Shane Carmody: Do you want to know how I knew I was right? One day I was reading in the glow of a lamp, in the gloom of the great reading room of the State Library of Victoria, on a green leather desk carved with the message 'Foo was here', with a bucket behind me into which rainwater dripped from a vast height, with a smelly sleeping drunk beside me. I used to wear a clerical collar in those days; half the homeless men in Melbourne used to sit beside me in the Library because they thought that they would not be thrown out if they did. In this act of historical research which I re-enact for you right now in a sentence which is clearly never going to end, I read Harold Gatty's survival pamphlet for crashed airmen during World War II. And here the sentence ends.
The act, which took place in 1958, was re-enacted by Greg Dening in his essay 'Endeavour and Hokile'a' published in a collection called Writings and readings in 1998. It was a profound moment of discovery, one that played a part in overturning an erroneous orthodoxy and one that set Greg on a journey of self-discovery and historical exploration, that had personal consequences for Greg and for every student he taught and for many readers of his books. And it happened here, or very near to here, in the domed reading room.
The discovery was Gatty's account of the law and knowledge of Polynesian navigators. Given as advice to airmen downed in the vast stretches of the Pacific, knowledge that had survived the impact of conquest and disease and had continued to be used by the Polynesian sailors that traversed the ocean using currents, changes in sea temperature, cloud formation, stars, birds and the merest drift of debris as their guide.
Gatty's practical guide provided a translation of evidence to challenge the latest expression of the academic orthodoxy, but the Pacific was settled by random acts of nature with canoes blown off course, setting people on islands like fluff of dandelion seeds.
Greg seized his moment, and precociously – as a mere student in John Mulvaney's Pacific history class – he submitted his review essay for publication in historical studies. It won him a stinging rebuke in an aerogram from the great historian, which Greg kept as a sort of scout's badge of adversarial academia. And of course, in a parade of new scholarship, Greg's challenge to the orthodoxy eventually saw the whole Eurocentric colonial façade tumble and the triumph of the Polynesians properly acknowledged.
Greg revisited the moment in a longer reflection in the book Beach crossings which has the provocative subtitle, 'Voyaging across times, cultures and self'and it was published in 2004. In a longer description of his experience in the dome, he had this to say:
'It was a magical place for me. I loved the heavy silence of its great space. It was a silence you could feel on your shoulders, something like standing on the edge of a grand canyon or in the Australian bush. The few sounds there have a distant feel like children's voices in a schoolyard far away. The hours I spent in this library rolled into days, into weeks, into months and maybe even into years. You could squirrel away stacks of books on your table against the time it took to search for some more volumes, against the volumes that were lost forever somewhere in the stacks.'
Now I don't think I'm being disrespectful to say that I hear in this passage the beguiling siren song of nostalgia. And in my current role, I have quite often contended with protests that the dome is not silent enough and the sounds of children's voices are all too close. But nostalgia has its place in personal recollection and it is the insertion of the personal into the historical narrative to which I now turn.
Along with perhaps fewer than 200 students across Greg's teaching career at the University of Melbourne, I took part in an honours seminar called Social and Reflective History. The seminar was Greg's way of creating a meeting place for the cognate disciplines of sociology, anthropology and history, mixed with theatre, theology or – better yet – theologies. His manifesto, although he would hate that term, was an essay published in historical studies in 1973 soon after his appointment as the Max Crawford Professor in History. Called 'History as a social system', it declared an intention to break down the barriers cemented by departmental structures between systems of thought; to socialise students, hence the word 'social', in a wider imagination; and to do so through personal consciousness in the act of narrative, hence the word 'reflective'.
The immediate effect was to cause confusion. Greg was not a lecturer and his preferred way to teach was to tell a story, load us with seemingly irrelevant reading and wait for a reaction. I well remember one fellow student, a sheep farmer from Ballarat in his 40s, gifted with an enviable Australian accent, challenging Greg one day by saying, 'Listen professor, sometimes a goal post is just a goal post, it isn't always a phallic symbol'. Greg waited patiently until we realised it probably was.
His means to this end was to have us not write about the past – but to observe the present. And he set us to write an ethnography by describing, as closely and as imaginatively as possible, a ritual in modern-day life.
A favourite was the dawn service at the Shrine; another – and for some, the baffling – ritual of the Catholic mass; but I chose another: the calling to the Bar of new barristers. Armed with nothing more than the idea, I approached the tip staff of the then-Chief Justice, who listened bemusedly to my request to observe and to take notes in the proceedings. He then gave me the title for my piece by saying, 'Well, I suppose it is a bit of a tribal custom'.
Greg set exacting restrictions. The ethnography could be no longer than 1500 words, so the task of writing was as important as the story we were telling. I no longer have the piece, although a version was published in a journal called Shades, which lived for but one issue and remarkably is preserved in this library.
I do remember Greg's comments. I had quoted from Robert Bolt's play A man for all seasons, and Greg flattered me by saying that my writing owed more to Erasmus than to Moore, while urging me to read and read more widely.
All these years later I hear in the memory of the counsel the core of his purpose. Greg was a humanist and one who drew on a rich strand of that optimistic and sadly neglected way of thinking. For he had been skilled by the Jesuits and then for the first part of his adult life was a member of the Jesuits and ordained a priest.
Underpinning the Jesuits is a tension that can be traced to their foundation. Their spirituality is rooted in The spiritual exercises, a kind of handbook to mysticism reflecting the journey of its author and founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola.
At the core of the exercises, usually taken as a 30-day silent retreat, is a decision on a purpose; and once made, it is intended to liberate. At the time of its creation The spiritual exercises, and indeed the Jesuits, were suspect as too liberal and free and potentially reflecting the revolution of the Protestant Reformation that placed the individual conscience ahead of the teaching of the church.
As a balance to this, the other side of the tension was written: the constitutions. This was not meant to be a rule, as in the rules governing more ancient monastic traditions like the Benedictines, Franciscans or Dominicans, but is served in that purpose and was designed to set boundaries around the life-in-common the Jesuits shared in their houses.
The core of the tension was the contemplative and the active life and a Jesuit was meant to be active in the world while constantly reflective, and – as if he were a hermit – leading to the description contemplativus simul inactione, or 'contemplative in action'. A perfect formation, I think, for an anthropologist, given the practice in that discipline of participant observer.
A second key influence was the form of contemplation described by Ignatius in the exercises. Key to this was the use of imagination as Ignatius proposes that, in reflecting on a story in the Scriptures, the full senses are to be engaged in what he calls 'a composition of place'. In meditating, we are to imagine the scene as if we were there, and have it speak its message to us.
If we take the essence of Jesuit spirituality and apply it in a secular understanding of history, then we start to see how Greg revolutionised thinking for so many. Historians manufacturing facts from scraps of evidence and placing them in chronological order to tell a story suddenly became participant observers in a memory told as much from the silences in the past as from the records we can read.
Indeed Greg, in concluding his account of his moment of discovery in the domed reading room, said as much. Gatty's matter-of-fact account of how to navigate the Pacific without modern instruments or maps in Greg's imagination opened his eyes and I quote.
'It was a moment of solidarity with experience I had never had. A moment of trust and imagination, if you want. Anyone engaged in cross-cultural research will know that it is not the mountains of text of the encounter between the indigenous peoples and the intruding strangers that are the problem. It is the depth of the silences. Translating silences is the hardest thing in cross-cultural research. Anyone in cross-cultural research will have to have trust and imagination to hear what is said in that silence.'
Greg wore his clerical collar at that time to mark himself from the world as much as to be a refuge for the homeless in one of the few free spaces available to them. And it also marked a different way of thinking and reading in the depths of the dripping silence of the dome.
Now at this point I think you may need some entertainment. I may be taking you too far and too fast into the mysticism of history. So I propose to tell a joke that perhaps illustrates the dangers of composition of place. It is an old joke, and one that follows a traditional form, the clerical equivalent of the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman joke: namely the Jesuit, the Dominican and the Franciscan.
In this joke they are not in a bar, but kneeling on Christmas Eve in a vigil of prayer before a representation of the nativity scene. Suddenly they are granted a miracle and the scene comes to life. The Dominican, steeped in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, marvels at the moment, the very incarnation: god become man. The Franciscan is entranced by the poverty of the scene, the birth in the muck and simplicity of a stable. After a while the Jesuit stands up and walks over to St Joseph and asks, 'And where are you sending your son to school?'
My own practice as a historian is really quite recent. I had dabbled in history during a disconnected career as a public servant in areas of trade and industry policy and I owe my release from that sterile domain to a great warrior in history, John Winston Howard. I remember watching the election count on the evening of the second of March, 1996. I was doing the ironing in the living room in the house that Ann and I had bought and that I was about to vacate after its sale, following our divorce. I had five shirts to iron, optimistically expecting to wear each of them in sequence in the week to come, a week that had already had two major events. One was an appointment at the family court to dissolve the marriage and the other was moving out of the house to a rented unit.
The third event was happening before my eyes: as Howard won his victory I knew I had now lost my job. Because first on the list of government agencies to be abolished was the Australian Manufacturing Council, where I worked. Years later a psychologist, struck by the enormous impact of three events of that magnitude in one week, asked if I had ever painted the event. I am no artist but I have now told the story to you.
The AMC as it was known was abolished and along with my colleagues I was faced with taking a package or continuing on the government payroll for seven months, during which I could find another job. My tenure in the public service meant that my package was worth less than the seven months' salary, so I decided to – in seeing the huge wave of redundancies across the public service – to use this retention salary as a way to gain experience in the private sector and make a transition.
I made my way in the orderly queue of so many refugees to the inelegantly named Australian Public Service Labour Market Adjustment Program, which consisted of one overworked woman in an office and trying to make a difference for so many. I gave her my CV and asked her to make arrangements for my retention salary to be paid while I worked in the private sector. She looked at my CV and remarked that it demonstrated a high level of administrative and management skills and asked if I would consider a job in the public service. I said yes, never expecting to hear from her again. The next day I received a call from her to say that the Australian Archives needed a new director for the Melbourne office and would I apply. Clearly she had read my CV to the very bottom where I'd buried my two degrees in history.
I said yes, without great optimism, and Julie called the human resources manager in Canberra. I had two questions for him. I remembered, as many of you will from research, the dreadful recycled factory that the archives had as a repository in Brighton. Was I expected to work there? He told me that the building had been sold and a new purpose-built repository constructed at East Burwood. My second question was whether there were any internal candidates. I'd been successful in the three public service job applications, only to be turned away in favour of an internal candidate that was also facing redundancy. His answer was a relief but perhaps should have been a warning, and it was, 'We offered it as a management challenge to colleagues, but none would take it.'
George Nichols, the director general, then interviewed me and later phoned to offer me the job with the comment, 'We are taking a risk appointing you'. Concerned as to what he might have found out about me, I asked him what he thought the risk was. And he replied, 'Well, putting an historian in charge of an archive might mean you disappear into the repository never to be seen again, but I think you will be too busy for that.'
He was right, and my five-year appointment stretched into a sixth. The archives were tolerant of my need to find a job in Melbourne, given the fact that I was still caring for my children. They readily agreed to me participating in a transition program where I polished my CV, practiced my interview skills, learned that 99 per cent of jobs come through networking and not advertisements in the paper – and I performed one truly revelatory task.
We were asked to chart our careers in a graph, marking each turning point and noting for whom it was made. This simple piece of mapping revealed to me that at every point I had made a change for someone else and for good reason. It was for Ann to help her career, or for the children, or just to ensure an income. This change, I resolved, would be for me.
Soon after, the one per cent actually happened. In the Saturday Age an advertisement appeared for the position of Director Collections and Services at the State Library of Victoria. And so I found myself in this library.
I arrived at a moment of great transition. The huge redevelopment project was about to deliver new public spaces and the then-CEO and State Librarian, Fran Awcock, had announced her intention to retire. Attentions and conflicts of many years making were boiling over in industrial disputes. Chris Loretto, who'd been working on secondment from the Library at the Archives, had warned me to expect a challenging environment and her counsel was to take refuge in rare books when the going got tough. I spent a lot of time in rare books in that first year. And my interest in the collection started to win me friends amongst my colleagues.
In my second week Professor John Barnes, then-editor of the La Trobe Journal, appeared in my office to invite me to join the editorial committee. Soon after I was at a meeting of this august group and when invited to speak I thanked them for their work in preserving the scholarly tradition of the Library in difficult times. Professor Wal Kirsop interrupted me to ask me to repeat what I had said, and then said that the work 'scholarly' had been banned. 'Not anymore,' I remarked. John Barnes seized his moment and invited me to co-edit a planned edition to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Library in 2004, focusing on Redmond Barry.
Now Greg Dening used to warn us about metric moments: anniversaries considered important because they end in a zero. Personally I find them quite useful as they sometimes trigger government largesse in the form of grants, so they do have their purpose.
I accepted John's invitation, having never edited before, and set about inviting people to write on aspects of the great man. In a moment of weakness I offered to write about Ned Kelly and Redmond Barry. I had a certain guilt I needed to expiate and I felt this was the way to do it.
On November the 11th 1980 – another metric moment being the centenary of the execution of Ned Kelly – I stole onto the forecourt of the Library with co-conspirator Kieran Crean, and together we decorated the huge sculpture of Redmond Barry to look like Ned Kelly. The sheets of art board resembling the armour bore a declaration of independence as a republic, drawing on the links between the execution of Kelly, the declaration of Armistice in 1918 and the dismissal of the Whitlam government five years before.
A few years later I found myself as a research assistant for Professor Ann Galbally for her biography of Redmond Barry, and in the days and days of reading through files at the Public Record Office I formed a broader view of this extraordinary individual. On the day I arrived in the Library I found stuck to my door a photograph of the article, published in the Herald on November the 11th 1980, reporting on our exploits. I felt an article in the Journal would somehow help me right a wrong by writing about it.
But how to do this? Rivers of ink have been given to Kelly, less to Barry, and my initial idea of exploring the Irish context of the story seemed to have been thrashed to death, albeit in different ways by Ian Jones and Ann Galbally. After an inspirational conversation with the late John Ireland I found a way: I would explore the Irishness by proxy through the lives and writings of others. One from an establishment perspective, the radical and reforming politician Charles Gavin Duffy; the other from a simple place, the policeman and sole survivor of the Stringybark Creek, Thomas McIntyre. Duffy, windbag that he was, left thousands of words in pamphlets, parliamentary speeches and a tedious two-volume autobiography. McIntyre left a typescript memoir called A true narrative of the Kelly gang by TN McIntyre, sole survivor of the police party murderously attacked by those bushrangers in the Wombat Forest on the 26th October 1878, and all but forgotten in the archives of the police historical unit.
McIntyre is Greg Dening's kind of witness. His account had been derided by several Kelly historians as the work of an unreliable witness and it is true that he was prevailed upon to change his testimony to ensure a conviction. But the humanity in his memoir spoke to me. Here was a Protestant Irishman caught up in a moment in history which, over time and in mythology, has grown out of proportion. He has been treated as a bit player in a drama that has assumed defining nationalist dimensions and that's precisely the kind of liminal figure that can help fill silences.
Remarkably, McIntyre recorded a conversation with Kelly as he sat next to the corpse of Trooper Lonigan in the camp at Stringybark Creek. Bait in a trap, waiting for the return of Sergeant Kennedy and Trooper Scanlon. In his own words he made a strong appeal on behalf of Kennedy and Scanlon:
'I told him that they were both countrymen and co-religionists of his; that one of them was the father of a large family and that the other was a good-natured, inoffensive man liked by everybody. This statement – that they were countrymen of Kelly's – was strictly not true, for Kelly was Australian-born. But his father came from Tipperary and his mother from Omagh and I thought he might be possessed of some of the patriotic religious feeling which is such a bond of sympathy among the Irish people. My opinion is that he possessed none of this feeling. On the question of religion, I believe he was apathetic and, like the great many young bushmen, he prided himself more on his Australian birth than he did upon his extraction from any other particular race. A favourite expression of his was, "I will let them see what one native can do".'
I concluded my article by decrying an Irish interpretation of Australian history as a way of disguising constitutional reform – Duffy's preoccupation – in the bright clothes of Irish radicalism, and criminality as Irish rebellion. John Barnes took my manuscript and, with some deft suggestions on structure, improved it and sent it out for review. The report was positive and it was published. I had found my voice.
Greg saw part of his purpose to give voice to his students. In the crossing called 'Remember me' in Beach crossings he has this to say:
'Students can learn all they need to learn in their reading. I always felt what they really needed from me was inspiration, a sense of passion for scholarship and an understanding of the need to gamble a little. The first thing I can inspire them to do is to use their freedoms, and the first of these is to discover their own voice and style. Style, the imprinting of one's personal signature on whatever it is one is doing, is not easily won. There is much pain in finding one's style.'
I was soon to find out the pain of perfecting a style.
John Barnes encouraged me to continue to write. I resolved in a vague way to offer something for every second issue of the Journal as a contribution to the scholarship I had so precociously promised Kirsop and as part of a leadership to encourage others to write as well.
My next effort was a small piece in an issue celebrating the opening of the Cowan Gallery, but what followed was the product of all those hours in rare books. Des Cowley, our Rare Printed manager, had tolerated my frequent visits and soon found the best form of distraction was to give me a book to read.
On one occasion he gave me the copy of Mirror of the world printed by William Caxton in 1490 and the only complete Caxton in Australia. I was instantly intrigued, and especially by the fact that it had pasted into the cover a bookplate proclaiming it to be a gift from the Felton Bequest.
In a serendipitous moment I discovered, whilst working on the huge project to move half the collection to our new store in Ballarat, a cache of administrative records from the Library from the 1920s to the 1950s. Amongst these were files telling the story of the Felton Bequest and its impact on the Library. A rich seam had opened up in front of me. There followed, over the next two years, four interlocking articles telling the story of the Library and its collections from the beginning of the 10th century to just after the Second World War.
The first told the story of the Caxton volume; the second the story of a wonderful librarian, Albert Foxcroft; the third the relationship between the Library and its key London bookseller, William H Robinson, and each of these were published in the La Trobe Journal.
The fourth began as a paper delivered to a conference at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge telling the story of the impact of Sir Sydney Cockerell on the collections in Melbourne. It was later published in the wonderfully named Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society as part of Volume 13, Part four, 2007. But from a conference that happened in November 2008, and in a book that was published in 2010, such are the chronologies of academic publishing.
In the midst of all of this John Barnes faced another metric moment. Issue 80 of the La Trobe Journal loomed and it was to mark the end of his time as editor and the 40th anniversary of the journal. He approached me with a request to write a special piece telling the history of collecting Australiana in the Library. I protested that this was the history of the Library itself and he responded with a wry smile and encouragement to give it a go.
The timing was terrible. I was in the midst of the preparatory work for the exhibition The medieval imagination which was swallowing time. Margaret Manion had me writing the introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition and anybody who's written anything for Margaret will know that that takes several drafts. We were also fully occupied with complex projects as part of the initiative known as slv21. And I was on four steering committees for the digital object management system, the new search facility, the service redesign and a digital copying service. But how could I say no? My digging in the archives had already uncovered many hidden gems and, as ever, my colleagues were willing to help with suggesting other pockets of material, perhaps unknown to the catalogue.
I threw myself into the project and after snatched moments between steering committees spent in reading rooms, and weekends spent with books and online resources, I began to write to a very tight deadline. As the deadline loomed I nearly admitted defeat. John had wanted an article of about four to five thousand words. I had easily reached 14,000 words without getting to a conclusion. I sent the pile to John with a forlorn note, 'Somewhere in here is an article – I just can't find it'. He read it and came back to me with two suggestions. I could tell the story of the La Trobe Library, in his view a worthy but possibly dull task, or I could tell the story of the Library's collecting of John Batman.
The second of these suggestions terrified me. Even more than Ned Kelly, John Batman is a divisive figure. Was he or was he not a founder of Melbourne? What are we to make of the treaties? And what does this now say, in a time of painful awareness of the different indigenous story?
Besides this, I knew that Professor Bain Attwood – a scholar for whom I have enormous respect – was about to publish his major work on Batman and the treaties, the product of years of research and appearances at conferences. It was a minefield. But as John is a hard man to refuse, and as he had done so much for me as my editor, I took the plunge.
I was helped by clues and assistance. Alex McDermott, a wonderful young historian, in a conversation near the lockers in Palmer Hall, directed me to correspondence from Redmond Barry on the purchase of the treaties. Jared Hayes in our Pictures Collection told me of a box of brochures and catalogues that detailed the history of exhibitions in this library dating back to 1896. And Shona Dewar in Manuscripts patiently helped me as I navigated the collection.
Finally I had a draft and I gave it to John to send out for review. The results were terrible. As I had feared, I had trodden into territory that demanded exactitude I could hardly begin to understand. One review was vituperative; John, suspecting I knew the author, quietly filed that one away. The other one was merely devastatingly critical but at least offered hope of reform. With patience learned from years of teaching and guiding theses to conclusion, John helped me get the manuscript to a point where it could be published. The final hurdle was to give it a title. John had never liked my titles and I had always deferred to his judgement, but this time I held my ground and 'John Batman's place in the village' was duly published in Issue 80 of the La Trobe Journal.
At its core, it tells the story of the self-conscious collecting of the history of Victoria by this library. I used the term 'canon of Victorian history', which brought a sharp rebuke until I changed it to make it clear that it was Redmond Barry's canon. Items were collected as relics rather than archives. But the accumulations soon led to the creation of a narrative and a separate historical museum. Through display, myth was made, and Batman had arised to fame through the reifying collecting by the authoritative institution, with its classical portico proclaiming its status. The fall from grace can be traced through the changing ways that art and monuments around the city have been altered. Plaques removed or replaced with ever-increasing confusion about what public statements are meant to say. Our history is so young we cannot tell the story.
Still to this day, we cannot be sure that Batman ever set foot on the banks of the Yarra where a plaque once proclaimed he did. The council had that one removed some years ago. And the entry in his journal, 'this will be the place for a village – the natives on the shore', continues to haunt our memory. Rather than see him as a hero or a villain, I propose that he occupied an ambiguous place as a liminal figure caught between the certainty of his boat and the native shore.
In this he's like James Cook, the great figure that sails in and out of Greg Dening's narratives. Cook, as Greg observed, was the first to propose the Polynesian problem. How was it, in this vast ocean of so many islands, that people separated by such distances spoke similar languages and had similar customs?
Cook actually had the answer with him on the Endeavour. Joseph Banks collected Tupia, a priest of the god 'Oro, from the sacred island of Raiatea of the Tahitian Islands. Tupia had known the English before Cook and had acted as a go-between. Banks thought he would be good as a trophy and in the rest of that voyage, as far as Batavia, he acted as an interpreter and showed Cook that he, and many like him, knew the ocean and its islands. He died in the fevers that struck the ship in Batavia so his personal knowledge went with him, although his record remains as an echo in the log of Cook and the journal of Banks, trophy treasures of the National Library of Australia and the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
We have a lesser and not unique reminder. In 2004 the State Library Foundation purchased Peter Brown's New illustrations in zoology published in 1776. In this book is the first illustration of an Australian bird, a rainbow lorikeet, captured for Tupia to have as a pet and unlike its owner, long-lived enough to make it to England.
Cook made three voyages to the Pacific and in his last he was driven as much by the need to match fortune to his fame, as the desire for the admiralty to have this great navigator prove definitively the existence of a northwest passage.
Cook wanted to secure advancement, places for his sons and social standing. Years of privation and malnutrition aboard ship had affected his mental state. He was driven to the point of madness. John Batman, afflicted by syphilis, had a similar driving ambition. James Boyce in his recent book 1835: the founding of Melbourne and the conquest of Australia, shows how in this state great bursts of energy emerge and Batman wanted to secure his fortune by expanding his pastoral holdings into the lands of Port Phillip, securing the future for his children. Both men failed: Cook, killed on the beach in Hawaii; Batman dying a pauper, his disease-ridden body thrown hurriedly into an unmarked grave.
In Sharks that walk on land Greg Dening tells the story of Cook's death and the strange coincidences that surround it, giving layers of meaning to the Hawaiians and the English. He points to the parallel of Cook's body being dismembered by the priests and shared while his officers conduct an auction of his now-unwanted personal belongings onboard the ship. But it continued beyond that. Cook's widow made a practice of giving items that belonged to him to those who shared her veneration for her husband and in a strange twist of fate, this part of the story combines with that of Batman and this library.
Redmond Barry had tried to acquire Batman's journal for the Library. It belonged to William Weire, husband to one of Batman's daughters and town clerk of Geelong. He failed in his efforts but two years after his death, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Alderman CJ Ham, presented the journal to the Library. He had paid £60 for this treasure and at the same time he presented a remarkable collection of Cook memorabilia for which he'd paid a more modest £20. The Cook items came from a Miss Ann Elizabeth Smith of 1 Balmoral Terrace, Albert Park, and were authenticated by an affidavit attesting to their authenticity which I'll now read:
'I am the widow of the late James Smith, commonly called James Cook Smith, who was born in London in 1813. That James Cook Smith was the son of the late Captain John Smith, Royal Navy, whose services are detailed in Volume 12, page 407 or Marshall's Naval biography. That Captain Smith was first cousin to Mrs James Cook, the widow of the circumnavigator. That Mrs Cook bequeathed to James Captain Smith aforesaid certain pictures, prints, charts and instruments which belonged to the circumnavigator. That this fact is noted on page 419 of the aforementioned volumes of Marshall's biography. That on the death of Captain Smith his relic, Mrs Annie Smith, kept them in her possession until her death when by Will dated 12th of July 1859 she bequeathed these relics to her son James Smith, the husband of the declarant. That Mr James Smith received these relics at the time he was resident in Launceston, Tasmania about June 1865, that they have remained ever since in his possession until his death on the 19th of September 1881, and since that date in the possession of his widow, the declarant from whom they are now purchased for the purpose of being presented to the public library and museum of the colony of Victoria by CJ Ham Esquire, the right worshipful the Mayor of Melbourne. The above-named relics of Captain Cook consist of the following items:
1. a large engraving of the death of Captain Cook
2. watercolour by Webber, artist of the expedition showing a view of Dusky Bay in New Zealand
3. watercolour drawing of a New Zealand war canoe
4. a red chalk drawing of the native of Otaheite
5. red chalk drawing of the native Omalokolo, both by Webber
6. a small celestial globe
7. the celestial atlas of John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal
8. a sketch chart of Captain Furneaux's exploration of the south and east coasts of TasmaniaVan Diemen's Land on board HMS Adventure when he was with Cook on the second voyage.'
Subsequent research by Rudiger Joppien has shown that the watercolours are by William Hodges from the second voyage and comparisons with charts in the hands of James Burnie, who was on the Adventure, shows that the chart was in his hand.
Cook and Batman combine once more in the celebrations of the centenary – another metric moment – of European settlement in Victoria. Batman by now was the hero, immortalised in the famous poster designed by Percy Trompf showing him as a ghostly figure towering about modern Melbourne with the caption 'This will be the place for the village', all references to natives on the shore being removed.
Cook appeared in the form of stones and slates, the pieces of a cottage once inhabited by his parents and brought to Melbourne by the philanthropists and trustee of the public library, museums and national gallery of Victoria, Russell Grimwade. Stored in a great pile on the vacant Little Lonsdale and Russell Street corner, the trustees pondered reconstructing the cottage on one side of the forecourt with La Trobe's cottage on the other side until, fortunately, a happier solution was found in the Fitzroy Gardens.
Such memorialising reflects a kind of fetishising of history, a kind of domesticising of the great men of the past to match current beliefs. Perhaps we are wiser now, or perhaps as Greg Dening observed in the essay where we began 'Endeavour and Hokile'a' ,social memory is as much about the present as the past. Social memory enlarges the continuities between past and present. Social memory is, in that word of Aristotle's of the theatre, cathartic: getting the plot, seeing the meaning of things.
A little later in the same essay Greg expands this idea to show how understanding meaning requires humility. All history is, in that sense, cross-cultural but difference is the hardest thing to see. Difference is the hardest thing to accept. To see difference we have to give a little of ourselves, old to young, young to old, male to female, female to male, black to white, white to black. That is the first thing to be said about cross-cultural research, I think. It always begins with a little giving, whatever way one crosses.
Towards the end of his life, although of course he didn't know this, Greg was challenged to give in a way he hadn't before. He was asked to examine a doctoral thesis by Russell Walsh entitled Obscenities offstage: Melbourne's gay saunas and the limits of representation. The content was graphic and challenged Greg. He confessed to Donna that he almost couldn't read it, until one morning he resolved to do so by keeping a log. Like Cook, he explored the uncharted, making his soundings as the new and strange world unfolded. His report or log was 27 pages long and the doctorate was awarded.
I have four books inscribed by Greg, given as gifts or bought at launches. Beach crossings: voyaging across times, cultures and self is inscribed, 'To Shane, who has crossed many beaches too, some of them mine'.
One of our common beaches is the Jesuits. I spent six years in the order, enough to understand Greg's references on that time. And just as he took refuge in the Mitchell Library in the terrible year of his persecution before leaving the priesthood, I took refuge here in Queen's Hall reading deeply about Rembrandt, drawn to the pathos and empathy of his work in the year I struggled with my vocation.
Another beach which Greg understood through his log, I'd actually crossed. At about the time I started to work at the Library I was able to declare my sexuality as a gay man. It is an accident of timing, really. My children were old enough to understand and accept and beyond them, few others mattered. I truly found myself in this library.
Every day people come to read in the Library. Even as information is available instantly in the computers we carry in our pocket and cell phones, a public space is still used for reading. The affirmation of the public act of reading is as relevant as an expression of democracy now as it ever was. And while technology changes, a public library and a public reading room remains as a place to assert the civic purpose of learning.
I learned of Greg's stroke from Margaret Manion. We were both in the frantic final days before opening the exhibition The medieval imagination. After he died, I visited Donna. She welcomed me into her house and we sat and talked. I had a copy of the exhibition catalogue for her as a gift and she told me clearly and honestly the story of his death.
As we talked I remembered that in my research on those early exhibitions, I come upon a catalogue of early bibles and books of religious significance prepared by the great Jesuit trustee of this library, Father William Hackett. He listed a first edition of The spiritual exercises, a great rarity, and, excited, I made my way to the rare books to find it. There on the shelf it stood, and in the magic of the Dewey Decimal system its companion, cover to cover, was a catechism written by Martin Luther, Reformation and counter-reformation. I offered to bring a copy of The Spiritual exercises to Greg's funeral and place it on his coffin. Donna accepted; it seemed the right thing to do.