25 January 2023
The World According to Monty Wedd: Philatelic Comics, Cartoons and Caricatures
Philatelic comics, cartoons and caricatures comprise an important research resource in assessing public response to postage stamp design. Published globally from the nineteenth century to the present era, examples of this genre are in the thousands. Significant cartoonists, writers and illustrators had a hand in their creation, as exemplified by the life and work of the Australian historian, artist and writer Montague Thomas Archibald Wedd.
Born on 5 January 1921 in Glebe, New South Wales, Wedd worked as a junior poster artist for a printing firm, then as a designer and illustrator for a furniture manufacturer. Serving in the Australian Armed Forces during the Second World War temporarily interrupted his studies at the East Sydney Technical College in commercial art. Upon completing his studies on the restoration of peace, he produced his first comic strip under the moniker ‘Monty Wedd’ titled ‘Sword and Sabre.’
Following its commercial success, Wedd developed several other important Australian comics including ‘Bert & Ned,’ ‘Captain Justice’ (Figure 1) and ‘Kirk Raven.’ In 1954, he created his best-selling strip ‘The Scorpion’ and became a prolific cover designer for various pulp fiction novels during the 1950s. In 1963, Wedd turned his hand to animation producing ‘Marco Polo Junior versus the Red Dragon’ and the ‘Lone Ranger.’
Wedd also used his amazing talents of art and narration for didactic purposes. In 1966, he created the cartoon mascot ‘Dollar Bill’ to educate the public about Australia’s imminent switch to decimal currency. Later, he produced artwork for the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations in addition to a pioneering biographical comic strip chronicling the life of iconic nineteenth century bushranger, Ned Kelly.
Retiring from comics in 1977, Wedd established a museum dedicated to the Australian army with his wife’s support and published a richly illustrated, informative monograph ‘Australian Military Uniforms 1800-1982’ just five years later in 1982 (Figures 2-3). Returning to comics in 1988, Wedd created the long running historic comic strip ‘The Birth of a Nation’ chronicling Australia’s history published in various newspapers. Given this prodigious output, Wedd received the Order of Australia in 1993 for his services as an author, illustrator and historian. Sadly, he passed away on 4 May 2012 in New South Wales aged ninety.
From its launch in 1954, Wedd provided regular contributions to the important new Australian philatelic magazine ‘Stamp News,’ submitting over two hundred comics and illustrations to the editor, which became one of the publication’s most popular features. In their totality, this corpus of material provides a potted cultural history of the world narrated through the lens of stamps, postal history and collecting.
Wedd’s Stamp News work comprises of three distinct categories. First, ‘Postmen in other lands’ being a potted global history of postal communication from ancient times to modernity. Each instalment comprises a single illustration accompanied with a short body of text as illustrated by shown by these two instalments on the Sleigh Posts of North West Canada and Pony Express of the U.S. Mail (Figures 4-5).
His second, longer-lasting series ‘Stamp Oddities’ developed on the previous format, each one devoted to a particular stamp design or historical vignettes from postal history as well as stamp collecting. These generally comprised several connected or independent illustrations, accompanied with a short paragraph of relevant information. This ‘The Inca Post’ strip takes inspiration from the six-peseta stamp depicting an ‘El Chasqui’ issued as part of Spain’s 1966 ‘Explorers and Colonisers of America’ issue (Figure 6).
Another example, ‘Long Legged Lady’ provides a description of a popular masquerade character performed by the Mother Sally Dance Troupe depicted upon Guyana’s 1969 ‘Christmas’ stamp (Figure 7).
In ‘Fake Signature’ Wedd recalls the public uproar occasioned by the US Post Office’s announcement that it amended George Washington’s signature on the design on the USA 1960 4c stamp of its ‘American Credo’ issue to make it more legible (Figure 8).
‘Women Pirates!!’ was inspired by two stamps from Grenada’s 1970 ‘Pirates’ issue to raise awareness of famous female pirates once active in the Caribbean (Figure 9).
However, Wedd’s most developed contributions comprised single-page comic strips, narrating the cultural contexts of particular stamps or philatelic themes. ‘First Born’ recounts the story of the first baby of English parentage born in America via the United States of America’s 18 August 1937 ‘Virginia Dare’ 5-cent stamp (Figure 10).
‘The Pitch Lake’ based on Trinidad and Tobago’s 1953-1959 ‘Definitive’ issue 6-pence stamp looks into the historic, geological and economic background of this world famous geological landmark (Figure 11).
‘The Legend of Toivita Tapaivita’ was part of of a series commemorating myths and legends of Papua New Guinea (Figure 12). This particular instalment was based on 60-cent stamp of Papua New Guinea’s, 8 June 1966 ‘Folklore, Elema Art’ (1st Series) issue.
The story of how Tierra Del Fuego issued a set of local stamps in 1891 forms the crux of the narrative in ‘Tierra Del Fuego: Land of Fire’ (Figure 13).
Finally, ‘The First Fleet’ focuses on the establishment of Britain’s penal colony in Botany Bay as seen through a couple of Australia’s commemorative postage stamps from 1938 (Figure 14).
Inspired by various texts and illustrations as well as postage stamps, the intertextual nature of Wedd’s work effectively culminated in the generation of creative new cultural meanings. Influencing mid-twentieth century western worldviews, Wedd’s work provides a powerful example of response to postage stamp design from a highly talented artist and influencer.
By Richard Scott Morel, FRPSL
Curator, British Library’s Philatelic Collections
The British Library’s Philatelic Collections: Stamp News Australia.
Toby Burrows and Grant Stone. Comics in Australia and New Zealand. Routledge, 1994.
Monty Wedd. Australian Military Uniforms 1800-1982. Kangaroo Press, 1982.
Monty Wedd. Captain Justice. Sydney, Australia: New Currency Press.
09 January 2023
On my desk: Night Fall in the Ti-Tree by Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede
The Americas and Oceania team is fortunate to work with some fascinating items that cross our desks for a variety of reasons from exhibition loans to Reader queries. Through the On my desk blog series, we ask the team three questions which will give you an insight into the work of curators and cataloguers at the Library and a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items in the collections. Today’s post features Lucy Rowland, the curator for Oceania Published Collections Post-1850.
What is the item?
Night Fall in the Ti-Tree by Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, an artists' book printed in Melbourne, Australia in 1906 (11649.h.6.).
Why is it on your desk?
This may come as a surprise to many people, but curators don't always know the full extent of the collections they look after! Yes, you can familiarise yourself with notable items by reading the lists, reports, and blog posts compiled by previous colleagues, or through the outputs of research into the collection. And you can learn plenty about the history of the collection through articles in the Electronic British Library Journal (eBLJ), but what you can’t do is to walk around a discrete section of the Library marked ‘The Oceania Collection’. The printed books and serials in this collection, as with many others, are not shelved together but are instead spread out over different levels of the basements at St Pancras and a range of storage buildings at the Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. Where they are stored is usually determined by a variety of factors including their arrival date, format, size, value, usage, and condition. Which means there are times when, just like Readers, we stumble on treasures completely by chance. Exactly like this one. Whilst reading a rare book vendor’s catalogue, I saw a listing for Night Fall in the Ti-Tree and wondered whether the Library had a copy. Excitingly we hold the 1906 printing (the original 1905 edition is extremely rare), so I called it up to my desk to have a look.
Why is it interesting?
Night Fall in the Ti-Tree (1905) is considered to be the first Australian artists' book and is the earliest known example of colour relief printing in the country. This hand-bound book of colour woodblock prints with letterpress text was produced by the artists, Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, at Teague’s home in Melbourne. The story is a cautionary tale about a family of rabbits in the Australian bush, with the illustrations leading from one page to the next in imitation of the Japanese children's crepe books of the late 1800s. The book itself is a remarkable tribute to the Japanese printmaking techniques Teague was introduced to during her time as an art student in Europe and the UK, and is a very early example of Japanese-style coloured woodcut illustrations in Australia. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree was exhibited in both the Victorian Artists Society Exhibition and the Federal Art Exhibition in 1905 and went on to collect an award in the 1907 First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work. In 1906, it was picked up by English publisher Elkin Mathews for a second edition, that held by the British Library, which included a revised title page, a green ribbon binding, and a custom-made box. What makes this book even more interesting is that this charming item came to the Library via legal deposit and, due to the restrictive collecting practices at the time, if the publisher had not deposited the book back in 1906, it is very unlikely that Night Fall in the Ti-Tree would be on my desk right now. Remember you just need a free Reader Pass to gain access to this and many more beautiful items in the Library’s collections.
09 November 2022
E-resources: Performing Arts in the Americas
This blog explores the British Library’s wonderful collection of e-resources covering all aspects of the performing arts in the Americas, from the colonial era to the present day.
The British Library's extensive - and ever-growing - range of e-resources means there is plenty of choice when it comes to exploring the performing arts in the Americas - from scripts to videos, audio recordings to articles, interviews to documentaries, magazines to letters, there is literally something for everyone!
A particularly unique source is Film Scripts Online which makes accessible more than 1,100 accurate and authorised versions of copyrighted screenplays, many of which have never previously been published and are available nowhere else. Not only does this enable film scholars to compare the writer’s vision with the producer’s and director’s interpretations from page to screen, but it also makes it possible for students of film studies, writing, drama, theatre and literature to study the structure of scripts, character development, plot points and scenes. The collection is easily searchable by title, people, genre and awards, with further filters available in each case. Film scripts currently within the collection include: The Wizard of Oz, From Here to Eternity, Bringing Up Baby, The Big Chill, Rebel Without a Cause, My Own Private Idaho and The Deer Hunter.1
Drama Online is an award-winning, fast-growing digital library featuring more than 4,400 playtexts from over 1,400 playwrights, as well as over 400 audio plays, 420 hours of video, and 450 scholarly books from leading theatre publishers and companies. Amongst its holdings is the Playwrights Canada Press collection which offers over 230 plays from notable and award-winning Canadian authors including Daniel MacIvor and Hannah Moscovitch; plays in this collection have won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, the Windham-Campbell Prize and the Siminovitch Prize.2
Dance Online: Dance in Video, Volumes I and II provides over 900 hours of video content covering the full scope of 20th and 21st century dance. The collection includes performances, documentaries, interviews, and instructional videos from the most influential performers and companies, with the selections covering ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, experimental, and improvisational dance, as well as forerunners of the forms and the pioneers of modern concert dance.3
For earlier time periods, Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783, fills a major gap in access to eighteenth-century American sources. This vital e-resource is effectively a database of all references to music, poetry (lyrics), dance, and theatre in 162 American newspapers, from the earliest extant copy in 1690, through to the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, including titles in French and German. Entry points into the source material are many and varied. The database currently includes: transcriptions of all relevant texts; a general index of all names, genres, subjects, titles, and first lines; graphic images of 45 unique woodcuts; an index of the first lines of 12,061 poems and songs; and an issue-by-issue bibliography of the 50,719 issues and 4,523 supplements of the 162 titles.
Ethnomusicology is published by Adam Mathew in collaboration with the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive. It includes thousands of audio field recordings and interviews, educational recordings, film footage, field notebooks, slides, correspondence and ephemera from over 60 field collections dating from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first century. For North America, coverage includes Alaska, Arizona, Atlanta, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation, Tennessee, Texas and more. There are also rich holdings for Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Jamaica and Honduras, as well as Suriname and Chile, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
For secondary sources, the Performing Arts Periodicals Database indexes nearly 400 international periodicals covering dance, theatre, stagecraft, musical theatre, circus performance, pantomime, puppetry, magic, performance art, film, television and more.4 Full text coverage is now available for more than 160 of these journals and in some cases the retrospective coverage goes back to 1864. This treasure trove of materials includes biographical profiles, conference papers, obituaries, interviews, discographies, reviews and coverage of events.
Finally, Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, 1880-2015 is another wonderfully rich and valuable e-resource; it was reviewed in this recent blog.
- British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device.
- British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device.
- British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device; readers interested in dance may like to read the Dancing in the Archives blog post by 2019 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow Robert Hylton.
- British Library Reader Pass holders can access this database on a personal device.
01 September 2022
Electronic resources for research in Oceania studies
Our monthly series on the electronic resources available to support your research at the British Library has so far covered topics from Women in the United States and Caribbean Studies to African American History and US Politics. This next post will focus on some of the Oceania e-resources available for research on the history and culture of Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. All resources can be accessed from our Electronic Resources page, and some are available remotely once you get your free Reader Pass.
1. AustLit (Australian Literature Resource)
Description: AustLit is many things, but in its simplest form it can be described as an authoritative record of Australian writers and writing. This scholarly resource is the result of an impressive collaboration between multiple universities and libraries in Australia and provides bibliographic information (with links to full-text where available) on creative and critical Australian literature works including fiction, drama, poetry, children's and young adult literature, travel writing, autobiography, memoir, biography, essays, Indigenous life stories and oral history, and biographical information on Australian authors and the history of publishers, literary organisations and awards. In addition to its role as a database, AustLit provides a rich research environment for Australian literary, print, and narrative cultures, and you can explore the results of research projects on topics from the reverse diaspora of Australian writers to silent film in Australian newspapers.
Scope: Print coverage spans from the arrival of European print culture in Australia (c.1788) to the present, but also references the continuing storytelling culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians which precedes this date. The database is continually growing but the most recent count of entries show 991,019 works, 187,519 agents (people/organisations), and 30,100 subjects recorded. Although AustLit is Australia focused, one research project has explored Māori and Pasifika connections in the region to compile resources on Young Adult Fiction of Oceania.
Navigation: For those looking to explore general topics, the homepage showcases various research projects which are easily navigable and invite browsing. As well as a basic search box, there is a very thorough advanced search page with multiple filters (including limiting to full-text results) for those with more specific research questions. Slideshows and written tutorials are also available to guide searches.
Highlights: One of the most significant research projects available on AustLit is BlackWords which provides information about the lives, careers, and works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers, including a comprehensive listing of works in an Indigenous language and translations to and from other languages. 25,187 works and 7,258 authors and organisations have been recorded in BlackWords thus far.
Access: AustLit is a subscribed database which can be accessed on London Reading Room PCs. To give you a sense of what’s available, you can also view up to five records on your own device without a subscription by directly accessing the resource at https://www.austlit.edu.au/
Related e-resources: Researchers of Oceania literary culture may also be interested in the literary journals recorded in Index New Zealand (INNZ) which can be accessed directly without subscription.
2. Papers Past
Description: Papers Past provides digitised full-text historical newspapers, magazines, and journals from Aotearoa New Zealand the Pacific, including those published in Māori or for a Māori readership. A selection of letters, diaries, parliamentary papers and books are also included. This digital collection of primary sources is part of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and is continually updated through collaboration with libraries, community groups, and private collections, and offers a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the country. The range of newspapers included in the resource means researchers can easily follow the development of Māori Niupepa (newspapers) including Te Hokioi (The War-Bird of New Zealand in Flight to You, 1862-1863), the first Māori-language newspaper produced entirely by Māori, or even investigate how the gold rush impacted the number of newspapers being published.
Scope: As of September 2022, newspaper coverage ranges from 1839 to 1979 (including titles from Samoa), whilst magazines and journals cover 1861 to 2017. To date, Papers Past contains 8,074,614 pages which includes 90,373,379 newspaper articles.
Navigation: The site can be navigated in both English and te reo Māori and is divided into five tabs: Newspapers; Magazines and Journals; Letters and Diaries, Parliamentary Papers; Books. Each tab offers slightly different search options but are easy to navigate. For newspapers and magazines you can limit your search to just the Ngā Tānga Reo Māori collection. This will limit your search to any titles printed in te reo Māori before 1901. When searching Letters and Diaries, you can select results by iwi/hapu (tribe/clan). Results can viewed in original formats or as text, and can be saved and printed. Instructions on the re-use of material is usually made clear on the page.
Highlights: The New Zealand Graphic and Ladies' Journal (1890-1913) has been recently added to the collection. This weekly publication was amongst the first to employ permanent artists which meant reports and commentaries on notable events, including the country becoming the first to give women the right to vote, were often accompanied by cartoons or illustrations which offer researchers today a unique insight into public sentiment at the time (or at least that of the editor!). Another highlight of this resource is the largest surviving series of nineteenth-century Māori letters included in The Papers of Sir Donald McLean collection. The letters, which total almost 3000, are searchable by iwi/hapu (tribe/clan) and were sent to the 19th-century politician and government official between 1840 to 1877. They have now been transcribed and translated through the E Mā: Ngā Tuhituhinga ki a Makarini project and discuss matters such as land issues and purchase negotiations. McLean was fluent in te reo Māori and played a significant, but often controversial role in negotiations between the settler government and Māori.
Access: Papers Past is a free resource available without subscription and can be accessed directly at https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
Related e-resources: Researchers looking for further examples of primary sources from the region may also be interested in exploring Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War. This collection, which can be accessed on personal devices by Reader Pass holders, includes both printed and handwritten examples of magazines produced in trenches, ships, and hospitals by the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). Another e-resource offering unique perspectives on historical events is Early Experiences in Australasia: Primary Sources and Personal Narratives 1788–1901. Reader Pass holders can access this on a personal device.
All e-resources can be accessed through the Electronic Resources page. Look out for the next installment in this blog series focusing on our e-resources for research on colonial America.
Lucy Rowland, Oceania Curator
30 March 2022
A welcome return for on-site Doctoral Open Days
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do ‘in real life’ show and tells for students attending the Library’s Doctoral Open Days so the Americas and Oceania Collections Curatorial team and Eccles team were delighted to be able to discuss a selection of items from the collections with researchers at the latest on-site sessions.
On 4 and 7 March 2022, a number of students from all disciplines visited the Library’s site at St Pancras to get better acquainted with the services and collections available for their research, inspiration and enjoyment. Theses practical sessions were offered to all who attended our PhD webinars that took place earlier in the year.
The days give the chance to attend Reader Registration appointments, go on building tours, take advantage of drop-in sessions with Reference Services, see how collection items are handled and conserved, and come along to show and tells with curatorial teams across the Library to see and discuss items from different collections.
Asian and African Collections, British and European Collections, Music Collections, Digital Collections and Resources, Contemporary Society and Culture Collections, and Maps and Visual Arts Collections all took part. We love being part of these days; not only do we get to meet new researchers and discuss their work, but we also get the chance to see colleagues from other collection areas and chat with them about the items in their remit and beyond – both things that have been much-missed in-person activities over the past two years.
For those unable to attend, we thought we’d share a few things with you digitally instead! Here are a selection of items that the Americas and Oceania team displayed over the two days:
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Text by Lewis Carroll; designed by Tara Bryan
Flatrock, Newfoundland, Canada: Walking Bird Press, 2016
Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground is housed at the British Library, so we are always excited to see how the tale has been re-imagined, re-interpreted and re-illustrated over the last 160 years. This item invites readers into the rabbit hole, with the words from Carroll tunnelling down and down… just as Alice did. This artists’ book was designed by Tara Bryan in her studio in Newfoundland. One of only 40 copies, it is made from delicate handmade Thai Bamboo paper and Japanese paper.
FOR HOME USE: A BOOK OF REFERENCE ON MANY SUBJECTS RELATIVE TO THE TABLE
Proprietors of Angostura Bitters
Trinidad: Angostura Bitters (Publication year unknown/Donated)
This item speaks to culinary social history, especially concerning those deemed belonging to the middle and upper classes of Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Invaluable to the Host and Hostess’, this book of recipes by the makers of Angostura Bitters, is an example of great marketing from a bygone era.
SÃO FERNANDO BEIRA-MAR: CANTIGA DE ESCÁRNIO E MALDIZER
São Paulo: Dulcinéia Catadora, 2007
LA MUJER DE LOS SUEÑOS DEL DOMADOR DE YAKARÉS
Asunción: Yiyi Jambo, 2008
TRIPLE FRONTERA DREAMS
Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2012
CARTONERAS IN TRANSLATION = CARTONERAS EN TRADUCCIÓN = CARTONERAS EM TRADUÇÃO: ANTOLOGÍA
Lucy Bell et al., eds.
Cuernavaca: La Cartonera, 2018
Cartoneras are books of poetry, literature, and translations made with covers from salvaged cardboard with original illustrations in acrylic colours made by members of cartonera workshops. Their illustrated cardboard covers are often anonymous, even when created by famous artists, or signed by all members of the publishing group in a clear attempt to promote the community effort over the individual artist. The focus is on making books together and giving everyone access to reading and writing their stories.
Cartonera books are not only visually beautiful, but also make a critical intervention in publishing and reading cultures in Latin America starting in the wake of the financial crisis in Argentina with Eloísa Cartonera in 2003. This type of cheap community publishing spread quickly across the region and allowed other Latin American countries plagued by economic and social inequality to appropriate reading and book-making practices creatively and in a community-based way.
LIP MAGAZINE ISSUE 1
Frances (Budden) Phoenix (featured artist)
Melbourne, Australia: Women in the Visual Arts Collective, 1976
Lip was an Australian feminist journal self-published by a collective of women in Melbourne between 1976 and 1984. The art and politics expressed in the journal provide a fascinating record of the Women’s Liberation era in Australia. The inaugural issue seen here includes articles on writer Dorothy Hewett, Australian embroidery, and Australian feminist art, film and performing arts, as well as a double page removable centerfold: a doily vulva artwork called ‘Soft Aggression’ by artist Frances (Budden) Phoenix. Phoenix was an Australian feminist artist who helped to establish the Women’s Domestic Needlework Group, and known for her provocative textile and needlework which subverted traditional notions of women’s domestic crafts. In her centerfold here, she revisits the tradition of women inscribing messages into their work and includes the directive to readers: “female culture is in the minds, hearts and secret dialogues of women. Use your culture in your own defence: use soft aggression.”
THE LITERARY VOYAGER OR MUZZENIEGUN
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, edited with an introduction by Philip P. Mason
[East Lansing]: Michigan State University Press, 1962.
ALGIC RESEARCHES, COMPRISING INQUIRIES RESPECTING THE MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS: FIRST SERIES: INDIAN TALES AND LEGENDS
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
New York, 1839.
In 1962, scholar Philip P. Mason collected and republished the entirety of the manuscript magazine The Literary Voyager. Originally produced between December 1826 and April 1827 by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, it is considered to be the first periodical related to Native American culture. Its alternative title, Muzzeniegun is Ojibwe for ‘book’.
Schoolcraft, an ethnologist and Indian Agent in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, handwrote a few copies of each issue which were posted to friends and family. Schoolcraft was married to Bamewawagezhikaquay, also known as Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, who was of Ojibwa and Scots-Irish ancestry. She is considered to be the first known Native American woman writer. Notably she wrote in both English and Ojibwe. Many of her poems and traditional stories were included in The Literary Voyager, however she does not receive credit for her work. Her mother, from whom Schoolcraft also collected traditional stories and cultural knowledge, is also not named. It has taken considerable efforts by Native American literary scholars to correct this historical omission, and to bring attention to this important Ojibwe voice.
Some of Bamewawagezhikaquay’s stories were later published in Algic Researches, also compiled by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. This Library copy is an original edition from 1839.
We’d like to thank our colleagues in the Library’s Research Development Team for organising the webinars and in-person sessions, and to our friends in the Eccles Centre for American Studies for their support in helping the days run smoothly.
As the Library continues to working hard at both our sites to make sure everyone can visit us safely, we are looking forward to the opportunity to run similar sessions and meet more of you in person over the coming year.
26 January 2022
"Hope’s ragged symbol": 50 years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in poetry and prose
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this post contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.
On the evening of 26 January 1972, four men set up a beach umbrella on the lawn opposite Parliament House (now known as Old Parliament House) on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra and established the Aboriginal tent embassy. The four men, Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, Billy Craigie, and Bert Williams, erected a handmade sign claiming the site as the 'Aboriginal Embassy' and became the first occupants of the longest continual protest site for Indigenous sovereignty and land rights. Numerous, and often violent, attempts since 1972 to remove the embassy have ultimately failed and it remains a site of continued resistance. In recognition of its significance to Australian history, the site was included on the Commonwealth Heritage List in 2015. This blog will look at some of the poetry and prose which inspired or was inspired by the Aboriginal tent embassy.
In 1962, the poet, educator and activist, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, prepared a poem for the 5th Annual General Meeting of the Federal Council Aboriginal Advancement in Adelaide. Entitled Aboriginal Charter of Rights, the poem gave voice to the feelings of Aboriginal people, articulating them in 44 lines for the rest of Australia in a way that they had not heard before. Noonuccal, a descendant of the Noonuccal people of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), uses short, sharp, repetitive lines to make clear the disparity between demands of basic human rights and the current conditions imposed on Aboriginal people:
We want hope, not racialism,
Brotherhood, not ostracism,
Black advance, not white ascendance:
Make us equals, not dependants (Noonuccal, 1962).
Aboriginal Charter of Rights was subsequently published in her first book of poems We are going: poems (Jacaranda Press, 1964, shelfmark X.900/2567.); the first collection of verse published by an Aboriginal poet. The poem reverberated in the Aboriginal rights demonstrations of the 1960s, fueling a growing civil rights awareness amongst students and leading to the 1965 Freedom Ride. Aboriginal Charter of Rights nears an end with Noonuccal asking "Must we native Old Australians, In our own land rank as aliens?".
Noonuccal's words were revisited by Gary Foley, the Gumbainggir activist and academic, who played a key role in the establishment of the Aboriginal tent embassy. In the 2014 edited collection of writing on the tent embassy, The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State (Routledge. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107), Foley recalls the decision to name the protest site an embassy was to reflect how Aboriginal people were treated as "aliens in their own land" and so, like other aliens, needed an embassy of their own. However this embassy wouldn't be a grand government building like the one across the lawn, but one which would reflect the living conditions of Aboriginals; a simple tent which Bobbi Sykes designated "Hope's ragged symbol" in the liberal newspaper Nation Review in 1972.
Bobbi (or Roberta) Sykes was a writer, activist, and the first Black Australian to attend Harvard University in the US. She became the executive secretary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. Her piece in the Nation Review begins by outlining the symbolism of the tent:
From the first, the Aboriginal embassy represented the people. It was an embarrassment to the government same as the people are. It was poor and shabby just like the people. For many of the residents who passed through and stayed for a while it was more luxurious than their own homes despite the cold, the lack of facilities, the constant need for money, for food. The embassy was everything that the people still are (Sykes, 1972, 165).
and continues with her personal account of the multiple, violent clashes with police who attempted to remove the protesters and tent from the site; "I was hurled to the ground on several occasions, and walked over by heavy cop boots. 'The whole world's watching, the whole world's watching' we chanted". Sykes later revisits these struggles from 1972 in a haunting description of the tent being torn down in the second volume of her autobiography, Snake Dancing (1998, Allen & Unwin. Shelfmark YA.2000.a.1826). Bobbi Sykes was instrumental in publicising the fight for Aboriginal rights to an international audience and inspired many others to do the same.
In her 1998 speech for International Women's Day in Sydney, the Wiradjuri woman and activist Isobel Coe declared:
Now the Aboriginal tent Embassy is all about Sovereignty, this is Aboriginal land, always was and always will be and we are there to tell the truth about Sovereignty. [...] The time has come for us to sit down, we’re mothers, we’re grandmothers aunt’s we’re sisters and we all have a common goal and we all have a stake in this country because we all have children and if we are to go into the next century in peace and harmony we have to address the sovereignty issue. That dirty word that no-one wants to talk about, Aboriginal Sovereignty (Coe, 1998).
Another 'dirty' word in her speech that Coe, a prominent figure at the Aboriginal tent embassy, wanted to get people to talk about was genocide, "We are the first people, not just of this country but of the world and that recognition hasn’t come [...] and when there is another genocide you people [...] will be a part of the conspiracy to commit genocide now!". In 1998 Coe, along with three others, applied to the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory to get the crime of genocide recognised as a crime in Australian law. The application was dismissed and the words in her speech here reflect the shared frustration among Aboriginal people that 26 years have passed since the embassy was established and little progress has been made.
One year later in 1999, that frustration is echoed by the essayists Felicia Fletcher and John Leonard in Australia Day at the Aboriginal tent embassy; an evocative account in the literary journal, Meanjin, of the corroboree ceremony for Aboriginal sovereignty which took place on Australia Day at the embassy in 1999 (58 (1), 10-17. Shefmark P.P.5126.gbn.). The piece oscillates between descriptions of the ceremony itself, which involved merging water and fire; "All day the smoke continued to billow out over Parliamentary Triangle; fragrant wood-smoke blowing over the non-native trees and formal gardens", and bitter humour:
'Dear Aboriginal people/s, I hereby enclose your citizenship rights. I have retained my rights to dispossess you of your land. Making a fuss will not prove worthwhile because we are many and you are few. Our God is now your God. Enjoy. Goodbye erstwhile companions of my explorers, and thanks for all the land' (Fletcher & Leonard, 1999, 13).
Canberra poet, Paul Cliff, who has co-published with Oodgeroo Noonuccal, similarly employed a particularly ignorant, non-Indigenous voice to great effect in his poem, Tent Embassy, Winter (Parliament House Lawn, Canberra) which features in his 2002 collection The Impatient World (Five Islands Press. Shelfmark YA.2003.a.48502). In this short but striking poem, Cliff takes the position of an outsider looking in: "Frost grips the tents [...] 9am: and no one's stirred. Is that -- traditional?". This question brings us to one of the final writers to feature in this blog; Lionel Fogarty.
The poetry of Lionel Fogarty, Murri poet and activist, subverts the question of what might be considered 'traditional'. Described by poet, John Kinsella as ‘the greatest living Australian poet’, Fogarty's work is abstract, radical, and at times indecipherable through his mutinous approach to traditional grammatical structures. His poetry draws inspiration from Oodgeroo Noonuccal and is directly informed by his involvement in Aboriginal activism since the 1970s. His 2015 collection Mogwie-Idan : stories of the land (Vagabond Press. Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3977) includes the poem Tent Embassy 1971-2021 as well as number of his own drawings which push and pull at the reader. Mogwie-Idan ends with the poem Power Lives in the Spears:
Power live in the spears
Power live in the worries
Power air in the didgeridoo
Power run on the people heart
Bear off the power come from the land (Fogarty, 2015)
Fogarty's words here are reminiscent of the closing lines of Winter Camp, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a poem from the Wiradjuri poet, playwright, printmaker and activist, Kevin Gilbert, which features in his award-winning 1994 collection Black from the edge (Hyland House. Shelfmark YK.1995.a.1312.). Gilbert was instrumental in the continual occupation of the tent embassy site and spent the final year of his life there. A memorial was held at the embassy for him following his death in 1993. Gilbert's poem, Winter Camp, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, begins with the lines; "We see them, shoulders hunched, standing in the rain", and pays homage to the undiminished, and vital, flames of anger and hope in those who have kept the Aboriginal tent embassy site running for fifty years. The poems ends with the following lines which feel an appropriate way to conclude this blog post:
human spirit flames for love
to light the pages of history
with their heroic form (Gilbert, 1994, 30).
Pay attention,"The whole world's watching."
Lucy Rowland, Oceania Curator
Cliff, P. (2002). The Impatient World. N.S.W. : Five Islands Press. Shelfmark YA.2003.a.48502
Coe, I (1998). Speech for the virtual tour Sydney 1998 IWD. [Online] Available at: http://www.isis.aust.com/iwd/docos/tour98/coe.htm
Fletcher, F., & Leonard, J. (1999). Australia Day at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Meanjin, 58 (1), 10-17. Shefmark P.P.5126.gbn. Also available online in Reading Rooms at: https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.898736456225388
Fogarty, L. (2015). Mogwie-Idan : stories of the land. Newtown, NSW : Vagabond Press. Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3977
Foley, G. (2014). A reflection on the first thirty days of the embassy. In: Foley, G., Schaap, A., & Howell, E. (eds.). (2014). The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State. London : Routledge. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107
Foley, G., Schaap, A., & Howell, E. (eds.). (2014). The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State. London : Routledge. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107
Gilbert, K. (1988). Inside Black Australia : an anthology of Aboriginal poetry. Harmondsworth : Penguin, published with the assistance of the Literature Board of the Australia Council. Shelfmark YH.1989.a.6
Gilbert, K. (1994). Black from the edge. South Melbourne, Vic. : Hyland House. Shelfmark YK.1995.a.1312
Sykes, R. (1972). Bobbi Sykes 'Hope's ragged symbol' Nation Review, 29 July-4 August 1972. In: Foley, G., Schaap, A., & Howell, E. (eds.). (2014). The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State. London : Routledge. 165-168. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107
Sykes, R. (1998). Snake dancing. French Forest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin. Shelfmark YA.2000.a.1826
Walker, K. (1964). We are going: poems. Brisbane : Jacaranda Press. Shelfmark X.900/2567.
Watson, I. (2000). Aboriginal Tent Embassy: 28 years after it was established [Interview with Isobell Coe by Watson, Irene.]. Indigenous Law Bulletin, 5(1), 17–18. Available online in Reading Rooms at: https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/ielapa.200104820
17 November 2021
Witnessing climate change: COP26 and Oceania book artists
With COP26 now over in Glasgow, I have looked to the Library’s Oceania collections for examples of book artists tackling some of the themes under discussion by world leaders during this crucial conference. The items selected use creative responses to recollect, witness, and foretell the impact of climate change in the Oceania region and beyond.
Carbon Empire by Allan McDonald
A primary goal of COP26 was to secure global net zero emissions by the middle of this century and keep the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Getting anywhere near to achieving this aim will require radical change and commitments from countries around the world to limit deforestation, phase out coal for renewable energy, and switch from petrol and diesel to electric cars. Allan McDonald’s 2017 photobook, Carbon Empire (YD.2020.b.233), documents petrol stations across New Zealand in different stages of transition. The photographs capture the effect of a change in petroleum laws which forced many independent stations out of business - weeds flourish where petrol pumps once stood, for sale signs replace advertising logos, and a full car park is more reminiscent of a graveyard than a sign of prosperity. And so, the images also offer a vision of a world where petrol stations have fallen out of use and lie abandoned to become rusting monuments of the past.
Witness by Clyde McGill
Our reliance on fossil fuels and its impact on Indigenous cultural heritage is explored in Clyde McGill’s monumental book, Witness (HS.74/2407). The Australian artist travelled to Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), northern Western Australia to see the petroglyphs, or rock art, first created by the Aboriginal people of Murujuga over forty thousand years ago and added to continuously until the nineteenth century when this community of artists was eradicated through European colonisation. There are between 1-2 million petroglyphs depicting thylacines, megafauna, ceremonies, human faces, and geometrics on this site which is considered the largest continuous rock art gallery of its kind. Yet this part of northwest Australia is also home to massive iron ore, oil, coal, mineral and gas reserves, and when McGill visited prior to creating the book in 2016, this highly significant cultural heritage site was at risk of destruction from large-scale mining operations. Witness doesn’t attempt to document the petroglyphs, but rather records the artist’s experience of his visit to the sacred site through a collection of visceral and confronting paintings, handwritten notes, and performance.
Stolen Waters by Marian Crawford and Peter Lyssiotis
The damage wreaked by the extraction of fossil fuels is similarly interrogated in Stolen Waters (RF.2018.a.87), a collaboration between Australian book artists Marian Crawford and Peter Lyssiotis. This compact 2013 artists’ book examines the environmental damage to our waterways from mining. The names of major disasters are emblazoned on the pages including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and the OK Tedi Mine disaster during the 1990s in Papua New Guinea. This accusatory typography is in stark contrast to the black and white images of a jellyfish suspended in a dark sea (or is it an oil slick?).
Picturing the Island by Marian Crawford
A further goal of COP26 was to protect the communities and ecosystems most affected by climate change, including the Pacific Island region; an early and increasingly visible victim of the climate crisis with much at stake in the outcome of COP26. Rising sea levels here are already contaminating fresh water supplies and agriculture, and threatening to engulf many of these small island nations, including Kiribati; a set of low-lying islands in the central Pacific Ocean. Artist Marion Crawford spent her childhood on the island of Banaba (previously Ocean Island), part of the nation of Kiribati where her parents worked for the British Phosphate Commission (BPC). The BPC managed the mining of the island’s phosphate resources until these were exhausted in 1979. The environmental impact of extensive mining has left the Banaba Islanders without fresh water sources and reliant on a desalination plant for clean water. Crawford’s 2016 photobook, Picturing the Island (RF.2017.b.99), uses colonial archival material, including text in Gilbertese and English and photopolymer prints, in juxtaposition with her own memories to reflect on the changes, including environmental damage, undergone by her childhood home.
Miami Underwater by Bronwyn Rees
The topic of global warming and rising sea levels is similarly interrogated in Bronwyn Rees’ Miami Underwater. Rees is an Australian printmaker whose richly textured work explores landscape and wilderness, often depicting nature as an unforgiving force. Although her work is primarily focused on Australian landscapes, in 2014 she turned a city in the USA at the mercy of the encroaching sea to create Miami Underwater. This small handmade book has a strong environmental message and incorporates text extracts from Tony Davis’ Underwater Cities (2011). The varying sizes and texture of the pages require careful handling of this item by the reader, lending a feeling of vulnerability. The overall effect is of a portent; the book feels as if you have just retrieved it from floodwater.
Lucy Rowland, Oceania Curator
Crawford, Marian and Lyssiotis, Peter (2013) Stolen Waters. Victoria, Australia: Carbon, Masterthief. Shelfmark RF.2018.a.87
Davis, Tony (2011) 'Underwater Cities: Climate change begins to reshape the urban landscape' [Online] October 27, 2011. In Grist.org Available at: https://grist.org/cities/2011-10-26-underwater-cities-climate-change-begins-reshape-urban-landscape/
Crawford, Marian (2016) Picturing the Island. Melbourne, Australia: Marian Crawford. Shelfmark RF.2017.b.99
McDonald, Allan (2017) Carbon Empire. Auckland, New Zealand: Rim Books. Shelfmark YD.2020.b.233
McGill, Clyde (2016) Witness. Fremantle, Australia: Clyde McGill. Shelfmark HS.74/2407
Rees, Bronwyn (2014) Miami Underwater. Melbourne, Australia: Bronwyn Rees. Shelfmark (awaiting shelfmark)
23 July 2021
The Paradoxes of Power: Photographic records and postwar nuclear testing
This blog by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre’s awards, have undertaken across the Library’s Americas collections.
75 years ago in July 1946, Operation Crossroads involved the first postwar nuclear weapons tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. These consisted of two Bombs, codenamed Able, which was dropped from an aircraft, and Baker, positioned underwater, both targeting a fleet of over 90 decommissioned US and captured WW2 ships.i Further examination of the British Library’s holdings, which include the Official Pictorial Report on Crossroads, highlights not only the destructive force of the weapons and their multiple impacts, but also the ‘power’ and paradoxes of the images themselves. Such paradoxes vary from the photography and ways in which images were used, to scientific planning being accompanied by choices based on luck rituals, to the wide range of what was tested beyond the ships themselves.
Figure 1 is a stark example, a composite near the end of the book which superimposes New York’s skyline onto the Crossroads Baker nuclear cloud, to give readers some frame of reference as to the potential scale of the blast. This image echoed contemporary practices of newspapers, which printed maps of US cities with circles on them to indicate potential radii of atomic destruction.ii Nevertheless, while generating contemporary interest, this is one of the images which has, ironically, not been nearly as widely circulated in subsequent years as those of the unobscured originals (including, for instance, Figure 2). These pictures, which showed the growth of the cloud itself, whether from closeup or afar, seem to have had an even more powerful impact and reusability, possibly by not being tied to any skyline or context, and the even greater psychological visual disparity they display, engulfing the tiny dots at their base which were full-sized battleships.
A significant paradox is that Crossroads was, at the time, one of the most photographed events in history, but many of the pictures were not made public. The Record itself is a mere 200 still images out of over 50,000 taken. Half the world’s film footage was used to capture the event, leading to shortages in Hollywood and film studios elsewhere for months. However, much footage remained (and remains) classified, some material only released in recent years. Those images which are available illustrate a fraction of the different perspectives and cameras used, including the self-referential pictures of the camera equipment itself. A further paradox is that only a few thousand televisions existed in the US in 1946, so many people would have experienced Crossroads either via the shared ritual of watching on newsreels in cinemas or through pictures in newspapers or in this Record.
While Crossroads involved highly scientific and rigorous planning, it is interesting to see the extent to which photos also captured human rituals of betting and chance and how these shaped parts of the exercise. However, these rituals either echoed previous responses to such scientific uncertainties or were considered fair methods of selection. In some cases, this involved decisions prior to Crossroads: the former German battleship Prinz Eugen, for example, pictured in the Report and one of the three non-US target vessels, had originally been awarded as a war prize to the US by drawing lots with the British and Soviets for other vessels.iii At Bikini Atoll, there were informal pools among military personnel and scientists (Figure 4), betting on such aspects as “how many ships would be sunk [by Crossroads], or as to the exact time” of bomb detonation for the air-dropped weapon. Similarly, while those few journalists documenting Crossroads Able from the air were selected by their peers (Figure 5) “the radio commentator was chosen by lot”. That these latter details and images are even contained in the Record shows something of them being regarded as significant in the ‘human’ stories behind the tests, while also reminiscent of the very first nuclear bomb test ‘Trinity’ a year earlier, when scientists took bets, including on whether they were going to set the atmosphere on fire!iv
While Crossroads mainly involved testing atomic bombs against ships, the images also highlight, paradoxically, the wide variety of equipment loaded onto the decks of target vessels to assess how atomic bombs would impact these, from tanks and aircraft parts to clothing and rations.
75 years on, perhaps the greatest paradox from these images is that Crossroads’ story, which was foundational in the history of nuclear weapons development and was intended to have the widest possible photographic/filmic dissemination, remains relatively unknown. Its history is, ironically, overshadowed by its most visual legacy in popular culture, the mushroom cloud itself.
Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock
i The source material for this blog is drawn from Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211. This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. For further information about the Operation, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994) British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429
ii Rosemary B. Mariner, The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives (University of Tennessee Press, 2009), p. 4.
iii Fritz-Otto Busch, Prinz Eugen (London: First Futura Publications, 1975), pp. 212-13. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.708/41193
iv US DOE, ‘The Manhattan Project’ - https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945/trinity.htm
NB Readers interested in Operation Crossroads may also wish to read an earlier blog by Timothy Peacock and a blog by Mark Eastwood, who undertook a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre in 2016.
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
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- E-resources: Performing Arts in the Americas
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- A welcome return for on-site Doctoral Open Days
- "Hope’s ragged symbol": 50 years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in poetry and prose
- Witnessing climate change: COP26 and Oceania book artists
- The Paradoxes of Power: Photographic records and postwar nuclear testing
- Reading Brood X
- Two treaties: Waitangi Day in conversation
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