Contemporary archaeology is far more than just adventure and discovery and, while many archaeologists work within the museum and university sector, there is another world of professional archaeology beyond those realms. Within Australian archaeology, one name stands out as playing a central role in the establishment of consulting (or private sector) archaeology as a profession: Dr Laila Haglund.

Born in Sweden, north of the Arctic Circle, Laila enrolled to study Latin, Greek and Classical Archaeology at the University of Lund. She interrupted her studies to visit Australia in 1956–57, there working on Cypriot pottery with Professor Jim Stewart and his wife Eve.

Her interest in Australian prehistory was kindled by recognising scatters of flaked stone in the Bathurst area as Aboriginal artefacts and so she decided to change her goals. Her interest was fostered by V. Gordon Childe, a fellow guest of the Stewarts. Taking his invaluable advice, she moved to England to study prehistory and conservation at the University of London. During these years she participated in excavations of prehistoric Roman and medieval sites in Great Britain but also spent summers in northern Sweden, surveying and excavating prehistoric sites in areas of hydroelectric developments.

Having completed her studies and by that time married to an Australian who was to take up a post at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, she emigrated to Australia in 1965, happily settling in Queensland.

Being the only qualified archaeologist in the state (early 1965), she was asked by UQ to take on directing salvage excavations of the Broadbeach Aboriginal Burial Ground on the Gold Coast. This site was uncovered when local contractors were removing soil for sale as lawn top-dressing. At this time, there was no legislation in place to protect the remains, and the site was at considerable risk from vandals and weathering, as well as through the soil removal.

Laila was told there would probably be only a few burials so, although six months pregnant, she took it on as an urgent task, likely to be finished before her child was due. All such calculations were wrong. The work required was immense and could only be done with student volunteers during University vacations. The excavations were carried out between April 1965 and August 1968, requiring six seasons of two to three weeks each. Laila’s daughter Karin went into the field when three weeks old, wrapped in a blanket, stuffed into a New Guinea string-bag (donated by a student) and hung in a tree while work went on.

For most of the duration of the excavations, Laila was the only person on site with any archaeological training or experience in excavation, though she was assisted by Dr W. Wood, an anatomist who would take on studying the bones. Archaeological excavation being a new subject, the University had only the most rudimentary equipment available. Much had to be begged, borrowed, bought or improvised by clever students. Recording sheets had to be designed to cope with the varied and often unexpected aspects of evidence coming to light. Broadbeach remains one of the largest excavations of its kind anywhere in Australia (Bowdler and Clune 2000).

Laila went on to receive a MA (UQ) and PhD (Stockholm University) based on her excavations at Broadbeach; the report was published in 1976. In 1988, the remains excavated from Broadbeach were returned and reburied by the local Aboriginal community (the Kombumerri people). The excavation and subsequent repatriation associated with the Broadbeach excavations were key events in the history of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

Having frequently raised concerns about the status of Aboriginal sites in Queensland (i.e. by harassing the relevant bureaucrats), Laila was asked to draft relevant legislation, which she did. That legislation was enacted in 1967, making it Queensland’s, and indeed Australia’s, first legislation aimed at protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage (Bowdler and Clune 2000). Laila then served as a Member of the Advisory Committee to the Queensland Minister for Conservation, Marine, and Aboriginal Affairs from 1967–74, and lectured at the University of Queensland until leaving for Sydney. Laila and members of her family remain involved in working with Aboriginal communities today,  in relation to linguistics and schools.

Laila was teaching at the University of Sydney when heritage legislation was introduced in New South Wales. Legislation led to an increased demand for archaeological consulting work, which was being sought from university-based archaeologists. What happened next was really important for the development of archaeology in Australia: Laila recognised that this demand needed to be met with greater professionalisation of archaeology. As she explained in a 1992 interview with Alice Gorman:

‘It seemed to me that there was absolutely no point just going out and getting archaeological information and then not really dealing with it. Obviously that was not either what the clients or National Parks expected. We had to work out where we stood and how we could deal with these things well. Doing that was not going to be any kind of amateur business—if we were going to do it properly we had to do it as professionals.’ (Gorman 1992:15)

This determination (with the support of numerous colleagues, including her sister who was a consulting archaeologist in the United States) led to the establishment of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. (now known as AACAI), of which she was the inaugural President in 1979–1986. The creation of AACAI and the increasingly professional status of archaeologists in Australia were important in changing people’s perception of archaeology as being a viable full-time career option outside of universities or museums. In this reflection Laila emphasises this point:

‘I think it took quite some time before it came to be thought of as a viable career but I think the professional status was established before anyone thought of doing it full time. I don’t think that people would have been so willing to go into it full time if it had not been seen as a professional thing.’ (Gorman 1992:16)

In 2015 it was estimated that Australia had a working population of 735 archaeologists, with 55% employed in consulting (Mate and Ulm 2016). As members of this not-so-old profession we all owe an immense debt to the foundational work of people like Laila. Her immense and ongoing contribution to professional archaeology in Australia is celebrated annually with the Laila Haglund Prize for Excellence in Consulting.

Written by Jacq Matthews (@archaeo_jacq), Alice Gorman (@DrSpaceJunk) and Lynley Wallis (@LynleyWallis) (with editorial advice and fact-checking from Laila herself)


Bowdler, S. and G. Clune 2000 That shadowy band: the role of women in the development of Australian archaeology. Australian Archaeology 50:27–35

Gorman, A. 1992 Laila Haglund: progress and professionalisation in consulting archaeology. Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. Newsletter 50:15–16.

More information:

The 50th anniversary of the Broadbeach Burial Ground excavations was commemorated 15 November 2015 and this news article and a Qld State Gove media release provide more information on the significance of those excavations.

Images courtesy of Laila Haglund and reproduced with permission.

Laila Haglund, Dressed in white reindeer skin smock and learning to ski.

Laila Haglund learning to ski as a child in Sweden.

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5 thoughts on “Laila Haglund

  1. Inge Riebe says:

    Good article. I found Leila an impressive woman in my one contact deserving of more recognition than generally accorded.
    While I don’t think people should be identified by their spouses you omitting that her Australian husband was Calley was interesting. Her dealing with his archives and her perspective in him was also a useful contribution.

  2. Elisa Cristina Oliosi says:

    The article is undoubt important to history of science in the context about the fundamental relevance of the woman’s work in science which there’re little searches and, consequently little publications about this historiographical feature.

    Now, I’d like to get any references about historical episode this period.

    Thank you

  3. Eleanor Crosby says:

    I arrived in Queensland some 4 months after Laila. Thank goodness she got her first. AS a curator at the Queensland Museum I doubt whether I would have been allowed to undertake the Broadbeach excavation anyway, and I was also far too inexperienced at the time. Laila has remained a lifelong friend and colleague and deserves all the recognition we can give her.

  4. Leif Malmgren says:

    Laila,have you lived in Stockholm at Tellusborgsvägen ?

    1. Laila Haglund says:

      Not that I can remember…..was in Stockholm only to visit family , relatives or friends. Never lived there for long.

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