From Swiss Family Robinson to Sir Russell Drysdale: Towards changing the tone of historical archaeology in Australia

23rd January 2014

Brian J. Egloff

Introduction*

In the inaugural volume of The Australian Journal of Historical Archaeology, J.M. Birmingham and D.N. Jeans (1983) published an article titled ‘The Swiss Family Robinson and the archaeology of colonisations’ which offered a framework for what the authors believed to be a diverse and uncoordinated field of study. It is apparent that for the most part historical archaeology is confined to artefactual and documentary based approaches to understanding the transference to the shores of Australia of goods and processes developed in the European industrial revolution (Birmingham et al. 1988; Birmingham and James 1981). Rather than offer a framework, perhaps the Swiss Family Robinson model provides a mental straitjacket which has promoted studies of colonisation and frontierism, as are popular with our colleagues in North America, at the expense of approaches which are more relevant to the scholarship of today, in particular contributions to an understanding of the relationships between the land, indigenous people and new settlers. This relationship goes beyond the ‘exploration’, ‘learning’ and ‘development phases’ proposed by Birmingham and Jeans, and looks towards the work of environmentally based approaches to history represented in The Humanities and the Australian Environment (Mulvaney 1991), Australia’s Ever-Changing Forests (Dargavel and Feary 1993) and Environmental History (Dovers 1994). Two of these publications feature on their covers paintings by Sir Russell Drysdale which epitomised a fourth and fifth phase; ‘dispossession’ and ‘despoliation’. This article is not about diminishing by one iota the contribution of a cohort of historical archaeologists, who have made a contribution far out of proportion to their small numbers. Instead it points out that there are other avenues of inquiry one can and should pursue which are not necessarily incompatible.

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Egloff, B.J.
From Swiss Family Robinson to Sir Russell Drysdale: Towards changing the tone of historical archaeology in Australia
December 1994
39
1–9
Article
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