (RSPacS 1958a). From the onset, there were conflicts concerning overlaps with the Research School of Social Studies (RSSS): the academic and geographic areas of research interest; the place of sociology; and whether Pacific Studies should be extended to include Asia (see Forster and Varghese 2009: 39–41).

Given Firth’s role, it is unsurprising that Anthropology was one of the first departments established in the Research School of Pacific Studies and equally unsurprising that in 1949 a London School of Economics graduate S.F. Nadel, should be appointed the first Professor of Anthropology (Forster and Varghese 2009: 51–2). By 1954 three of the four permanent appointments in Anthropology had LSE connections; Nadel, Stanner and Freeman (ANU staff lists in the 1954 ANU Calendar). Firth also recommended Jim Davidson for the Chair of Pacific History. Firth was at the ANU again in 1951 in his role as Adviser and attended meetings of the Board of Graduate Studies. However, in 1952 he resigned this position, informing the university that he was unable to accept the invitation to become Director of the School (ANU 1952, 1st March, Item 19 (b)). Firth played various roles in Anthropology appointments in Australia: for the Foundation Chair at the University of Auckland; for the successor to Elkin at the University of Sydney; and, following Nadel’s death in 1956, for the Chair of Anthropology in the Research School of Pacific Studies. He was adviser and referee and was often asked to comment on and rank candidates (Gray and Munro 2011a, 2011b, 2014). As a result, he had a guiding hand over the development of Anthropology in both Australia and New Zealand.

Shortly after the establishment of the Department of Anthropology, Nadel proposed that its name be changed to reflect the scope of its research. Consequently it became the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in 1953 (ANU 1954: 25).9 This was more than a cosmetic change as it captured the intended scope of the department’s interests, described in the Calendar for 1957 (ANU 1957a: 17) as,

‘…the traditional social organization, culture and language of non-European peoples within the Pacific region, their contemporary state and the changes taking place under modern conditions…also…matters of colonial administration and [research] into sociological problems within European Australia.’

This remained the Department’s stated role until 1961, when an additional sentence was added, ‘Linguistic research has been undertaken and studies in prehistory will begin shortly’ (ANU 1961: 223). Stanner (1952: 68–9) argued that anthropology and sociology were one and the same, with the major difference being that anthropologists study ‘“early” or “primitive” societies and cultures’, whereas sociologists study “modern” society, a position also taken by Nadel (Wilson and Young 1996: 67).

Childe in Canberra

The ANU Annual Report for 1957 noted that among visitors to the University was the late Professor V. Gordon Childe, the former Director of the Institute of Archaeology, London (ANU 1959: 139). Childe’s visit to ANU is confirmed by Allen (1967: 59), who noted that Childe gave a lecture. Similarly, Mulvaney (1990: 29) mentions that he had written to Childe at University House in September 1957.

While staying at University House, Childe would have met its Master, A.D. Trendall, and have come in contact with members of the University staff who had meals and coffee there on a daily basis. His lecture would have attracted most of the staff and students in the historical and social sciences at ANU, who numbered only 44 in 1957 (mostly research fellows–ANU 1957a: 27). It is likely that Manning Clark would also have met Childe at this time though there is no mention of this in Clark’s autobiographical writings (Clark 1991). Childe was also an insider in terms of Australian Labor Party politics. He was the author of How labour Governs’ [1964] and a life-long friend of the deceased Bert “Doc” Evatt, Mary Alice Evatt and William McKell10 (Irving 1995: 43).

John Mulvaney (1990, 1994: 72) believed that Childe was uninterested in Australian archaeology, commenting that on being shown stone artefacts from Fromm’s Landing, Childe ‘…spent two minutes looking at them, and then wished me luck’. While he might have lacked interest in the archaeology of Australia, Childe, nonetheless, was a powerful advocate for archaeology and its social uses, illustrated by his books Man Makes Himself (Childe 1936) and What Happened in History (1942). The subject of his radio talk over the ABC in 1957 was the historical basis of European identity based on his soon-to-be published, The Prehistory of European Society (1958). However, in the preamble to this talk, he declared his intention,

‘…to suggest to you what a systematic investigation of archaeological documents might do for Australian history, let me briefly indicate something of what it has actually done for European history’ (Childe 1990 [1957]).

Peter Gathercole, who studied with Childe at the Institute of Archaeology from 1952 to 1954 (Pole 2011), wrote to Childe in Australia in 1957 requesting support for his application to the University of Otago. He quotes from Childe’s reply,

‘…There is urgent need out here for someone with up-to-date techniques and notions to make a serious study of S. Pacific archaeology. There is much material here, some of it rapidly deteriorating but Mulvaney is the only man with first-class techniques to tackle it seriously’ (Gathercole 1990).11

Gathercole also noted that Childe had written to O.G.S. Crawford in August 1957 mentioning possibilities for Australian archaeology (see Irving 1995: 46).

In a letter written to Mary Alice Evatt in 1957, Childe declared,

‘There are only 3 or 4 people working on it at all seriously with rather inadequate training and hopelessly inadequate resources. One university—probably ANU—ought to have a professorship or at least a readership in Australian or Oceanic archaeology. And antiquities ought to be preserved—particularly the Aboriginal ‘rock pictures.’ (Mulvaney 1995: 214).

While Mulvaney (1994: 72) was taken aback by Childe’s statement that there were scarcely any trained archaeologists in Australia, it is clear that Childe recognised the need for archaeological research in Australia and the Pacific and was articulating this to friends and colleagues in Canberra and elsewhere. Gordon Childe’s visit to ANU, his declarations that Australia stood in need of trained prehistoric archaeologists, that a senior university position was required and his identification of ANU as a likely location took place about 6 months before a proposal emerged from the Faculty Board of the ANU’s Research School of Pacific Studies. Thus it would appear that Childe’s visit was timely, adding his authority to a conversation in Canberra that was already taking place.

Anthropology at the University of Sydney and the ANU 1955–65

Anthropology at the University of Sydney and ANU went through a period of change in the years 1956 to 1960. A.P. Elkin, who had held the Sydney Chair since 1934, retired in 1955 (Gray 2000: 162, Wise 1996). At the ANU, S.F Nadel died in 1956. There were difficulties in filling both Chairs (Gray and Munro 2011b, 2014). At the University of Sydney, John Barnes took up the Professorship in 1956,12 but found the Department at Sydney ‘…underfunded, moribund, shackled and cluttered by its past’ (Gray and Munro 2011b: 362).

The ANU Chair in Anthropology was offered to Edmond Leach (Cambridge) and to Douglas Oliver (Harvard), both of whom declined (ANU 1956, 18th May, Item 3(b), 28th September, Item 2(a)). Bill Stanner was made Head of Department in the interim.

Barnes visited Canberra in June 1957. In conversation with L.G. Melville, the ANU Vice-Chancellor, he was surprised to be offered the ANU Chair (Gray and Munro 2011b: 362).13 While Barnes was appointed in October 1957, he was unable to take up his position until the end of May 1958 as he had to fulfil his obligations at Sydney (ANU 1957b, 25th October, Item 2a).14 In the period before his arrival at the ANU, Barnes took on the administrative load of running both departments, while Stanner left Canberra on research leave in North West Australia (Barnes 2008: 274).

In the first half of 1958, the Faculty Board of Research School of Pacific Studies set out a draft paper entitled ‘The Research School of Pacific Studies: Its Future Role and Organisation’. This paper argued for a return to Firth’s 1948 vision for the School, one of integrated research between its various disciplines, particularly directed towards New Guinea. The major recommendation was the establishment of a New Guinea Research Unit (NGRU) within the School (RSPacS 1958a). The Board of Graduate Studies of ANU approved this in principle, but returned the proposal to the Faculty Board for further details (RSPacS 1958b). A sub-committee of the Faculty was formed of those most interested in NGRU. This committee, which met in August 1958, consisted of the Dean (Jim Davidson), John Barnes, Oscar Spate, Derek Freeman, Harold Brookfield and Murray Groves (then in Pacific History), (RSPacS 1958b). The New Guinea Research Unit was established in 1961 (May 2013).

In its initial report (1958a), the Faculty Board noted that any expansion of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology would be limited and at a junior level. However, it then went on to argue,

‘More tentatively, the proposal is made for a modest beginning in the study of archaeology. Although there is no doubt of the need for, or the importance of, archaeological work both in Australia and the neighbouring islands, this would more clearly represent an addition to the scope of the School’s activities… Archaeological findings are likely to be of interest to several departments in the School…it seems [therefore] desirable that this University should encourage archaeological work of high quality in Australia and New Guinea, and eventually, further afield.…it is not proposed at this stage to establish a department of prehistory, archaeologists would most appropriately be attached to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology… It is understood that Canberra University College is interested in promoting teaching and research in archaeology, with reference to Australia among other areas, and some form of cooperation with that institution might be worked out.’ (RSPacS 1958a: 15–17).

The Faculty Board’s mention of Canberra University College15 refers to Manning Clark who was Professor of History there. Manning Clark was appointed to a lectureship in History at Melbourne in 1944 and introduced a new course in Australian history at Crawford’s behest in 1946. In 1949, with Crawford’s support, necessary as Crawford was Clark’s Head of Department. Clark took up the Chair in History at Canberra University College (Clark 1991: 146, 159, 182–3). Jack Golson replied to an inquiry regarding the 1959 position that he was told that ‘…Manning Clark had something to do with it’ (pers. comm. June, 2016). Mulvaney took Clark’s course on Australian history in 1948 (Mulvaney 2011: 56–7) and they had contact through the period of Mulvaney’s tenure at Melbourne, for Clark, as Professor of History at Canberra University College, had to travel annually to Melbourne, where exams were jointly marked by the two institutions (Forster and Varghese 2009: 149, see Note 15). Certainly, when the position at the ANU was considered in 1959, Mulvaney was the name most often mentioned.

A month after arriving in Canberra, John Barnes set out a statement on the future directions of the Department in twelve headings. These were anthropological and sociological, with no mention of either archaeology or linguistics (Wilson and Young 1996: 69–70). It is unlikely that the proposal for a position for an archaeologist in the Anthropology Department came from him. Although Barnes had done the Arch/Anth Tripos at Cambridge in 1939 supervised by Glyn Daniel (Barnard 2011, Barnes 2008: 55, Daniel 1986: 94–5), he was theoretically unsympathetic towards prehistory as part of anthropology (Golson pers, comm., quoted in Moser 1995: 139). Once he agreed to incorporate it, however, he was supportive. Two months later while at ANZAAS in Adelaide (August 1958), Barnes sounded out John Mulvaney for the position. Mulvaney, who had recently been promoted in Melbourne, declined (2011: 119).16

A proposal that a position in prehistoric archaeology might be created in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology (RSPacS) began to move through university committees of the ANU in 1958. A year later the position was advertised at the relatively senior level of Fellow.17 The Canberra Times for Saturday 15th August, 1959, ran the following notice: Positions vacant, University Appointments, The Australian National University, Research School of Pacific Studies;

‘Fellowship in Archaeology–Applications are invited for a Fellowship in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology (Head of Department: Professor J. A. Barnes). The Fellow will be required to carry out and supervise research in the prehistory of Australia, Indonesia, Melanesia and neighbouring areas…. applications close on November 2, 1959.’

Discussing his application for the ANU position in 1959, Jack Golson related:

‘…Ralph Bulmer, whom I had known at Cambridge and who had gone to ANU to do a PhD in social anthropology in the same year that I had gone to Auckland (1954), joined the Auckland department in 1958, to be shortly followed by Murray Groves, an Australian with an ANU PhD for work among the Motu, of whom Ralph spoke so highly that we all voted for his appointment when another job came up. These two worked overtime to persuade me to apply for a Fellowship in Prehistory in the ANU Dept of Anthropology when one was advertised…’ (pers. comm., July 2016).

As seen in the discussion of the Department of Anthropology in Auckland, Jack Golson was at the high point of his career, having, with assistance from Roger Green,18 brought New Zealand archaeology into a modern, scientific form. It is, therefore, necessary to consider why he was ready to leave Auckland in 1959. Golson (1965) discusses a theoretical impasse he had reached in his work in New Zealand, one which he suggests Green (1963) had overcome. A second reason is that with his surveys of Pacific archaeology (1959b), Golson’s horizons had widened beyond the funding and research capacity of the University of Auckland, where his New Zealand work had been funded by contributions from his volunteer diggers.

The minutes of the Board of Graduate Studies at the ANU for 25th March, 1960 note:

‘It was resolved to concur with the Faculty Board’s recommendation that Dr Golson19 be appointed Fellow in Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology’.

However, it was also noted:

‘Professor Barnes drew the Board’s attention to the fact that while Dr Golson’s qualifications for this appointment were very high, it seemed that it was not likely to be possible for him to work in New Guinea. This matter was being drawn to Dr Golson’s attention, and he might decide to refuse the appointment, but there would be many other areas in Australia and the Pacific where he could do valuable work and the University would be fortunate if he accepted the appointment. Professor Barnes hoped that it might be possible to raise the question again later of his entry into New Guinea.’ (ANU 1960, 25th March, Item 5 (c) ii).

Golson joined the list of academics banned from research in Papua and New Guinea by the Menzies Government. The list included Peter Worsley, Jeremy Beckett, and later, Max Gluckman (Barnes 2008: 282–7). With political changes, the ban was relaxed, as shown by Golson’s subsequent archaeological work in the New Guinea Highlands (Spriggs and Jones 1993). Moser (1995: 141) comments that ‘…Golson’s work in New Zealand prepared him for the organisational and institutional work that needed to be done to establish the field in Australia.’ An example is the establishment of the ANU Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory set up in 1965 (see Mulvaney 1993: 22).

Archaeology gets almost no mention in John Barnes’ autobiography, except the complaint that the archaeologists and linguists ‘…soaked up the last penny of department funds’, so that Barnes split the Department up into ‘Sections’, each with their own budgets, with linguistics and prehistory later becoming separate departments in the Research School (Barnes 2008: 325). John Mulvaney was uninterested in a research position at the ANU in 1958 (Mulvaney 2011: 119). By1964, however, he was ready to move and took up a second archaeology position in John Barnes’ department. A separate Department of Prehistory was formed in the RSPacS in 1969 and Jack Golson was appointed the Foundation Chair.

By 1968, Manning Clark and Mick Williams were both Professors of History in the School of General Studies (SGS) at ANU. Mulvaney (2005: 3) relates that it was largely due to William’s efforts that the ANU Faculty of Arts advertised the Prehistory Chair in 1970. When Mulvaney was appointed to the Chair, it was attached to the History Department, as ANU had a moratorium on new academic developments at the time (Mulvaney 2011: 169). The Department of Prehistory became the Department of Prehistory and Anthropology in 1973, with Anthony Forge from the London School of Economics taking up the Foundation Chair of Anthropology in 1974. The Melbourne circle was closed in 1974, when Mulvaney appointed Isabel McBryde to a Readership in the Department of Prehistory and Anthropology at the ANU (Mulvaney 2011: 177). She became a Professor in that department in 1986.

Back at Sydney University, the Chair was readvertised and in May 1958 the Professorial Board approved the appointment of Bill Geddes, who had Firth’s support (Gray and Munro 2011b: 363). Anthropology at Sydney had struggled under both Elkin and Barnes. Due to financial constraints, the department had hardly grown between 1939 and 1958 (University of Sydney 1939, 1957: 43–4). Geddes arrived at a time of increased government support and rapidly rising enrolments partly assisted by Geddes’ decision to make Anthropology available to Stage 1 students, so that by 1962 the Department had doubled its staff numbers, including Richard Wright, who was appointed Lecturer in Prehistory in 1961 (University of Sydney 1961: 41–2).

It is a straightforward matter to explain Geddes’ decision to appoint an archaeologist to the Department of Anthropology in Sydney. Geddes had been a member of a highly successful, multi-field Anthropology Department in Auckland (Sinclair 1983: 206), where he had been a departmental colleague and friend of Jack Golson and had witnessed Golson’s contribution to research and the archaeological community over the period 1954 to 1960 (Groube 1993). Moser (1995: 173–77) documents the changes that took place in Sydney following Geddes appointment, where Geddes expressed surprise that archaeology and physical anthropology were not in the curriculum. It was this New Zealand experience that led Geddes eventually to appoint three Cambridge-trained archaeologists to the Sydney department.20


John Mulvaney (in Smith 2009b: 172) notes that, in academic terms in the 1950s, Australia and New Zealand had little contact with the United States. American influences in archaeology really only appeared with Roger Green’s work in Auckland over the period 1958–9 and 1961–67 (Golson 1965). Commenting in regard to prehistoric archaeology and noting that universities in Asia, Africa, North America, continental Europe and Britain had appointed archaeology graduates from Cambridge, often as their first appointees, David Harris, observed, ‘…It is a remarkable story, for there can be few scholarly subjects that owe their academic rise so exclusively to one university, Cambridge’ (Harris 1977: 113, quoted in Smith (2009: 102). Golson, Mulvaney, Gathercole, and McBryde, were Cambridge-trained and formed a network that extended back to Cambridge in the UK. This led to the appointment of further Cambridge-trained archaeologists in New Zealand and Australia: Richard Wright, Rhys Jones and John Clegg (University of Sydney); Wilfred Shawcross (University of Auckland) and Charles Higham (Otago).

As Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge, Grahame Clark had a vison of integrated research involving new disciplines such as ecology and biogeography, which he imparted to his students. Cambridge was producing well-trained archaeology graduates earlier than other British universities, graduates who were versed in prehistoric economics, environmental archaeology and stone tool analysis. This mix was well suited to the academic needs of archaeology in Australia and New Zealand, quickly producing impressive research results and a cohort of locally-trained archaeologists (Gathercole 2000, Golson 1986, Groube 1993, Murray and White 1981).

In the cases of John Mulvaney and Isabel McBryde, being Cambridge graduates was not enough to ensure their transition from historians to prehistoric archaeologists. The network of friendships and collegial relationships involving the History Department of the University of Melbourne, particularly Mick Williams and Manning Clark, were an essential additional factor.

Gordon Childe’s visit to the ANU in 1957 was timely. However, the proposal for a prehistoric archaeologist to be attached to the Anthropology Department in the RSPacS did not come from the wider university in a top-down manner, i.e., from the Vice-Chancellor, the Council, or the Board of Graduate Studies, rather it was internal to the RSPacS, more specifically to its Faculty Board. The wording in the 1958 document, ‘…that archaeologists would most appropriately be attached to the Department of Anthropology’ suggests that the proposal had not come directly from Anthropology (RSPacS 1958a: 16). The Dean of RSPacS, Jim Davidson, clearly played a major role in pushing forward a review of the School’s future role and organization (1958a). Following the acceptance of this review by the Board of Graduate Studies, a further committee was formed consisting of Jim Davidson, John Barnes, Oscar Spate, Derek Freeman, Harold Brookfield and Murray Groves, the members of the School interested in progressing the School’s vision for integrated research in New Guinea. The members of this committee appear to be well-inclined towards archaeology. As noted previously, John Barnes completed the Archaeology/Anthropology Tripos at Cambridge in 1939; Derek Freeman did archaeology and collected artefacts while teaching in Samoa which he donated to the Otago Museum, he was also joint editor with W.R. Geddes of H.D. Skinner’s festschrift, contributing the introductory essay on Skinner in a volume that included major archaeological papers by Golson and Lockerbie (Freeman and Geddes 1959, Hempenstall 2012). Jim Davidson worked with Raymond Firth during WW2, and was a political ally and friend of Manning Clark, Professor of History at Canberra University College (Craven 1994: 156, Munro 2012). Finally, while Murray Groves did not overlap with John Mulvaney, he was at the History Department in Melbourne 1944–47 and 1949–52, when Manning Clark was lecturing there (Golson 2011).

Along with some prompting from Manning Clark, the deciding factor seems to have been the Faculty Board’s desire to reinvigorate Firth’s vision for the School–that of integrated, multi-disciplinary research, particularly directed towards New Guinea. The Research School moved in this direction with the appointment of Murray Groves in Pacific History and Harold Brookfield in Geography and intended to appoint a Reader in Biogeography–appointing Donald Walker from Cambridge later in the year (RSPacS 1958a: 14). Knowledge of the more distant past, through archaeology, represented a missing piece in the mosaic of social, historical and ecological studies which the Faculty Board was promoting and which gave the Research School its identity. Additionally, chance factors influenced events, in particular the arrival of Ralph Bulmer and Murray Groves in Auckland, both of whom encouraged Golson to apply. Certainly, the creation of the position at the ANU was timely for Golson, who was moving from research in New Zealand to that of the wider Pacific (Golson 1959b).

Finally, credit must be given to Ralph Piddington, who took the Advisory Committee’s recommendations to create a multi-dimensional anthropology department in Auckland, appointing both Bill Geddes and Jack Golson. The years 1953 to 1960 were productive ones at Auckland, and when Geddes was appointed to the Chair in Sydney in 1959, he carried over both Piddington’s template for anthropology and his experience of working alongside Golson over the previous half-decade.

The initial university appointments in prehistoric archaeology in Australian and New Zealand universities, spanning the period 1954 to 1965, set the scene for further appointments, from Cambridge until Australian-trained graduates became available, and for developments in the discipline, most importantly, the creation of an institutional base to support and finance its teaching and research (see Moser 1995).


1To be fair, few appointments of any kind were made, with the Department growing little over the first 25 years of its life. 

2Subsequent appointments to the Department of Archaeology at Sydney, Vincent Megaw and Judy Birmingham, did include Australian research and produced graduates with research interests in Australia and world prehistory, e.g., David Frankel, Professor of Archaeology at LaTrobe University, Melbourne. 

3Otago Museum was managed by the University until 1957. 

4The members of this committee were: Earnest Beaglehole, H.D. Skinner, Raymond Firth, Peter Buck, Felix Keesing and A.P. Elkin (Gray and Munro 2011a: 57). It was accepted that the Chair should be in Social Anthropology. 

5In 1937, Beaglehole had previously argued against a multi-field anthropology department, but by 1947 had changed his mind (Gray and Munro 2011a: 54, 58). Beaglehole studied at LSE and Yale and had a close friendship with Peter Buck which led to his extensive ethnological and anthropological research into Pacific Island cultures (Ritchie and Ritchie 2000). 

6Piddington was not able to conduct research in Aboriginal Australia again as A. P. Elkin, Professor of Anthropology effectively prevented this (Gray 1994). 

7In his 1951 paper, Piddington states that the position was ‘Thanks largely to his [H.D. Skinner’s] initiative and vision’ (1951: 108). 

8The Australian National University began its life as a research university with a number of research schools. There was no undergraduate teaching but departments in the various schools offered MA and PhD by research, along with research fellowships. 

9P.H. Partridge, Professor of Social Philosophy, objected on the grounds that this might prevent the establishment of a Department of Sociology in the RSSS (ANU 1952). 

10McKell was Governor General in Australia from 1947 to 1953. 

11Childe may have been aware of Mulvaney’s early publications written from Melbourne and Cambridge (1949, 1952, 1953). 

12John Barnes was a Reader in Firth’s Department at LSE from 1954 to 1956, prior to taking up the Chair at Sydney (Barnard 2011). 

13The Vice-Chancellor offered Barnes the job, but prematurely, and Barnes had to keep the offer secret from colleagues and close friends at both Sydney and ANU, including Jim Davidson, who happened to be convener of the search committee. (Barnard 2011: 5, see also Barnes 2008: 269–70). 

14Barnes (2008: 269–70) recounts that Jim Davidson, an old friend who was Dean of RSPacS, was ‘most annoyed’ by the manner in which Barnes was appointed. Stanner also regarded the appointment as ‘a breach of faith’ (Gray and Munro 2014: 157). 

15Canberra University College (CUC) was a college of the University of Melbourne from 1930 until it became autonomous in 1957. It was amalgamated with ANU in 1960. Until that date ANU had been entirely a a research institution, with CUC teaching undergraduates and some postgraduates. The amalgamated ANU combined the School of General Studies (the old CUC, teaching undergraduates and graduates) and the Institute of Advanced Studies (the Research Schools) (Forster and Varghese 2009, Chapter 6). 

16Mulvaney (1993: 19) relates that John Barnes sought his further advice about the appointment, to which he replied (29th July, 1959) ‘Concerning prospective appointees, Jack Golson…is undoubtedly the key man to approach’. 

17While the Board of Graduate Studies of the ANU approved the advertisement for a linguistic appointment in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology (August 1st, 1952), there was no mention of a position in prehistoric archaeology until it approved Golson’s appointment (ANU 1960, 25th March, 1960, Item 5c (ii)). Fellows at the ANU have an initial appointment for 5 years. 

18Roger Green was a Fulbright scholar to the University of Auckland in 1958. 

19Jack Golson did not in fact have a PhD. 

20These were Richard Wright, Rhys Jones and John Clegg. 


I would like to thank Jack Golson for answering my many questions, and for trying (unsuccessfully) to cure me of the Oxford comma, also to Jack and Tim Murray for encouragement, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful suggestions. The errors and omissions are, of course, my own.

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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