Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Frederick David McCarthy: 13 August 1905- 18 November 1997

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Frederick David McCarthy: 13 August 1905- 18 November 1997

Article excerpt

In late November 1997 many of us lost a dear friend with the passing of Fred McCarthy. The Institute (from 1964 Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, from 1989 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) lost its foundation principal, the Australian Museum the curator who over several decades had established its Anthropology Division as an internationally recognised centre for research in archaeology and material culture. Aboriginal studies Australia-wide lost a scholar who had been at the forefront of pioneering work in so many of its fields. There are few whose lives have not, as Susan McDonald phrased it in the family's tribute at his farewell service, been `touched in one way or another', bringing both `admiration and delight'.

Fred McCarthy's career was remarkable. It spanned that seminal period, pre- and post-World War II, in which the various disciplines we associate with Aboriginal studies became established in Australian academic and intellectual life. During this period also the place of, and roles for, Indigenous societies and Aboriginal people within wider Australian society changed radically. Part of this change was a revolution bringing the direct involvement of Indigenous people into research in Aboriginal studies. These changes form the interactive context for senior scholars and administrators during that period.

Fred McCarthy was a significant figure both as scholar and as administrator. His career was remarkable for the level of its achievement, and the breadth of its contribution to the emergence of Aboriginal studies in Australia. Yet we remember him not only for this, but with deep affection for his quiet strength, his kindness and consideration and his unassuming but unwavering dedication. This dedication determined how he approached the tasks he had defined as significant in the various fields that came under his fostering care at the Australian Museum, or at the Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

We all have our special memories, and our own personal private professional debts for kindness shown, guidance and friendship offered. Among my happiest professional memories are those of visits in the early 1960s to the Australian Museum to discuss the finds from my New England excavations. Fred had proposed a culture history sequence for eastern Australia on the basis of his excavations in the Sydney District and at Capertee (1948, 1964), and with Elsie Bramell and HVV Noone written the definitive typology of the Australian stone tool corpus (1946). Unstinting of his time, he would guide me to relevant collections, and to the comparative literature, opening up new horizons for one just beginning to sense the magnitude of Australia's archaeology.

These personal qualities that shaped his professional life were also important in his family life, as has been clearly shown in the tributes from family members at the time of his death. His life from childhood was family-oriented, in the sharing of home and sporting activities. The breadth of Fred McCarthy's involvement in sport was perhaps not so well known to his professional colleagues. We can now appreciate the sources of his energy, kept at high levels by rowing, swimming, soccer and tennis as well as walking in the bush. He was also, I was told, an impressive figure on the ballroom floor (Doug Miles, pets. comm.). Even in his late eighties, he was an active long distance walker, albeit of suburban paths rather than the bush (Khan 1993, 2).

Given the time of his childhood, and the career expectations of the period, Fred McCarthy's schooling was only to age 14 when he left formal education to join the workforce. He was engaged by a local printery when a Leichhardt neighbour alerted him to an opportunity of applying for the position of library assistant at the Australian Museum. So began a long career at that institution. The young McCarthy is captured in a December 1920 group photograph of the museum staff (Khan 1993, 2). …

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