Woman McBryde, Isabel (1934 - )

Freemantle, Western Australia, Australia

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Isabel McBryde was born in Fremantle Western Australia in 1934. Soon after the family moved to Melbourne where she attended school and the University of Melbourne, studying Latin and Ancient History. Courses in Archaeology were not then available to meet her long-held wishes to become an archaeologist. These wishes were to be fulfilled when she studied in Cambridge on completion of her Master's research in Roman history at Melbourne. McBryde's later career as a leading Australian archaeologist has been notable. She is recognised as one of the founders of the discipline in this country and has also been influential in diversifying the directions of the field of archaeology in Australia since the 1960s, especially its cross-disciplinary engagement with anthropology, linguistics, history and the sciences. In her research petrologists were important colleagues.

From 1960 McBryde held a teaching position in Prehistory and Ancient History at the University of New England. There she established courses in archaeology and prehistory to train the future archaeologists so urgently needed to research the past of Aboriginal Australia. In her approaches to teaching and research at New England she stressed the importance of a regionally focused archaeology, with field survey and site recording to provide significant context for the investigation of key sites by excavation. Contacts with local Aboriginal communities and other local groups were also important to her. This contact was based on recognition of their concerns about the places holding significance for them. She also respected and welcomed the sharing of traditional knowledge about such places, and how they should be treated.

In 1974 McBryde left New England to take up an appointment at the Australian National University, and in 1986 became its professor of Prehistory/Archaeology in the Faculties. In her roles at UNE and ANU (both teaching and research) she exerted a lasting influence. Her research into the archaeology of trade and exchange, and her studies of the exploitation of stone resources, especially those of the greenstone quarries of south-eastern Australia (as at Mt William) have inspired and shaped archaeological approaches to such studies both in Australia and internationally. Her sense of the archaeological past as 'peopled' together with her focus in research on addressing social questions as well as economic and technological issues was a significant element. It informed research interests that combine the field of archaeology, the sciences, history and cultural heritage. Within these interests she has developed and promoted approaches to research based not only on prior consultation with Indigenous people and other stakeholders, but on their active collaboration and involvement in the research. Throughout her career McBryde has had close involvement with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies from its foundation (as AIAS) in the 1960s; she served on several of its advisory committees since that time.

McBryde has worked extensively outside the academy, especially where concerns to preserve and protect Australian cultural heritage are involved. From 1970 she served on various advisory committees of the New South Wales National Park and Wildlife Service, responsible for implementing that state's protective legislation relating to Aboriginal places and administrating permits for archaeological research in the state. She also served on the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Interim Advisory Committee (NSW) (1993-1996) preparing for the eventual return of such control to an Aboriginal administration. Nationally she served as a Commissioner with the Australian Heritage commissions for six years, also as a member of the later National Heritage Forum, the Board of management for Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, and the Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee for the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area. As a member of Australia ICOMOS she has served in its Executive Committee.

McBryde retired from the Australian National University late in 1994, but remains a Professor Emerita of the University and has held Honorary Visiting Fellowships at the ANU and the Australian Institute of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). She is currently a member of the Board of the ANU's Institute for Professional Practice in Heritage and the Arts (IPPHA). From its inception in 1975 she has been a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Aboriginal History. She is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (London) and of the Australian Academy at the Humanities. In 1990 she was created an Officer in the national order of Australia honours (AO) and in 2003 received the Australian Archaeological Association's Rhys Jones Medal - the Associations highest award.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Isabel McBryde interviewed by Martin Thomas, 17 August 2004 - 19 August 2004, ORAL TRC 5194; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Binns, R. A. and McBryde, I., A Petrological Analysis of Ground-Edge Artefacts from Northern New South Wales, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1972. Details
  • Macfarlane, Ingereth, Many Exchanges: Archaeology, History, Community and the Work of Isabel McBryde, Aboriginal History, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2005. Details
  • McBryde, Isabel, Aboriginal Prehistory in New England: An Archaeological Survey of Northeastern New South Wales, Sydney University Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 1974. Details
  • McBryde, Isabel, Records of Times Past: Ethnohistorical essays on the culture and ecology of the New England Tribes, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1982. Details
  • McBryde, Isabel, Coast and Estuary: Archaeological Investigations on the North Coast of NSW, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1982. Details
  • McBryde, Isabel, Who owns the past?: Papers from the Annual Symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Australian Academy of the Humanities.14th Symposium Australian Academy of Science (1983), Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1985. Details
  • McBryde, Isabel, Guests of the Governor: Aboriginal Residents of the First Government House, The Friends of the First Government House Site, Sydney, New South Wales, 1989. Details

Journal Articles

  • McBryde, Isabel, 'A Tribute to Isobel Mary White', Aboriginal History, vol. 21, 1997, pp. ix - xi. Details

Online Resources

See also