It was not until he presented his paper he had in press with Current Anthropology, that I began to notice him. And not just because it was on a topic that was very close to my heart: the evolution for the capacity for culture. Suddenly there was something special about this guy in his jeans. Here was someone with a vision, with ideas that struck me as both exotic and familiar at the same time. Ideas that grabbed your attention and put your mind in a higher gear. Some of his conclusions were so unusual that they seemed to be right off this planet, but his logic was inescapable. After his session I went over to him, and we had a long discussion on the paradox posed by genes that are selected to give up their adaptive control over the particulars of behaviour.
By chance his tour of European conferences would also take him to Holland. And as I was looking after the apartment of a friend who was touring the Middle-East, I offered him free lodgings in Amsterdam. Actually, Marit and I didn t see much of him while he was staying with us. He was giving talks all over the country, and liked to explore the nightlife in Amsterdam on his own. But when he described the places he had visited, like the bar with cuckoo-clock music , none sounded familiar... Still, we had some good times and good discussions together. We fondly remember how he took us to what I thought was a far too expensive seafood restaurant. There we feasted on several platters of the best Zeeland oysters, followed by exquisite fish of which I don t know the English names. I wouldn t be surprised if he spent more on that one dinner than he had saved on hotel accommodation in that entire week. I m sure we are among the very few who have had one of their best dinners with David actually in a restaurant!
Little did I know that this first acquaintance many years later would develop into a close friendship. That David would be an excellent supervisor for my PhD work was clear. But at the time he had only recently published his book, and was still caught up in that string of temporary positions that has become the initiation-rite for an academic career. Much less, even, could I fathom that eventually I would follow this guy to Perth to do a PhD at the University of Western Australia. I had never even heard of the place! And, fortunately, I had no idea that it would all end so tragically.
David wrote a small essay (what he called his "essayette") back in 1994 during what must have been the bleakest period of his life. In it he reflects in a very moving way on what he was defending in his struggle for justice, and why. Kate Legge quoted parts of it in her article in the Australian of last Friday, but it is worth reading in its entirety. The 'due process' meted out to him by the mandarins of UWA forced him to formulate what scholarship and academia meant to him. I believe he succeeded extraordinarily well. Unfortunately, some people appear to see the university primarily as a front of respectability, as a seat of power which is there to be used as a mere tool to achieve their ideologically or selfishly motivated ends. David shows in this essayette how wrong they are and what scholarship really is about.
He describes how he met for the first time this doyen of Archaeology, Professor 'Scotty' MacNeish. How nervous he was, and how amazed that this highly respectable bibliography entry was just an ordinary man in a T-shirt and shorts. How they spent a long evening in a "wonderful intellectual blur" talking about "interests deeply shared". And how this Big Name genuinely congratulated David with showing him where he had been wrong in his so often cited work. He then describes how for the first time he experienced the essence of true scholarship, the first time he met the Academy:
"Behind Scotty, behind Professor R. S. MacNeish, behind a scholar nearing the end of his career, I could see an indistinct line of scholars and academics. They stretched back, seemingly to eternity. Behind me, behind a young man just beginning his career, I could almost feel a hand on my shoulder -- ghosts in the future, a matching academic procession of those yet to come. It stretched out to form another eternity. But, I could see this only as reflected in Scotty's eyes. And through him, indeed, because of him, I saw it too. At that moment, for the first time, I met The Academy. I felt it deeply. And it is still alive in me. It's about as close to religion as I have ever come."
David is no longer here with us, he is now a reflection in our minds, an integral part of the eternity of the Academy. I am certain of that, because I know he lived up to his creed, that indeed the Academy was alive in him. I've had many discussions with him like the one he described with 'Scotty' MacNeish, often lasting till five or six in the morning. Our slightly different interpretations of the theory of Natural Selection placed us on opposite sides of the beanbag genetics debate, but instead of digging himself in, he always encouraged me to follow my own line of thinking. Of course, he tried to convince me where he thought I was wrong, and in many cases succeeded, but he also allowed himself to be convinced by me. I will never forget those long, intellectually stimulating hours of constructive debate. That is how I remember David, and how he will remain a source of inspiration for the rest of my life. I first saw the Academy reflected in his eyes.