The Sydney School and the genesis of contemporary Australian rock art research

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


    Australian rock art research as a field of research has progressed through a series of phases, each with its own research aims, understandings and methods, and each dependent on the previous but also on the rise of archaeology as a discipline: the study of humans through their material remains. The earliest days of settler encounter/arrival/invasion in eastern Australia realised the endemic presence of Aboriginal rock art (Phillip 1789). But it was only in the 1800s that
    ethnographers began to document rock art as part of the long-term and widespread evidence for Aboriginal Australia’s cultural practices (e.g. Mathews 1894, 1896). This was part of a worldwide trend of learned societies and museums increasing anthropological understandings of cultural
    groups across the world and making significant collections of their material culture (Pitt Rivers 1882). At first steeped in antiquarian interests that spoke of the West’s own deep antiquity, the recording of people in place was encouraged by the learned societies of Great Britain and France, an ‘ethnomania’ (Thomas 2011:15) for increasingly vast audiences wanting to be informed by an
    ‘indefatigable’ collection of new and interesting facts (Thomas 2011:62). The accumulating curios and ‘facts’ in anthropological knowledge required arrangement into museum collections, which Hicks (2013) argues was central to the development of anthropology’s four-field approach (see below). The early 1900s thus saw a continued enhancement of rock art documentation
    across the continent with the professionalisation of specialist academic fields by people with varying backgrounds: for example, the Frobenius expeditions to the Pilbara and Kimberley, D.S. Davidson and Fred McCarthy across much of the continent, and later Bob Edwards through Central Australia (see Smith et al. 2021).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHistories of Australian Rock Art Research
    Subtitle of host publicationTerra Australis 55
    Editorsjo McDonald, Paul Tacon, Sally May, Ursula Frederick
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    PublisherANU Press
    Number of pages30
    ISBN (Electronic)9781760465360
    ISBN (Print) 9781760465353
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2022


    Dive into the research topics of 'The Sydney School and the genesis of contemporary Australian rock art research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
    • Histories of Australian Rock Art Research

      McDonald, J., Tacon, P. S. C., May, S. K. & Frederick, U., 3 Sep 2022, Australia: ANU Press. (Terra Australis 55)

      Research output: Book/ReportEdited book/Anthologypeer-review

      Open Access

    Cite this