Dr Luise Anna Hercus AO

January 16, 1926 to April 15, 2018


It is with great sadness that the Australian Archaeological Association learned of the recent passing of our friend and colleague, Dr. Luise Anna Hercus. Born in 1926, Luise and her Jewish family escaped Nazi Germany in 1938.  She later studied and taught French at Oxford, immigrating to Australia in 1954 with her husband Dr. Graham Hercus.

Luise became a celebrated Aboriginal linguist and lecturer at the Australian National University, authoring hundreds of articles, books and monographs on Aboriginal history and culture.  She worked her entire adult life as a linguist, participating on remote fieldwork projects in the Simpson Desert as recently as 2017, at the age of 91.

As some of you have seen, there have been a number of tributes written about her incredible life and scholarly contributions, including this article in The Australian:


Many of our members were fortunate to work with Luise, and we asked those that knew her to share some of their memories of her as a colleague and her interactions with archaeologists.

Dr. Marjorie Sullivan and Dr. Philip Hughes, who worked with Luise in the deserts of far north South Australia, recall these memories:

    • Luise was fiercely independent. She was friendly but private, and even as she grew old and physically more frail she hesitated to ask for assistance, and tried to maintain her independence. She loved the bush near Canberra, and lived happily with an assortment of domestic and native animals. Her love of wombats, in particular the very large semi-domesticated ‘Rainbow’, meant most of the wooden door of her house had been burrowed or tunnelled to accommodate her companions. Over the last decade of her life when she became less agile, Luise had to move the wombats out, as they became a tripping hazard or were too affectionate and prone to knocking her over. But she remained happy to live much of the time alone, on her bush block.
    • Luise was an excellent observer of the material culture of the desert people she worked with. She understood the importance of resource areas to the archaeological patterning of the landscape, and she tried to engage archaeologists or other specialists who could better record quarry sites and other resource areas. Isabel McBryde worked with Luise on quarries where large sandstone slabs were taken to make grinding dishes, and together they recorded the nature and use of these sites. We later worked on an unusual very extensive silcrete quarry Luise had recorded on a journey with Kuyani people. She had questioned the origin of the material described by other ethnographers as ‘chert’  or ‘jasper’ and was pleased when we visited to site (using her instructions and a map she had drawn many years previously) with Mick McKenzie and were able to explain its nature and origin in a way that made sense.
    • Luise was candid and honest in her interactions with people. Although she certainly did not set out to give offence, she was outspoken in her opinions and conclusions, even if this annoyed her colleagues. Overwhelmingly however Luise had a sharp sense of humour – which was both self-deprecating and at times directed at the people with whom she was speaking. I think she found many people comical. Again she was honest, and perhaps some people were offended if she laughed at them, but mostly she laughed with them.

As a recorder of Aboriginal languages, Luise forged many friendships with indigenous groups around Australia that spanned generations.  Senior Kuyani Man and archaeologist Mick Mckenzie shared some of his family’s personal experiences with Luise::

    • Luise came to the Flinders Ranges around the late 1950’s to 60’s and was interviewing my Grandparents Angus & Eileen Mckenzie and their daughter Aunty Myra Mckenzie whom all have contributed languages fluently to Luise. We visited her at Canberra with the help of Philip Hughes, Marjorie Sullivan and Adrian Henham who took us to ANU and introduced us to her. As soon as I heard her voice from a distance I knew it was her from listening to her tapes interviewing my Grandparents. I said, your voice has never changed with a smile but we both smiled with a tear because my Grandparents and Aunty Myra weren’t there. I spoke and sang a song in Kuyani to her, and she got so excited that she has never heard anyone else do that for a very long time. Her question was, Mick where were you in the fifties? My reply, sorry I wasn’t born Ha.ha.ha.ha we laughed. I kept the tradition alive!
    • Rosemary Mckenzie (my oldest sister) from Andamooka has had countless conversations with her also, and Luise has touched many out here to the west/north and south of the Flinders Ranges. She will be sadly missed by us McKenzie’s from the Wilpena Pound, Martins Well Station and Hawker areas where she walked a longtime ago learning and recording Kuyani, Wailpi, Yadliaurha and Piladappa languages with my close families.

Mick further shares the following memorium to Luise:

Yura (Thura) Ngawarla
Ngachu Adnyani, Nguarli , Artapi kinjara Ikandha Ardla niarringha

My Grandparents and Aunty are waiting for you near a warm fire.
Rest In Peace my dear from the Mckenzie’s and Clark’s

Luise Hercus was 92 when she passed, and she worked almost right to that point. She was an energetic and enthusiastic scholar and a very professional record-keeper and writer.  Her contribution to the study of Australian Aboriginal languages is important and inspiring. She is survived by her son, Dr Iain Hercus, and daughter-in-law, Dr Anne-Mari Hercus.