The Australian National University has a large number of staff (including those affiliated with the ANU) and students undertaking rock art research in Australia and overseas. The following is a brief overview of their work. For all enquiries relating to the Rock Art Research Centre please use the contact details listed at Contact Us.



Christopher Chippindale

Curator, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology

Chris is an archaeologist, rock-art researcher and editor, currently at Cambridge University, England, where he is a curator at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology and attached to the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research.





Dr. Stewart Fallon

Post Doctoral Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

Stewart arrived at the Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU in 2006 to take over the new Accelerator Mass Spectrometer based Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory. Stewart has constructed two sample preparation laboratories and the lab has dated ~4000 samples since full time operation began in late 2007. Stewart is a geochemist and climatologist by training but since taking over the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory he has expanded into Archaeological research projects. He is currently working with Sally May and Paul Taçon dating bees wax rock art paintings from Arnhem Land. His interests lie in understating and calibrating radiocarbon dates and the marine reservoir effect on radiocarbon dates.



Josephine Flood

Adjunct Research Fellow, Centre for Archaeological Research, ANU

Josephine Flood was born in England and attended Cambridge University where she gained her BA degree in Classics. In 1963 she moved to Canberra and lectured in Classical Archaeology at the Australian National University. She then switched into Australian archaeology and completed an MA and PhD. In 1980 she published ‘The Moth Hunters: Aboriginal prehistory of the Australian Alps’ and in 1983 ‘Archaeology of the Dreamtime: the story of prehistoric Australia and its people’. From 1979 till 1991 She was Assistant Director of the Australian Heritage Commission, heading the Aboriginal heritage section. She developed a strong interest in rock art, carrying out seven seasons of fieldwork in Cape York and the Katherine region of the Northern Territory. She published a guidebook to heritage places ‘The Riches of Ancient Australia’ in 1990 (3rd edition 1999) and ‘Rock Art of the Dreamtime: images of ancient Australia’ in 1997. She is now an independent researcher and her most recent book is ‘The Original Australians: story of the Aboriginal People’ (2006), which was a finalist for the Prime Minister’s history prize in 2007. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a recipient of the Centenary Medal in 2003.


Ursula Frederick

PhD Candidate and Project Officer, Research School of Humanities & the Arts, ANU

Ursula came to the RSHA (formerly Centre for Cross Cultural Research) in 2001 after three years as an archaeologist in the private sector. Prior to this she completed an MA (Research) in Archaeology at the ANU and a BA (Hons) in Fine Arts at UWA. Her MA thesis was concerned with exploring continuity and transformation in the social context of rock art production during the process of Aboriginal-European contact in central Australia.

Ursula's primary research interests include art, material culture studies and the archaeology and history of cross-cultural exchange. Ursula's interest in the arts is presently motivated by the study of art as expression of personal, social and cultural identity and agency. Particular areas of investigation include the arts of Indigenous Australia, contemporary photography and printmedia, and graffiti. Her archaeological research is directed towards the social dimensions of archaeology and cultural heritage studies, landscape archaeology, studies of place and the intangible. She is also interested in contemporary archaeologies and the ways archaeology is communicated within popular culture.



Robert G. 'Ben' Gunn

Ben specialises in the recording and management of Australian Aboriginal rock art. He has over 30 years experience in the field held the inaugural George Chaloupka Fellowship with the Museums & Art Galleries of the Northern Territory and was a founding member of the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA). As well as an ongoing project with the Jawoyn Association in Arnhem Land, he has worked on rock art throughout Australia with particular research interests in Central Australia and Uluru, Gariwerd (Grampians) in Western Victoria, the Upper Murchison and south-western regions of Western Australia, and Mutawintji in Far Western NSW.



Nicholas Hall

Program Coordinator, Institute for Professional Practice in Heritage and the Arts, ANU

Nicholas Hall undertakes work and research in the fields of heritage conservation and Indigenous economic development. His interests centre focus on the contemporary use of cultural heritage, new forms of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural production, cultural heritage conservation and management methods and the role of Indigenous cultural heritage in sustainable development. Nicholas is currently completing a PhD in sustainable tourism development in Indigenous communities with Charles Darwin University. The Industry-based project is funded by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre and Tourism NT. During three years in the Northern Territory as part of this research, Nicholas was based at ANU’s North Australia Research Unit (NARU). Over the last four years Nicholas has developed Stepping Stones for Tourism, a tourism development program for Aboriginal communities and emerging enterprises that helps set a sound foundation for enterprise development based on natural and cultural heritage. Over this time, Nicholas has been working with Indigenous groups in northern Australia to prepare tourism development plans for Indigenous enterprises and management and tourism plans for Aboriginal land and protected areas. The experiences of this work is the subject of Nicholas’ PhD thesis ‘Following the footsteps: The evolution of a framework for tourism development in Indigenous settings’, currently being completed.



Professor Peter Hiscock

School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU

Peter teaches Australian archaeology in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology in CASS at ANU. His recent text book, Archaeology of Ancient Australia, winner of the Mulvaney Book Award, emphasises the evidence that can be obtained from rock art and at the same time illustrates his view that in writing the pre-history of this continent we must strive to integrate rock art interpretations with the findings of other forms of archaeological investigations. His interests extend beyond Australia, to South Africa where he is currently conducting a major archaeological research project on the emergence of behavioural modernity at the MSA/LSA boundary, as well as to Europe where his research on Middle Palaeolithic sites help to illuminate the nature of the Upper Palaeolithic transition there.



Dr Diana James

Project Manager - Rock Art and Tjurrkupa (Canning Stock Route), ARC Linkage Project, Research School of Humanities & the Arts, ANU

Diana is an anthropologist who has worked with the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people of Central Australia since 1975. She is a student of Western Desert language and culture, and reciprocally has worked with communities in the bilingual education and the arts at Fregon, Papunya, Docker River and Pipalyatjara. From 1988-2000 Diana managed Desert Tracks cultural tourism enterprise with the family at Angatja in the Mann Ranges. She acknowledges with respect the generously shared oral wisdom tradition of song, story and performance of her Anangu teachers. Diana is currently undertaking ethnographic research into the Canning Stock Route; the intersection of traditional trading routes, social mobility patterns and Tjukurpa lines with significant rock art sites.



Dr Sally K. May

School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU

Sally K. May is convenor of the Graduate Program in Liberal Arts (Cultural and Environmental Heritage) and Senior Lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology. Sally's PhD was in interdisciplinary cross-cultural research and focused on the role of art and community art centres in remote Indigenous Australian communities. Her research interests include indigenous archaeology, rock art studies, cultural heritage management, archaeology of art, museum studies, cross-cultural encounters, anthropology of collecting.



Professor Howard Morphy

School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU

Howard Morphy (BSc, MPhil London, PhD ANU, FASSA, FAHA, CIHA) is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University. Prior to returning to the Australian National University in 1997, he held the chair in Anthropology at University College London. Before that he spent ten years as a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. He is an anthropologist of art and visual anthropologist having co- edited two of the main source books in the respective fields The Anthropology of Art: a Reader (2006, Blackwell's, with Morgan Perkins) and Rethinking Visual Anthropology (1997, Yale University Press, with Marcus Banks). He has written extensively on Australian Aboriginal art with a monograph of Yolngu Art, Ancestral Connections (Chicago 1991), a general survey Aboriginal Art (Phaidon, 1998) and most recently Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories (Berg, 2007). He has also produced a pioneering multimedia biography The Art of Narritjin Maymuru with Pip Deveson and Katie Hayne (ANU epress 2005). He has conducted extensive fieldwork with the Yolngu people of Northern Australia, and collaborated on many films with Ian Dunlop of Film Australia and has curated many exhibitions including Yingapungapu at the National Museum of Australia. With Frances Morphy he helped prepare the Blue Mud Bay Native Title Claim which as a result of the 2008 High Court judgement recognised Indigenous ownership of the waters over the intertidal zone under the Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. His involvement in e-research and in the development of museum exhibitions reflects his determination to make humanities research as accessible as possible to wider publics and to close the distance between the research process and research outcomes. In 2008 he was one of the organising committee of the major CIHA conference in Melbourne Crossing Cultures: conflict, migration, convergence.



Professor Susan O'Connor

College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU

Susan is currently conducting a major archaeological research project in East Timor investigating the cultural and environmental changes that took place across the Neolithic transition and into the Metal Age. This project complements and builds on previous research in the eastern Maluku region and Wallacea and current research in Papua New Guinea which is investigating Pleistocene colonisation in Island Southeast Asia and Greater Australia and subsequent patterns of migration, interaction and exchange.



Professor Paul S.C. Taçon FAHA FSA

Chair in Rock Art Research, PERAHU, School of Humanities, Griffith University

Paul S.C. Taçon FAHA FSA is Chair in Rock Art Research and Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology in the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Queensland. He also directs Griffith University’s Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU). Prof. Taçon has conducted archaeological and ethnographic fieldwork since 1980 and has over 80 months field experience in remote parts of Australia, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, southern Africa, Thailand and the USA. Extensive field expeditions have been undertaken in rugged, wild areas of the Northern Territory and Wollemi National Park, NSW, Australia. Prof. Taçon co-edited The Archaeology of Rock-art with Dr. Christopher Chippindale (1998 and republished 4 times) and has published over 190 academic and popular papers on prehistoric art, body art, material culture, colour, cultural evolution, identity and contemporary Indigenous issues. Prof. Taçon has made key archaeological discoveries in western Arnhem Land (NT) and Wollemi National Park (NSW) that have been published in journals and also have made world headlines. Much of his current research is related to better situating Australian archaeology and contact history in a Southeast Asian regional context and to more fully involving Indigenous peoples in archaeological research. Prof. Taçon leads the Protect Australia’s Spirit campaign devoted to raising awareness about and threats to Australia’s unique rock art heritage and the establishment of an Australian national rock art heritage strategy.



Current Research Students

The following is a list of students undertaking rock art-related studies at The Australian National University:


Vanessa Barbay

PhD candidate, School of Art, ANU
Title: Becoming Animal – Practice-led research into the status of animals in Australian visual culture

Abstract: In seeking to discover ways of painting animals that express, or at least incorporate in part, a “regime of involvement [as differentiated from] a regime of detachment,”[1] my research encompasses the collection of pigment from animals and their habitat; the examination of how modes of depiction can reflect the relationship between painter and animal subject; and the significance that an indigenous painter’s perspective would have on understanding an alternative to detachment in the representation of animals in art. The focus of my dissertation is the representation of animals in paintings by Indigenous Australians, in particular the definitive examples painted by senior men on rock shelters. While intent on recording all aspects of meaning in relation to particular examples at Gunbalanya or nearby outstations in Western Arnhem Land, I seek to establish how any familial connections between the painter and animal depicted are indicated in painting, and the relationship between the animal depicted and the ochre colours employed. I see the use of ochre and knowledge of its traditional significance in indigenous painting as a key tool for cross-cultural dialogue and an indicator of material possibilities in the translation of animal/human relations in Australia. I also consider the parallel study of dye colours used in indigenous weaving and their significance as derivative of plants from specific animal habitats an associated theoretical framework.

Supervisor: Nigel Lendon


John Hayward

PhD candidate, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU
Title: Reading the signs: Material culture and symbolism in the rock art of Mirarr Country, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.

The rock art of Mirarr country in the northern territory is unique for its diversity of styles and images which depict, amongst other things, a wide range of human activity and material culture. John's research focuses on the possible symbolism behind the varied motifs that are repeated across the landscape. This research is aligned with and supported by the Mirarr Rock Art Project (2011-2016).




Supervisory Panel: Dr. Sally K. May. Dr. Catherine Frieman. Professor Paul S. C. Taçon.



Samantha Higgs

PhD candidate, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU
Title: Past and Present: Art of the Canning Stock Route

Abstract: Sam is undertaking her PhD research as the APAI scholar associated with the ARC Linkage Canning Stock Route Project: Rock art and Jukurrpa. She is interested in exploring how the visual imagery of traditional culture has continued and been transformed in the modern world. She is studying rock art along the Canning Stock Route and comparing this with the iconography of the acrylic paintings being produced at the art centres located around the stock route today. She is interested in understanding how Martu see the two art forms in relation to their dreaming stories and how both art forms are used to represent connections to country and dreaming narratives. She is particularly interested in working with women and their stories and totemic geographies.

Supervisory panel: Jo McDonald & Howard Morphy


Iain G. Johnston

PhD candidate, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU
Title: People, objects and animals in Dynamic Figure rock art: reflections of society and environment

Abstract: This thesis is a focused study of the Dynamic Figure style of rock art in Northern Australia and explores the extent to which depictions of people, objects and animals by Aboriginal rock artists tell us about their society, organisation and environment.

Iain is a PhD candidate of the School of Archaeology and Anthropology and his thesis is linked to the Mirarr Rock Art Project in the Northern Territory of Australia. Iain has an interest in Australia’s cultural heritage and particularly traditional Indigenous cultural management.

Supervisors: Sally K. May, Ines Domingo Sanz & Luke Taylor


Tristen Jones

PhD candidate, Department of Archaeology and Natural History, ANU

Title: Disentangling styles and chronologies of the early art of Western Arnhem Land

Utilising Red Lily Lagoon heritage precinct as a case study, this research will re-assess the stylistic chronologies of early period rock-art styles in western Arnhem Land focusing on those art styles assumed to be of Pleistocene and early Holocene antiquity. The thesis will record a number of rock-art sites and undertake an analysis of the motifs, associated styles and sequences, comparing new rock-art data to the existing chronological framework. It will also assess other methods utilised by previous researchers as modes to assess the antiquity of rock-art motifs. This stylistic analysis is also supplemented by a rock-art radiocarbon dating program, supported by AINSE and ANSTO.


Supervisory Panel: Prof. Susan O’Connor, Prof. Paul S.C. Tacon, Assoc. Prof. Geoffrey Clark, Dr. Vladimir Levchenko, Dr. Penelope King and Dr. Christian Reepmeyer


Melissa Marshall (nee Johnson)

PhD candidate, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU
Title: 21st Century Approaches to the Conservation of Rock Art Sites in Australia

Abstract: For my PhD research I will investigate the natural and cultural impacts on rock art sites in Australia today. The ongoing preservation of these sites, through consultation with Indigenous community groups, will be a focus for the research, along with the development of programs for assessment and monitoring. This will culminate in the development of a framework for a National Rock Art Conservation Strategy that adheres to the principles of the Burra Charter. To date, there is no such strategy even on a regional level. The management and conservation of rock art sites by archaeologists and others working in related fields is randomly undertaken, often with little understanding of the broader contextual issues, community consultation or the physical environmental factors within a site. The development of such a framework will enable future management to be undertaken with these guiding principles.

Supervisory panel: Sally K. May, Peter Hiscock, Paul S.C. Tacon & Jo McDonald


Noel Hidalgo Tan

PhD candidate, Department of Archaeology and Natural History, ANU
Title: Confluence or Coincidence? Rock art and Sacred Landscapes of Mainland Southeast Asia

Noel is a doctoral candidate graduate at the Australian National University at the Department of Archaeology and Natural History in the School of Culture, History and Language at the College of Asia and the Pacific; and a Visiting Associate at the Archaeology Unit of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. His current research focuses on documenting the newly-discovered rock art found in Cambodia and exploring the nature of rock art sites and religious landscapes in the region. His larger research interests are in the archaeology of Southeast Asia, and in particular the rock art of Southeast Asia. He runs the Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog (

Supervisory panel: Sue O'Connor, Paul Taçon, Dougald O'Reilly, Geoffrey Clark


Daryl Wesley

PhD candidate, Department of Archaeology and Natural History, ANU
Title: Baijini, Macassans, Balanda, and Bininj: Defining the Indigenous past of Arnhem Land through Culture Contact

Abstract: Daryl is undertaking his PhD as part of a three-year ARC Linkage project that is essentially a community-based cultural heritage research program in the Wellington Range and Anuru Bay region of western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. He will investigate changes that have occurred in Indigenous occupation of the Western Arnhem Land region in relation to contact with the mythological Baijini, the Macassans, and Europeans through the documentation and analysis of the unique rock art and archaeology of the region. The project also aims to implement innovative management frameworks that will provide Indigenous communities with opportunities to obtain national economic, social, and cultural benefits.

Supervisor: Sue O'Connor


If you are interested in studying rock art at the ANU please contact us.