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SEI Co-Director Iain McCalman discusses Billy Griffiths’ new book Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia

SEI News: SEI Co-Director Iain McCalman discusses Billy Griffiths’ new book Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia.

Image via @billy_griffiths Twitter

On Thursday 15th March, SEI Co-Director Professor Iain McCalman presented at the launch of Billy Griffiths’ book Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia.

The launch was hosted by Gleebooks, and the event included a conversation session between Iain and Billy. Iain spoke to him about the themes and structure of Deep Time Dreaming, and the challenges of turning a PhD thesis into a book aimed at general readers as well as specialists.

Below, Iain shares his appreciation for the book, and explains why it is a must-read.


It was a privilege and a pleasure to be asked to have a conversation with Billy Griffiths about his new book, Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia.

The title tells us everything we need to know about the book’s revolutionary contents. It tells us that Billy has taken on a massive theme, vast in scope and vast in its span of time. He here tells us the story of how we have come to know that Australia’s First Peoples have inhabited and looked after this continent for 65,000 years, making theirs the oldest continuing culture and civilisation on our planet.

To reveal this story of uncovering ancient Australia, Billy tells us a second interwoven story of why, how and who did the work of this uncovering, as well as the places on the continent where they did it. This is  the story of the rise and achievements of modern archaeology in Australia from its origins in the 1950s up to the present. In other words it has been uncovered within the lifetime of quite a few of us in this room.

In doing this, Billy has charted and given fresh impetus to the most far-reaching revision in Australia’s history. A revision that has extended that history from 1788 backwards for thousands of years. That is a very  long march for modern Australians, and one that we must all now undertake. In the process, we will find that this journey must  change both our national narratives and our understandings of the meaning of the past.  And as we undertake this long march, we will find, as Billy tells us, that everywhere we look beneath the surface veneer we will find ancient Australia.

Billy knows this not only because he has undertaken a prodigious amount of research among historical archives and archaeological documents, but also because he has himself participated in actual uncovering’s of ancient Australia with a trowel and a sieve in his hands.

And he tells this complex and inspiring story in such a vivid, exciting way. One of his reviewers calls the book ‘spellbinding,’  and so it is. Billy brings to life the ideas and achievements of a series of brilliant, eccentric and sometimes flawed men and women who have created our modern archaeology. And he shows us the power and beauty of unimaginably ancient places, sites, and landscapes where these revolutionary discoveries have been made. These discoveries have also entailed  encounters between the past and the present where  today’s  First Peoples of Australia have played a crucial part.  To adapt the words of the historian E.P. Thompson, Australian First Peoples have always been present at their own archaeological making. In the process, they have helped to shape Australian archaeology and give it a distinctive character. Thanks to their interventions, European-trained archaeologists have learnt to rethink their understandings of the nature and politics of knowledge, of the deeply problematic legacies of colonialism, and of the need to create new protocols of Indigenous respect, trust and collaboration.  Billy admits that this  engagement between  the past and present has never been easy, but it  has always been incredibly fertile.

So I say to Harrison Ford, and the Raiders of the Lost Ark eat your hearts out. For sheer excitement, Billy Griffiths’ Deep Time Dreaming  leaves you still in the starter’s blocks.

To find out more information on Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, click here.