Professor Isabel McBryde

Professor Isabel McBryde

Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology 2003

Isabel McBryde (16 July 1934-)

Isabel McBryde was born on 16 July 1934 in Fremantle, Western Australia. After completing Honours and Masters degrees in Latin and History at Melbourne University, Isabel departed in 1958 for Cambridge and a Diploma in Prehistoric Archaeology. In 1960 her distinguished career as an archaeologist began in Australia’s first titled position in Prehistory and Ancient History at the University of New England. During this time (1966) Isabel completed her PhD as part of pioneering regional studies in the New England area. In 1974 she was appointed as a senior lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Anthropology at the Australian National University, culminating in her appointment to the chair of Prehistory in 1986. Retired in 1994, Isabel currently holds Honorary Visiting Fellowships at the Australian National University and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

In addition to her academic contributions, Isabel has been active in a wide range of arenas relating to archaeology and cultural heritage over the last four decades. Significantly, she was a founding member of the Australian Archaeological Association Inc. and served as its first secretary in 1974-1975. Some of the numerous other bodies she has served on include the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (1966-1976; 1995-1996); the National Cultural Heritage Forum (1997-1999); the Board of Management of Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park (1996-2001); the Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area (1994-1998); the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area Consultative Committee NSW (1985-1993); the Aboriginal Education Consultative Committee, Australian National University (1991-1998); Australia ICOMOS (1996-1997); the NSW Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Interim Advisory Committee (1993-1996); the Australian Academy of the Humanities (1981-); Aboriginal Sites Committee (NPWS NSW) (1981-1993); Australian Association of Aboriginal Studies; Aboriginal Relics Advisory Committee (NPWS NSW) (1970-1980); Encyclopaedia Brittanica Australian Advisory Committee (1986-1989); Bruce Hall, Australian National University (1976-1986); the HMAS Ipswich Association (1997-); and the Australian Heritage Commission (1980-1988).

Isabel’s commitment to the understanding of the past as a peopled past, addressing social questions, has informed her wide research interests, combining the fields of archaeology, ethnohistory, historical archaeology and cultural heritage. She has published over 100 books, articles and reports. Among her most significant publications are A Petrological Analysis of Ground-Edge Artefacts from Northern New South Wales (authored jointly with Ray Binns, 1972), Aboriginal Prehistory in New England (1974), Records of Times Past (1978), Coast and Estuary (with contributions by V.M. Campbell, K.H. Lane, K. McQueen and N.A. Wakefield, 1982), Who Owns the Past? (editor, 1985) and Guests of the Governor (1989).

Isabel’s early research in the New England region is still cited as a significant example of the tradition of regional investigations in Australia. That work not only explored important questions of the day, such as the timing of cultural changes, but also defined dietary and foraging changes that have been extensively discussed. Her work in New England was remarkable for its extent and depth, and Isabel’s examination of the interface of archaeology and ethnography in the region shaped not only the approach taken by many later researchers but also prepared the basis for the arguments about upland regions created by archaeologists such as Sandra Bowdler and Luke Godwin. The relationship between economy and social practice was further explored in her research into trade systems and production for trade in Australia. This involved her famous studies of the Mount William axe distribution, but also extended to studies of grindstones and other materials. Her research on the issue of exchange has been influential worldwide and is commonly cited as one of the foundations of modern Palaeolithic exchange theory.

Isabel’s contribution as an educator has been equally influential. First at the University of New England, then at the Australian National University Isabel has taught three generations of archaeologists her thorough and detailed approach to exploring the archaeological record. In many courses Isabel emphasised Aboriginal archaeology, and she supervised dozens of research students studying archaeology in Australia. With some justification it has been said that Isabel’s impact on undergraduates and postgraduates substantially shaped the development of Australian archaeology.

Over several decades Isabel has been a leading figure in developing frameworks of heritage management. She has been involved in long term work with Aboriginal communities and with museum and government committees to facilitate coherent and strong approaches to the conservation of archaeology and Aboriginal heritage.

A former student described Isabel “as a gentle, conservative, modest, thorough, and careful scholar with gravitas and a powerful intellect.” She went on to say that “her voice is never raised in loud contention at seminars and conferences. Her rebuttals of those who disagree with her are so polite as to be, alas, sometimes unnoticed by their target.” Described as ‘a real lady’, she amazed students with her command of social mores and aura of confidence, kindness, calm and cleanliness. Isabel could seemingly spend all day in a dusty trench and step out of it in the evening clean, well groomed, with lippy in place and radiating energy and goodwill.

Few people have created such an enduring legacy for Australian archaeology. She has touched the minds, hearts and actions of virtually the entire Australian archaeological community. She is celebrated by students, Indigenous communities, colleagues and friends.


Cundy, B. 2001 Isabel McBryde AO bibliography.

Sullivan, S. 2005 Out of the box: Isabel McBryde’s radical contribution to the shaping of Australian archaeological practice. In I. Macfarlane, R. Paton and M-J. Mountain (eds), Many Exchanges: Archaeology, History, Community and the Work of Isabel McBryde. Canberra: Aboriginal History Inc.


  • McBryde, I. 1961 New radiocarbon dates for Australia from a rock shelter near Grafton, NSW. Antiquity 35(140):12-13.



  • McBryde, I. 1962 Archaeological field survey work in northern New South Wales. Oceania 33(1):12-17.


  • McBryde, I. 1963 An unusual series of stone arrangements near the Serpentine River, Ebor district, New South Wales. Oceania 34(2):137-146.
  • McBryde, I. 1963 Archaeology in New England. In R. Warner (ed.), New England Essays, pp.63-70. Armidale: University of New England.


  • McBryde, I. 1964 Archaeology in Australia – Some recent developments. The Record [Armidale] 6(1):5-7.
  • McBryde, I. 1964 The linear engravings of the Clarence Valley, northern New South Wales. Oceania 34(3):201-210.
  • McBryde, I. 1964 Rock art of the Australian Aborigines in northern New South Wales: A survey of discoveries in the New England district. Illustrated London News January 4:14-15.


  • McBryde, I. 1965 Radio-carbon dates for archaeological sites in the Clarence Valley, northern New South Wales. Oceania 35(4):260-266.
  • McBryde, I. 1965 Radio-carbon dates for northern New South Wales. Australian Journal of Science 27(9):260-261.
  • McBryde, I. and D.J. Mulvaney 1965 Radiocarbon measurements: Geochron Laboratories Inc. Radiocarbon 7:47-53.
  • McBryde, I. 1965 Reconnaissance and excavation in northern New South Wales. In A.N.Z.A.A.S. 38th Congress, Hobart, 1965 – Section F.


  • McBryde, I. 1966 An archaeological survey of the New England region, New South Wales. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of New England, Armidale. McBryde, I.
  • 1966 Australian archaeology and the historical society. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 52(4):329-335.
  • McBryde, I. 1966 Radiocarbon dates for northern New South Wales. Antiquity 40(160):285-292.


  • McBryde, I. 1968 Archaeological investigations in the Graman district. Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania 3(2):77-93.


  • McBryde, I. 1969 [Review of] Australian archaeology: A Guide to Field Techniques by D.J. Mulvaney. Man 4(1):143-144.


  • McBryde, I. 1970 The contribution to Australian ethnography. In B.J Dalton (ed.), The Significance of Cooks Endeavour Voyage, pp.37-47. Townsville: James Cook University of North Queensland.
  • McBryde, I. and R.A. Binns 1970 Preliminary report on a petrological study of ground-edge artefacts from north-eastern New South Wales, Australia. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 1969/1970:229-235.



  • McBryde, I. 1971 Australia’s prehistoric colonisation. Townsville Historical Trust Proceedings: 34-58.
  • McBryde, I. 1971 A prehistoric workshop. Hemisphere 15(11):29-34.
  • McBryde, I. 1971 [Review of] Diprotodon to Detribalization by Arnold R. Pilling and Richard A. Waterman. Man 6(2):304.


  • McBryde, I. and R.A. Binns 1972 A petrological analysis of ground-edge artefacts from northern New South Wales. Prehistory and Material Culture Series 10. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.


  • McBryde, I. 1973 Riti funerari nel Nuovo Galles del Sud [Funerary rites in New South Wales]. Bollettino del Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici 9:65.
  • McBryde, I. 1973 Stone arrangements and a quartzite quarry site at Brewarrina. Mankind 9(2):118-121.


  • McBryde, I. 1974 Aboriginal Prehistory in New England: An Archaeological Survey of Northeastern New South Wales. Sydney: Sydney University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1974 R.H. Mathews. In D. Pike (ed.), National Dictionary of Biography, pp.225-226. Vol. 5. Canberra.
  • McBryde, I. 1974 Australia [Regional report]. Far Eastern Prehistory Association Newsletter 3:1-12.
  • McBryde, I. 1974 Prehistoric archaeology. Australian Archaeological Association Newsletter 1:18-27.


  • McBryde, I. 1975 Burial rites in prehistoric New South Wales. In E. Anati et al. (eds), Les religions de la prehistoire: Capo di Ponte (Brescia), 499-508. Actes du Valcamonica Symposium 72. Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici.
  • McBryde, I. 1975 Trade and technology in south-east Australian prehistory. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Newsletter 3.


  • McBryde, I. 1976 Seelands and Sai Yok pebble tools: A further consideration. Australian Archaeology 4:58-73. [Reprinted in Far Eastern Prehistory Association Newsletter 6:46-61].
  • McBryde, I. 1976 Subsistence patterns in New England prehistory. Occasional Papers 6:48-68. St Lucia: Anthropology Museum, University of Queensland.
  • McBryde, I. with Alan Watchman 1976 The distribution of greenstone axes in southeastern Australia: A preliminary report. Mankind 10(3):163-174.


  • McBryde, I. 1977 Determinants of assemblage variation in New England prehistory: Environment, subsistence economies, site activities, or cultural tradition. In R.V.S. Wright (ed.), Stone Tools as Cultural Markers: Change, Evolution and Complexity, pp.225-250. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • McBryde, I. 1977 Ethnographic collections of Governor La Trobe now in the Musee d’Ethnographie de Neuchatel, Switzerland. Artefact 2(2):45-61.
  • McBryde, I. 1977 [Review of] An Archaeological Analysis of the Broadbeach Aboriginal Burial Ground by Laila Haglund. Aboriginal History 1(2):183-184.
  • McBryde, I. 1977 Some wooden artefacts from the north coast of NSW: New archaeological and ethnographic data. Records of the Australian Museum 31(13-16):660-671.


  • McBryde, I. 1978 Wil-im-ee Moor-ring: Or, where do axes come from?: Stone axe distribution and exchange patterns in Victoria. Mankind 11(3):354-382.
  • McBryde, I. 1978 Aboriginal man and the land in south-western Australia [Review of Fire and Hearth by S.J. Hallam and P. Nicholson]. Studies in Western Australian History 3:38-42.
  • McBryde, I. 1978 Records of times past: Ethnohistorical essays on the culture and ecology of the New England tribes. Ethnohistory Series 3. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • McBryde, I. 1978 Museum collections from the Richmond River district of Aboriginal artefacts. In I. McBryde (ed.), Records of Times Past: Ethnohistorical Essays on the Culture and Ecology of the New England Tribes, pp.135-210. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • McBryde, I. 1978 [Review of] Taming the Wilderness: The First Decade of Pastoral Settlement in the Kennedy District by Anne Allingham. Aboriginal History 2(2):177-179.
  • McBryde, I. with P. Nicholson 1978 Aboriginal man and the land in southwestern Australia. Studies in Western Australian History 111:38-42.


  • McBryde, I. 1979 Ethnohistory in an Australian context: Independent discipline or convenient data quarry. Aboriginal History 3(2):128-151.
  • McBryde, I. 1979 Petrology and prehistory: Lithic evidence for exploitation of stone resources and exchange systems in Australia, with an Appendix on the petrology of the greenstone quarries and their products by Alan Watchman. In T. Clough and W. Cummins (eds), Stone Axe Studies: Archaeological, Petrological, Experimental and Ethnographic, pp.113-126. London: Council for British Archaeology.


  • Mulvaney, D.J., I. McBryde and D. Barwick 1980 Aboriginal Australians and the Bicentennial History 1788-1988 project. Anthropological Society of Queensland Newsletter 115:6-8.
  • McBryde, I. 1980 Education goals of university schools of prehistory and archaeology: Mechanick trades in the ivory tower. Australian Archaeology 11:72-80.
  • McBryde, I. 1980 Patterns of change and continuity: New South Wales prehistory. In C. Haigh and W. Goldstein (eds), The Aborigines of New South Wales, pp.70-78. Sydney: New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.


  • McBryde, I. 1981 Valued good or valuable stone?: Consideration of some aspects of the distribution of greenstone artefacts in southeastern Australia. In B.F. Leach and J. Davidson (eds), Archaeological Studies of Pacific Stone Resources, pp.183-208. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
  • McBryde, I. 1981 Site recording: Some basic guidelines. In Industrial and Historical Archaeology, pp.25-28. Sydney: National Trust of Australia, NSW.


  • McBryde, I. with contributions by V.M. Campbell, K.H. Lane, K. McQueen and N.A. Wakefield 1982 Coast and Estuary: Archaeological Investigations on the North Coast of New South Wales at Wombah and Schnapper Point. Canberra:. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • McBryde, I. 1982 Report on the archaeological features of some mythological and historic sites in the Lake Eyre south region. Unpublished report to Kinhill Pty Ltd.


  • McBryde, I. 1983 Three perspectives on coastal archaeology and a view from 64 degrees north. Aboriginal History 7(1-2):186-194.


  • McBryde, I. 1984 Exchange in south-eastern Australia: An ethnohistorical perspective. Aboriginal History 8(1-2):132-153.
  • McBryde, I. 1984 Kulin greenstone quarries: The social contexts of production and distribution for the Mount William site. World Archaeology 16(2):267-285.


  • McBryde, I. 1985 (ed.) Who Owns the Past: Papers from the Annual Symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1985 Thomas Dick’s Photographic vision. In I. Donaldson and T. Donaldson (eds), Seeing the First Australians, pp.137-163. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
  • McBryde, I. 1985 Backed blade industries from the Graman rock shelters, NSW: Some evidence on function. In P. Bellwood and Misra (eds), New Advances in Indo-Pacific Prehistory, pp.231-248. New Dehli: Oxford and IBH Publishing Co.


  • McBryde, I. 1986 Artefacts, language and social interaction: A case study from south-eastern Australia. In G.N. Bailey and P. Callow (eds), Stone Age Prehistory: Studies in Memory of Charles McBurney, pp.77-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1986 Australia’s once and future archaeology. Archaeology in Oceania 21(1):13-28.
  • McBryde, I. 1986 The broken artefact and functional studies. In G. Ward (ed.), Archaeology at ANZAAS Canberra, pp.203-209. Canberra: Canberra Archaeological Society.


  • McBryde, I. 1987 Future directions for the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage – Some implications for university educators. Newsletter Committee to Review Australian Studies in Tertiary Education December: 11-16.
  • McBryde, I. with J.R. Bird, P. Duerdin, T. Wall and E. Clayton 1987 Characterisation of Seelands artefacts. In W.R. Ambrose and J.M.J. Mummery (eds), Archaeometry: Further Australian Studies, pp.250-260. Canberra: Australian National University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1987 Goods from another country: Exchange networks and the people of the Lake Eyre Basin. In D.J. Mulvaney and J.P. White (eds), Australians to 1788, pp.252-273. Broadway, NSW: Fairfax, Syme and Weldon Associates.


  • McBryde, I. 1989 Guests of the Governor – Aboriginal residents of the First Government House. Sydney: The Friends of the First Government House Site.
  • McBryde, I. 1989 ‘… to establish a commerce of this sort’: Cross cultural exchange at the Port Jackson settlement. In J. Hardy and A. Frost (eds), Studies from Terra Australis to Australia, pp.169-182. Canberra: Australian Academy of the Humanities.
  • McBryde, I. 1989 Aborigines, archaeologists and the management of Aboriginal sites in south-eastern Australia. In International Perspectives on Cultural Parks, pp.373-378. Denver: US National Parks Service.


  • McBryde, I. 1990 ‘Those truly outstanding examples …’: Kakadu in the context of Australia’s World Heritage properties – A response. In J. Domicelji and S. Domicelj (eds), A Sense of Place: A Conversation in Three Cultures, pp.15-19, 46-52. Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission.


  • McBryde, I. 1992 The past as symbol of identity. Antiquity 66(250):260-266.
  • McBryde, I. 1992 Archaeology and art, art as archaeology: Problems of cultural context and chronology in Australian Aboriginal rock art. In R. Laffineur and J. Cowley (eds), Agean Bronze Age Iconography: Shaping a Methodology, pp.221-229. University of Liege.


  • McBryde, I. and A. Watchman 1993 ‘… lost in the Sirius …’: Consideration of the provenance of the hatchet head recovered from the Sirius wreck site, Norfolk Island. Records of the Australian Museum Supplement 17:129-143.
  • McBryde, I. 1993 ‘In her right place’: Women in archaeology. In L. Smith and H. du Cros (eds), Women in Archaeology: A Feminist Critique, pp.xi-xv. Occasional Papers in Prehistory 23. Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.
  • McBryde, I. 1993 Australia’s Aboriginal mining heritage. Heritage News 15(4):6.
  • McBryde, I. 1993 Miss Mary, ethnography and the inheritance of concern: Mary Ellen Murray-Prior. In J. Marcus (ed.), First in their Field: Women and Australian Anthropology, pp.14-45. Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1993 Rich Heritage: The transformation of archaeological knowledge of the human past in Oceania. Australian Archaeology 37:54-57.


  • McBryde, I. 1994 ‘To know the place for the first time’: Consideration of diverse values for an Australian World Heritage site. In S. Cantacazuno (ed.), Scientific Journal, pp.34-44. Paris: ICOMOS.


  • McBryde, I. 1995 Dream the impossible dream?: Shared heritage, shared values, or shared understanding of disparate values. Historic Environment 11(2-3):8-14.
  • McBryde, I. 1995 Aboriginal places: Needs and priorities in legislation and its administration. In S. Sullivan (ed.), Cultural Conservation: Towards a National Approach, pp.111-122. Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission.


  • McBryde, I. 1996 Past and present indivisible?: Archaeology and society, archaeology in society. In T. Bonyhardy and T. Griffiths (eds), John Mulvaney, the Humanities and the Public Intellectual, pp.63-84. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1996 Perspectives of the past: An introduction. In V. Chapman and P. Read (eds), Terrible Hard Biscuits: A Reader in Aboriginal History, pp.1-15. St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin and Journal of Aboriginal History.
  • McBryde, I. 1996 Archaeology in the metropolis. In Sites: Nailing the Debate: Archaeology and Interpretation in Museums, pp.239-245. Sydney: Museum of Sydney.
  • McBryde, I., R. Purdie, J. Gilmore, K. Hotchin, A. Marsden and I. Robertson (eds) 1996 Natural and cultural heritage. In Australia: State of the Environment 1996: An Independent Report to the Minister for the Environment, pp.9.1-9.49. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.


  • McBryde, I. 1997 The ambiguities of authenticity – Rock of faith or shifting sands? Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 2(2):93-100.
  • McBryde, I. 1997 ‘The landscape is a series of stories’: Grindstones, quarries and exchange in Aboriginal Australia: A Lake Eyre case study. In A. Ramos-Millan and A. Bustillo (eds), Siliceous Rocks and Culture, pp.587-607. University of Granada.
  • McBryde, I. 1997 ‘Worth a thousand words’?: Words, images and material culture: A New England case study. In N. Evans and P. McConvall (eds), Archaeology and Linguistics: Aboriginal Australia in Global Perspective, pp.311-355. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • McBryde, I. 1997 The cultural landscapes of Aboriginal long distance exchange systems: Can they be confined within our heritage registers? Historic Environment 13(3-4):6-14.


  • McBryde, I. 1998 Obituary: Frederick David McCarthy 13 August 1905 – 18 November 1997. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1998(1):51-55.
  • McBryde, I. 1998 A tribute to Isobel Mary White (26 January 1912 – 25 August 1998). Canberra Anthropology 21(2).
  • Pearson, M., D. Johnston, J. Lennon, I. McBryde, D. Marshall, D. Nash and B. Wellington 1998 Environmental Indicators for National State of the Environment Reporting: Natural and Cultural Heritage. Canberra: Environment Australia, Department of the Environment.


  • McBryde, I. 2000 Travellers in storied landscapes: A case study in exchanges and heritage. Aboriginal History 24:152-174.
  • McBryde, I. 2000 ‘Barter … immediately commenced to the satisfaction of both parties’: Cross-cultural exchange at Port Jackson, 1788-1828. In R. Torrence and A. Clarke (eds), The Archaeology of Difference: Negotiating Cross-Cultural Engagements in Oceania, pp.238-277. London: Routledge.
  • McBryde, I. 2000 Continuity and discontinuity: Wurundjeri custodianship of the Mt William quarry. In S. Kleinert and M. Neale (eds), The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, pp.247-251. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.