Luck Hickey: I'm Luke Hickey, the Assistant Director General of the Engagement Branch. I’d like to begin by acknowledging Australia’s First Nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of the land and give my respect to their elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with us either here in the audience or in our online audience as well.
Thanks for attending this event coming to you from Ngunnawal and Ngambri country today. This afternoon’s presentation, The Children Shall Carry It On: painting, writing and performing humanitarianism, 1920s to the 1980s is by Dr Annie McCarthy. Dr McCarthy is one of our 2022 National Library of Australia Fellows, a distinguished fellowships program, supports researchers to make intensive use of the Library’s rich and varied collections through residencies of three months and are made possible by generous philanthropic support.
After finishing her PhD in anthropology from the Australian National University in 2016 Annie taught at the ANU in the Anthropology Development Studies and Gender Studies programs before commencing at the University of Canberra as an Assistant Professor in Global Studies in July 2018. Annie has also worked across a range of NGOs in Delhi in India for a year providing a unique perspective alongside her research as well.
Annie’s talk today focuses on child-authored materials and highlights the ways humanitarian organisations use those materials while also seeking to tell alternative stories that attend the creativity, emotion and power of children’s contributions. Looking at children’s involvement in a range of organisations from the League of Nations union to the Australian Freedom from Hunger campaign this project explores both the incredible global mobility of child-authored materials and the limitations and adult biases of archival practices. Please join me in welcoming Dr Annie McCarthy.
Annie McCarthy: Thank you so much, it was a lovely introduction. So, I must also begin today by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we meet on today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and in particular I do want to acknowledge the extent to which my talk today does contain traces of colonial violence, the violence of child removal and the violence of particular forms or representation that often denied the humanity and power of first nations people of this land.
But let us start in 1979 with these words from Kirsten from North Sydney. “Even now people are speaking of a world war. This will be the third. Who cares? Today’s children do. I’m only one representative of today’s younger generation but we all feel the same, we’re all concerned. We will do our best to help our society whose walls seem to be caving in”.
Although written 43 years ago this little piece seems pertinent to our current moment. yet Kirsten’s story, while specific to her, when compiled into an anthology in service of an International Year of the Child enters into vast national and transnational circuits of children’s art, drawing, poetry and other creative work. Within these circuits children’s creative work does many, many things. It speaks truth, it saddens, it delights, it renews hope or it simply offers a moment of whimsy. These moments are fleeting and as the child panel who actually compiled the stories in this book notes in their introduction, they suggest we know we will be adults some day and then maybe we will forget too. But what is it exactly that we forget?
So, I’m not going to try and answer that big question for you today but I will hopefully show how children’s words, images and performances do become foundational to the construction and circulation of humanitarian projects to value and sustain life and development efforts to address poverty and tackle inequalities. But from the outset I do want to be really clear that both development and humanitarianism are deeply flawed projects, both conceptually and practically and likewise there is much, much to critique in the way children have been treated and represented in and across both of these projects.
Yet neither of these realities I think means that we can simply toss aside children’s work and contributions and we must not forget and what I hope to show today in this presentation, is that although children are regularly reduced to symbols in these movements the history of humanitarianism and development is actually populated by actual children, children who made things, children who drew pictures, children who staged elaborate performances, embarked on crazy fundraising schemes. They wrote essays, stories, poems and letters, letters to one another, letters to development organisations, even letters to world leaders. So, while I can only do a fraction of this today in charting the context, content and scope and also limits of children’s participation I think we can start trying to tell a different story about children and humanitarianism, showing both what has been but also what could have been otherwise.
So, to begin the story that will primarily focus on the contributions of Australian children I want to start in New South Wales in 1914 where the first Junior Red Cross circles were formed by Eleanor McKinnon. Now McKinnon, as you can see her here on the slide, is generally hailed in Australia as the originator of the Junior Red Cross, a movement that was by 1927, as you can see on this map, operating in 40 countries with a membership exceeding nine-and-a-half million. So, from New South Wales it grew rather quickly.
While an obituary for McKinnon from 1936 notes that it has not yet been established that any other junior circles had been formed throughout the world before she started her work in New South Wales. I do have to admit that junior circles were being formed in Quebec during the same year. In 1927 a Red Cross pamphlet detailing the history of the Junior Red Cross describes how children in Quebec were, and I quote, “given the privilege of participating in the humanitarian work of the Red Cross through the making of bandages, dressings and comforts for the soldiers at the front”.
This language of privilege is also used in Australian publications, but it is one that right from the outset of this talk I’d really like to invert and challenge and instead ask what exactly did this privilege consist of and who and what is privileged by children’s participation in humanitarianism? The privilege to serve has of course its obvious result, the extensive production of service so in Australia whether in dedicated junior circles or working alongside adults in the Red Cross children did many, many things, they knitted socks. In 1915 alone the children of New South Wales produced a staggering 54,326 pairs. They grew vegetables, they gathered eggs, collected monetary contributions, they performed in concerts to raise money for the Red Cross and many, many other things.
So, some of these contributions attracted special attention such as the walking sticks made by the Galston Boys’ Public School which in the April 1915 issue of the New South Red Cross Record noted, were kept in the window of the Produce Department, drawing a constant gathering of interested people.
Described as the finest and most practical collection of sticks from the bush the report added that each of these walking sticks bore a label with a kind wish for the invalid soldier.
So, children’s work during this period is often deeply personal. In a letter from 12-year-old Minnie Atson from Lithgow to the New South Wales Red Cross Record in 1917 she wrote “I am determined to try and describe to you what I have done for the Red Cross in the past and what I hope to do in the future”. Minnie’s letter which described her work knitting garments and selling flowers concluded by noting that she had two brothers serving in France.
That both writing for children and children’s writing have a place in humanitarian work and publications is arguably also first established in New South Wales. In February 1916 the pages of the New South Wales Red Cross Record included a supplement for the first time entitled The Children’s Page and the opening greeting explains this, noting that because of the very great help that has been given by children to the Red Cross Society and because we believe this help will grow steadily and become a standing feature of our work, we feel that there should be a special place in the Red Cross Record for children’s interests.
But in these pages children’s help is from the outset presented as both material, all the eggs and the socks, and creative and as such is subject to certain forms of adult evaluation. The dominant structure of this evaluation is the competition which as you’ll see as I go through this talk remains a really dominant structure of engaging children’s participation.
So, the first Children’s Pages here from February 1916 advertised a competition for the Best Letter or Postcard for our Boys but two months later in April these letters, none of which were actually published in the magazine, were subject to some rather harsh scrutiny by the author of the Children’s Pages, Ellen McFaidan, who described many letters as uncompetitive and suggesting that on average young children write with more originality than the elder ones. From 12 onwards most girls at any rate temporarily lose their individuality, write quite fluently but with less observation and freshness.
So, this kind of adult evaluation and also periodisation of childhood with younger children equated with freshness and originality is a key and really enduring feature of children’s participation in humanitarian organisations. Yet while in this case with this letter and postcard competition children’s writing was used to presumably bring consolation and the warmth of home to serving soldiers the role for children as contributors, I guess creators and performers arguably expands in the post world war 1 period as they are recruited as key actors in projects of global friendship.
So accordingly, for children such as Minnie who had previously worked for our soldiers, a group made concrete through her own intimate connection to her serving brothers, she was now invited to I guess cultivate a broader sense of international friendliness. Thus, rather than wind down their operations at the close of the first world war the New South Wales Red Cross became in February 1919 the first Red Cross organisation in the world to launch a dedicated junior publication and you can see it here on the slide.
The second volume of the Junior Record explained that although the war is over the Red Cross activities will continue to be urgently wanted and the Junior Society will be ‘specially needed’.
In its first year of publication though the Record did focus tightly on local and national concerns and in its own words it operated as a bright and amusing paper run wholly in the interests of the children of New South Wales the November ‘19 edition noted proudly no Australian paper has more competitions than the Junior Red Cross Record and indeed each edition did include regular story, riddle and joke-writing competitions such as the April edition which offered half a crown for the best verse of eight lines on ‘why I’d like to be a boy’ for a girl or ‘why I’d like to be a girl’ for a boy. Or the just supposing competition for volume 8 that asked children to write a story about what if their doll turned into a real baby. So while the winner for the latter competition is published and it’s not creepy, it’s actually a very detailed medicalised account about how to care for a young newborn infant so that was published, there were no signs of any genderbending verses ‘though in the subsequent numbers which perhaps was an indication that they might have bitten off a bit too much with their what if I was a boy and it didn’t quite match with the gender training associated with this organisation in which girls donned nurses’ caps and the magazine contained a recipe section entitled For Little Housekeepers.
However, in the post-world war 1 period it wasn’t just the Red Cross engaging children as creators. In 1919 the Save The Children Fund was formed in London and their early work was typified most iconically here by this flyer, very famous flyer depicting a starving baby. From their formation SCF, as Emily Bourne had noted, pioneered new modes of representing human suffering, stripping and posing children deemed sufficiently emaciated and editing images to show children alone and in the process coming to define the genre of humanitarian and film photography for decades to come, for centuries to come, really.
Yet from the outset the SCF also begin working with children and children’s creativity in other ways so in the same year as their formation they began distributing information packs in learned schools, courting child supporters and in 1920 they organised exhibitions of children’s art featuring works by the pupils of Franz Cizek’s Viennese juvenile art class.
Now the first of these exhibitions, which opened in London in November 1920, then subsequently toured the UK and Ireland then internationally to Australia and Canada, raising money for the Fund. So, at the very same time as the SCF was appealing to the public through campaigns for graphic images of war-ravaged Vienna they also sought to mobilise funds and public support via children’s depictions of quaint scenes of childhood and Austrian peasant life.
So, indicating one answer to the question of how exactly the latter strategy aligned with the former an article from 1922 in The Western Times describing the opening of the exhibition in Exeter declared a wonderful exhibition of children’s intelligence and fancy now and then coming very near to genius and nearly always showing some quaintness or brilliancy in colour and design.
So, while I’m going to come back to grappling with the lucrative, emotive and economic rewards associated with children’s art later in this presentation I also want to just note now that these exhibitions were not just for adults, children were themselves encouraged to visit and [S Jian] 14:32 Roberts has shown they were themselves moved to work for the Fund having seen these exhibitions.
So, in Hull a party of children who had come to see the exhibition asked if they might be allowed to walk home and contribute their return train fares for the benefit of the starving children.
So, these accounts of children’s fundraising efforts actually become a key part of the narrativising of such events but also key part of often the foundational stories of organisations like SCF. So, for example in several accounts of the Fund’s history a nine-year-old child’s contribution of half a crown is noted alongside much larger amounts such as £10,000 from the Miners’ Federation and this is often accompanied by a quote from the child’s letter which read, I have fished two shillings and sixpence out of my money box and hope you will now be able to save all the starving children.
So here the inclusion of the child’s own voice, whether it is real or apocryphal, is key to making the contribution of such a small amount noteworthy and in fact this genre of writing, what we might call the contribution letter, actually becomes a key mainstay of development periodicals and is one of the few non-competitive formats in which students’ voices are actually preserved in humanitarian archives.
So, joining the Red Cross and the SCF the League of Nations Union or the LNU formed in England in November 1918 and from 1919 it began to promote junior branches as effective mechanisms for creating world citizens in English schools.
So, this was driven, as Suzannah Wright has argued, by the desire to avoid a repeat of the horrors of the first world war and thus the organisation functioned as mainly educational. So, this education focus meant that by 1927 the LNU in Britain had 459 junior branches and as you can see on this slide, a range of educational publications all at the library for both children and teachers. But other material for children, plays, playlets, songs and pageants were actually designed to be actively performed by children. So, in one such play entitled ‘The AWCFL, The All the World’s Children’s Friendly League’, the list of characters which itself provides insights into the imaginaries of childhood that frame participation asks for a beautiful boy child, young enough but intelligent enough to act the part.
So, while historians such as Dominique Marshall have described how children became objects of international relations via the Child Welfare Committee of the League by emphasising children’s creativity and performances, we can also see that children or at least particular groups of children actually also became subjects of international relations via League activities. So here children, whether in plays or pageants or model assemblies or other forms of dramatic work, were not only invited to perform the visions and hopes of the League but also recruited to drive and give momentum to the movement as a whole.
Just quickly, one clear example of this comes from a British League of Nations Union pamphlet entitled An Experiment in a Secondary School by Miss Winifred Jay, a teacher from the Central Foundation Girls’ School. So, Miss Jay writes perhaps the greatest satisfaction, source of inspiration, sorry, a branch can posess is a League song. Here on the slide, we see the last verse of one League song written by 16-year-old pupil, Esther Stubb. Indicating the intergenerational transfer of responsibilities from child to child the song ends then sing, nation, sing at the message we bring, that children shall carry it on.
Describing the importance of this song Miss Jay writes personally I feel that most of my enthusiasm for the League was due in the first instance to this song. It expresses, she continued, in a rather charming way the hopes we all have for the future of the League and for the part that children will play in building it up. So that children had a part or a role to play in securing peace and building international friendship. It was also established in another key performative initiative of this period which is the Welsh Children’s Wireless Message to the World which began in 1922 but which sadly I don’t have time to talk about today.
But instead, I do want to talk about an often-overlooked episode in the history of the LNU in Australia and this is the Children’s Peace Vote of 1931, an event that highlights some of the limitations that actually came with the part that had been assigned to children.
So, following a decade of pedagogical introduction to the League via school magazines the first League of Nations Day was celebrated in New South Wales schools in 1930. Instead of simply repeating the occasion the following year in 1931 a proposal was made by Tom Schonk and Raymond Watt for a children’s peace vote to be organised with the results to be conveyed to the World Disarmament Conference to be held the following year in Geneva.
However, in the committee not everyone agreed. Critics of the idea suggested that the children were, quote, incompetent to make a decision on such a complex question as disarmament while the others suggested a vote of individual children may not even be an accurate expression of feeling.
So, in response to this it was decided to run a collective vote of children’s support for League of Nations principles. The Education Minster was approached, and he agreed and, in a letter, published in the Education Gazette on the 1st of August he explained to teachers that in view of the importance of the World Disarmament Conference to be held early next year it has been decided to permit the carrying out of a children’s peace vote campaign in departmental schools. It is suggested that after due preparation children be asked to affirm by collective class or school vote the declaration that they accept the ideals of the League of Nations, two, promote international cooperation and to achieve international peace and security.
So, 1,001 schools responded to the Minister’s request with 155,392 students voting to affirm their acceptance of the ideals of the League and 181 students voting against. So, based on another news report from the same year that puts the number of public schools in New South Wales in 1932 at 360,000, this amounts to a staggering participation rate of 43%. As for the 181 students that voted against, I can find no records sadly that detail their reasoning and in this sense the vote is typical of many other records of children’s participation, actually leaving us with far more questions than answers yet it is also fascinating as a moment in which there was consideration and debate about the place of children’s views in international assemblies. As several news accounts from the time note the peace vote, it was hoped by the LNU that the peace vote would actually be adopted by other nations and that the global results could be presented to the President of the World Disarmament Conference by at least two children from each country.
This sadly was not to be and as Raymond Watt recounted in a letter to Tom Schonk, describing his experiences at the 1931 Assembly, he actually had difficulty in even getting this proposal discussed. Therefore, despite enthusiasm and admiration from the British and Welsh representatives both were as Watt wrote to Schonk, depressingly sceptical as to the chance of putting over any similar scheme in their countries. He continued, ‘they fear greatly, too greatly that the educational authorities will look on the proposal as a propagandist effort’. He also recounted that Dame Edith Littleton of the British delegation warned him that if votes from children were presented to the President of the Disarmament Conference the plan was likely to be ridiculed as a baby’s vote and perhaps do as much harm as good.
So thus, during a period of expanding enthusiasm for children’s participation in humanitarianism and projects of international friendship and unity the children’s peace vote was perhaps considered by many as one step too far, a step that could actually do more harm than good. But what exactly was this harm and how did fears of ridicule for a baby’s vote sit so easily alongside proclamations such as the following made to the Assembly of the League in 1924, that it should not be forgotten that the thoughts and feelings of the younger generation are an important element informing the conscience of humanity.
So, is this an example of what anthropologist Lisa Malke describes as the ethereal pedestal upon which we as a society have placed children? Ethereal precisely because it vanishes when it’s practically necessary. For Malke children’s authority is of a transnational ritual nature alone, carefully kept apart from the realm of real-world political history. So, demonstrating this clearly an article in the Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society Journal from 1972 described the peace vote as a striking example of the way in which idealists permitted themselves to be carried away by their emotional attitude towards peace. Commonsense should have dictated that the representatives at Geneva would pay scant attention to the extravagant compilation of numbers which seems to have preoccupied the LNU.
But what if just for one moment we considered the opposite to be true? What if the majority had failed to be idealistic enough and what if what was right, that it was fear rather than commonsense that had actually stifled the vote? So, a letter with the New South Wales results was ultimately sent by Watt to the President of the World Disarmament Conference - you can see it here on the slide – and participating schools received certificates marking their affirmation of League values. Thus, while children were never again asked to vote to affirm the League’s principles, they did continue to have a role to play in the League. By 1933 the first League of Nations junior branches had been established in New South Wales schools and in Canberra it was children leading the way with an enthusiastic junior branch of over 300 at [Ploybia] 24:28 Park High School staging elaborate celebrations on League of Nations Day in 1934 prior to any adult branches being formed in Canberra.
So, by 1937 the number of junior members in New South Wales was estimated at 16,000 in over 600 branches but this was very quickly shown to be a dire underestimate and they had to increase the orders for certificates to 104,000. However, as these two pamphlets that you can see on the slide of activities for the day from the late 1930s show, children’s role had been consolidated as primarily a creative and performative one. Here while younger children were invited to perform a play in which a group of dolls, a clown, a soldier, a sailor and I hate to say it but a gollywog are signed up as League of Nations members by their child owners, a pageant for older children required children to perform roles as Austrian, Polish, Persian, Egyptian, Indian and Burmese children who each described the work of the League in their respective countries.
But as well as being performed the global nature of the League’s work was also conveyed to the children through a range of repeated visual motifs such as the illustration on the far right of this slide of the children circling the globe which you’ve already seen ‘cause it’s the title of my talk.
Now this image was also used on the front of the Australian LNU junior membership card and was itself perhaps borrowed and adapted from an image that had been used by the Welsh Children’s Wireless Message since 1933. But the LNU junior membership card boldly declared, you have contributed to the peace of the world, and this was in some sense not just simple flattery or wholly rhetoric. With the annual reports of the New South Wales branch of the LNU regularly describing the schools’ work as the most important done during the year, with the branch bulletin of 1939 describing schools’ work as, continuing to be a cause for lively satisfaction, from any long-range point of view the most important of all the Union’s activities.
So other than celebrating the League’s special day during this period children wrote peace letters to members of the League of Nation states, they participated in international penfriend correspondence schemes and they continued submitting essays to annual essay competitions on the League that had begun as early as 1923.
So tackling themes such as what is the League of Nations and why should everyone help make it succeed, almost none of these essays actually survive so glimpses of the following by Fred Campbell, an 11 years and two-month old pupil at Murwillumbah Primary School published in the Tweed Daily are actually quite precious. So while much of Fred’s essay actually follows the form of the standard League narrative to children the essay itself demonstrates a self-awareness of being implicated in a pedagogical project concluding, we see that the League has already done some good but it has no power unless the peoples of the world support it. For that reason, we in school have lessons about the League, to make us know what it is and what it has done.
So, the power of the League in Fred’s words to do some good was however quickly to wane and by 1938 the Victorian LNU’s annual report was rueing the cynicism of older people and by 1940 the report admitted that several junior branches had either lapsed or changed their name to a current problems club. Yet with the formation however of the United Nations Association of Australia, the UNAA in 1946, many of the same activities were simply carried over to the new organisation. As simply stated in one prizewinning essay from the United Nations Day in 1951, the United Nations is mankind’s second great attempt to create an international centre of thought and action. So perhaps unsurprisingly children’s place in the second attempt remained remarkably similar to the first attempt.
Thus, while League of Nations Union material was quickly utilised as scrap paper for children to draw on, and I found these examples in the manuscript collection of Raymond Watt, children were similarly configured in the United Nations as central to the project of remaking the world. So, a 1947 booklet for children entitled Australia and the United Nations explains this well. It says the story is told of a father who to keep his small boy occupied tore up a map of the world on a page of his newspaper and he told him to put the pieces back together again, thinking it was going to take him ages. But to his surprise his son completed the task in a few minutes. Amazed he asked the boy how he managed to do it so quickly. Well, you see, Dad, replied the boy, there was a big picture of a man on the other side of the map, and I knew how the man went and when I got the man right the world came right too.
So, this booklet then suggested that to get man right we must train ourselves mentally and spiritually in the ways of peace by recognising our responsibilities as illustrated on this chart as a citizen of the world. Now this widening vision which was a key theme of earlier League of Nations publications for children, here illustrated on the left in the 1934 League of Nations school book, is thus restyled for the United Nations here on the right.
Yet the extent to which all children were actually invited to see themselves within this expanding circle is of course dependent on many things, race, class, gender, age, location, all fundamentally affected children’s relative position within this discourse. These factors likewise determined whether children were approached as beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance and development or courted as supporters and champions of such projects. Now these distinctions are really important but often creative forms of participation can blur the lines between these categories in interesting ways.
So, to demonstrate this let me tell you a lesser-known story about UNICEF. So, following provision of relief to one Czech town in 1948 a local teacher suggested to his pupils that they make thank you pictures to send to UNICEF. As one version of the story goes nine paintings were sent to Prague where one was chosen to be reproduced as a poster for UNICEF feeding centres throughout Czechoslovakia and it’s this image on the slide by seven-year-old Jitka Somkova. Now in other versions of the story the teacher is omitted entirely and Jitka’s drawing is described as a spontaneous thank you for the post-war help given to the starving children of her village.
But in 1949, Jitka’s drawing was featured on the first UNICEF greeting card which in its first year made a profit of $4,000 but ended up launching an enterprise which you’ll probably all be very familiar with which is now worth around $60m annually so thank you.
But explaining this development, one account of the story for children noted that some artists, a little better known than [Jitka], got involved too, Salvador Darley, Georgia O'Keeffe and Pablo Picasso, for instance. Thus while UNICEF largely turned away from children’s art in their Christmas card enterprise they continued to engage with child art in 1949, exhibiting in Vienna 2,000 drawings and designs that had been submitted in a poster contest for Austrian and Czechoslovak schools and two of these images you can see here on the left illustrate the practice of relief delivery and distribution, a visual narrative that is here constructed by war-affected children and that circulated in publications such as the one in which I found them, the United States Children’s Bureau of Publication, The Child.
So, UNICEF was not alone during this period, the Junior Red Cross was also heavily invested in children’s art and craft work. The American Junior Red Cross established an international school art program in 1947 and this was in addition to their already pre-existing school correspondence program which had begun in 1921 and involved not only correspondence but the global circulation of beautiful and intricately made albums, often with significant art and craft components.
So, the Australian Junior Red Cross magazine contains numerous guides for preparing portfolios and albums for sending overseas and this is a serious business as one article suggests, that it advises, because these albums go abroad on such an important mission it is very necessary that they be as attractive and interesting and as well-made as possible. Naturally you do not want the boys and girls and schoolteachers of other lands to think that Australian Juniors are clumsy and inartistic and take no pride in their work.
So, the image on the left here from the 1950s shows the whiteness of much of this correspondence, a whiteness that perhaps is self-supported or affirmed by the cover images of the Junior magazine for this period. They were organised into themed numbers that introduced particular countries, regions and cultures and as you can see from this slide this often involved highly exoticized or orientalised forms of representation. Indigenous populations, particularly those of Australia and North America, feature heavily in these publications that also include examples of indigenous children’s art and craft work.
So, although powerful when produced in print or in greeting cards the importance of the materiality of children’s creative work is actually best illustrated in an article about the Red Cross Serves On exhibition held in Adelaide in March 1949 which contained objects made by Juniors from more than 20 countries. Following their display in Adelaide selections of the exhibition were taken to country schools in South Australia where the objects were passed around classrooms.
So, the intended effect of this materiality is clear in the following adult description, the effect was like a magic carpet. Trying on a beautifully made pair of Indian moccasins made by a little Indian boy his own age and sent far across the world as a token of friendship little South Australian boy felt as though he was being whisked right away to that very spot on the map of Canada to which his circle leader was pointing. He felt that he knew that boy and that they were friends. Hadn’t he made him this pair of moccasins just like his own with his own hands?
So, whether children actually felt transported or connected by these objects is of course unclear yet what is clear is the persistence of beautiful objects made by indigenous children in these exhibitions. These two images on the slide are of work from a 1954 exhibition. On the left a doll with clothes made by, quote, an Indian girl and two Eskimo girls at the North West River School in Labrador and on the right two koala bears made from shells by Aboriginal Juniors in South Australia.
So that both of these groups of children were highly likely to have made these objects whilst in state care having been removed to residential schools or missions by racist government policies is of course not mentioned in the accompanying article however other cases of institutionalisation are made more explicit such as an introductory letter accompanying a portfolio made by girls from India which states, we live in an orphanage called the [Avabyfumjy Petty Passe] 35:27 Girls’ Orphanage at Bundra, a suburb of Bombay.
Likewise, the work of differently abled children, particularly blind children in institutions is regularly reported on in the Junior Red Cross publications. In this image from the Australian War Memorial, is captioned, during wartime any pair of willing hands was always welcome, there was none more willing to give their time and energy than the physically handicapped. Among these were the blind and partially blind.
So here visually impaired children at the Roya Victorian Institute for the Blind are celebrated for their productivity and service to the Junior Red Cross however other examples such as this reproduction of a thank you letter in Braille from a child in England reproduced in the Junior magazine clearly positioned this visually impaired boy as a recipient rather than producer of service.
That children’s productive abilities are emphasised is also clear from the March April edition from 1951 which features work by Noongar boys from the Carrolup settlement in Western Australia where a Junior Red Cross circle was formed in 1950. The article noted that if the boys in Carrolup continue to produce work like this to send away to other countries they will be making a valuable contribution to the reputation of the Australian Junior Red Cross overseas.
Yet as with other examples of indigenous children’s work the circumstances of these boys’ violent removal under stolen generation policies are obfuscated in the article that describes them as orphans.
For those who are familiar with the story of children’s art from Carrolup you will know that it is far bigger than what was produced for the Junior Red Cross yet recent scholarship on the rediscovery and return of the Carrolup artworks actually makes no mention of the Junior Red Cross album or the circulation of images and objects made by indigenous children in these humanitarian periodicals and by humanitarian organisations.
As you can see on this slide at least one painting from Carrolup also travelled to Canada for an international school art exhibition in 1952, an exhibition which as this quote also notes features paintings from Juniors in Papua New Guinea where a Junior Circle had been established in 1951.
So, the place of indigenous children’s creativity within the broader construct of humanitarianism is something that I won’t say anything more about today but is something that I’m definitely committed to thinking slowly and carefully about with indigenous colleagues and community.
But more generally to better understand how children were invited into global projects to share their art consider this description of the international art program from the May Junior magazine from 1952. Art is a language that is truly international, understood by everyone. What better way is there for us to talk to those who do not talk as we do than through art? What better way is there to explain our way of living, our customs and ideals than by putting ourselves on paper in bold clear colours that do not wait on nouns and verb for understanding?
So, if we compare this address to children with the following passage from an article in a special edition of the UNESCO Courier from 1953. So this one states, young children are endowed with the gift of seeing the world about them intuitively with an innocent freshness, as yet unaffected by the rational dictates of experience. One of the chief concerns of any mode of education must therefore be to retain as much as possible of this natural awareness in the child and yet provide a method of training that will truly educate.
So, the contrast between how children are addressed and how children’s art is discussed among adults I think is really stark here and it’s one of the reasons why in this talk I’ve often relied on material written for children because although these materials don’t tell us exactly what children experience, they do give us much more information about the ways children are invited into these kind of humanitarian projects.
But interestingly this UNESCO article goes on to describe a range of art exchange initiatives, children’s art exchange initiatives that it notes seem to have originated spontaneously in many different places. It observes with such wonder the large scale and astonishing pace with which these efforts have expanded in the past few years. They suggest that this is surely symptomatic of a widespread and genuine need and desire.
What is this genuine need and desire and how does this need, and desire actually relate to both the commercialisation of children’s artworks by humanitarian organisations and the elicitation of children’s best work by competitions? So, as I hope I’ve already shown neither competition nor commercialisation were particularly new by this point but given their proliferation during this period it’s actually worth further enquiring into the way children’s work comes to be valued within these structures.
There are of course many ways to assign value here. Value could be assigned by the total fundraising revenue, the prize money, the child seeing their name or work in print or an adult looking at these images or stories and somehow remembering something lost from their own childhood.
There may also be, as the article on the bottom left from the Women’s Weekly of 1977 suggests, also a familial local or even national pride that comes via both competition and commercialisation and this article notes that Sydney schoolgirl Adrienne Richards has become the first Australian to have her artwork on the cover of the UNICEF war calendar.
So, Adrienne’s artwork was first submitted to the UNICEF art awards in New South Wales where it won a merit award. Now this competition which was known as the May Gibbs Trophy was set up in 1970 and was regularly described as an Archibald Prize for Children. So, while Adrienne was very aware of her success the article also attests to the fact that children’s artwork sometimes travelled without their knowledge.
Roslyn Dean also featured in this article and painted golden apples in a primary school when she was 11. Five years later the entire family were surprised to find her work in a UNICEF diary and when asked about it as a 16-year-old she said I can’t really remember much about it, I think we were just in class and asked to paint a tree to go to Switzerland.
So, while Roslyn’s and Adrienne’s artworks were found to be of significant value to UNICEF the detachability of the child from the artwork in most cases resulted in these works being quickly forgotten by both children and development organisations alike. A series of correspondence from 1972 in the Howard Dawson Collection about Australian children’s contribution to that year’s UNICEF international drawing competition actually reveals the chaotic and uncontrolled circulation of children’s images. So, the correspondence describes how winning entries were sent ‘round to suburban and country branches of the ANZ Bank for exhibition with one letter noting unfortunately they do not all come back to us when they’ve completed their rounds.
Another letter describes how entries to the inaugural 1970 competition were lost in a fire. Similarly, despite the May Gibbs competition running for over two decades and thousands of entries submitted every year I haven’t been able to find a single original artwork submitted to this competition.
So, this inability to keep track of and preserve children’s entries contrasts as well with the incredible care that’s in evidence in other correspondence such as correspondence from 1973 which describes how 22 paintings from UNICEF’s international circuit were exhibited in Sydney and Melbourne having been flown from Japan en route to Hungary.
So, the incredible mobility of some of these artworks is thus also accompanied by an incredible disposability or replaceability perhaps by design as after all there is always another cohort of children to engage. Additionally, perhaps the much-touted originality and freshness of children’s materials requires a constant refreshening with the purity of these materials actually ensured by their steady flow.
Yet this external view actually tells us very little about the meaning of this work to individual children themselves. So, whilst some accounts such as Roslyn’s suggests that this work may have had very little meaning at all other examples suggest that creative forms and participation were used by children to advance their own projects and values.
Now this work was submitted in 1975 by 12-year-old Kathy Warrie to the Australia-wide poetry and art competition organised by [Karuna] 43:43, the United Nations magazine for schools, to commemorate the International Women’s Year. Kathy here not only produces a visually striking image, but a powerful poem structured around a series of I am statements which begins I am a child, I am all the things of my past, I am the freckles from my mother’s nose, I am the laziness of my dad resting his eyes in front of the television.
I don’t have time to read it all so the poem concludes I am all those things, I am like a caterpillar and these things are my cocoon but one day I’ll bite my way out and be free because I am the woman of the future.
That Kathy uses her poem to make a series of powerful assertions of gendered possibility is a significant reminder that children’s participation in humanitarian organisations might actually facilitate or provide spaces for children’s talents, values or passions. This position is not only available to child supporters, this is a fact that is illustrated by these essays on the left submitted to SCF in 1966 for a competition about the benefits of a school feeding program in Swaziland.
So, one by Thembiceli Merigeli declares, “before the soup arrived in school, I was very thin and not a lively child in looks because my parents are the poorest people in the world. After a few days I have been started eating this soup I was sweeping in my room. While I was nearest to the mirror, I saw a fresh body and pretty girl then I was surprised but after a few minutes I remembered that there is nobody in my room, I am just alone so the girl with the fresh body is I. I was very proud and happy to see that I am now pretty as a lily, all pimples removed away so I am fresh as butter and beautiful as a super rose flower. I am also brave as a lion and feel no pains in my body”.
So other children as well might use their work to mobilise their anger against their own community or society. Several entries to a poetry competition for SCF in Britain in 1977 that invited children to compose a poem based on a photograph of a refugee girl in Bangladesh actually refused to engage in sentimental accounts of victimisation with one notable entry entitled The Business Deal, tackling structures of inequality. It began the two worlds sat down to do business, a big, fat, well-fed succulent world and a little thin world who did not have a chair.
That children may also choose to direct their critiques closer to home is also on show in one entry for the 1985 Junior Media Peace Prize, a shared initiative between the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom and the United Nations Association of Australia. Now this entry which is a spoof agony column letter complained that mealtimes were constant yelling and fighting, stating that Mum works for a peace group and I think it’s silly of her to be trying to solve world conflicts when we are not even peaceful at home.
So, there are many more examples I could share but to try and wrap things up lets return to where I started with the 1979 International Year of the Child. So to mark this year UNESCO, UNICEF and UNHCR held a worldwide drawing competition for children under 12 on the theme of My Life in the Year 2000. Six hundred thousand children from 89 countries entered the competition and you can see some of their visions of the future which is now obviously in our past here on the slide.
So, while these looked to the future the Australian International Year of the Child newsletter actually included a reflection on the year by a student, Susan Hoolans, which was originally published in the top-secret magazine of Barham High School and she wrote when it was announced that 1979 would be the International Year of the Child many people were excited to see the outcome of it. I think everyone expected to see drastic changes in parents and their children however can we really see any changes at all?
Later in the piece Susan comments incisively, the world is like one big clock repeating itself, children growing into adults, having more children, dying and leaving the new generations to carry on. What an International Year of the Child means to Susan in such a world is a year of caring and greater appreciation to kids, a year when we can sit back and really think about what kids mean to us all.
She ends this paragraph on an optimistic note, perhaps it hasn’t gotten through yet, maybe next year will show the results.
So, while in the year since 1979 efforts to sit back and really think about what kids mean to us have arguably expanded, as have initiatives to promote children’s participation in development and humanitarianism, I’ve actually shared these historical materials with you today in part because I’m not convinced that it has even in 2022 entirely gotten through yet.
I am however convinced that in order to understand children’s contributions to and experiences of development and humanitarianism we must start with materials created by children. For this however there is unfortunately no readymade archive, and this is why opportunities such as the National Library fellowship are so vital for this kind of work. So, I must conclude this presentation not with any grand conclusions as my journey with these materials is far closer to its beginning than its end but with a massive thank you for the opportunity provided by the Library and all of its wonderful staff to really spend time with these materials so thank you all very much.
Luke Hickey: Thanks, Annie. Don’t run away just yet. Fascinating glimpse into the past and really thought-provoking, particularly as a child of the ‘70s myself turning into one of those dads that perhaps has got lazy eyes on the couch in front of the TV.
We now have some time for questions from the audience as well. As we’re recording this presentation if you do have a question just wait for the microphone to come to you so a call for questions from the floor.
Audience member: Thanks Annie. I have a sneaking suspicion either my sister or I might have contributed to that children’s book that you opened with, The World Around Us, it was very familiar to me and I suspect it may be hidden in a bookshelf somewhere in one of our houses. But the question –
Annie McCarthy: I’ll have to go and look for you.
Audience member: I’ll go and have a look. The question that I had was I’m often surprised by how much children-authored material there is in our collections. What surprised you in your journey through the collections? Was there anything that you found that you didn’t expect to find or something that you were looking for that just wasn’t there?
Annie McCarthy: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think that I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of children’s materials there are in the collection ‘though sometimes I was slightly bemused about how I would find them and where I would find them ‘because I feel like often – this is not to be critical but things like the subject headings or whatever don’t necessarily pick them up. So, I’ve actually created a list that I’ve published of 20th century materials of collated children’s work so hopefully you can guys can use that [unclear] 50:36. But I think it’s really interesting the way you stumble across them and what’s in there and how rich some of it is. But I did hope to find more children’s materials in the manuscript collections, I think, particularly with all these organisations running these competitions like constantly.
I could hardly find any examples actually preserved so that was a little disappointing but I think there are ways to try and reconstruct those entries as well from the periodicals because often the winners and stuff are published in the magazines or the newsletters so you can still build up traces of these very vast actually collections of materials, but you only ever get glimpses of small examples. But I think that book that I opened with, there’s a number of those in the Library’s collection and I think it would be great if children coming to the Library could actually get a chance to see some of these materials and even look at them at times because there are so many in the collection and it would be lovely to be able to show them off more a little bit. I’ve got all at my desk at the moment ‘though so once I return them.
Audience member: Hi Annie, thank you for a really interesting and wonderful talk. I’m still really stuck on something you mentioned toward the beginning, the amazing competition where you got to write about what you would be like if you were a boy, or a girl and it made me think about how in these periodicals and newsletters of course they would publish I assume what the Junior Red Cross was up to and that kind of mission and values. But I’m interested in whether these newsletters and periodicals that you studied, what other not obviously relevant material they published. That competition to me doesn’t seem to have a direct connection to the work of the Junior Red Cross – I think that was where it was from – so I was interested in what other kinds of materials they published and whether you saw a theme running through them of their less directly relevant articles.
Annie McCarthy: Yeah, no, that’s a really good question and I am starting to think actually that these materials are relevant like they don’t appear to be relevant but they’re part of it, they’re part of the experience of participating in these organisations and the jokes and the riddles – and some of the jokes are even – in 1919 some of the jokes are a little bit about war and stuff like there’s one that’s like how can you tell who’s a returned soldier? It says because you can see he’s back from the front. That’s right, you get it? It's not a good joke but the jokes are – yeah and I think - so I think yes, there are these jokes, these riddles, these story competitions and some of the stories are totally about other things like there’s one about a Canadian indigenous child who’s tracking a bear and he’s a fur trader or something.
So, there’s often these projected imaginaries as well. Some of them are about quite local things but then some of them are quite expansive in their views as well so I’m really starting to think that this fun, lighter side of things is actually a really key component of it and that’s also what I observed when I was working in India with development organisations and kids is that that fun and the light-heartedness is actually a key component of it. So even though we may not think it’s the same thing as talking about valuing peace and loving our brothers and sisters I’m starting to think that they are intertwined in a way and it’s about this creation of a particular kind of childhood that has this fun and light-hearted aspect to it but is also connected in this perhaps chain of enjoyment as well as recognition of the very serious circumstances of war and suffering.
Audience member: Hi Annie. Thank you so much for a fantastic presentation. I was really interested in the examples of exhibitions that you’ve been talking about of children’s art, and I think you gave a really great account of how those exhibitions were mobilised by the organisations and the NGOs themselves for their own benefits. But I'm really interested to know if you’ve found evidence of how those exhibitions were – if they entered into more mainstream art discourse as well or those networks of the art world ‘because it seems to be a really interesting point of transition.
Annie McCarthy: Yeah, that’s a really great question and yes, definitely. So, with the first exhibition that I spoke about that Save The Children Fund did of the Franz Cizek’s artworks for Viennese children that was an amazing confluence of interests so it really joined a whole group of people who were really interested in art education and thinking about how to educate children in art but also child art as potentially this new frontier, I guess, in art.
So, a lot of those people were very interested in that and so I’m not sure if that’s quite the mainstream art world but it’s definitely - people who are interested in art education are from the outset very involved in these projects, almost as involved in them as the development organisations are so they find these happy place where they join together here and think about the possibilities of art education but also art more broadly like what does it mean to – I was reading something yesterday about tap this vast resource of child imagination kind of thing, thinking that okay well if these particular children can produce such amazing works, and if you haven’t had a chance to see Cizek’s children’s – the work of his children in Vienna, they’re amazing. You can Google them, they’ll come up but it’s incredible work and so I think there was a lot of interest in that and thinking about what that might mean and also relating child art to other forms of art like by other cultures and all these kinds of things as well. So maybe not quite in the mainstream art world but definitely in the art education space.
Luke Hickey: There’s no other questions. Thanks Annie, I know you thanked the staff of the Library earlier for helping to put together your project but I think even just that description that you had of categorising and finding works by young children and in a way making them accessible is really what our fellows and scholars’ programs are all about, being able to – for us as custodians of the collection for fellows to be able to do that research and to bring those stories out to life for us has been really fantastic so a huge thank you and a terrific example.
As we draw to a close, a quick plug before we leave so our next fellowship presentation, Triangulating French, Japanese and Russian literatures in 20th century Japan by Dr Ryan Johnston will be on next Thursday, the 19th of May. More details can be found on our websites which is also the place where you’ll be able to find recordings of our very interesting and diverse recent talks and performances from our fellows. Thank you everyone for attending and braving the rain, please join me once again in congratulating Dr Annie McCarthy for today’s fascinating presentation.
Projects of global peace, development and humanitarian assistance have long relied on children’s participation. Yet what exactly do children contribute to these projects?
This talk, presented by National Library of Australia 2022 Fellow Dr Anne McCarthy, focusses on child-authored materials and highlights the tokenistic and symbolic ways humanitarian organisations use these materials, while also seeking to tell alternative stories that attend the creativity, emotion and power of children’s contributions.
Looking at children’s involvement in a range of organisations from the League of Nations Union, to the Australian Freedom for Hunger Campaign, this project observes both the incredible global mobility of child-authored materials, alongside the limitations and adult-biases of archival practices.