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Professor John Mulvaney AO CMG

1925 – 2016

Emeritus Professor Derek John Mulvaney AO CMG (1925–2016), one of Australia’s foremost prehistorians, has often been described as the father of Australian archaeology. In the 1950s he began archaeological investigations into the history of the continent up to the time of white settlement. Successive research teams were able to re-establish the age of human presence in Australia: from 13 000 years in 1962, to 20 000 years by 1965, to 30 000 years by 1970 and a probable 40 000 years by 1980. These findings forced archaeologists and anthropologists around the world to change their thinking about how Homo sapiens came to settle the planet. From 1970 to 1985, Mulvaney held the first Chair in Prehistory at the Australian National University. He was a scintillating lecturer, and mentor to staff and students alike. Both on and off campus he promoted awareness of Australia’s archaeological heritage, campaigning for the World Heritage listing of Kakadu and powerfully opposing the damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River. After ‘retiring’ in 1985, Professor Mulvaney kept working; he was secretary of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and wrote and edited major books including the memoir Digging up a Past (2011).

Updated 2018