Centenary of ANZAC Day Lecture

Girl and Sunset

This year (and indeed this month) MCAS hosts not one but two Menzies Lectures; the first (on 6 May 2015) was our special Centenary of ANZAC Day Menzies Lecture given by Professor Bruce Scates of the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University. The lecture was filmed and will shortly be available on the MCAS website.

It was not, perhaps, the lecture that one might expect. Bruce’s premise was the best way of celebrating and respecting the experiences of the WWI generation was to acknowledge the truth of their sacrifice. Mining repatriation records–the saving and digitisation of which his lecture championed with great passion–Bruce gave us accounts of the true and multi-generational impact of war, intertwining information recovered from the archive with stories and memories of living families. At one point the lecture stopped and, plunged into darkness, we read in silence some of the lives Monash’s 100 Stories project has uncovered. This was very moving stuff which only made more powerful Bruce’s articulation of the uses and significance of professional history in the face of such a momentous occasion as the centenary of the ANZAC Day landings.

What follows are the two contributions by my colleague Dr Simon Sleight and myself which bookended this outstanding lecture.

Another WWI-focused event is coming up on Tuesday 19 May 2015, co-hosted with the Institute of Historical Studies, University of London–it will be held at Senate House in Russell Square–and featuring MCAS’s Professor Carl Bridge discussing ‘Australia and the Treaty of Versailles’, research derived from his MCAS/DFAT Documents on Australian Foreign Policy on War and Peace, 1914-19 project.

A reminder too that the 2015 Menzies Lecture will be delivered on Wednesday 27 May 2015 by HE Mr. Paul Madden CMG addressing the question of ‘How Diplomats Can Influence a Relationship as Close as that between Britain and Australia?’ This lecture is followed by a reception: tickets are free but please rsvp to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/2015-menzies-lecture-paul-madden-cmg-tickets-16081476128.

Introduction by Dr Simon Sleight (History, KCL)

SimonSleightKCL6851Ladies, Gentlemen, Distinguished guests,

Tonight we’re taking advantage of a lull, a ceasefire, or, perhaps rather, in the digger tradition, a ‘smoko’ in hosting the first serious after-the-fact academic reflection on 100 years of memory making and commemorative practice in Australia. The sleeping bags of those who attended the Anzac Day dawn services have been rolled up, and the two-up rings have been packed away. But the eternal flames of Anzac still burn in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Townsville, and we wonder what the next century of remembering will bring.   

The Menzies Lecture that you are about to hear has been commissioned especially to mark the Centenary of Anzac Day. This public lecture is hosted by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, a part of King’s College London since 1999. Each year we invite a prominent Australian to speak on a subject topical to both Britons and Australians and which usually reflects upon the relationship between the two countries. This year, indeed this month, we are in fact hosting two such lectures: more on the second of these (on the 27th May) on our website and ever-expanding Facebook network.

I’m Simon Sleight and I’m Lecturer in Australian History here at King’s. I’m also a Monash doctoral graduate, and hence it is with particular pleasure that I introduce tonight’s speaker.

Professor Bruce Scates is the Director of the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash. His many publications include Return to Gallipoli, A New Australia, The Cambridge History of the Shrine of Remembrance and the recently republished and award-winning Women and the Great War (co authored with Professor Rae Frances, who is also with us here this evening).

Professor Scates is the lead author of Anzac Journeys (a work shortlisted for the Ernest Scott Prize for 2014) and a contributor to the Cambridge History of the First World War. He has also written a novel, On Dangerous Ground, retracing Charles Bean’s – Mr Anzac’s – steps across Gallipoli. The novel features on Australia’s first national curriculum for literature, set on university courses in Germany, Turkey and Australia, and has been awarded special commendation in the Christina Stead Awards. Forthcoming titles include The One Hundred Stories: A History of the First World War (with Rebecca Wheatley and Laura James) and The Last Battle: A History of Soldier Settlement in Australia (with Melanie Oppenheimer). Bruce – I’m being less formal, and more Australian now – is also the lead chief investigator on Australian Research Council funded projects on soldier settlement, Second World War . pilgrimage and on the history of Anzac Day. 

When not writing, Bruce can be found teaching. He is the recipient of University, State and National Awards for Teaching Excellence (so tonight’s lecture ought to be good), and he is a frequent contributor to writer’s festivals and public forums. One such forum is MOOC (Mass Open Online Courseware), for which Bruce has developed content examining the fraught memory of war.

We shall retain this focus on fraught memory as we hear now the lecture, ‘The Aftermath of ANZAC: Beyond the Gallipoli Landings’. Please join me in welcoming to the lectern Professor Bruce Scates.

Vote of Thanks by Dr Ian Henderson (Director, MCAS)

Poppa i

Major James Sutherland Henderson 20 December 1914 — 6 May 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen my name is Ian Henderson and I am the Director of the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies here at King’s College London. It falls to me to give the formal vote of thanks to Bruce, a Menzies Lecture tradition substituting our more familiar Q&A session. But that doesn’t stop you engaging with his brilliant lecture in the less formal setting of our reception which follows soon, promise!

Bruce has shown us something of the power but also the questionable aspects of this Centenary year of ANZAC Day. It’s worth repeating some of the controversial words and phrases of his lecture: ‘futility’, ‘nostalgia’, ‘event not ceremony’, ‘forgetting catastrophic loss’, ‘a man deserves a living wage’, ‘gallant lie’. He has also illuminated the wider historical context of individual and family memories of war.

ANZAC Day is a curious thing in Australia, a sacred day when the mundanity of ordinary life stops to recall the dead, and when capital H history is re-bound to the everyday experiences of living men and women. For many Australians I suspect it is what history ‘is’.

History as we know it in academic settings is a comparatively problematic affair, the wreckage cast by Benjamin’s Angel re-wrought by intellectual tradition, ordered even in disorder by disciplined methods of writing, revealing itself not so much as something we make, as an impersonal force that creates us all, precisely when we aren’t looking. And yet it is also a discourse braided with—and structured by—individual biographies, as Bruce’s 100 Stories project has so beautifully shown us. These are stories in part recovered via the archive by professionals—marshalling iconoclastic evidence as often as not—but given breath by, and in, the oral tales and memories of all of us.

As I mentioned to Bruce this afternoon, thoughts about the relationship between personal lives and professional history have a new potency for me on a day which, for my own family, represents the end of an era: my 100-year-old grandfather, Major Jim Henderson, died this morning. He was our gentle and humorous patriarch, a Rat of Tobruk who became a career soldier in Canberra after the Second World War. Four months old on the ‘real’ ANZAC Day, he is seen here, in a red scarf and cool shades, being driven past the Governor General at the Centenary of ANZAC Day march in Canberra 12 days ago. I’m so pleased I was able to see him at his 100th birthday in December, and that I am able to dedicate this vote of thanks to him tonight.

I’ve been drawn before to think about my grandfather with my academic hat on—that is, with a sense of history as much as of the person—when tracing myths of Australian masculinity, not least because, for me, he embodied so many of the best aspects of the ANZAC legend. ‘I’ll never forget Tobruk, never’, he was seen on TV saying during celebrations of the 70th anniversary of that campaign, ‘and I’ll never regret going there. There was always someone there to help you if anything was happening […] There was always a shake of a hand or someone saying “Come on, Jim, get up”—it was a wonderful feeling’. It is a feeling that was interpreted, both by my grandfather and his interviewer, as a sign that ‘mateship defined his experience’ of war.

But Poppa’s was a very quiet pride: warfare and international experience at a key moment in his life gave him nothing of ANZAC Day jingoism, apart from a certain laughing distrust of the Poms. In this he reminds me of Alan Seymour’s depiction of a ‘real’ Gallipoli veteran, Wacka Dawson, in his 1960 play The One Day of the Year, a much gentler form of being an Australian hero than that displayed by the frustrated Second World War vet Alf Cook in the play.

I raise this play for a couple of reasons. Firstly, expediently, to advertise the fact that it is being revived here in London at the Finborough Theatre for a month from 19 May; and will be the subject of a panel discussion at the Australia and New Zealand Festival here at King’s at the end of the month.

Secondly, the play enables me to bring something of my own discipline, Australian literary studies, to bear upon Bruce’s lecture. For The One Day of the Year brings out, for me, some of the key points that Bruce has touched upon, showing both Seymour’s foresight and Bruce’s guts in not shying away from less pleasant aspects of our ANZAC history. The play focuses on post Second World War generational conflict about the meaning of Anzac, and the political ends for which Anzac Day could be mobilised in the late 1950s: by vociferous veterans like Alf Cook; by the politically proactive and conservative (at the time) Australian Returned Servicemen’s League; and by the rich men of big business and the media.

As Seymour revised the play he ramped up the recognition of big business’s role in mythologizing Anzac, and to the character who voices this recognition in Act III, the ‘little jumped-up snob’ Jan Castle; the character with whom I might ordinarily be most identified.

Australian returned service men and women may on occasion be collectively lumbered with conservative values by the likes of Jan and me—when academic trends are moving through us or we have betrayed our own intellectual sensitivities. If we thought a little harder, we’d see the ways in which the transnationality of contemporary Australian lives were pioneered by them—a kind of complementary counterpoint to post-war migrant experiences—and that many returned determined to bring a better life for their descendants.

Access to high-quality education was and is key here. It was a driving motivation in what my grandfather wanted for his children and grandchildren, his own education interrupted by war, and the drive towards it advanced the determination of his own mother who emigrated to Australia from Dundee. That I am standing here today as representing King’s College London would have been—was and is—a source of great pride for him.

But what is more, this evening, is the dialogue that is being developed between the Menzies Centre and Monash’s National Centre for Australian Studies: of which Bruce’s lecture is a key sign. We are working together to strengthen and develop global and networked visions of Australian Studies, making new uses of technology and building on already strong professional relations between staff on either side of the globe, both to generate research about what Australia might mean in the past, present and future, and to educate people all over the world about the peculiarities and riches of human experience in our country.

The values prized by many Australians include those brought back from war by many people like my grandfather, and by others whose insights, as we have learned from Bruce, came with great suffering and poor recompense; viewpoints sometimes embittered in the aftermath of war. Their anger too is our inheritance. But so is their compassion, their drive to better their fellow country women and men, in many instances their faith, and ultimately their love.

Bruce’s lecture has showcased not only his own research but indicated something of the wealth of work being undertaken at Monash, drawing ‘ordinary’ people’s lives into History, and opening conversations between History as a professional discourse and the knowledge and wisdom of real families.

It seems to me this has been a most fitting way of marking this historical occasion, one hundred years since the landings at Gallipoli, and I ask you then to join me in thanking Professor Scates for delivering the Centenary of ANZAC Day Menzies Lecture.

 

Street Haunting…BP Exhibition, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilization

Virginia_Woolf,_Tavistock_Square,_London

Virginia Woolf by Stephen Tomlin (1931/2004), Tavistock Square, London

One of the pleasures of my job is to discuss the works of Virginia Woolf with first-year undergraduate and MA English students. Woolf herself attended the (excruciatingly named) Ladies’ Department of King’s College London in Kensington Square between 1897 and 1902; and my office is located in a College building honoured with her name.

In the first-year module ‘Writing London’, which I used to convene and have taught on for several years, we focus on two essays of Woolf’s, ‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’ (1930)  and a piece originally published in Good Housekeeping in 1931: ‘The Docks of London’.

In the first Woolf gives an extraordinary description of leaving home on a winter’s evening to walk the streets of London—from Bloomsbury down to the Strand—on the pretext of needing to buy a pencil. The domestic interior that, for the walker is ‘a shell-like exterior which our souls have excreted’, melts away, and all that is left is ‘a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye’. This ‘eye’ is nothing like the ‘I’ whose memories are lodged in various knick-knacks about the house; instead it is the passive receptor of ‘myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel’ (‘Modern Fiction’, 1921) whose constant streaming is the stuff of life.

Not only do these amorphous impressions cause seemingly discrete entities and persons on the street to merge into one another, soon it is as if the street walker has become the things she senses, her self dissipating into the night. It is this evaporating ego which Woolf’s sought-after pencil will attempt to capture in words, so that later, scrawl converted to print, the reader’s eye succumbs to casting an impressionist vision of his self (or her self), one that haunts Woolf’s prose as she has done the street.

The locality of the London things Woolf’s walker encounters is also unfixed, as becomes readily apparent in ‘The Docks of London’. So many of the commodities on display have come on ‘the big ships and the little ships’ visible lower down the Thames: ‘the battered and splendid ships from India, from Russia, from South America, ships from Australia coming from silence and danger and loneliness past us, home to harbour’, into the arms of cranes and workers unloading them into warehouses for later distribution. But reversing the direction of this labour, Woolf pictures a tide of effervescent desires, consumer whims lighter than air that wash extraordinary economic and social changes around the globe.

It is we—our tastes, our fashions, our needs—that makes the cranes dip and swing, that call the ships from the sea. Our body is their master. […] Because one chooses to light a cigarette, all those barrels of Virginian tobacco are swung to shore. Flocks upon flocks of Australian sheep have submitted to the shears because we demand woollen overcoats in winter. As for the umbrella that we swing idly to and fro, a mammoth who roared through the swamps fifty thousand years ago has yielded up his tusk to make the handle.

 

20150429_172253Only Virginia Woolf’s extraordinary ability to de-familiarize one’s sense of place and self—while, with the same writerly gesture, authorising the veracity of her perception—comes close to the experience, for me, of hearing June Oscar’s lecture at King’s last Wednesday (29 April 2015). June Oscar AO is a Bunuba woman and Chief Executive Officer of the Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre, whose visit to London to speak at the opening of the British Museum’s BP Exhibition: Indigenous Australia, Enduring Civilization was supported by the Menzies Centre.

June’s lecture, ‘Encountering Truth: The Real Life Stories of Objects from Empire’s Frontier and Beyond’, was filmed and will be shortly available for viewing on the MCAS website.

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June Oscar at the official opening of the BP Exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilization, 30 April 2015

It is full of extraordinary moments: not least when her Bunuba language rang out in the College’s River Room, overlooking the Thames. June introduced us to her own country, but taught us as much about London, not just as seen through her eyes, but as it became in her presence. She paid homage to what has been achieved here, while reminding us of her own civilization’s much longer continuing presence on earth, and what it said of her culture’s endurance that Bunuba might be brought back here to the banks of this particular river. She paid tribute to Bunuba warrior Jandamarra, a resistance leader with many ‘present day incarnations’ (June’s grandfather was the custodian of his story). ‘My [undefeated] people are doing everything in their power to ensure that the greater meaning of Jandamarra’s name will live on. In telling this history we can see from convict times to this very moment, our nations existing across continents and oceans remain entwined.’

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Peter Yu (right) and Matt Trinca of the National Museum of Australia speaking at the British Museum, 1 May 2015

Yawuru man Peter Yu, Chair of the National Museum of Australia Indigenous Advisory Committee, in an excellent lecture shared with NMA Director Matt Trinca, also reminded audiences at the Museum that there is unfinished business between the Indigenous nations of Australia and those that make up the British Isles. But both speakers also emphasized the opportunity for educating international audiences about Indigenous Australia represented by the British Museum’s Australian collection.

On 1 May the Centre also co-hosted a panel of Indigenous artists and Australian academics (‘The Art of Country: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Today’). The artists were: Ishmael Marika (Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala); Abe Muriata (Girringun Aboriginal Arts Centre); Judy Watson; and Wukun Wanambi (Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala), all of whom offered insights into their own art. We were also treated to illuminating introductions to Indigenous art practices by Dr John Carty (Australian National University) and Professor Howard Morphy (Australian National University and chair of the event). Gutsy but nuanced responses to the question of repatriating objects from the collection were expressed by all the speakers.

Indig AusThis is not to say the subject of repatriation—given an excoriating airing by Zoe Pilger in the Independent—is or can be easily dismissed. The history of these objects’ coming into the British Museum’s collection reveals moments when they were treated like other exotic commodities Woolf saw for sale in London. Nor is the injustice of holding such collections overseas simply a thing of the past. At the immensely stimulating British Museum/Menzies Centre conference on 2 May, ‘Challenging Colonial Legacies Today: Museums and Communities in Australia and East Africa’, the Australian National University’s Jilda Andrews told a devastating story about the effects curatorial misunderstanding of Indigenous collections can have today.

Even so it is hard to imagine a better negotiation of the challenges of representing the history, contemporary experiences, and cultures of such diverse peoples to London audiences than has been achieved with this exhibition, led by Gaye Sculthorpe, Lissant Bolton, Rachael Murphy and their team at the British Museum in collaboration with so many communities, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian Research Council. These objects’ subjection to an imperialist past is not and should not be concealed; but their meaning and value are re-drawn by this exhibition, and by the ways in which they have been discussed by Indigenous artists and speakers in the exhibition’s events programme.

20150430_202751The superb content I will leave you to discover. (It is also beautifully described and contextualised by Maria Nugent in a recent article in Inside Story.)  But let me just note the symbolic power of putting this exhibition on in this space and in this time. Britons are often new to the concept of the plurality of Australian and Torres Strait Island Indigenous peoples and cultures existing in our country; and to the complexities of their various social, intellectual, spiritual and material cultural practices. These points are unmissable in the exhibition; and their power and presence are further in evidence when, around London, Indigenous Australia’s banners and posters are juxtaposed with the Museum’s other current exhibition (about a much younger civilization): Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art.

thames iiThinking about the ways in which authority is expressed through and in the body helps me consider the differences between Woolf’s and Oscar’s Londons, and it relates to the nature of their authorization. One can only imagine the authority Virginia Woolf exuded when she spoke in public. I’m thinking here of the lectures she gave at Newnham and Girton Colleges which became A Room of One’s Own. (I caught something of what hearing her might have been like during Pamela Rabe’s extraordinary performance of that text at Belvoir Street in the 1990s.)

Oscar’s presence is equally powerful, and it was intrinsic to her message. But any loss of the self—as articulated in ‘Street Haunting’—seemed rather about, in my view anyway, the augmentation of the individual as June drew authority (before our very eyes) from the presence of her ancestors. It was like a series of tracking shots resolving into a singular power (and person).

This might explain something of the affect of June’s lecture, certainly the most extraordinary I have witnessed. It joined the Thames and made London Bunuba country. It built like a slow tide, making a case not so much for repatriating artefacts, as for the making of an Australia where their being so out-of-place is inconceivable.

Dr Ian Henderson

A number of events focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are coming up at the British Museum and/or at King’s College London. See information below for links.

 

Politics and Writing: Panel
Wednesday 13 May 2015
18.00-20.00, SW1.09, King’s College London, Strand, WC2R 2LS
No need to rsvp
Dr Lisa Slater (Wollongong) ‘Desiring Belonging: White Anxiety, Anti-Colonial Spatiality and Margaret Somerville’s Body/Landscape Journals’ and Emma Patchett (Marie Curie Research Fellow, CoHaB ITN, WWU Münster), ‘Temporal Collapse and Splintered Sovereignty in Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book
———
Maria Nugent (ANU), ‘Indigenous Australia and Captain Cook’
Thursday 21 May 2015
13.30-14.30, British Museum
More info
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Melissa Lucashenko (writer), ‘Black, White, and Brindle: Aboriginality in an Age of Unreason’
Friday 22 May 2015
18.30-19.30, British Museum
More info
———
Screening of The New Black [seven short films]
Saturday 23 May 2015
14.00-15.30, British Museum
More info
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Screening and Q&A
Mabo: Life of an Island Man
Dr Peter Kilroy and Trevor Graham
18.00-20.00, Anatomy Theatre, King’s College London, Strand, WC2R 2LS
RSVP: http://mabo.eventbrite.co.uk
This event forms part of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship run by Peter Kilroy from the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies and the Department of Film Studies at King’s College London. http://ScreeningtheTorresStrait.com
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This Way Up: Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts
29-31 May 2015, King’s College London, Strand Campus
———
Peter Austin (SOAS), ‘Languages of Indigenous Australia’
Friday 5 June 2015
13.30-14.30, British Museum
More info
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Origins Festival of First Nations
9-25 June 2015
http://originsfestival.bordercrossings.org.uk/programme
Supported by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College London
———
Screening Ten Canoes
Saturday 13 June 2015
14.00-16.00, British Museum
More info
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Tom Lawson (Nothumbria), ‘The British in Van Diemen’s Land’
Friday 19 June 2015
13.30-14.30, British Museum
More info
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Screening Mad Bastards
Saturday 11 July 2015
14.00-16.00, British Museum
More info