2020 Crawford Medal winner shapes our understanding of Australia’s historic past and present

17th August 2020

Award winning Australian writer and historian, Dr Billy Griffiths – whose latest book Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (2018) has been described as ‘the freshest, most important book about our past in years’ – is the recipient of the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ 2020 Max Crawford Medal.

The Medal is Australia’s most prestigious award for achievement and promise in the humanities, and it is awarded to an Australia-based, early-career scholar for outstanding achievement.

Dr Griffiths is a lecturer in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Melbourne’s Deakin University. His research focusses on cultural heritage, Indigenous history, political history, archaeology and seascapes.

The award of the Crawford Medal recognises his outstanding ability to bridge the disciplines of history, literature and archaeology, and the imaginative considerations he gives to the intersections of the sciences and the humanities through his work.

Dr Griffiths’ multi-awarding winning and widely-acclaimed book, Deep Time Dreaming, was the result of extensive fieldwork and archival research.

In his nomination for the Crawford Medal, eminent historian and Academy Fellow and former Academy President, Iain McCalman AO, said ‘I have encountered no other young academic in my university career of more than 50 years whose book (Deep Time Dreaming) has made a larger or deeper impact… (it is) one of handful of publications that have shifted Australia’s understanding of the past: both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

‘While telling for the first time the gripping story of the women and men who have made the key discoveries which shaped the modern discipline of archaeology in Australia, Billy never fails to demonstrate and acknowledge their debt to the contributions of the Aboriginal peoples whose cultures were being uncovered,’ Professor McCalman said.

Dr Griffiths experienced his first archaeological dig at the Madjedbebe rock shelter in Kakadu, where, using new techniques, archaeologists dramatically enlarged the timescale of Australian history, dating the Indigenous history of human habitation back at least 65,000 years.

Dr Griffiths’ work has also been acclaimed by Tjanara Goreng Goreng, research scholar at the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research and traditional owner from Wakka Wakka Wulli Wulli in Central Queensland. ‘I describe it as a gift to Australia, and to me, and to First Nations peoples.’

Dr Goreng said Deep Time Dreaming’s ‘beauty continues from chapter to chapter, from story to story, of these 20th century discoverers of rock art, of an Australian prehistory, of Australian disciplines of study, of marking country, of the early fights for Aboriginal rights over decisions about research and excavations on their country, and of the early developments of national trusts and conservation of our ancient culture.’

In addition to Deep Time Dreaming, Dr Griffiths is the author of The China Breakthrough: Whitlam in the Middle Kingdom, 1971 (2012) which explores Gough Whitlam’s daring visit to China in 1971 and the dramatic international events and acts of secret diplomacy that underlie this key episode of diplomatic history.

Dr Griffiths is also a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, and an Associate Investigator with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH). He serves as a board member of the Australian Book Review and has consulted for a range of Aboriginal and heritage trusts.

On hearing of his award, Dr Griffiths said ‘It is a great honour receive the 2020 Max Crawford Medal from the Australian Academy of the Humanities. My research explores the work of the past three generations of humanities scholars and the immense contributions they have made to understanding and imagining Australian society, culture and history. Max Crawford himself was an early champion of archaeological work in Australia and he encouraged dialogue across and between disciplines. I am honoured to be part of this collaborative tradition.

‘This award takes on a particular significance at such a challenging time for the humanities. Arts, culture and scholarship have never been more vital to our society’ he said.

Dr Griffiths was congratulated by Academy President, Professor Joy Damousi. ‘In his remarkable work to date, Billy has strived to change the conversation that we’re having about Australian history. The Academy has been inspired by his contribution to public debates and awareness of our history. On behalf of the Fellows, I warmly congratulate him on his remarkable achievements and we all look forward to following what will surely be a long and distinguished career.’

About the Award

The Max Crawford Medal was established by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, through a bequest made to the Academy by eminent historian and former Academy Fellow, the late Professor R. M. Crawford OBE FAHA. First presented in 1992, originally as a biennial award, the Academy began awarding the Crawford Medal on an annual basis in 2019, to coincide with its 50th anniversary celebrations.

Details of the next round of nominations will be posted on the Academy website in February 2021

About the Academy

The Australian Academy of the Humanities is the national body championing the contribution that humanities make to national life. Established in 1969, our purpose is to ensure the humanities in Australia thrive and excel, because we believe a better future for all humanity depends on ethical, historical, creative and cultural knowledge and expertise. We are an independent, not-for-profit organisation with a Fellowship of over 640 leaders and experts in history, the arts, languages and literature, linguistics, philosophy and ethics, culture and communication, archaeology and heritage.

Archaeology and the Humanities – promoting critical thinking and informed reflection

05th July 2020

In January 2020 Minister of Education Dan Tehan stated, “the Morrison Government … recognise[s] the importance of research into Australian society, history and culture”. Five months later, the Morrison Government has proposed dramatic changes to university fee structures that double the cost of study in these same disciplines. This move will amplify the perceived divide between the natural sciences and HASS (humanities and social sciences). What 21stcentury science, business and society need is an integration of these fields of expertise; archaeology plays a vital role in this endeavour. By applying scientific techniques to social issues, including climate change and adaptive technologies, archaeology remains the only discipline able to study the full spectrum of Australia’s deep human history. The history of humanity – the story of us – is a common, binding thread that crosses barriers such as age, gender, culture and religion.

Archaeology – skills rich

Archaeology is a professional discipline with graduates in high demand across the sector, applying training that is specialised, skills-rich and transferrable. University-trained practitioners provide expert management advice and essential compliance documentation to support major infrastructure and development projects that support our economy. We also provide evidence of human ingenuity through time that is a source of national pride and social integration. Archaeology has a long and successful commitment to achieving excellence in training and job-readiness. Since 2005 we have conducted five-yearly reviews of the training needs of our industry and continue to adjust our university training and courses accordingly. We have developed National Benchmarking Guidelines which clearly articulate the knowledge and specific skills expected of graduates upon completion of a 4-year Honours degree – the industry minimum standard. In 2019, we launched the Australian Archaeology Skills Passport, a national program aimed at streamlining skills training across the discipline, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the sector.

Archaeology – socially engaged

Archaeology uses both history and science to understand social issues. For example, the impact and legacy of British colonisation/invasion manifests today in a divided society and a contested heritage. In partnership with Traditional Custodians, archaeologists work to understand not only the depth of time but also the cultural richness of Australian Indigenous societies prior to British invasion. Archaeologists also work to understand more recent colonial entanglements and impacts as they explore the material culture of social, economic and environmental change since First Contact. Land-based and maritime heritage sites not only serve as a reminder of the past but also continue to contribute to the character and economy of Australia today. HASS graduates, who can think laterally, critically and creatively, make up a large proportion of people working for Indigenous organisations as teachers, social workers, anthropologists, historians, archaeologists and government officials. The proposed fee changes will not only curtail this work, but will also disadvantage women, who make up to 60% of HASS students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from non-traditional education backgrounds who use HASS degrees as pathways into universities.

Archaeology – global and local

All Australian archaeology departments maintain international research and engagement collaborations with key institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. These collaborations elevate Australia’s standing within the international research community on globally important issues. These international connections help promote greater understanding and appreciation of our own unique Indigenous cultures. We also maintain relationships locally with communities in every State.

The Australian archaeological community is united. We ask the government to rethink its proposed fee restructure to ensure the HASS sector continues to produce socially engaged and scientifically excellent graduates.

Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists

The Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University

21st June 2020

Harvard University is seeking to appoint a distinguished scholar to the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies for the 2022–2023 academic year. The Chair was established through a gift of the Australian Government to Harvard University, in recognition of the American Bicentennial, to further understanding of Australia in the United States. Over the past 35 years, the Chair has been occupied by some of Australia’s most outstanding intellectuals. In 2010, the Chair was renamed in recognition of the two prime ministers who, from opposite sides of politics, brought to fruition this important initiative. Incumbents of the Chair will ordinarily hold the title of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies, teach two courses, and be expected to reside at Harvard for the full academic year.

The Australian Nominating Committee seeks expressions of interest from persons wishing to be considered for appointment in the 2022-2023 academic year. The Committee encourages applications from outstanding Australians in mid-career as well as those further advanced. It also strongly encourages applications from women and under-represented groups. Shortlisted candidates will be identified by the Australian Nominating Committee for internal review by the Harvard Committee on Australian Studies.

The Committee is keen to encourage an Australia-wide interest in the Chair. Candidates must exhibit intellectual leadership and impact in a field of study and teaching relevant to Australian Studies. Candidates who are qualified to teach in a department, degree program or field of study offered in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are particularly encouraged. (For a list of departments, see http://www.fas.harvard.edu/pages/departments-and-areas). A doctorate or terminal degree is required.

Using the following link: https://academicpositions.harvard.edu/postings/9712, persons wishing to be considered should submit an application, including: a cover letter, curriculum vitae, a summary outline of a course to be offered at Harvard, and the names and work addresses of  three referees. Applications will be accepted until September 30, 2020. Final notification will be made by the end of February 2021.

Questions about the position or the application process should be addressed to Johannah Park, Manager of Academic Programs, at jkpark@fas.harvard.edu.

For further information about the Chair and the Harvard Committee on Australian Studies see: http://harvaus.fas.harvard.edu.

 Harvard University is an equal opportunity employer, and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions or any other characteristic protected by law.

Statement from the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists Association

08th June 2020


Statement from the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists Association

5 June 2020

 “The act by Rio Tinto to blast Juukan Gorge, a millennia old archaeological site and an ancient place of sacred significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples of the Pilbara region is condemned by the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists’ Association (AIAA).

AIAA is concerned about the commitment of Rio Tinto to Australia’s Reconciliation Process with Indigenous Australians. That the destruction was carried out during National Reconciliation Week is particularly sad, but the decision to do so on Australia’s national day of Recognition of the Stolen Generations, ‘Sorry Day’, added insult to injury for the PKKP peoples and is an insult to all to Indigenous Australians.

AIAA questions Rio Tinto’s adherence to the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) Indigenous peoples and mining good practice guide. Specifically, acting in good faith, free prior and informed consent, and the failure to protect a sacred site of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura.

Finally, AIAA questions Rio Tinto’s adherence to their own standards. In Rio Tinto’s own Reconciliation Action Plan 2016-2019 they talk about Walking the Land Together, and how they will work with Traditional Owners to develop Cultural Heritage Management Plans. In their The Way We Work (2017) Rio Tinto asserts they will “Listen with respect and value the contributions of others.”

Our Association stands in solidarity with the PKKP peoples and all Australians involved in protecting Indigenous cultural heritage. While Rio Tinto acted within the law of Western Australia, we call for reform of Western Australia’s heritage protection laws.

The Indigeneous People of West Australia should be the guiding voice and at the centre of this reform, so that meaningful change can occur.

We also call on the Australian Commonwealth Government to legislate  minimum national standards (internationally recognised) for Indigenous heritage site assessment, management and protection.

This should include standards for the protection of both tangible and intangible aspects of our places within the cultural landscape.

We continue to recommend the establishment of an Australian Indigenous Heritage Commission to oversee and manage our valued sites and places. Australia’s rich Indigenous heritage and culture should be afforded the respect and protection that it deserves.”




Rio Tinto destruction of Juukan Gorge Indigenous sites prompts debate over whether WA needs heritage tribunal

01st June 2020

From ABC Radio Perth and abc.net.au, link to original article here.

As Australia has been celebrating Reconciliation Week, the world has been shocked by the mining blast of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site in the Pilbara.

The blast, near the Juukan Gorge, took with it ancient rock shelters which pre-date the pyramids.

Although Rio Tinto had previously been granted permission to carry out work in the area, questions are now being asked about why the significance of the site wasn’t taken into account before the blast went ahead.

Dr Peter Veth is a Professor of Archaeology at UWA who has been working in the Pilbara for 40 years.

Listen to him tell Russell and Nadia why heritage protections in WA need to change and what they should look like.

To listen to the radio interview, visit the abc.net.au website here.

Loss of Juukan Gorge Rockshelters, Pilbara region, Western Australia

28th May 2020

Australian Archaeological Association Inc.: Press Release

Loss of Juukan Gorge Rockshelters, Pilbara region, Western Australia


The destruction of the significant Juukan Gorge rockshelters, despite new and compelling evidence from archaeological excavations conducted after the permit to destroy was issued, highlights the urgent need to reform the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. These actions highlight the need to have robust heritage agreements between proponents and Aboriginal communities that are responsive to new information about the cultural significance of sites. There has been an increasing call from professional archaeologists and Aboriginal Representative Bodies to have a forum in Western Australia for heritage appeals that considers the values of heritage to Traditional Owners and the State, and takes into account wider considerations of significance such as The Burra Charter.

New evidence for values and significance should be able to be incorporated into agreements with communities and reflected in the level of protection afforded by heritage law. This would bring WA into line with other States where up-to-date assessment of the significance of sites is used to make informed decisions around their protection and management. The early dates for occupation at Juukan, at 46,000 years ago, puts this site in the oldest bracket of dates for the human occupation of Australia’s deserts. This issue emphasises the need for the WA State Government to progress the reforms to the Heritage Act for greater clarity, certainty and site protection for Traditional Owners, land-users and the Regulator, and not the least for the heritage itself. 

While AAA understands that Rio Tinto was legally permitted to destroy these sites under a Section 18 Notice issued in 2013, the fact that Rio did not revisit this decision after the site’s increased cultural significance was demonstrated by subsequent archaeological excavations, and visits by Traditional Owners, is inconsistent with modern standards of heritage management. Many of our members work extensively and collaboratively with Rio Tinto and have done so for many years, on the assumption that Rio Tinto’s strategic mission is to set best practice in cultural heritage management and establish and maintain ethical partnerships with Traditional Owner communities. It is expected that RTIO, and other resource developers, meet both the regulatory requirements mandated by state legislation and the expectations of their agreements with Traditional Owner groups. That the timing of the destruction of these sites was on Australian Sorry Day was particularly unfortunate. Multi-decadal investment in best-practice heritage management and Traditional Owner partnerships can be eroded by such actions.   

There are important lessons to be learned here. As a discipline that prides itself on our collaborative work with Traditional Owner groups while striving for best practise outcomes in heritage compliance, we call on the Western Australian regulators and industry leaders to work towards building a stronger and fairer heritage protection framework for the State.

In this Week of Reconciliation – we say: We are Sorry.


For further information, contact: 


Dr Tiina Manne, President, Australian Archaeological Association Inc. <president@australianarchaeology.com>


Dr Peter Veth, Professor of Archaeology, University of Western Australia and Director of UWA Oceans Institute <peter.veth@uwa.edu.au>

Impact of bushfires on cultural heritage

24th January 2020

The Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) calls on the Government to ensure that Australia’s rich cultural heritage is included in all bushfire recovery plans. 

“In the face of such devastation, heritage is a powerful force connecting people to their communities. This is particularly true for Indigenous communities”, said AAA president, Dr Tiina Manne. 

The Australian Archaeological Association is the largest archaeological organisation in Australia, representing a diverse membership of professionals, researchers, Traditional Custodians, students and others with an interest in archaeology. 

Dr Manne said that the National Bushfire Recovery Agency must take account of cultural heritage in recovery planning, and ecosystems revival. An audit of burned country must be undertaken in consultation with affected Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and heritage professionals. This audit must have two aims: 

  1. Visits to the locales of known sites and heritage places to identify what has been damaged or destroyed and to assess the condition of what survives. It is very likely that many hundreds, if not thousands, of sites will have been destroyed. Rehabilitation could cause further damage to heritage places. 
  2. Surveys of burned country to identify previously unknown Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal sites and heritage places exposed by the lack of vegetation that may have survived the ravages of the fires. We have already seen that many previously unknown Aboriginal sites associated with the Budj Bim World Heritage Area in Victoria have been exposed as a result of fire away clearing vegetation. With the approval of Traditional Custodians, these newly discovered sites can be placed onto heritage registers to protect them into the future. The communities can also have the opportunity to incorporate these places into living heritage narratives. 

 The audit and the heritage surveys must be fully funded in keeping with current heritage assessment legal requirements and best practice heritage management principles. The involvement of Aboriginal Rangers and other trained Traditional Custodians in such activities, as well as members of local Historical Societies in the case of built heritage places, would be an important step in reinforcing Aboriginal people’s abiding connection with Country and local communities’ links to their history. 

There also needs to be funding for emergency mitigation of damage to at-risk heritage places and their ongoing management. This includes not only funding for immediate works to the heritage places themselves, but also funding for associated heritage protection activities, such as the development of conservation plans and the erection of fences to exclude cattle from sensitive heritage areas. 2 

Fires have been a part of the Australian landscape for over 65,000 years and remain an integral part of the Australian ecosystem. Cultural burning was, and remains, a key technology in Aboriginal land management practices. While it is true that bushfires happen every year, the fires of 2019/2020 are different; their scale, duration, and intensity are unprecedented in the history of both the Aboriginal occupation of the continent and the more recent European occupation. In the recovery process it is important to be aware of the effects of fire and of rehabilitation works on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultural heritage. 

The importance of Aboriginal cultural burning in the development of fire management strategies into the future cannot be understated, and the Australian Archaeological Association strongly endorses calls for the involvement of Aboriginal fire managers and Aboriginal Land Management Rangers in any bodies established to review planning activities for future fire management regimes and in current fire recovery efforts. 

Aboriginal people’s occupation of the continent has been expansive, and because of this we can safely say that the recent fires have destroyed many important and irreplaceable sites of archaeological and Aboriginal significance. Fires will have destroyed culturally modified trees, such as canoe trees; and fires can cause soft sandstone to crack or exfoliate, causing the complete destruction of grinding grooves for axe manufacture or for food production as well as painted or engraved Aboriginal art. Other cultural heritage made of stone, such as stone artefact sites, quarries and tool manufacturing sites and rockshelters with occupation deposits, are less vulnerable, but even stone artefacts can crack in intense heat and soot deposits can affect rock art pigments. 

In addition, with the loss of vegetation cover, erosion can damage the integrity of surface archaeological sites. Many early structures built by European settlers in regional Australia have been destroyed, while many that remain are under direct threat. It is undeniable that there would have been a loss of places that have historical and present-day cultural significance to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, and archaeologists alike. 

The threat to the survival of physical cultural sites is just one aspect of loss. Only Aboriginal people can speak to the impacts of the fire on the loss of their cultural places, and the effect this will have on their deep and ongoing connections to Country. These intangible connections between Aboriginal people and Country are embedded in millennia-old land management practices, much of which will have been undone by the uncontrolled burns that characterise the current fires. 

The silver lining to the fires, from an archaeological and heritage management perspective, is that much more can now be seen on the ground. The complete removal of all ground cover in many areas means that archaeological heritage places, once covered by vegetation and/or leaf litter, will be visible for a short time, until the bush regenerates following recent rain. 

For further information, contact: Dr Tiina Manne, President, Australian Archaeological Association Inc. <president@australianarchaeology.com>. Please also refer to the article published in Nature on the 23 January 2020 covering this release. 

Image credit: Mark Moore, University of New England