Born in Melbourne on 25 June 1940, Graeme Pretty was one of the principal figures associated with the development of professional archaeology in the state of South Australia. Throughout his career, he worked closely with various Aboriginal communities to ensure that archaeological research contributed to the fulfilment of Indigenous goals and aspirations. Graeme was a member, secretary, and president of the Anthropological Society of South Australia between 1963 and 1979. He was also a member of AIATSIS from September 1965 until his resignation (because of illness) in May 2000, and served on its Advisory Panel in Material Culture from 1965 to 1980.
Graeme held various curatorial positions at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide from 1962 until 1994. These included assistant curator of anthropology (1962-65), curator of archaeology (1965-73), senior curator, Human Science Collections (1973-85) and senior curator of archaeology (1985-94). From 1994 until his death, he continued archaeological research as a research associate at the South Australian Museum and as a visiting fellow in the Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Adelaide.
In addition to his contributions to the state of South Australia, Graeme served in various capacities at the national and international levels in relation to the preservation and management of cultural heritage from Australia and the Pacific. These positions included consultant to the Papua New Guinea Museum and Art Gallery (1965--68), field director for the Unesco-Smithsonian Institution International Program for Urgent Ethnological Research (1969) in relation to preservation of material culture from the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, and specialist adviser in ethnic art for the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (1969-73) to coordinate the collection and curation of art from Australia and the Pacific in anticipation of the establishment of the Australian National Gallery.
Graeme completed a BA (Hons) degree, majoring in history and archaeology, in 1960 and a post-graduate Diploma in Education in 1961. Both degrees were awarded by the University of Sydney. Early archaeological fieldwork (1960-61) involved the mapping and excavation of Pleistocene limestone cave deposits in the coastal Nullarbor Plain region of southwestern South Australia. This research involved an investigation of the Koonalda Cave deposits under the supervision of Sandor (Alexander) Gallus (Gallus and Pretty 1967).
From 1962 to 1965, Graeme trained as an assistant curator of anthropology at the South Australian Museum under the supervision of Norman B Tindale. During this period, he worked with archaeological and ethnographic collections from Australia, the Pacific, Africa and the Americas. In addition, he continued archaeological field training at a range of sites, including Fromm's Landing (Mulvaney et al 1964) and Durras North Rockshelter (Lampert 1966), and conducted rescue excavations throughout South Australia and in Arnhem Land. As curator of archaeology at the South Australian Museum, Graeme visited museums in Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom and Europe during 1966-67 in order to become familiar with overseas collections, museum practice and research trends.
Tindale's close association with local South Australian Indigenous communities had a major impact on the archaeology practised by Graeme. Graeme involved Aboriginal eiders and community members in all stages of research projects addressing past Indigenous cultures and lifeways. His closest working relationships were with traditional custodians from the Adelaide Plains, lower Murray River and Coorong regions of South Australia. These included Muriel Van Der Byl (Kaurna), Colin Cook and Johnny Lindsay (Meru at Gerard Community), Richard Hunter (Mannum Community), and Val Power and Henry Rankine (Ngarrindjeri). Issues of concern included post-contact changes in Aboriginal health, health and self-esteem in contemporary communities, maintenance of oral tradition and cultural practices, curation and exhibition of Indigenous heritage, management and protection of Indigenous sites, development of secondary and tertiary teaching programs addressing past and contemporary Aboriginal lifeways, research with human remains, and relationships between archaeologists and Aboriginal communities, including direct involvement of a range of community members in archaeological research. …