Risky representations: The ‘seduction of wholeness’ and the public face of Australian archaeology

05th January 2014

Figure 1 (published in Australian Archaeology 46:1).

Figure 1 (published in Australian Archaeology 46:1).

Lesley Head


‘The process is as risky as it is necessary.’ (Rose 1996:215)

With characteristic pithiness cartoonist Ron Tandberg (Fig. 1) encapsulates for us the ways in which questions of chronology are inextricably linked to other themes of current attention in Australian archaeology, among them national identity. If we deconstruct his text we can identify these threads:

1. The context in which the cartoon was published ties archaeology to contemporary social debates—in this present incarnation (there have apparently been previous ones), it is the racism debate engendered by Pauline Hanson’s presence in Federal Parliament.

2. Normal Australia, with whom all comparisons are made, is white and male.

3. On the one hand the Aboriginal person (also male) derives enhanced legitimacy in today’s Australia from a date provided by an archaeologist. This latest possibility is provided by the suggestion from Jinmium that human occupation may be older than 116,000 years.

4. On the other hand the Aboriginal person is implicitly the fossilised representative of an earlier age; simultaneously contemporary and timeless.

5. Real Aborigines are associated with landscapes ‘out there’—at the centre, on the frontier. The link is explicitly not with the urban landscapes where the majority of Australians live. This also reinforces the nexus between ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘primitive’, connoting a powerlessness to change the landscape.

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

Head, L.
Risky representations: The 'seduction of wholeness' and the public face of Australian archaeology
June 1998
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