John K. Clegg 11/1/1935 – 11/3/2015

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of John Clegg, one of the pioneers of modern rock art research in Australia.


John was born in Nottingham and grew up in Cambridge, England. He graduated from Cambridge with a BA Honours and Certificate in Education in 1959 and a MA Honours in 1962. John’s Master’s Thesis (Mathesis Words, Mathesis Pictures 1978), which analysed Bare Hill rock art (near Cairns), was the first in Australia to explore the archaeological nature of rock art and earned him the University Medal. John produced c. 60 monographs, reports, academic papers and book chapters throughout his career, with a focus on methodology and theory in the teaching of rock art. His collaborations with Thomas Heyd on aesthetics were formative in the development of this theoretical area of rock art discourse.

Over his twenty five years at Sydney University John taught hundreds of students how to see, look at and analyse rock art. In the eighties and nineties, he was instrumental in training and mentoring a number of rock art researchers (incl. Natalie Franklin, Tania Konecny, Jo McDonald, Laurajane Smith, Meredith Wilson) most of whom went on to undertake doctoral research in Australia, and many of whom are still involved in rock art and/or heritage research today.

John was responsible for introducing the public to the fabulous rock art of the Sydney region with his very popular Field Guide (Stanbury & Clegg 1990). The Guide was produced at a time when there was no public interpretive strategy for this region’s amazing rock art sites. He undertook experimental work on Sydney sandstone to determine likely time-frames required to produce the large engravings on the open horizontal platforms. His interest in the techniques and technologies of rock art influenced the insights which he brought to his analysis of rock art.

A more detailed obituary is being prepared and will appear in the Sydney Morning Herald, and will be posted on the AAA website. A public memorial service will be held in Sydney (probably in on the 11/4 or 18/4) probably at 11am at Sydney Uni: if you would like to attend please contact: 

On a personal note, as with most of John’s students, I deeply appreciate the intellect, eclectic eccentricity, humour and gentle humanity that John shared generously with his students. I will always remember the lessons he taught and the sheer joy he had of being on a rock art site. Stories of his undergrad teaching are legion: memories of Monty-Pythonesque experiences in the field are equally numerous. The world is a less interesting place on his passing.

On behalf of AAA, I offer our condolences to John’s wife Kate Sullivan, and sons Jack and Harry and their extended families.

Vale John K. Clegg.

Jo McDonald

Vice President AAA, Perth