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John Mulvaney - Emeritus Professor, historian and prehistorian

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CollectionsANU Emeritus Faculty Oral History Project
Title: John Mulvaney - Emeritus Professor, historian and prehistorian
Author(s): Mulvaney, John
Stewart, Peter
Keywords: John Mulvaney
Emeritus Faculty
oral history
Publisher: Canberra, ACT : The Australian National University, Emeritus Faculty Inc.,
John Mulvaney joined ANU in 1965, and was Professor of Prehistory in the Faculty of Arts from 1971 to 1985, when he took early retirement and became, among other things, Honorary Secretary of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Professor Mulvaney has written extensively on Australian history and prehistory including most recently his autobiography. He has been an executive officer of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, founder member of the Australian Heritage Commission, and activist in heritage and conservation causes. Interview abstract: Derek John Mulvaney was born in Yarram, Victoria in 1925. His Irish immigrant father was a primary school teacher whose transfers around Victoria were decided by the schooling needs of John and his four siblings. Following year 11 at Frankston High School, John became a trainee teacher, a career move which he soon realized was unlikely to work. However, by then the war against Japan had begun and John joined the RAAF as a navigator. His training took him to Canada, then England, but the end of the war in Europe prevented him from embarking on what would have been a risky extension to his career, in Lancaster bombers. Instead, John’s short encounter with life in England engaged his historian’s curiosity, provoking him to explore villages, churches, graveyards, and other historical sites on his days off. Returning to Australia late in 1945, John arrived in time to begin the next academic year, and thus to set out on one of the signal intellectual and life-shaping events for him – enrolment in Melbourne University as an honours student in history, funded by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. Completing his degree, John was persuaded by Professor Max Crawford to enroll for postgraduate study at Melbourne. Then, graduating MA with first class honours, John had his first encounter with ANU, as an applicant for a graduate scholarship. John’s preference for prehistory had by then been decided from his studies at Melbourne, but his ANU application set out a unique request – that he be permitted to use the graduate scholarship to enroll in undergraduate study, in Paleolithic archaeology, at Cambridge University. Cambridge was then one of few university centers interested in archeology beyond the Old World. Enrolled in that two-year course, John took part in his first archeological digs – in England and Ireland, Denmark, and importantly, in Cyrenaica, Libya. His career was launched.


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