Join curators Dr Guy Hansen, Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll and Dr Walter Kudrycz as they discuss the making of the Library's current exhibition, 1968: Changing Times, sharing their discoveries from the Library’s collections and revealing the challenges they faced in producing a history exhibition using just a single year as a frame of reference.
*Speakers: Cathy Pilgrim (C), Ben Mercer (B), Guy Hansen (G), Walter Goodrich (W), Grace Blakeley-Carroll (Gr)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 3 July 2018
C: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s wonderful to see so many of you here this afternoon, thank you for joining us here at the National Library. I’m Cathy Pilgrim, the Assistant Director-General of the Executive and Public Programs Division.
As we begin today I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home. I would also like to acknowledge the Australian History Association and delegates attending the 2018 conference here in Canberra over the next few days. We’re delighted to be represented in the conference program and that you have joined us here this afternoon.
1968 was a momentous year, the Vietnam war was raging, Martin Luther King junior and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. In Australia the search for Prime Minister Harold Holt who disappeared off Shelby Beach was called off and a new Prime Minister was sworn in, and most importantly the doors to this fantastic National Library of Australia building were opened for the first time. Our exhibition, 1968 Changing Times reflects on what was happening in the world, Australia and in Canberra in that year. If you haven’t had a chance to see the exhibition yet I hope you’ll join our wonderful curators after tonight’s event downstairs in our exhibition galleries.
But first the Library’s Director of Exhibitions, Dr Guy Hansen, and our exhibition curators, Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll and Dr Walter Goodrich will discuss the significance of 1968 as we look back 50 years and at the challenges of sharing our history through the prism of an exhibition. The conversation will be guided by Dr Ben Mercer from the School of History at the Australian National University so please join me in welcoming Guy, Grace, Walter and Ben this afternoon.
B: Thank you very much, Cathy. Welcome to all of you for this discussion about 1968 and about the 1968 exhibition. This is in fact the third panel of the day in a stream on 1968 at the Australian Historical Association conference and it’s very appropriately here at the National Library to coincide with the exhibition and given this is a conference in which there has been much discussions about the question of scale we’re going to begin with a 30-second version of 1968 via the ad for the exhibition.
B: So now we’ve had 30 seconds, we now have about 50 minutes to pull that apart and work out what was missing. So we’re going to run this as a conversation with the three curators of the exhibition and we’re going to have a – opportunity towards the end of this discussion to have questions from the audience so please keep them in mind as we have a discussion.
So we’re going to begin I think with the broadest question and Guy, why did the NLA do this show?
G: I think Cathy sort of mentioned that 1968 was the year that the National Library of Australia, this building that we’re in opened to the public and that was a pretty important event obviously for this institution’s history ‘cause this is our permanent home but it was also a very important event for Canberra because if you think back to 1968 and if you could imagine yourself looking in that direction there what you would see is basically paddocks heading out towards dairy flat and Canberra in 1968 was fairly – in some ways quite a desolate place, not much is going on out there, the lake has only just been put in, you’ve got Parliament House over there. You do have the War Memorial over there, you have some of the administrative buildings but the parliamentary triangle is quite bare and in many ways the city is still – got a long way to go in terms of maturing as a national capital. And I think the opening of this building was a really important milestone in Canberra coming of age and I think also an important milestone for the Commonwealth of Australia because opening a national library is a real expression of the confidence of your nation and the confidence of having those type of cultural institutions, having that kind of infrastructure which sort of a society should have.
So in many ways this 50th anniversary’s a very important anniversary for the National Library of Australia and it’s very appropriate we should celebrate that. And the challenge for the exhibitions team was how to do that in a way which could perhaps celebrate that moment which of course is of intense interest to us here in the Library but also perhaps build out into some other ideas and we’re very lucky that 1968 isn’t only important year for the National Library but it’s a very important year for the world and it’s a very iconic year because of events in America as we’ve just seen in the short ad and also events in Europe and in other parts of the world. So there’s a great opportunity to zero in on Canberra and look at what was happening with the opening of the Library then move out slightly and have a look at what was happening in Australia and then move out one more time and have a look at what was happening in the world. And I think those things came together very nicely to give us a reason to do this exhibition so it’s part of our birthday celebrations here at the Library but it’s also a great opportunity to do a really interesting history exhibition so that’s in a nutshell why we did it.
B: And so I guess a question building on this is how did you use the NLA collection to do the show?
G: Well amongst the three of us we pretty much conducted a survey of the collection so I got the great pleasure of going through the music collection looking at the sheet music, the Library has a fantastic sheet music collection. We used to have a very good vinyl collection but unfortunately that moved on at a certain point but I was able to go through and find some of the sheet music from 1968 and you know The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and all those big hits are represented in that collection. And I also got to look at the international material and some of the Australian material. Walter, what did you look at in the collections?
W: Guy, I looked at a fair range of material from the Library’s collections. I began with the manuscript collection because I was doing the Vietnam war and Australian attitudes towards the Vietnam war. That was fairly standard archival research but there were some really interesting items in it but I also moved on to popular culture as well as Vietnam war in Australia in 1968 and I used periodicals for that research. There was a pop music magazine which some of you will remember, the youth-orientated magazine, Go-Set, which I had a lot of fun looking through and finding some interesting stuff. One thing I hadn’t known about that was that Ian Meldrum, who’s well-known now, wrote for Go-Set in 1968 and I also used the Library’s ephemera collection in respect of a connection with popular culture. Ephemera collection was really interesting, consisted largely of brochures, stuff which wasn’t meant to be collected but which we have done anyway so I got some brochures for example on various overseas tours. There was a tour by The Monkees, another one by The Who and the Small Faces and there was also a tour by the bizarre Black and White Minstrel Show which some of you will remember, bizarre and overtly racist Black and White Minstrel Show so in short a full range of the Library’s collections.
G: Grace, what did you have a look at?
Gr: My main focus was on collections related to the building of the Library and the history of the Library, I really enjoyed going through those in manuscripts, also in the pictures collection. Some perhaps more surprising collections to discover were the heritage furniture collection so all of our original furniture designed by Fred Ward who of course was poached from the ANU so you might have – I’m not sure whereabouts you’re located at the ANU but at the conference you might have been seeing some of Fred’s furniture which is still around. And also the Heritage Building Plans Collection so to look at all the original architectural plans that are still used by our building services team today.
B: So here’s one question, were there any other major surprising finds that you found in the collections and perhaps another would be is there something that you found that you would have loved to include in the exhibition but couldn’t because of chronological year?
G: Well I think one thing which Grace and I spent a lot of time trying – we hoped we could pin down was we wanted to have some material about flares in 1968 and we had some wonderful posters which weren’t dated of sort of men in flared jeans and they looked incredible, beautiful posters but of course as we did our archival research we sort of discovered that flares weren’t really a big thing in 1968, there was more silver straight-legged jeans so that was unfortunate that fashion hadn’t quite caught up with our own interpretation of memory. So when had to for sake of historical accuracy not include the flares.
Gr: Exactly. We do have the mini dress so – minicoat, I should say, by Prue Acton so there’s some – a fashion there and also drawing on our collection of fashion photographs which is quite strong as well.
W: As we can see from what Grace is wearing now.
Gr: Yes, not a collection item, just in spirit, yes.
B: It’s very interesting I think that our idea of ’68 is often different to what we actually discover when we look at it so perhaps another question would be - is how do each of you relate to 1968?
G: Well I was four in 1968 and my major memory of 1968 – I had to think hard because there’s always this danger of you kind of reconstructing memories when you’re asked to remember but I’m very sure – I’ve got a very strong memory of hearing the song by The Irish Rovers about the unicorn who’s left behind who doesn’t get onto the ark and I’m certain that that – I remember that very clearly and I – thanks to Walter’s research he reminded me that that song was a hit in 1968 so –
W: In fact I insisted on its inclusion –
G: So that’s – so I was quite young but a little bit further on I think I became very interested in the 1960s because of the music and the popular culture and I think for me the thing that really sticks with me is the Apollo mission and the men in mission control in their white shirts and their ties striving to explore – that for me kind of captures 1968 for me, I don’t know, what do you guys relate to in 1968?
W: Well I like you, Guy, was alive in 1968. I’m a little bit older than you and I can remember it quite vividly. I was a primary school child at the time. I have – like all kids I think I have a kind of a scattergun memory of those times, some strong, some things I completely missed. Perhaps my dominant memory of 1968 is a school excursion. I was in primary school in Gladesville and we went to the museum in College Street in Sydney by bus. As we were going towards the museum you go past Hyde Park, bus full of schoolkids and somebody yells out, one of the schoolkids, look, hippies. I’d never seen a hippie before. We’d seen them on TV, heard about them but we’d never seen them in the flesh. This really sums up the times, I think. So I saw a group of people walking through Hyde Park in flares, they did in fact have flares –
G: I think this could be a reconstructed memory.
W: Like everything, bro. Flares, long hair and also sheepskin jackets. Now I’ve since discovered that sheepskin jackets aren’t a sine qua non of hippiness but that association is fixed for the minute in my mind. Now I can remember 1968, of course, this in fact gives rise to certain I guess philosophical, conceptual, historiographical problems because it’s very easy, and I think Guy will agree with me in this, very easy when you can remember stuff when the period is not very far away, very easy to slip into a cloying self-referential kind of nostalgia so I found myself that I had to strive to present a sense of historicity in this exhibition, a sense of difference between the present and the past.
Gr: I wasn’t alive in 1968, I was –
W: What a relief, I hear you all say.
Gr: So yeah, I was – yeah so I was born in 1988 so it’s yeah not a period that I have lived experience of but obviously it’s something - a period that I’ve heard about and I suppose when I think of what I knew about 1968 before doing this exhibition it would be things like feminism in the 1960s, the protests at the Sorbonne and also I would say popular culture, music and fashion, the sort of retro look is very – and just retro culture is very popular at the moment, particularly for millennials like myself. So for me I actually really enjoyed working alongside people who you know had some memories of the time.
W: Thanks, Grace. You're not just saying that, are you?
Gr: No, no. Because I sort of feel like I have a much richer understanding of the period now through doing this exhibition.
B: I suppose one of the other features of 1968 that we see in the ad and we see in all the discussions today is this balance between set of international events right around the world and the local so how do you balance in the exhibition the international and the local? There’s clearly a great deal of treatment of the United States in the exhibition and what’s your thinking there?
G: I have to admit that that’s actually one of the big challenges of this show. There’s many things from 1968 which are not there so for example there are events in Ireland, there are events in Germany, there are events in Japan which were very significant which are not represented in the exhibition and it just – it is – like the challenges – you take for example the Paris riots, I actually did research and found something like 10 very interesting posters from Paris ’68 which I would have loved to use and in the end I had room for one. And I was – the power of American culture is very evident in the exhibition, there's more American objects than any other – no, there’s more Australian objects and Library objects but in the international section America does dominate and I think it’s just the drama of the events in America with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and the election of Nixon just forced – they sort of pushed their way through the door into the exhibition ‘cause they’re very memorable and very attractive items and when you're a curator you can’t help but use the things which really have punch-through.
We also in terms of – ‘cause it’s a library we wanted to show – Walter mentioned periodicals and we wanted to have major magazines and I did look at a range of English language magazines from around the world but in the end I did go for Time magazine and Life magazine and for two reasons, ‘cause Time and Life were syndicated right across the English-speaking world, they genuinely were international journals with a massive readership but Time is fantastic ‘cause its covers become like a series of time capsules and Life is fantastic because of the photojournalism. So again as a curator you have to try and find these objects which really speak to what you’re trying to say and do it in a way which is pleasing and interesting to the audience and I have to balance that with the cloying nostalgia which Walter talks about and you as an audience can be the judge of where we came down but I don’t know what you guys think of things we left in or didn’t – and how we incorporated the international context?
W: Well I would agree with you, Guy, surprisingly. I think we must bear in mind the power and the pervasiveness of America and Americanness at the time, not only in international events of course which had repercussions throughout the world. I remember as a child watching the TV news of course with my mother and being moved by the Kennedy assassination and Martin Luther King funeral and so forth. We should also note popular culture here, the importance of – when we’re talking about Americanness one of my favourite TV shows – sorry to be going on about TV shows – was Hogan’s Heroes so we were dominated to a large extent by America and Americanness so I think we need to, and we have done to some extent, reflected that.
Gr: Actually America came up in my research about the Library and actually they were sort of actively looking at American libraries for inspiration for this library, for the architecture which I thought was really interesting as well, sort of – whereas you know in previous times perhaps there would have been more of a look towards what was happening in Britain whereas very much in sort of this project an American library expert, Dr Keyes Metcalf, was actually brought out to sort of advise on the project too. So I think that perhaps reflects some of the other things that were happening in Australia and in the world at the time and the influence of America.
G: So from architectural history perspective I think you can see this building as very much inspired by American modernism and when we have American – we had a – American scholar I took around the exhibition and he said it reminds me of the Kennedy Centre, it’s sort of – like it’s got a – it’s got the clean lines. It’s got other influences which Grace –
Gr: American take on sort of classicism, it’s modernism if you like, sort of clean view of classicism.
G: So the Americans win, Ben.
B: Okay well so from America then let’s go back to Australia and so what did you look at in terms of Australian literature?
G: Well just on Australia one interesting thing is something which didn’t happen in 1968 but which is in the exhibition, is the disappearance of Harold Holt which quite irritatingly happened in December 1967 but we had to put it in the exhibition because it really in terms of Australian politics, it really drives what happens in Australia in 1968 and so Holt goes missing in December and they know that he’s gone, they call off the search. But it’s in January that Gorton becomes the Prime Minister so there’s one of those things where we have to expand out 1968 and I have to thank Archives – Australian Archives for lending us some really key material relating to the disappearance of Harold Holt including the bag that he took away on that weekend which had all of his Prime Ministerial documents in it as he went away for his weekend down the coast. And I find that quite a moving object and we’ve juxtaposed that in the exhibition with the lovely – I think it’s a Max Dupain portrait of – I'm not –
Gr: [Ashol Schmith] 21:06.
G: Sorry, [Ashol Schmith] portrait of Harold Holt which is a very sombre portrait and they’re quite powerful, a personal object combined with this very powerful portrait and combined with some of the archival material like the Cabinet decision to stop the search and Gorton’s announcement that he’s become the leader of the Liberal Party. I think those things are really interesting and powerful Australian objects but as we go into the exhibition we did – Walter did some good research on broader Australian popular culture and Grace, you did some stuff on literature in relation to 1968 too.
Gr: Yeah and actually Walter and I worked together with some input from Guy on the literature showcase and in that showcase we were really trying to look at different forms of writing so fiction, nonfiction, poetry in Ivan Southall you know children’s book, those sorts of things and a play by Tom Kenneally and so what was sort of coming up in our research were a couple of things, I guess this kind of movement towards the sort of grapes of pride in Australian literature and people increasingly staying in Australia, less of the expatriate sort of focus and a sort of grassroots interest. People like Judith Wright quite influential sort of internationally but also in Australia and sort of people kind of having conversations with each other I guess through their works and of course it’s the – well last year you know this year I believe is the 50th anniversary of Frank Hardy’s Unlucky Australians so you get somebody like Frank Hardy writing about you know the experience of indigenous peoples and then the Tom Kenneally book that won the Miles Franklin that year –
W: Three Cheers for the Paraclete.
Gr: - I don’t know if you wanted to speak about that.
W: Oh very briefly. I don’t want to steal your thunder, of course.
Gr: Oh no, I mean I just think it’s quite interesting if we’re talking about religion in 1968 as well, was another sort of theme that came up quite a lot.
W: Yeah, thanks Grace. Grace did most of the work in literature, I just looked at two works both by Thomas Kenneally. One was a novel, Three Cheers for the Paraclete which was published in 1968. The Paraclete in Catholic theology is a name for the holy spirit and the book is based on Kenneally’s experiences as a training priest. It’s sometimes referred to as a – iconic novel which makes you expect something like Lucky Jim. It’s not really. If I had to attribute a genre to it I’d probably say it was serious satire or realistic satire. It’s about the Catholic Church’s inability to move with the times in what was perceived to be a period of change, about the Catholic Church’s institutional and doctrinal rigidity. And in 1968 of course as Grace alluded to we have an expectation of change within Catholicism and elsewhere, an expectation of change was thwarted in ’68 by the papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae which in effect banned the contraceptive pill.
The other work by Kenneally I looked at very briefly was I thought really interesting ‘cause it was an unpublished work, a play called Childermass. Childermass is a reference to Herod’s massacre of the innocents in the New Testament in Matthew. It was commissioned by an anti-Vietnam war group. It’s a strange work, it has – it was performed at the [Althote] 24:44 Theatre in Sydney and even visited Canberra, I believe. It’s a really weird work. It has a poem by Judith Wright which I think Grace alluded to. It’s – has a kind of [breadthian] 24:57 vibe to it which is okay, you’d expect that but it has a lot of heavy allegory in it, stuff I’m kind of familiar with ‘cause I'm a medievalist originally but it has themes from Arthurian literature, it has end of days apocalypticism. It is no surprise to me to learn that most audiences were mystified by it, especially I suspect in regional Australia where it did tour. I read a review of it and it said that many people in the audiences were left wondering what it was actually about. They would have expected no doubt a straightforward or straightforwardish anti-Vietnam war sentiment but they got something completely different which was interesting in itself.
G: I think another interesting view about the literature and books, both fiction and nonfiction, published this year is something which Donald Horne referred to as the new nationalism which was Australian writers were becoming very interested in writing about Australia and making statements and generalisations about Australian culture so you have - Donald Horne’s Lucky Country is earlier than 1968 but a new edition is published in 1968 partly because it’s so successful and it’s recognised as being the book about Australia in the 1960s. And you also have other writers like Craig McGregor who writes a series of books around this time and there’s – I think it’s called Politics and Pop. There’s a little book of essays in there and they’re very interesting ‘cause they’re kind of – they really are interrogating what it means to be Australia which is a question we got very sick of over the next 10, 20 years but in 1968 people seriously were engaging in that question of what does it mean to be Australian?
Gr: And I should say also that is also explored through journals and many of them are still in print today like Quadrant and Meanjin and they were quite influential at the time as well and they’re sort of a voice – a platform through which some of these ideas were explored.
B: Well one of the other big questions has been coming out in the 1960s as we’ve already seen with contraception and with issues of feminism is questions of gender so how did you deal with that in the exhibition?
Gr: Well I mainly looked at – so I did the display on equal pay and it’s sort of quite close to the display on the Encyclical as well and what I found really interesting was a couple of things, one, that some of the issues that were discussed there are still being discussed today. Obviously there’s been some progress but particularly with this idea of equal pay I found some really wonderful ephemera in the Riley collection and one of the pieces of ephemera I found was a little sort of cartoon and it was - oh a take-off of The Flintstones and it was saying you know leave Dad to mind the kids and come to this protest so that idea of you know get the father more involved in the childcare you know to sort of give the women space to kind of come and be involved in this campaign.
And also something else that was coming up was this idea of well what is equal pay and what you know how do we sort of campaign for women’s work if you like for want of a better term? Or work predominantly undertaken by women to be seen on an equal playing field as the sort of work predominantly done by men and I’ve just noted that in sort of – in the media even in the last six months some of these ideas are still being played out and it’s in late 19 – in 1967 when the ban on married women having substantive positions in the federal public service is lifted. So – and obviously that’s before the focus that we’re looking at in the exhibition but there’s a story that we tell of a very influential librarian, Pauline Fanning, who had been caught up in that process and actually sort of was considered so important that she was still employed and it wasn’t that women couldn’t be employed, they just couldn’t have substantive positions and generally the women weren’t employed after they got married.
But she sort of worked largely from home but was very influential and worked very closely with Sir Harold White, the National Librarian, and as soon as that ban was lifted she was sort of promoted to the highest level that they could promote her to and ended up being a hugely significant librarian, also assisted a number of people including Manning Clark with research and so very important figure in the Australian humanities so sort of nice to be able to tell that story within the context of gender at the time.
B: And one of the other I suppose major fronts of protest in the 1960s and particularly in 1968 is Vietnam and how do you approach a topic like that? It has a fair space in the exhibition.
W: Yes, it is a huge topic, one obviously needs a starting point or a focus. I wanted to do something different from what another well-known institution in Canberra has done in respect of the Vietnam war, I wanted to focus on Australia and especially on opposition to the war. I found that the Library’s collections were great for that approach, not least because there was a really interesting archive from the Save Our Sons movement which formed in ’65 and lasted through the moratorium period.
It still was something that needed focus so I – early on in my research I found a brochure by a Melbourne activist, Labor activist and unionist named Bertha Walker in which she talked about – it was an anti-conscription document made in 1968 but she talked about an anti-conscription tradition in Australia. I was interested in that and I felt that that might be a good thing to be thinking about, contrasting the situation in world war one which she was referring to in respect of the defeat of the conscription referenda and what was happening in 1968 or in the 1960s. I think really that there are more dissimilarities than continuities, I’m not sure whether I ultimately have to agree with Bertha Walker regarding that tradition.
When we’re talking about the ‘60s we’re talking about a different context, of course. In world war one most of the antiwar, anti-conscription feeling takes place – took place along the lines determined by class and religion which were more or less the same thing. In the Vietnam period you’ve got a much more fragmented antiwar and anti-conscription movement or movements. You’ve got a couple of new things happening, youth culture, of course and also the emergence of universities and university life, universities being a site for antiwar activity. And I found that the collections or the stuff that I found in the collections reflected that kind of fragmented, non-monolithic sensibility in regard to antiwar feelings.
For example we’ve got a brochure produced by Sydney University students in 1968 which simply says make love, not war and it has a line drawing of figures sitting around smoking huge spliffs. And surprisingly not in sheepskin jackets. But we also have a brochure produced by the Communist Party of Australia. You also have during the 1960s and especially during 1968 the emergence of the individual conscientious objector. Somebody like Simon Townsend whom we feature in our exhibition who doesn’t rely on the authority of social structures, institutions, religion, comes up as an individual with a very compelling anti-conscription case of his own.
So I think too that when we’re talking about anti-Vietnam war sentiment in Australia we can talk about a kind of change, it has a history of its own and 1968 is an important point in that. We all know that 1968’s an important point in the Vietnam war, the Tet Offensive and so forth but it’s also an important point in activism against and sentiment against conscription and the Vietnam war in Australia. And I discovered that there was a Morgan Gallop poll taken in December 1968 which showed that for the first time the majority of Australians no longer were in favour of our involvement in the Vietnam war so I think to me that emphasised not only the fragmentation of the anti-war sentiment but the idea that 1968 was a period of changing times.
G: I think one of the really wonderful bits of serendipity or the really fun of being a researcher sometimes is we were - we had the Save Our Sons collection which was a fantastic resource and while we were doing the research we were obliged to seek permission to display items from the son of the person who’d donated the collection and in the telephone conversation with him it became – he said oh I happen to have a banner which my mother had from that period, would you be interested in that as well? And it turned out to be this beautiful protest banner saying Save Our Sons, gorgeous – sort of been rolled up virtually since the late 1960s in somebody’s house and so we were able to get that banner and bring it here and then with a little bit more research we were able to find a photograph of – a really interesting photograph of some middleclass women with hats and gloves standing in front of the army recruitment station in Marrickville in Sydney, very recognisable suburban backdrop with that banner so in the exhibition we have that.
There’s a large photo mural and we actually have the real banner there which I think is a really powerful combination of where you can bring the evidence together in a way which makes quite a powerful statement. And I do like the way that when we look at Australia in 1968 we’re looking at the opposition or development of opposition to conscription rather than perhaps looking at what’s happening militarily in Vietnam ‘though we do mention that but we – obviously I think Walter’s referring, if you want to find out about that the War Memorial does that very well and we didn’t need to do it.
B: Well of course the other major event we know in 1968 is the National Library so how do you integrate the history of the Library into the exhibition?
Gr: That’s actually something that Guy and I discussed quite a lot and one of the things we were you know really concerned with was you know gosh you know how do we make these – the three sections you know the world, Australia and the Library which is sort of how we’ve kind of framed it, how do we make them sort of speak to each other so it doesn’t feel like you’re entering into a different exhibition? Because of course although you’re exploring different things it’s almost like a book you know all the chapters need to weave together so that people are taken through and it all makes sense and so one of the ways that we did that was we sort of focused a bit more on Canberra more broadly, looking at the development of Canberra under the National Capital Development Commission and debate around the siting of new Parliament House which was happening in 1968, to sort of look at this side of nation-building.
And how political leaders such as Menzies, although he was no longer Prime Minister in ’68, was very involved in getting the Library building off the ground, the sort of – the political I suppose agenda behind developing Canberra but also developing a really impressive cultural institution that would be a great symbol of Australian culture that people from around the world would come to to sort of access our collections but also just to sort of you know experience Australian culture. And I think that that was a way that sort of enabled you to sort of come from the other parts of the exhibition into the story of the Library hopefully in a more sort of fluid way.
G: Yeah, it’s like – I always tell people it’s like a series of Russian dolls, we have the world, inside the world is Australia and inside Australia is Canberra and of course the tiniest Russian doll at the bottom so it’s - a third of the exhibition is the Library.
W: But the most important one.
G: Well clearly for us it’s extremely important but I think it’s not – I hope that as you go through it’s not a big leap to get down to that ‘cause when you’re actually looking at the Library material it’s so 1960s when you look at the drawings of the rooms like I – some of the sort of renderings of what a particular room would look like I describe them as Mad Men drawings ‘cause they do look like scenes from Mad Men and you have your - like the men in the ties and the suits, it’s –
Gr: The men are in the council room, there aren’t any women in the council room.
G: There's no women in the council room.
Gr: And you know Asian Collections is called Oriental Studies. There are some things there that just yeah immediately it sort of leaps out at you that okay, things have changed since 1968.
G: And the good thing is you can have a very light curatorial hand, you don’t have to be didactic about these things, you can let the objects sort of speak and I think one of the things I really like about the show is people come into it with so many ideas about 1968 that we’re really just assembling a set of materials in a – hopefully an attractive and logical fashion. But then they have their own conversation as they go through and their own discussions and I hope those discussions go on backyard into the carpark and in the car and on the way home so that’s sort of like the knowledge-making isn’t just in the exhibition, it’s sort of like just an invitation to start a conversation about 1968.
B: Now we’re talking about Mad Men I think I probably want to ask how do you integrate television and the role of TV into the exhibition?
G: Well Walter watches a lot of TV, I thought he’d be a good person to do that.
W: I moved down to Australia from New Guinea when I was a child and there was no television there and when I moved to Sydney I discovered TV and this was in 1966 and I thought it was the greatest thing ever and I did very little other than watch television for a number of years.
G: In preparation for this –
W: That’s right, yes, excellent preliminary research. No, it’s an interesting period for television I have since realised. Television had become in Australia a national phenomenon by 1968 and a dominant medium as well. We all know that television began in Australia in ’56 but it wasn’t until the early ‘60s with a proliferation of regional TV stations that it did become a truly national phenomenon. And we tend to forget the media that it rendered obsolete or obsolescent almost overnight or within a couple of years anyway television was the dominant way in which people received information and the dominant way in which people were entertained. And I think this in turn affected people’s consciousnesses, maybe affected the Australian psyche too, it’s no surprise to know that at this very stage we’ve got the Canadian media philosopher, Marshall McLuhan, talking about the effect or the relationship between the medium and the processes of human cognition and consciousness.
So I think – you talked about Australian – an Australian consciousness in respect of literature, I think you can see one in television as well at the time. In my research I came across a little snippet which I really liked not least because it has superb Hegelian overtones. It said that in the 1960s Australia for the first time recognised itself through television. There was a preponderance of overseas content, though. English surprisingly but also American but you did have local news and current affairs shows but also most importantly local dramas and it’s in things like Homicide that this process of Australian identity becoming apparent the argument runs is seen. You’d see Australian characters, Australian scenes.
When we’re talking about Australianness and 1968, though, you inevitably have to come to Skippy. Skippy was made in 1968 and it was made with an overseas audience in mind, it was a big – for the time it was a very big budget thing so we’ve got not only a consciousness of Australia and Australianness, we’ve got those things at the time I think being exported and I would maintain in a new way for the first time. It was immensely popular overseas, Skippy, I think it was aired in a hundred or so countries. But I think when we’re talking about Skippy I have myself a sense of unease and a sense of I guess historicity again because this is an animal exploitation show. It’s a formula which the makers of Skippy borrowed from America where you had shows like Lassie, Flipper, Gentle Ben. Making these shows involved – I’ve got to be honest about this – involved significant animal cruelty to the extent that I hope these shows could not be made today so I think we do have a sense of historical difference there.
B: Yeah, I think it’s very interesting if Australia recognises itself by TV in ’68 whether we still recognise ourselves in the exhibition and I guess more broadly what do you think people take away from the exhibition and what does it mean to people and is it more than – or what is it more than other than nostalgia –
B: - people take away?
G: I do wonder about that and it’s very interesting to read the comments book and we’ve also conducted quite an extensive – I think something like 600 surveys have been done now and I think the strongest comment we’re getting from people is that they love the music and the use of music in the exhibition really has a lot of impact and takes people to a place. I’ve been telling people it’s the only exhibition I’ve seen where I walk in and – ‘cause I often go in and lurk and watch people and – but I often see people dancing in the 1968 exhibition, completely self-consciously. They’re just standing in front of an object and –
W: Members of staff, is it?
G: Not usually, it’s sort of – but it is quite interesting that they become absorbed in the moment and it’s very powerful and then you read the comments in the book and so for people who were say young adults and teenagers in 1968 I think the experience is intensely nostalgic, I have no doubt about that at all. I like to think that nostalgia is however a useful way into a topic and you can open up some other stories and I think there are some challenges there and some other things for people to look at so hopefully we go – nostalgia is definitely there but hopefully we also ask you to consider some other things as well. And I think there is that – the exhibition’s called Changing Times and I think you look at aspects of the show and you can’t help but think gosh, things are different now and you know that worn-out quote, the past is a foreign country, I think that that – it is. I do come out of that show feeling like gosh, things were different in 1968 and things have changed and that is a kind of a sense of historical consciousness beyond just straightforward nostalgia.
Gr: And I think also Guy and I were speaking a few days ago, something that we’ve both noticed on sort of tours that we’ve led as well as just sort of being in the space is a kind of intergenerational dialogue. I’ve seen a lot of people where it looks like a parent or a grandparent with say an adolescent and they’re talking to them, speaking with them about the 1960s and that’s you know really nice to see. And also a lot of former librarians are really enjoying the exhibition and really sort of taking them back to their time at the library and also you know Canberrans who have memories of Canberra in 1968 so it seems to be that there are a couple of different audiences perhaps on top of our regular Library exhibition audience that are sort of engaging in particular ways which is really nice.
W: Yeah, I agree with the idea of there being a divide between those who can remember and those who don’t. I think the most pleasing piece of feedback I got from the exhibition was an email from a friend of mine who is only about 30 and the email said conscription, those conscription balls, wow, what a different time. So that militates against a kind of nostalgia and I think really that nostalgia is a wonderful thing because it makes us feel nice but it’s something that as historians we have to guard against because it tends to [allied] 46:45 the difference between the past and the present, it militates against historicity.
And even if it doesn’t, even if it does have a sense of difference between the present and the past you’ve still got to be on your guard – you got to be on your guard against the kind of a golden age approach which is I think part of modernity, I think you can – you see it for the first time in the romantic movements in the 19th century where the medieval past is seen as a period – a golden age period free of the social and the metaphysical ills of modernity, alienation in particular. So I think really that it’s a love hate thing for me with nostalgia and I think Guy’s on the right track when he suggests that it can be used positively and moved on from and to be used in a way that gets us thinking about history and what history is, how we remember it, how we create it.
B: Well then perhaps one final question now we’re onto sort of how we use history as the theme of the AHA conference is the scale of history so how does this theme relate to the exhibition?
G: Well it was a great – when I knew the Australian Historical Association conference was on and that its topic was the scale of history I thought this show is a great case study for that. I think - I worked on an exhibition some years ago called 1913, I was one of the curators who worked on that and 1913 is another really fascinating year in Australian history where you can see a young nation emerging from federation, a lot of incredible things are happening. Of course we all know and of course the people in 1913 didn’t know but we all know that in 1914 it all comes to an end and I find that a really – I really enjoyed working on that exhibition and I think 1968 has some elements of that as well so I love using years and I’ve got my antenna out for thinking of future years which might make good exhibitions.
‘Cause I think it’s a really interesting way of looking at history and it works very well, particularly in an institution like this ‘cause the Library is a deposit library which means we have vacuumed up Australian print material over the last 100 years so you choose a year or a topic, there’s a good chance we’ll have something on it. So I think the year in terms of exhibitions is an extremely useful way of producing interesting exhibitions – you got to choose the right year, though. 1968 was a very good year you know 1913 was a good year but I’m interested in what other years in Australian history might generate a – interesting exhibition.
B: Okay, I think we’re running out of time so let’s throw it open to audience members if you have questions for the panel.
A: Thanks. I think you did luck it with being built in 1968 because when you do see the exhibition you know it’s so dense, there’s so many things happened and while I was listening I had thought you should do this again but you’ve got to in a way pick the right year because it was a dynamic year and I think you’ve done a wonderful, wonderful job.
W: Thank you.
A: And having been a bit older than all of you it does you know Robert Kennedy dying, that assassination was – in our family were just overwhelmed by it after his brother had died and one can’t help wondering if he hadn’t have died we wouldn’t have had Nixon so that often – you go on from that. But the music in particular, and I don’t think I’m being nostalgic, I don’t know what other year you could pick or another decade, that music still resonates today or it triggered off music that we still know today. You hear it in the supermarkets everywhere and I know all the words, you know? And I don’t have a good memory anymore. But – and you know I look forward to coming again because you’ve got the wonderful resource, it’s marvellous looking at your lived history, there’s so many things I could think of that – when we went there. The other thing I do think, though, at that time in Australia whatever happened overseas in fashion in particular but other things took years to come to Australia, it’s not like today that we see something that’s happening and it’s immediately adopted here.
G: Maybe that’s what was happening with the flares, they hadn’t –
A: They hadn’t, they hadn’t because I was thinking –
Gr: They were on the boat.
A: Things took years, shops took years to get what was happening in America or indeed in London, you know.
W: Even hippiness I think took a couple of years –
A: Some –
W: - things did at the time and if we go forward a decade punk music for example which I know a bit about myself was a couple of years later in Australia than it was –
A: At least a couple of years, I’d say.
W: But when we’re talking about music – we haven’t today of course in any detail but I think you’re right, I think we’ve got to acknowledge that the ‘60s was a particularly dynamic period in poplar music. And it’s a period in which popular music actually pertained to things other than popular music, of course, society at large, youth culture, protests and so forth. And of course we’re talking about the period just before postmodernism although it was a while before people started to use that term in which creativity and dynamism were in fact possible at – alas, they are no longer.
A: The other thing I think that happened there, it was the first time that young people got a voice.
W: Oh definitely, yes. The whole idea of a generation gap which we still have to some extent came from the 1960s.
B: Have a question up the back.
A: I’d first comment actually in regard to Skippy. The reason that I understand from a talk at the NFSA that Skippy became a phenomenon in America was because the – Robert Kennedy assassination. He’d been touring America, the distributor had been touring America going to all the television stations and getting knock back after knock back. He was packing his bags in LA about to take a flight and these calls came through shortly after the thingo saying we need content. Essentially they needed nonviolent content on American television and Skippy was one of the vehicles that was chosen.
G: It’s a connection we didn’t know about.
W: I hadn’t realised the historical significance of Skippy in that sense.
A: Also in regard to the fashion thing, it was a do it yourself era, lots of people did it themselves. Flares were made by cutting straight leg jeans and putting V patches in them. It was that sort of stuff that was going on, quite an inventive – that was part of the inventiveness of the period, I think. But I was also wondering according – I have an older brother who was actually there at the time and described it in great detail and he says that there was like – there were numerous political activist, anti-Vietnam groups that were operating. There was one in Melbourne called RAM, Radical Action Movement. I can’t remember the names of dozens of others that he cited but they were all pretty protean as far as the development of the left was concerned and in Australia, the core group, they came out through – was through – these people were concerned about Vietnam and that actually powered the left for quite a while after the – after ’68. I’m just wondering if you could comment on that and also you said that there were also things like urban renewal that were really kind of coming to the fore at that time too and it was like the green bans and all that kind of thing, it was in development and –
G: We might have to carry on some of this conversation downstairs ‘cause I think we’re clicking over to 5:00 but yes, obviously the left in Australia was strongly influenced by a range of groups who were radicalised in the late – but in 1968 and obviously there were strong links between the Labor movement and other – and the Labor Party, Dr Jim Cairns of course who went on to lead the moratoria starts to come –
W: Arthur Caldwell too, always anti-Vietnam.
G: Arthur Caldwell so yes, it’s very strong links there.
W: I would add though that the antiwar movements were far broader than just including left wing ideology.
B: Perhaps we can have one last question.
A: Thank you for that opportunity. I went to university in 1968, it was an opening up for me and so the whole of the exhibition was very nostalgic. The thing that I am very conscious of and really following on from that last conversation is that it was a snapshot and it didn’t have a sense of the way in which it was propelling Australia forward. And so – and the world in fact if you think about the consequences of things that happened in Europe in that year and the broadness of the antiwar movement. I mean I would say easily that that was the year that politicised me and it was the war and I was involved in student politics with a whole lot of people who went on to be the leaders in the state and federal government. It was a turning point or fructification or something and I would have loved to have seen some sense of that in the exhibition as well as it being a really vibrant snapshot. But thank you for doing it, it was wonderful.
G: Thanks very much. There was definitely many more things which we could have done and I tell my team often that exhibitions are – it’s like the tip of the iceberg and all the work and other things which we think about, they’re under the water but they don’t actually make it into the show. But I think we crammed as much into the 500 square metres as we could.
C: Well thank you very much Walter, Grace and Guy and Ben for sharing with us your insights on 1968, lived or otherwise, Grace. It’s been really interesting to hear how your experiences or the whys of 1968 have shaped the exhibition and what you were bringing to the exhibition as well so thank you and please join me with thanking –
C: So as we draw to a close I’d like to thank the Australian History Association and the Australian National University for supporting today’s event and I’d like to thank you all for joining us here this afternoon. The 1968 exhibition is now open downstairs in our gallery for the next hour or so and Guy, Grace and Walter will be down there as well to carry on the conversation and to answer any of your other questions that you might have. Please also join us in the foyer for refreshments. Once again thank you for coming today and I hope to see you again at your National Library soon. Thank you.
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