F.D. McCarthys long career began in the Australian Museum at a time when museum anthropology in Australia was at a low ebb. Despite the lack of staff and funds, McCarthy developed interests in the popularisation of museum collections, struggled for better museum conditions, engaged in a wide range of archaeological pursuits both within NSW and other States in Australia, as well as in south-east Asia, and undertook pioneering ethnographic research in Arnhem Land and Cape York. As the first Principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, he provided leadership and encouragement across a broad range of fields in Aboriginal studies. His contribution to scholarship was acknowledged in 1980 by the award of an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the Australian National University.