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.