Australia is typical of many western countries where the provision of quality early childhood services has become a government priority. The government initiatives in Australia include repeated demands for 'well-qualified' early childhood educators. As a result of these demands the preservice preparation of early childhood educators is under intense scrutiny. This scrutiny raises many questions regarding the knowledge base considered to be essential for early childhood educators and leads to further questions about who has the authority to produce this knowledge. This article explores these questions by firstly examining some of the ways Australian early childhood teacher education is situated within the current knowledge environment. This is followed by a discussion regarding the debates about what early childhood educators 'need to know'. The third section of the article traces some of the historical features of Australian early childhood teacher education, for the author argues that contemporary questions about 'which' knowledge is to be included in early childhood teacher education are best understood alongside their historical precedents. The article concludes by considering the implications of the debates for contemporary early childhood teacher education and suggests that a way forward involves reconsidering the traditional binary between theory and practical knowledge.