Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

‘The Dawn’ of Australian Archaeology: John Mulvaney at Fromm’s Landing

Billy Griffiths


When Vere Gordon Childe returned to Australia in 1957 after thirty-six years abroad, he despaired at the lack of research into Australia’s Aboriginal past. Australian archaeology was the domain of curators and stone tool collectors whose work was embedded in evolutionary assumptions and questionable practices. In the final weeks of his life, on 16 September 1957, Childe met and befriended the historian and archaeologist John Mulvaney. This paper draws on their brief encounters to reflect on the state of archaeology in Australia in the 1950s, immediately before the boom in archaeological research in the 1960s that revolutionised the conventional narrative of Australian history. Through a close reading of the early years of Mulvaney’s career it argues that the excavations at Fromm’s Landing from 1956 to 1963 acted as a catalyst for research and marked the dawn of a new era for Australian Aboriginal archaeology. The excavation involved women and men, historians and archaeologists, teachers and students, and it produced the artefacts that underpinned Mulvaney’s landmark 1961 article, where he reviewed existing research and posed the large, continental questions that would dominate the next decade of archaeological investigation.


Mulvaney; Childe; 1950s; origins; Australian history

Full Text:


ISSN (print) 1179 4704; ISSN (online) 1179 4712
Published with the assistance of the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of Otago.
© 2010-2015 New Zealand Archaeological Association. All rights reserved.