[Over a photo of a statue of Redmond Barry, the following text appears in a black box: State Library of Victoria, 2011 Redmond Barry Lecture – Maintaining the Redmond Barry Legacy. The Hon Alex Chernov, AO, QC, Governor of Victoria. On the stage, Alex Chernov stands at a podium.
The Hon Alex Chernov: Well, the Honourable John Cain, President of the Board of the Library of Victoria, Professor David Copalov, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Monash University, members of the Board of the Library, Sue Hamilton, Acting Chief Executive Officer of this library, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much, President, for your very warm welcome. Um, one is obviously flattered not only to be asked to come here and speak in the ... after all these very, uh, public figures to whom you've referred but also your welcome was most flattering. And Adlai Stevenson, the liberal United States ambassador to the United Nations said, 'Flattery is OK, as long as you don't inhale'.
Alex: Can I join you, Mr President, in acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, and then pay my respects to their elders past and present. I must confess, President, that I feel a little like Voltaire on his deathbed who faced the priest who came to give him absolution. When the priest asked Voltaire to renounce the devil, Voltaire looked at him and said, 'Father, this is no time to make enemies'.
Alex: Now, in order to ensure that I make as few enemies as possible tonight, can I begin by making two disclaimers? First, although the organisers have been kind, or adventurous, enough to have asked me to speak this evening for about an hour, you will be delighted to hear that I have taken the liberty to disregard this direction. I've done so bearing in mind in particular the observations of two very prominent and respected public figures. One is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who said in a public address, 'The mind can't absorb what the backside cannot endure'.
Alex: Now, I have some comfort in repeating this, given that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently quoted this remark in the House of Commons. The other is the complaint by Winston Churchill that although he didn’t mind members of his audience looking at their watches during his speech, he did become upset when they started shaking them to see if they'd stopped.
Alex: The second disclaimer, President, is that my talk may not meet the promises as to its content made in the brochure relating to this lecture, which I only spied this evening. I think that the topic 'Maintaining the Redmond Barry legacy' calls for an analysis of two areas. First, what was the cultural legacy that Barry left us? What were his principal cultural contributions to the new colony of Victoria? The second and perhaps the more difficult question to answer is, can his contributions or his legacy inform the direction that might be taken by us to maintain that legacy in the interests of the society?
Turning to the first question, I suggest, by way of a broad overview, that Redmond Barry provided Victoria, as the President has mentioned, its cultural capital that it did not then possess. And he did so during a period when the new immigrants were more preoccupied with settling in a new country and taking advantage of the wealth from the rivers of gold that were flowing through the colony than taking the trouble to build cultural institutions. Knowledge is an aspect of culture, so that by establishing the cultural building blocks for the community, Barry, I suggest, provided a basis for the development of knowledge capital in Victoria's community. Barry had the bold vision of satisfying what he probably correctly perceived to have been the public's thirst for cultural facilities and development, an interest that prevailed, not withstanding its preoccupation with more material matters. Overall, there was a desire to have cultural institutions but noone came forward to fill that vacuum until Barry turned up. His vision was that it would be the working and middle class immigrants who were to be prime beneficiaries of these new institutions.
More specifically, Barry was instrumental in establishing within a short time frame and at a very early age, or relatively early, the University of Melbourne, the Public Library, the Museum, the National Gallery, as the President has mentioned. He was also responsible for creating at about the same time the wonderful libraries of the Supreme Court and the then Legislative Council. Not only did he succeed in putting them into place but he personally drove them in the sense of overseeing and directing their operations over a significant period. Importantly, the institutions that Barry effectively established provided Victoria with a springboard to meet over the next century and a half the ever-increasing demands of its community for its development, cultural and otherwise.
And in order better to appreciate Barry's legacy, it is necessary to flesh out a little Barry as a person and his modus operandi in establishing Victoria’s cultural pillars. At the height of his influence, when the cultural institutes to which I've referred were being established, he was only in his late 30s, a truly remarkable achievement for such a young person. As RJW Selleck explains, Barry’s dominance of the cultural bodies which he established is a striking example of the way in which the colonies could provide experience, prestige and the chance of personal growth which, had Barry remained in Ireland, would have been unavailable to him until much later in his life, if at all. But Barry was not always blessed with success. In his early life in Ireland, in particular, he had disappointments. He failed to gain a commission in the army, and his father did not have sufficient wealth on which young Redmond Barry could rely for an appropriate lifestyle. Hence he turned to the law. But that too was unpromising. As one of Barry’s contemporaries, William Stawell – also an Irish lawyer – observed, on the Munster circuit there were typically 40 barristers ready to work when there was work for only twenty. So Barry emigrated on a ship destined first to Sydney. For completeness, I'll mention that Stawell followed in 1842 and ultimately became responsible for drafting Victoria’s first constitution and later, he became the colony’s chief justice.
Now, Barry's decision to move to Melbourne from Sydney, however, may not have been prompted by the noble plans to establish cultural pillars in the district of Port Phillip. On his way out from Ireland, he struck up what was apparently a successful affair with a married woman which blackened his reputation and effectively compelled him to leave Sydney for the more distant Melbourne. In a sense, the move proved fortunate for him. In Melbourne, he soon became a great success at the bar as well as socially, and became financially comfortable. Although he never married, he enjoyed the company of women, when you consider that his busy work schedule allowed him to do so, and not marrying didn’t stop him from having children.
On 1 July 1851, not very long after Barry arrived here, Port Phillip officially became the self-standing colony of Victoria. And two weeks later, Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe publicly announced the discovery of gold in the colony. As we know, this placed Victoria in an unprecedented position in terms of wealth and its development, including the construction of many public buildings and other public spaces which form part of our heritage. Upon separation, Barry was appointed the first solicitor-general of the colony and within a year, became the second judge of the Supreme Court of which William à Beckett was then chief justice. The third judge was Edward Eyre Williams. Due to the illness of the chief justice, Barry served in the role of acting chief justice for nearly all of 1853 and 1854. It was essentially during this period that Barry was able to ply his dynamic approach to establishing the institutions which I've mentioned. More specifically, foundation stones of the Melbourne Public Library and the University of Melbourne were laid by the lieutenant-governor on the same day in 1854, and the grand legislative chambers were erected, unbelievably, in just ten months in 1856. The National Gallery was opened in 1861 and the Museum in 1854.
Notwithstanding gold fever and the focus in the colony on related wealth-producing activities, it seems that Barry was not concerned with acquiring significant wealth for himself. Rather, he was more interested in establishing a dominant social position in the young colony and ensuring that it had appropriate knowledge and cultural facilities. And he succeeded in doing this. As I've mentioned, not only did he complete the herculean task of putting these bodies in place, he actively directed their operations. He became president of the Board of this library, a position he held for over two decades, chancellor of the University of Melbourne, where he stayed in that capacity for over a quarter of a century, until his death in 1880. He held like positions at the Museum and the National Gallery. He was also president of the Melbourne Club for three terms. At the same time, as I've mentioned, he was a leading judge in the colony and instrumental in establishing the libraries of the Supreme Court and Parliament.
I’ll now turn to look briefly at Barry's involvement at the University of Melbourne, which provides a good illustration of the micro control he exercised over these very important institutions. And you won't be surprised that I'm particularly interested in his work at the university. In terms of Barry's perspective on education, he had unbounded faith in the potential he saw in it for moulding and creating new communities. He was relatively progressive in terms of the academic direction of the university, being accommodating to the development of contemporary thought on cultural and academic matters. Thus as Ann Galbally writes, 'With the Industrial Revolution and rise in the significance of applied knowledge, a duality began to appear which was to manifest itself mid-century in a split between the older system of knowledge that relied essentially upon classical education and understanding and the new utilitarian forms of knowledge such as engineering, geology and medicine.'
And Redmond Barry was regarded as embodying the combination of the old world and the new that embraced but also explored beyond the boundaries of classical
education. Unsurprisingly, Barry was not without his critics. His domineering style at the university was resented by many. In particular, his relationship with the professors bred discontent, given Barry's insistence that the university council, and the chancellor in particular, possess both the final power and the right opinions. Now, this is not the time to delve into the animosity that developed and grew between Barry on the one hand and at least some of the leading professors on the other. But it seems clear enough that Barry's autocratic control of the university, although of great benefit to it in many respects, was unsettling to the institution.
Now, having looked very briefly at aspects of Barry's work, I now go to the question – what was his legacy to Victoria beyond the bricks and mortar of these wonderful institutions that he effectively founded? I'll suggest that a primary aspect of his legacy was the provision of the cultural and knowledge capital that flowed from these institutions. His contribution in that regard provided Victoria with a better educated, informed and cultured population. He gave members of the community the opportunity to gain greater knowledge, thereby expanding the pool of knowledge to progress the wider interests of society. Barry also taught us to have a vision for a better society and to be bold when implementing it through key public developments. He was decisive in progressing his vision and giving a direction such as to produce the outcome which he had envisaged. It is quite apparent that without proper direction effective development just can't take place. Barry's strong personality and ability to focus on achieving the result which he sought were very important factors in his success. He was, and had the reputation for being, a forceful person of action who did not suffer from self-doubt, let alone fools; was prepared to work hard to be on top of all the aspects of his projects, and was able to persuade other leaders in the colony to support him. Above all else, he was bold in seizing the initiative to establish his vision.
Without suggesting that Barry's approach should be followed literally, there are, I think, lessons to be gleaned from it. He also showed us that a collaborative approach is often the only realistic path towards establishing key public benefit projects. He well realised, I think, that notwithstanding his dominant position, he had to engage in at least some collaborative effort in order to secure his ends. Thus his working relationship with La Trobe was of considerable importance, as was his likely networking with leaders of the community. La Trobe, for example, had considerable influence in public finance and the development and operation of public works. It was La Trobe who often assisted Barry in obtaining the necessary funding for his projects as well as the necessary legislative support. It was this collaborative process that played an important part in putting his vision in place.
Given those aspects of Barry's actions, how did they inform the direction that may be taken in maintaining his legacy so as to enhance the interests of our present society? To give context to that question, it is necessary to note briefly some of the material differences, many of them obvious enough, between relevant circumstances in which Redmond Barry operated and today. First, Barry was not concerned with developing the economy or with many of the government's requirements that are in place today. He had no qualifications or interest in dealing directly with Victoria's economic progress. In any event, the economy in Barry's day did not experience relevant difficulties. There was an abundance of wealth in the colony, and the optimism about its economic future was almost limitless, so it was not a significant issue.
In terms of constraints of governance, the principles of governance that apply today were probably not present in Barry’s time – at least, not to the extent that they exist today. And such governance principles as might have constrained Barry in the pursuit of his goals seem to have been totally disregarded by him. For example, his personality and attention to details that were involved in the operation of the institutions went far beyond what a chair or president of a board of a public body would or could do today. Similarly, he stayed in control of those bodies way beyond the period that would be acceptable under modern governance principles. He displayed similar staying power as a judge of the Supreme Court, an office in which he remained for 30 years, and as I've mentioned, he was president of the Melbourne Club for three terms.
Thirdly, Barry didn’t face any serious obstacles to the implementation of his vision. On one view, the circumstances were rife for the establishment of the cultural institutions which Barry drove and he had no competitors in that regard or was not concerned with priorities for development of other public projects. He was, in effect, starting with a blank page. As Solly points out, at that time in the colony, the members had temporarily abandoned the task of creating political, social or educational institutions. Instead, they sought instant wealth through gold or activities flowing from its discovery. And many were not in a hurry to recreate institutions which offered the classical education dispensed by the universities they took as models – Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin. On the other hand, the availability of gold and the pride of the new government in the new colony manifested themselves in the demand for rapid erection of nationalistic monuments that were to represent independence and provide support for learning and culture.
An example of the colony’s self-confidence, if not arrogance, in that regard is the decision to name the newly established gallery the National Gallery of Victoria. In the relevant sense, therefore, Barry had the luxury of being able to focus on pushing through and then operating his vision without being much troubled by lack of finance, bureaucratic or government control, opposition from vested interests, lack of infrastructure and other like potential difficulties. And it's obvious enough that Victoria is quite different today. For instance, there's a concern about the decline in our traditional economic activities, increase in competition from our region in particular, the not-insignificant fallout from the world financial crisis and the strengthening of the Australian dollar. And whilst it is true that early Victoria with which Redmond Barry was concerned was in a rapidly accelerating stage of transition, our present situation is also experiencing changes of that character. If we look at the post-Barry Victorian economy, for example, we see that it evolved so as to change from one that was primarily concerned with agriculture to one focusing on manufacture, with the bulk of its population moving from rural to urban areas. The economy further evolved not long after World War II, moving from one that was much concerned with manufacture to one that was engaged primarily in the provision of services in which the bulk of the working population became engaged. And more recently, our economy has changed further towards what is often referred to as the knowledge economy that relies heavily for commercial outcomes on the vast store of knowledge that has been amassed and the ability to develop it.
The store of knowledge includes a wide range of technological and intellectual assets and activities such as information technology, higher education, the arts, sophisticated research and many others. Time does not permit more than a mere mention of a few of the many knowledge-based activities that we're fortunate enough to have in our backyard. However, in many respects, they too are part of Barry’s legacy. Higher education is one such asset. We're blessed with higher education facilities of world standard in terms of universities and TAFE institutions. For instance, on international ranking, Victoria has one of its universities well in the top 50 in the world and the other major universities are certainly heading in that direction. Such progress in higher education lifts the standing of education in our state across the board. At the same time, education is a significant export earner for Victoria and provides a material boost not only to our commercial activities but also to the social and health welfare of our community.
In terms of the broad area of health sciences, for example, we have world-class research institutions that are directed primarily to achieving health-related outcomes. They combine to be the largest such facilities in the Southern Hemisphere, being made up of a remarkable concentration of co-located researchers and clinicians, medical and engineering faculties, hospitals, research institutes, and specialist medical practices. A $5 billion investment in such precincts create new opportunities for life sciences, biotechnologies and translational research. Another example of the Victorian Life Sciences Computation initiative is the collaborative initiative that will provide researchers with access to one of the world’s most powerful facilities dedicated to life sciences computing and will foster the growth of a new expert workforce. It will be one of the three supercomputer hubs in Australia and the only one which has life sciences focus. It is therefore anticipated to act as a powerful magnet for attracting further national investment and improved connectivity and data storage and the like.
And the $1 billion Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is in the process of being constructed on the former dental hospital site. It is primarily funded by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments on an equal basis, and is a joint venture between a number of medical research institutes and treatment centres that will bring together cancer research, clinical care and education and training in the one centre. It will have the largest concentration of cancer clinics and researchers in the Southern Hemisphere, ranking it amongst the top ten cancer centres in the world.
There are other numerous collaborative institutions in and around Melbourne that are concerned with public outcome in various areas. Nearly all the research projects of the kind to which I've referred are the product of multimillion-dollar investments. And because of the interdisciplinary operations and specialty focus, they draw together under the one roof, so to speak, as institutes or centres of universities, the researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines, thereby putting them in a better position to produce positive social outcomes. One only has to think of the development of the bionic ear, the bionic eye, that is almost upon us, and the Synchotron to realise the extent of the social outcomes that can be achieved from higher-level interdisciplinary research. The bionic ear, which was first implanted in Melbourne and which resulted in thousands receiving hearing that they would otherwise not have had was a product of collaboration between, amongst others, medical and engineering experts. The same applies to the bionic eye, another remarkable project.
The Australian Synchotron is yet another world-class science and research facility in our backyard that provides Victoria with yet another edge over other economies. It produces extraordinarily powerful beams of light which can be used to examine the atomic and molecular detail of a wide range of materials. The facility, which is the largest piece of scientific infrastructure in Australia, actively supports the research needs of Australian major universities, research centres, and importantly, small- to medium-sized enterprises as well as large companies. Its light source has an infinite range of applications and a wide range of research areas including materials, agriculture, biomedical, defence, environmental sustainability, food technology, forensics, mining, nanotechnology, oil and gas, amongst others.
In addition, I suggest that Victoria has much of the human and financial capital, infrastructure and an educated, multicultural population that are necessary to develop all these assets so as to enhance the progress. These circumstances, it seems to me, provide Victoria, potentially, with a unique edge over other economies. So many of the building blocks of our knowledge society are in place, particularly in terms of higher education, biomedical and other technical projects and the liberal arts.
It is necessary, I suggest, to bite the bullet like Redmond Barry did and seek ways to harness these strengths such as to produce a cumulative benefit to our society that will be greater than the total now flowing from the several parts. A good example of collaboration that is currently taking place that has the potential of bringing about significant public benefit is that between the government, members of the arts community that operate in the vicinity of Southbank and some commercial organisations. A meeting between them recently took place for the purpose of laying out a business plan for the development of the precinct such as to exploit the potential contribution of the respective arts bodies and yet avoid waste through inefficiencies such as unnecessary duplication of services and the like. This collaborative project was supported financially by the government and by the premier, who, as minister for the arts, spoke positively of the potential benefit that would flow from such a collaborative effort and the significant beneficial impact it would have on the community generally. This is, I suggest, but one example of how collaboration can produce cumulative
benefits to the community.
In the end, I suggest that Redmond Barry's legacy is one that continues to speak to the interests of our society and I think that we have much cause to listen. His legacy, I consider, does show us the way forward. It requires a public interest vision, commitment to service as well as leadership, collaboration and single-mindedness in putting the vision in place. I'm confident that Victoria is now, just as it was then, well placed so to do.
[The screen fades to black. On a white screen, the logos for the State Library of Victoria and the State Government of Victoria appear side by side.]