Kim Mahood reviews 'Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering ancient Australia' by Billy Griffiths

Kim Mahood reviews 'Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering ancient Australia' by Billy Griffiths

Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering ancient Australia

by Billy Griffiths

Black Inc., $34.99 pb, 376 pp, 9781760640446

In Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering ancient Australia, Billy Griffiths describes the process of imagining the past through the traces and sediments of archaeology as ‘an act of wonder – a dilation of the commonplace – that challenges us to infer meaning from the cryptic residue of former worlds’. In his endeavour to infer meaning from this cryptic residue, Griffiths begins his wondering by sifting through the evidence, insights, enthusiasms, and mistakes of an articulate band of Cambridge-trained archaeologists who, from the 1960s, professionalised what had been the province of amateurs. Led by John Mulvaney, they halted the indiscriminate gathering of artefacts and human remains, brought rigorous techniques to the excavation of sites, and began to strip back the layers of time, aeon by aeon, to reveal the astonishing antiquity of human presence on the Australian continent.

By writing a history of the evolving discipline of Australian archaeology, Griffiths invites us to imagine a history of ancient Australia. The structure he has chosen serves his project well – to tell the stories of the significant players; the famous, the infamous, and the invisible; their personalities, methodologies, and discoveries – and, in so doing, to create a narrative that is accessible and compelling. It is a tale of the characters who dug the trenches, of the Indigenous people who objected to the cavalier approach of the early ‘cowboy’ archaeologists, of the political reverberations of archaeological finds within environmentally contested regions, of conflict and discovery and the shifting relations between white and Indigenous Australia.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Kim Mahood

Kim Mahood

Kim Mahood is the author of two non-fiction books: Position Doubtful (Scribe 2016) and the award-winning Craft for a Dry Lake, (Random House/Transworld, 2000). She wrote the much-circulated essay ‘Kartiya are like Toyotas – white workers on Australia’s cultural frontier’, and co-edited Desert Lake: art, science and stories from Paruku, (CSIRO, 2013). Her work is published in art, literary, and current affairs journals.

Published in April 2018, no. 400

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.