Monument built by Bronze Age communities in Oman.

Bridging the past and present: The new Vere Gordon Childe Centre

19 June 2024
How researchers are developing a deeper understanding of the past
The Vere Gordon Childe Centre, a recently launched research hub at the University of Sydney, aims to understand global human diversity through the study of material culture, artistic representation, and intangible heritage.

The Vere Gordon Childe Centre (VGCC) promotes and empowers research into our understanding of the human past, its importance in the present and its lessons for the future. 

The Centre takes its name from University of Sydney graduate Vere Gordon Childe (1892 – 1957) notable for his achievements in archaeology and for his influence on the Australian labour movement.  

The Vere Gordon Childe Centre is one of four flagship centres in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences that focus on multidisciplinary research

The Director, Professor Kirsten McKenzie is a historian. The Deputy Director, Dr Joseph (Seppi) Lehner is an archaeologist, and the Centre Executive includes specialists in a wide range of fields both within and outside the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.  

Professor Kirsten McKenzie and Dr Joseph Lehner

Professor Kirsten McKenzie and Dr Joseph Lehner at the Vere Gordon Childe Centre opening event in March 2024.

Diverse Disciplinary Collaboration

The core objective of the Centre is to unite scholars from across the University of Sydney, transcending traditional academic boundaries. 

Researchers come from a variety of disciplines including geosciences, life sciences, engineering, and law to collaborate and explore humanity's intricate past. 

Collectively, the researchers and students are working on tackling issues from climate change and human resiliency to migration, ritual economy, and technological innovation.

By situating these contemporary problems into their shared human past, the Centre aims to forge a better understanding of our present and future.  

This multidisciplinary approach is encapsulated under five key research clusters: ‘Past and Present’; ‘Cooperation and Conflict’; ‘Climate, Nature, and Culture’; ‘Change and Innovation’; and ‘Ritual and Performance’. These clusters create a dynamic environment for scholarly exchange and innovation. 

Recent Achievements and Initiatives

In its early months, the Vere Gordon Childe Centre has already demonstrated its potential through impactful collaboration initiatives.

In March 2024, the Centre hosted "Powerful Stories," a collaboration with the School of Humanities and the University of Sydney Law School, co-supported by FASS.

This event, featuring Emmy award-winning producer and legal scholar Professor N. Bruce Duthu, focused on Indigenous and refugee histories of dispossession and displacement.

Through film screenings, workshops, and masterclasses, the event underscored the power of storytelling in advocating for sovereignty and self-determination.

April 2024 marked another milestone with the Centre securing its first external research grant from the Climate Change, Energy, and Environment and Water First Nations Heritage Grant scheme. This was led by core members Dr Amy Way and Wayne Brennan in Archaeology.

The grant gives way to a First Nations-led project to locate and record previously undocumented rock art sites in the Greater Blue Mountains UNESCO World Heritage area.

It is expected to lead to a significant increase in the number of listed Aboriginal sites in the Blue Mountains, which will provide vital support for the recently launched campaign to have the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area listed for cultural values as well as biodiversity ones.

Dr Amy Way and Wayne Brennan

Dr Amy Way and Wayne Brennan, co-directors of the Gulamada Project: Walking side by side in the Blue Mountains: A Nexus of Science and Culture, with the project painting created by project participants under the creative directorship of Wayne.

Vision for the Future

As the Centre transitions from its launch phase, the focus now is on building a diverse membership.

A key challenge in this is the structural and disciplinary barriers that can often prevent researchers from making productive connections, but the Centre is working on breaking these down.  

To empower this work needs time, energy and commitment. It also needs funding. We are working actively to secure external research funding across a wide range of sources.
Professor Kirsten McKenzie, Centre Director.

Professor McKenzie, Dr Lehner and the Centre team are committed to securing external funding to support collaborative projects and to providing financial backing for core member initiatives, particularly in the areas of capacity building and outreach.

A significant investment from the University of Sydney Provost’s Capital Expenditure and Contingency Fund is already enabling the Centre to build capacity in scientific research.

This includes the acquisition of advanced geospatial monitoring equipment, as well as tools for material composition analysis.

These resources not only enhance the Centre’s research capabilities but also open new avenues for multidisciplinary exploration.

The Vere Gordon Childe Centre is poised to delve deeply into the study of human history. By fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and leveraging cutting-edge technology, the Centre aims to provide profound insights into our past which may inform our present and shape our future.

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