As a discipline, anthropology emerged during the period of colonial settlement and expansion. Those crossing paths with indigenous populations observed their different worldviews and ways of life, and recounted their experiences to others. This fostered a growing interest in the different practices and understandings of societies around the world.
In Australia, anthropology developed both within and outside of universities. Early on, anthropologists were focused on ‘salvage ethnography’, which sought to document cultures before they disappeared. The early anthropology of Australian Aborigines helped to shape the discipline as a whole and made important contributions to questions of kinship and social organisation that continue to be discussed today.
Over time, Australian anthropology has broadened its scope, developing a major emphasis on Oceania and Asia in particular. Increasingly, specialisation has occurred not only along geographical lines, but along topical ones. Today, one might specialise in medical anthropology, environmental anthropology, economic anthropology, museum anthropology, or any number of other areas. Furthermore, applied anthropology – very broadly defined as the use of anthropology to address real-world problems – plays a significant role within Australian anthropology.
Studying Anthropology in Australia
Most anthropology courses available in Australia focus on social or cultural anthropology, which is concerned with how humans organise and make sense of their social worlds. There are also some opportunities to study biological anthropology, which explores the biological origins and physical variations of humankind. Linguistics and archaeology are treated as separate disciplines in Australia, although they are closely related and in the United States are regarded as fields within anthropology.
Students of anthropology are encouraged to join the student network, ANSA.
Anthropology in Australia is primarily studied through a Bachelor of Arts (BA), or as part of a degree in subjects like International Development. Many universities offer one year Honours courses in anthropology, following the completion of a BA.
Financial support to pay university fees is available through HECS-HELP, Australia’s Higher Education Loan Program for citizens and permanent residents. Some awards and scholarships are available to support students’ costs of living, and are advertised by universities.
Australian universities offer a range of postgraduate degrees in anthropology, most of which fall into one of the following three categories:
PhD: Three to three and a half year research degree, culminating in the production of an original thesis. Some universities include coursework within their PhD program
Masters by Research: Two year research degree, culminating in the production of a thesis
Masters by Coursework: Two year coursework degree, completed by undertaking advanced coursework OR advanced coursework and a thesis
Higher Degrees by Research (i.e., PhDs and Masters by Research) are currently free to Australian citizens and permanent residents. Those undertaking Higher Degrees by Research are eligible to apply for Research Training Program Scholarships
to support the cost of living. Applications for awards should be made directly to universities. Additional awards are also available, and are advertised by universities.
Careers in Anthropology
In Australia, there is no compulsory system through which people are certified to practice as anthropologists. However, to work as an anthropologist, honours and postgraduate study is considered necessary. Anthropologists work in universities, museums, government, non government organisations, community organisations, and industry.
Some anthropologists also work as independent consultants, conducting research across all subfields of the discipline and providing expert advice for projects such as native title claims, sacred site clearances, social impact assessments, repatriations of objects and human remains, and oral history projects.
To find relevant institutions, departments, and organisations in Australia, visit the Anthropology Resources page.
For those interested in learning more about careers in anthropology, the following pages may be of interest:
La Trobe University: What can I do with a degree in anthropology?
The University of Adelaide: Anthropology & development studies career opportunities
The University of Queensland: Careers in anthropology
The American Anthropological Association: Careers in anthropology
The Royal Anthropological Institute: Career paths
Martin, David F, Palmer, Kingsley, Burke, Paul, & Holcombe, Sarah (2013), ‘Overview: Forensic Social Anthropology’, In Expert Evidence, Freckelton, Ian & Selby, Hugh (eds), Thomson Reuters, p. 2053.
 ibid, p. 2055.
 ibid, pp. 2052-2053, 2056.