2020 Seddon Lecture

24 September 2020


The Deep History of Place: 50,000 years of the origins of place in WA

The 2020 George Seddon Memorial Lecture by Peter Veth, Professor of Archaeology UWA

Western Australia is a ‘living landscape’ reflecting over 50,000 years of Aboriginal use, modification, management and inscription. Across the deserts to the sea, and from the southern forests to the Tropics, there are now multiple sites dated back to 50,000 years and older. Habitation and art sites hold unique records of the plants and animals people used (some of which are now extinct), the technologies invented often as global firsts, and the long-distance exchange of shell, ochre and artefacts across enormous areas including the drowned shelf of northern Australia. Rockshelters preserve figurative art dating to the Pleistocene and studies of habitation structures and fish traps show they have been constructed at much larger scales than previously thought. The Deep History of Place shows that all landscapes are anthropogenic, with long practices of firing and resource use, spiritual ownership and maintenance. A better understanding of these values provides a critical scaffold to more effectively manage land- and seascapes. In light of major advances made in the co-management of conservation and cultural estates, and yet given the wake-up call of the Juukan disaster, we face unheralded challenges and opportunities in ensuring heritage futures and a place for all.  

Professor Peter Veth has carried out collaborative archaeological programs with Traditional Owners and Custodians throughout the Western Desert, Kimberley, coastal Pilbara, North-West Shelf and Goldfields. He has worked on cultural heritage and native title projects including the National Heritage and Tentative World Heritage Listing of Murujuga (Dampier Archipelago), the Ngarluma-Yindjibarndi native title claim and the Australian Research Council Canning Stock Route Project. He has held teaching, research and directorship positions at JCU, the ANU, AIATSIS and UWA. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 2005 and awarded the Rhys Jones Medal in 2014 for outstanding contributions to Australian Archaeology. He was the inaugural Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art and has just finished a term as Director of the Oceans Institute. He is now focusing on the deep history of the deserts, extending from the arid coast of Ningaloo at North West Cape to the linear dunefields and isolated ranges of the Western Desert. He works with a range of Quaternary scientists, ecologists and Traditional Owners and Rangers to help create new syntheses of the vast cultural estates of Western Australia.    

About Emeritus Professor George Seddon AM

George Seddon (1927-2007) was an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Melbourne and a Senior Honorary Research Fellow in English at The University of Western Australia. He was a Fellow of the Royal Australian Planning Institute, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, and the Australian Academy of Humanities. His books include Swan River Landscapes, A Landscape for Learning and Sense of Place. He was awarded the Eureka Prize from the Australian Museum in 1995, the Mawson Medal from the Academy of Science in 1996 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Planning Institute of Australia.

The George Seddon Memorial Lecture is presented by the Institute of Advanced Studies and Friends of the Grounds at The University of Western Australia.

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