Students of Australian prehistory were once thin on the ground and interest in the field was equally limited. But that all began to change in the 1960s when work opportunities in the field began opening up. The search for archaeological traces of Australia’s ever more remote inhabited past was at last taking off as a discipline in the nation’s expanding universities.
Importantly, the subject already had acquired a dynamic exponent and champion in the person of John Mulvaney from Melbourne University. Mulvaney had completed an important transition while teaching in the history department there in the 1950s and early 1960s. Originally a student of Roman Britain, he began doing fieldwork at indigenous sites on the Murray River, at Cape Otway and in Central Queensland. He was undertaking academic work that would eventually lead to him being hailed as the father of Australian archaeology.
Mulvaney knew that his academic specialty was gaining traction. On January 21, 1964, he delivered a public lecture on Australian archaeology in Canberra, which ended on an optimistic note. “Mr Mulvaney,” a Canberra Times report noted, “said stirring opportunities existed for future research now that universities were taking more interest in archaeology.”
Mulvaney had a vision. However, the opportunities and interest that he hailed in early 1964 still had to make their way through the grinding mechanism of academic appointment, promotion and patronage. There is always scope for fallibility, laziness and flawed vision to come into play when appointments to university posts are made.
Against this background it is instructive to consider the fate of a Cypriot scholar, Dr A.I. Dikigoropoulos, and the failed attempt to incorporate him into the burgeoning profession of archaeology in Australia. What happened to Dr Dikigoropoulos is a cautionary tale and offers a clear demonstration of how getting a job as an academic at an Australian university can be a tricky business. Often there is no discernible connection between having great merit and being appointed.
The Dikigoropoulos case intimately involves that contentious figure, the late Professor Manning Clark. The action centres on what happened in 1964 when a vacancy occurred in Professor Clark’s Department of History at the Australian National University in Canberra.
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One of Clark’s close colleagues at this time was Professor Herbert “Joe” Burton. Professor Burton, an economic historian by training, was Principal of the Faculty of Arts at the ANU from 1949 to 1965. Private letters between Burton and Clark, which Burton retained, are included in Manning Clark’s personnel file, now held at the ANU archives. Amid the chitchat preserved in these letters one significant episode stands out. At stake was a possible further welcome increase in the academic attention being paid to Australian prehistory.
The letters reveal that in the early 1960s Clark had several informal conversations with Burton concerning the unprecedented local interest in our nation’s prehistory. The highlight of these chats, according to Burton, came when Clark indicated that he was interested “in developing studies in the pre-history of this country and the Pacific area”. Ancient History, with a focus on the Middle East and ancient Greece and Rome, was already taught in his history department. The time had come to move back in time from this established field into the far less explored area of Australian prehistory.
Clark, and through him Burton, was attuned to the growing academic interest in this area. This awareness was, ostensibly, a good thing because it opened up the possibility of increased institutional support for a serious and fertile subject of study. However, at the first opportunity, the desired change in direction was not forthcoming. Clark’s personnel file shows what happened when Burton sought to give flesh to Clark’s new way of thinking by actually suggesting that a paid academic position be given to someone who knew about practical archaeology.
A suitable opportunity opened up in the winter of 1964 when Dr Tim Suttor, a zealous Catholic convert who lectured in Ancient History in Clark’s history department, resigned to take up an academic appointment at Toronto. The ANU moved to fill the vacancy. Applications were invited to fill the post of Senior Lecturer or Lecturer. Applications were particularly invited “from scholars working in Ancient History or in European History before 1800”. A committee, which reported to Joe Burton, was appointed to consider the applications and to recommend a ranked shortlist of eligible candidates.
This standard process went ahead in Professor Clark’s absence. Until late August 1964 he was overseas on extended study leave—primarily gathering material for his controversial epic A History of Australia. To put it mildly, Clark was hard to contact. This meant that back in relatively remote Canberra the task of prosecuting Clark’s prehistorical agenda fell to his diligent academic colleague Burton.
As its deliberations progressed, Burton was alarmed to discover that the committee charged with filling the vacancy could not be relied on. Burton’s attention was focused on the fate of one hopeful candidate in particular. His full name was Andreas Ioannis Dikigoropoulos and he had posted a written application from Nicosia.
The paperwork submitted to the committee showed that Dikigoropoulos had impressive credentials as an archaeologist. A graduate of Oxford University, where in 1961 he obtained a PhD which examined Cyprus in the Byzantine era, Dikigoropoulos served as Associate Curator of Ancient Monuments in the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus for over a decade. He dug up Byzantine coins and pottery at places such as Polis and Kharcha in Cyprus and had also recently assisted in cataloguing Byzantine coins in collections in Washington.
This excellent experience stood Dikigoropoulos in good stead with the appointments committee in Canberra but it was not yet enough to carry the day. Only two of the applicants for the vacant position were shortlisted as being at all suitable and the Cypriot was one of them. That was the good news. The bad news was that Dikigoropoulos was ranked second and there were usually no prizes for not coming first.
As he indicated in his correspondence with Manning Clark, Professor Burton was perplexed by the panel’s decision. It seemed to him that Dikigoropoulos “had much more experience and background training” in the field of Ancient History than all the other candidates, whether shortlisted or not. Even more pertinently, Dikigoropoulos seemed to fit in neatly with Clark’s professed desire for his department to foster the study of Australian prehistory.
Dikigoropoulos, Burton emphasised to Clark, had proven interests in archaeology as well as in Ancient History. His skills as an archaeologist could readily be transferred, Burton suggested, from “the Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations to the civilisations in this part of the world”.
Burton was an experienced academic head-hunter. His recruits included Manning Clark himself, whom he had helped bring to the then Canberra University College in 1949.
Dikigoropoulos was an excellent scholar who deserved to be working in Australia. However, his candidacy had a major drawback, which Burton had to acknowledge. It related to personal rather than academic considerations. Dikigoropoulos had nominated Professor Dale Trendall, formerly Professor of Greek and Archaeology at Sydney University and at the time Master of University House at the ANU, as one of his referees. Dikigoropoulos and Trendall had been colleagues in the 1950s in the British School at Rome, which was a notable centre of archaeological expertise.
Trendall, in his reference as summarised for Clark by Burton, said that he thought “quite well” of Dikigoropoulos and praised his “excellent experience”. Nevertheless he also felt that the Cypriot “might be slightly difficult as a person”.
The difficulty in question related to academic politics. The Department of Antiquities in Nicosia seems to have been affected by the tension that gripped Cyprus at large in the troubled period leading up to its gaining independence from Britain in 1960. In the department, there was ill feeling between pro- and anti-British elements. Dikigoropoulos, accused by some colleagues of being too pro-British, was on the losing side and had to leave the Department of Antiquities in 1960. So his recent path had evidently not been smooth—which seldom looks good in a job application.
Dikigoropoulos clearly had lead in his saddle but still Burton did not despair. He knew that in academia, as elsewhere in the job market, it was not unheard of for successful candidates for whatever reason to turn down an appointment when it was formally offered. There was still a chance of recruiting Dikigoropoulos if this did happen. Burton felt that Dikigoropoulos had to be kept in the loop and at the very least deserved an interview.
With this end in mind, Burton attempted to set up a meeting between Dikigoropoulos and the sometimes dilatory Clark. Burton sent a letter to Dikigoropoulos in Nicosia in which he encouraged the Cypriot, if it were at all possible, to contact the peripatetic Clark, who was in London finishing up a long period of study leave.
Time was pressing because Clark had to return to Australia soon. Burton accordingly informed Dikigoropoulos that the ANU was prepared to fund a quick dash from Nicosia to London to enable Dikigoropoulos to speak with Clark about his experience and suitability in the fields of Ancient History and archaeology. Burton urged Clark to cable Dikigoropoulos in order to expedite the possible trip. But his matchmaking stumbled at the first hurdle. Dikigoropoulos duly wrote to Clark about a possible meeting. But when, in Clark’s words, “the letter from the man with the Greek name” did turn up in London, Clark found it seemingly too hard to arrange a visit to London in the few remaining days before he headed home to Canberra.
Hence there was no time for an interview. As was often the case, Clark was too busy, or self-important, to deal with life’s minutiae.
There would be no personal contact to build on. Clark, as a poor substitute, wrote to Dikigoropoulos, as he told Burton, “urging him to keep in touch with me in Canberra”. But with Manning Clark this was easier said than done.
Thereafter the tyranny of distance kicked in. It proved impossible to “keep in touch” with a stranger via letters crisscrossing the globe. Dikigoropoulos, despite Burton’s best endeavours, was no longer in contention when the vacancy was filled shortly after Clark returned to the ANU.
Dikigoropoulos’s prospects as an archaeologist were hit hard by what happened in 1964. He had left the Department of Antiquities in Nicosia for good and the Canberra option was over. In an act of resilience he began to re-train in London as a lawyer. He went on to pursue a successful career as a barrister in Cyprus.
So in a material sense Dikigoropoulos did not suffer. And yet there is still a nagging thought. The world of Australian prehistory experienced heroic growth after the 1960s. Had Manning Clark, at Joe Burton’s urging, tried to headhunt Dikigoropoulos in 1964 and paid him due attention, the flourishing field of Australian prehistory might well have become even stronger. Sadly, in large part due to Manning Clark’s inattention to detail, Dikigoropoulos was not afforded an opportunity that, in terms of qualifications and experience, was tailor-made for him.
It’s hard to say what might have happened if Dikigoropoulos had been invited to join the staff of the ANU. Manning Clark could have helped swing his appointment, but he didn’t. As a result, Australian intellectual and academic life may have been all the poorer. Missing out on appointing Dikigoropoulos was a lost academic opportunity.
Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University and the author of thirty-nine books, including a memoir My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey and Alan (“The Red Fox”) Reid: Pressman Par Excellence, co-written with Dr Stephen Holt.