Derek John Mulvaney was born in Yarram, Victoria. He began his academic career in Roman history, writing an MA thesis on State and Society in Britain at the time of Roman conquest. In consciously preparing himself to begin the field of Australian archaeology, he entered Cambridge University as an undergraduate, studying British, Irish, German and Danish prehistoric archaeology. His first excavation in Australia was at Fromm's landing. He obtained his PhD from Cambridge in 1970.
He was for many years a Commissioner of the Australian Heritage Commission.
- Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), 1982
- Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), 1991
- Graham Clark Medal of the British Academy, 1999
- Centenary Medal, 2001
- Rhys Jones Medal, 2004
- Australian Archaeological Association
- It's an Honour: CMG
- It's an Honour: AO
- It's an Honour: Centenary Medal