“Are We There Yet?”

The challenge of Public Engagement with Australia’s Indigenous Past and its Implications for Reconciliation


  • Stephen Muller Ecology and Heritage Partners




community archaeology, indigenous archaeology, archaeology media, cultural heritage management, Australian History


The proposition “We are all archaeologists now”, appears to equate public interest in the past with the practice, theory and method of archaeology. To argue that this is not the case is not to adopt an elitist position but rather to consider the complexities of such a statement. The importance of public involvement in archaeology is acknowledged as both supporting, broadening and democratising the profession and the discussion of past lives and cultures. However, the limitations of generalised archaeological presentations, particularly as often presented in the general media is highlighted, noting that the ethical dimensions of archaeological practice is often ignored in favour of a methodological focus and attached with western bias. The application of an Australian context questions both the applicability and indeed relevance of the proposition to Traditional Owners for whom archaeological approaches may be viewed through the prism of past western cultural treatment and exploitation. Consequently the use of ‘we’ as an inclusive term is debatable within this contested cultural dimension. The limits of a general Australian public engagement and interest in Indigenous archaeology further undermines the proposition, although the potential for archaeology to play a positive ongoing role in promoting and supporting a reconciliation of these issues of understanding in collaboration with Traditional Owners is advocated. We may not all be archaeologists then, but we all have a stake in and role to play for a greater mutual understanding of the past and its effects on the present, with a view to the preservation of our collective cultural heritage.


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Author Biography

Stephen Muller, Ecology and Heritage Partners

Stephen Muller is a Cultural Heritage Advisor (archaeologist) for Ecology and Heritage Partners in Australian Indigenous and historical archaeology, and an associate member of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists (AACAI). The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Ecology and Heritage Partners.


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How to Cite

Muller, S. (2016). “Are We There Yet?”: The challenge of Public Engagement with Australia’s Indigenous Past and its Implications for Reconciliation. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 2(2), 230–234. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.v2i2.28429