'Fire and Hearth' Forty Years On: Essays in Honour of Sylvia J. Hallam

By Davidson, Iain | Archaeology in Oceania, April 2012 | Go to article overview

'Fire and Hearth' Forty Years On: Essays in Honour of Sylvia J. Hallam


Davidson, Iain, Archaeology in Oceania


'Fire and hearth' Forty years on: essays in honour of Sylvia J. Hallam C. Bird and R.E. Webb (eds) Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 7, 2011. ISSN 0313 122X, ISBN 978-1-920843-65-6. Pp. xiii+142. A$33.75 online, A$45 print

This book celebrates the inventive mind of Sylvia Hallam, one of that small number of people whose work led to the establishment of a Department of Archaeology at an Australian university. I have always reckoned that although I disagree with many of her views, she has always been worth listening to because those views are generally backed up by good thinking and careful scholarship. I first met Sylvia at the AIAS conferences in 1974 where we were both in conversation with Alexander Marshack. Sylvia had already commented on one of his papers in Current Anthropology, and was keen to point out to him that some of his ideas about non-representational marking might be applied to the markings at Koonalda Cave. Characteristically,

Alex included such observations in his paper the next day. This volume has two copies of a photograph of Sylvia, a larger version as frontispiece and a small section as a cover photograph, seated beside one of the most remarkable of the many remarkable petroglyphs of the Dampier Archipelago (also illustrated as an inadequate line drawing in Ken Mulvaney's paper in this volume). This rock has several panels of apparently sequential marks which give every appearance of being some form of notation. We can be sure that Alex Marshack would have loved to try to interpret them. His joy would have been as great as that which shines out from Sylvia's face, doubtless because of this particular image, but also because of the whole complex of imagery and association of that extraordinary body of rock art. Sylvia, together with one of the editors of this volume, produced one of the best syntheses of the state of knowledge of the Dampier rock art (Bird and Hallam 2006) and has been a tireless defender of it in the face of the State Government's encouragement of industrial development.

The book has 16 papers, beginning with a characteristically thorough overview by Isabel McBryde who summarises the content of each of the papers, and following with a brief piece by John Mulvaney who, with equally characteristic generosity, evaluates Sylvia's published contributions in their historical context. There is a bibliography of her contributions over a 50-year period. The most notable omissions from this volume are papers that might have looked at the evidence for the use of fire in honour of Sylvia's ethnohistoric study of Fire and hearth (Hallam 1975) and one that might have developed the theme of the comparison between the colonisations of Australia and the Americas, which she reviewed in 1977 (Hallam 1977).

Martin Gibbs writes about an Aboriginal fish trap on the Swan coastal plain from his Honours thesis that Sylvia supervised. People more familiar with eastern Australia will be amused to see that a 1900 photograph of a wooden fish trap on the Murray River is from the Western Australian one. This is one of five papers by Sylvia's students, some from theses she supervised, all inspired by her approaches to Australian archaeology. The others are by Moya Smith on mobility in the Esperance region, Madge Schwede on site formation processes in the Swan Coastal Plain, Annie Clarke on post-contact changes in resource use and residence on Groote Eylandt, Caroline Bird and Jim Rhoads on the topographic archaeology of western Victoria, and a more personal account of Sylvia's influences from Steve Brown, Sue Kee and Anne McConnell. In addition there are three papers on Aboriginal history and biography that reflect another of Sylvia's great passions, by Bob Reece, Lois Tilbrook and Neville Green. The volume is finished by a paper by Patrick Armstrong on Darwin's writings about humanity.

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