Transcript

The Dean Series: Humanities and Social Sciences

Tim MurrayTim Murray
Email: t.murray@latrobe.edu.au

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Matt de Neef:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast series. I'm your host, Matt de Neef, and joining me today is the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Archaeology, Tim Murray. Tim, thanks for joining me.

Tim Murray:

Thanks for inviting me, Matt.

Matt de Neef:

So everyone knows that the Dean is the head of the faculty, but few people might know what the dean actually does in their everyday role. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in your everyday job?

Tim Murray:

It's a huge mixture of things, actually. On one level, you manage a lot of people and you have to deal with all the issues that come from managing lots of people. Academics are no different from anybody else. They get distraught or they do great things that need to be acknowledged.

You also, I suppose, have some senior manager role when it comes to the management of teaching and learning and research in the faculty, so you've got to spend a lot of time with people working out curricula and looking at the way subjects are going, dealing with stuff as basic as people plagiarising and that sort of stuff.But the bulk of my time these days is spent doing strategy, trying to work out where the faculty should be going, how best to maximize the benefits of being at La Trobe.

And I'm very lucky, I think, because it's a great faculty. It has long been a pride and joy of La Trobe. And it's my job, I suppose, to make sure that it stays that way and gets better.

Matt de Neef:

The Vice-Chancellor, Paul Johnson, said recently that we're going through an era of growth here at La Trobe. Have you noticed that in Humanities and Social Sciences in term of enrolment numbers? And if you have, how does the faculty cope with that?[Laughter]

Tim Murray:

Well, good question. Yes, we are growing. Over the last two years, we've put 10% on our first year, for each of those last two years, and it's created some interesting tensions, I think, in terms of finding enough classrooms, finding enough teachers, finding enough, I suppose, resources to look after all of that.But essentially our goal is to build momentum, make La Trobe the sort of place where people would be wanting to come as their first preference. And, significantly, throughout that period of growth, our first preferences have increased. It hasn't dropped at all. In fact, it's gone up.

So clearly we're doing something right. And a lot of people are now beginning to consider La Trobe, particularly within Melbourne, as their first choice for coming to do Humanities and Social Sciences, and I think that's got a lot to do with the quality of the tuition, the breadth of the curricula, and the fact that the university is actually a nice place to be in.

Matt de Neef:

I noticed in the May edition of the Dean's Newsletter, you said that the faculty had received 14 new revised subject proposals for 2011.

Tim Murray:

Yeah.

Matt de Neef:

How important is it for the faculty to be continuously reinventing itself and introducing new content as we go forward?

Tim Murray:

Oh, extremely important. I think you can bore people to death, including yourself, if you just keep on doing the same stuff. Look, I think there’s a core to almost any discipline that doesn't change all that much in terms of sort of basic stuff you need to know.

But there's a lot of change happening right the way across Humanities disciplines because they are to remain relevant to our society. They've got to be talking in ways or dealing with stuff, issues that are of the moment, are topical, and you need to be able to respond to that.

Matt de Neef:

I believe you joined the faculty as Dean June of last year. What are some of the challenges you faced in that time apart from rising numbers and trying to find rooms for students?[Laughter]

Tim Murray:

Well, I've had to rebuild the administration of the faculty, which has been no mean task, I think. It's been a lot of effort gone into working on how we can do, what we need to do better, a more effective way.

There's a lot of pressure on academics at the moment to teach well, to do a lot of research, but also there's a very large administrative burden that comes from stuff as basic as complying with federal government requirements. We're trying to reduce that administrative load as much as possible. So that's taken a fair bit of effort.

But we have also spent a lot of time developing new approaches to doing things, new courses that are coming through, more research options for people, granting more support out there for our researchers, and a more efficient way of going about doing all of those things.

Matt de Neef:

La Trobe's strategic plan is known as Vision 2015. It promises to help La Trobe benefit from a ‘changing higher education landscape’, they've said. Where do you see the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences being in five years' time, in 2015?

Tim Murray:

Well, it's our goal to be the best. We have a very, very strong history. Remember, we are lots smaller than most of the big GO8 universities.For example, Melbourne and Monash have much larger Arts and Social Sciences faculties than we do. However, I think if you corrected for numbers, we're competitive, and what we want to do is to make sure that we are regarded in the areas where we are strong as the strongest in the country.

Matt de Neef:

So for any prospective students that might be listening, that might be thinking of coming to La Trobe in the coming years, what are some of the courses that are offered by the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and what are some of the new courses that are going to be introduced in the coming years?

Tim Murray:

Of course I can start by speaking what I know best of all the courses, Archaeology. And that's a very, very fine Archaeology department nationally. Well, I'm not kidding. It's true.

But I think in terms of broad courses, the BA itself is very broad in its orientation. Unlike the University of Melbourne where choice is being constrained, we have, I think, maintained a very high level of choice available to our students.

But Bachelor of Journalism, particularly Sports Journalism, is a new innovation which is going to take people, I think. We've got a lot of inquiries about it. There's a new degree coming through on Politics, Philosophy and Economics, PPE, which I think is going to be attractive to people.

But by and large, we think we're going to get most of our growth in terms of these new niche degrees of International Development, International Relations, that sort of stuff, Media Studies, Journalism, Heritage. These sorts of things are going to be big growing points for us. But perhaps most interesting of all, Creative Arts.

Matt de Neef:

So you mentioned briefly before about the Archaeology program here. And of course, as well as your duties as the Dean, you are Professor of Archaeology here at La Trobe.

Tim Murray:

Yup.

Matt de Neef:

In over 30 years in the industry, you've worked at a multitude of sites. What first got you into archaeology?

Tim Murray:

I came from Western New South Wales out in the Outback, and my family settled the area in the 1850s. So there was a lot of connection between the family and the sort of large tracts of Western New South Wales Outback.

And I used to wander around with my grandfather as a kid collecting artifacts, and he had a very big collection. And my father was also one and took my first carbon-date when I was 10. And I was just interested in it.

Matt de Neef:

So you hear a lot of archaeology students saying they first got into it as a young kid that wanted to dig dinosaur bones and that sort of thing. You're quite the opposite. You went to straight to human sort of remains.

Tim Murray:

Yeah. And I think most archaeologists are probably in an arrested state of development still in the sand pit. It's a lot of fun. It's a hugely exciting discipline to be in.

Matt de Neef:

And you've been involved in the excavation of Central Melbourne now for 22 years, I believe?

Tim Murray:

Yeah, a long time.

Matt de Neef:

And in particular the area known as the Commonwealth Block. What are some of the things you found in that time?

Tim Murray:

The most interesting thing about all of that is that you have an expectation in the history of the city that stuff's going to get destroyed, and things get built over and largely done away with, and of course that does happen.

But in the Commonwealth Block, what really surprised us, I think, was just how much stuff is surviving. It's literally as if somebody had just taken an eraser and rubbed off the top and left all the foundations in. Streetscapes, you name it, all there still.

And the remains of houses, looking at people's cesspits, that sort of stuff, we found an amazing amount of things. I mean, there's a huge, huge collection of artifacts we're still working through, and I think people probably will be doing it for another 20 years.

Matt de Neef:

Yeah. I believe at the Museum of Victoria there's over 500,000 items that you've dug out in those 20 years.

Tim Murray:

Yeah. More to come, too.

Matt de Neef:

More to come.

Tim Murray:

Yeah.

Matt de Neef:

So how much can you tell about a city of the past like Melbourne from the items that you dig out?

Tim Murray:

Well, you can tell a lot, but you never do these things in isolation. It's always with a significant amount of historical research, oral history in particular, looking at the photographic archives, that sort of stuff.

But what you can tell from material culture is what people used, what they had about them. You can ask lots of questions about how much things cost, where do they come from, what do people eat, what sorts of styles of life were they, what sort of tools or trade, and what were their houses like? I mean, how big were the rooms? Did they have wallpaper on the walls? All that sort of stuff.

And if you've gone down to Melbourne Museum, The Melbourne Story, there is a house, a reconstructed a house that we've excavated, down on Little Lon, and that's there. You can walk through it and you can see it, and you can hear the voices of the people that lived there. It's quite extraordinary.

Matt de Neef:

There was a program on the ABC a couple of weeks ago with Griff Rhys Jones looking at Rome and sort of giving a snapshot of Rome in a 24-hour period, and he was talking about Rome's only got two metro lines and they're trying to build a third. And he said the works on the new metro line have been so disrupted because every time they start digging, they just find this amazing past and all this stuff.

In that case, there seems to be a real clash between progress and the history that they want to preserve. Have you seen anything like that in Melbourne? Obviously not on the same scale, but is there still this clash between progress and history?

Tim Murray:

Sure. When you excavate something, it is destroyed forever. And you therefore only excavate when you absolutely have to. And the reason why we do it is because the stuff is going to be destroyed so an office tower is going to be made on it.

Now, that's because land is very valuable. But sometimes you work on a series of compromises where you can preserve as much as you possibly can inside of development like that.

And perhaps a good example would be the first Government House site in Sydney, where they literally preserved quite a bit of the site in the form of a museum and stepped back the development of the office tower away from that.

These sorts of decisions are made kind of everyday about how you balance various interests, and it's very important for us if we do excavate that we do it absolutely the best way we possibly can. And it costs a huge amount of money.

Matt de Neef:

Why does it cost so much?

Tim Murray:

Let me put it this way. If we didn't have development in the center of cities, we wouldn't have any archaeology. And the cost of development pays for the cost of the excavation. So, literally, you've got to be able to get the ground and it's got to be vacant.

Now, a vacant piece of land in the center of the city, that's costing money right from the start, OK? And it just goes on from there. Teams of people, a lot of high-tech gear that's being used, long periods in the field and long periods in the laboratory writing reports all cost money.

Matt de Neef:

So for students nowadays that are looking to getting into archaeology as a profession, what's involved? I imagine there's a lot of tertiary study plus a lot of hands-on experience following that?

Tim Murray:

Yeah. It's actually one of the most interesting things. Perhaps people still haven't understood this. If you do archaeology and go into the cultural resources management business, which is where most of our people do, you earn extremely high salaries from very early on. And in fact there's such a shortage of archaeologists out there that we get our people hired before they are even finished.

But, you know, you think about the minerals boom in Western Australia or in Queensland Northern Territory, all require archaeologists there to do field surveys, to mitigate the impact of the development. Housing subdivisions on the boundaries of Melbourne all require archaeologists so when they lay a pipeline, all that sort of stuff. Anything that affects the surface of the land requires a heritage survey to make sure that indigenous or European heritages are not being negatively impacted.

So what our students do is effectively do a four-year degree in our industry of Archaeology, which is kind of like a license to practice, but through the course of that, they're working all the time.

Matt de Neef:

So the global financial crisis hasn't affected archaeology in the way it has affected other professions?

Tim Murray:

Not a bit. We thought it was going to lead to a downturn for a while, but no. If the mining industry had really collapsed, yes, that would have affected it. But not now.

We've got people earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they were only a couple of years out from their degrees. Because this is a supply and demand thing. If you're talking about opening up an area, say, to put a gas plant on it, which is what they're doing in the Kimberley, and you've signed a $60 billion deal with the Chinese to produce gas, think about it.

Matt de Neef:

Professor Tim Murray, thanks for joining me today.

Tim Murray:

My pleasure.

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