Monuments, Museums and Memory


Monument to Sir John Franklin in Hobart, about 1878 (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)

In Tasmania, the past would seem to be alive and well. The island's heritage is proudly on display even when its subject for example the convict system would not seem to be an obvious cause for local pride. There is a large economic as well as emotional investment in the past that shapes the way it is represented and understood. The tourism industry drives much heritage development, but district museums and historical societies, staffed by volunteers, also abound and historic statues proliferate, sustaining identities that were at once local and imperial, celebrating as often as not, manly 'duty nobly done'. Nineteenth-century memorials and commemorative statues speak poignantly of the anxiety of colonial exile and the fear of being forgotten at Home. Monuments both colonial and modern shape collective memory in shared public space, but they are also an insurance against the failure of individual memory. Lest We Forget.

Nineteenth-century monuments point to the multi-national character of Pacific exploration. There are monuments to the Dutchman Abel Tasman, and the French Bruny d'Entrecasteaux (at Gordon) and Nicolas Baudin, but they were only visitors. Tasmanian monuments work to claim the country for the British. Nowhere in the public domain, however, is the founding war of dispossession acknowledged or tribute paid to the bravery of local patriots, who defended their lands from invasion. There is a small bass relief in the rock at Mt Nelson that pays tribute to Truganini and Dolly Dalrymple's house is preserved for public viewing, but the only Tasmanian warriors immortalised in stone are those who fought for the empire abroad in the South African War, the Great War, Second World War and beyond. For God and Empire. King and Country.

In the imperial outpost of Launceston, the Boer War Memorial in City Park commemorates 'Lt Colonel Cameron who commanded the first Tasmanian troops in South Africa'. A plaque advises that this memorial was 'erected by the public of Northern Tasmania in affectionate remembrance of those Tasmanians who gave their lives for Throne and Country in the South African war 18991902'. In Cygnet, the Soldiers' Memorial commemorates 'Those Who Gave Their Lives for King and Empire' 62 men were lost to the district in the First World War and nine in the Second. In Royal Park, Launceston, presided over by King Edward VII, there is a new plaque (unveiled in 1999) 'Proudly dedicated in recognition of Tasmanian Aborigines Who Served or Fell in Defence of their Country', but the Aborigines so honoured are not those who fought the settlers, but those who joined the settlers and their descendants in fighting imperial enemies abroad. Monuments are constitutive as well as conservative; thus are Aboriginal men honoured as exemplary Australian citizens.

In the nineteenth century, colonial communities anxiously affirmed the significance of lives lived on the periphery of empire. There were numerous memorials in the old St David's graveyard, in Hobart, which was said to contain more than nine hundred bodies, but had gradually deteriorated into an 'odious wilderness' and was closed to the public in 1872. Aboriginal survivor William Lanne had been buried there, but his body was removed by body-snatchers. Other memorials remained and were re-furbished. In the 1920s the cemetery was cleaned up and transformed into a public park which later memorialised 'First Fleeters' and the 'Pioneers of Tasmania'. The sacred became secular.

In St David's Park there is an obelisk that memorialises William Race Allison, 'member of the Legislative Council and House of Assembly of this colony for 20 years'. 'He did his duty.' 'Forget not the faithful dead.' There is a memorial to William Hutchins, Archdeacon, who died in 1841: 'Mark the Perfect Man. And behold the Upright. For the end of that man is Peace'. These imperial servants were builders of colonial foundations. The memorial to Lt-Governor David Collins records that under 'his direction the site of the Town was chosen and the foundations of its first building was laid in 1804'. There is a monument to Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot, Lt-Governor, 'erected as a mark of respect to his memory by Public Subscription', and to James Bicheno, Colonial Secretary and Registrar of Records: 'he was zealous in the discharge of his duties, kindhearted, hospitable and charitable, an affectionate husband and good father and sincere friend'. In colonial enterprise men did their duty.

Franklin Square is presided over by Sir John Franklin, ill-fated governor and explorer. Not far away a statue of Dr William Crowther looms over the park, erected, we are told, 'by the Public and Sincere Personal friends to Perpetuate the Memory of Zealous, Political and Professional Services Rendered in this Colony'. The plaque seems to protest too much. Monuments construct their subjects in bronze or stone; history de-constructs them in texts. In Lyndall Ryan's The Aboriginal Tasmanians, Crowther the medical scientist is remembered for presiding over an inhumane traffic in Aboriginal remains. When the body of William Lanne lay in the morgue, Crowther reportedly cut the corpse's head off and replaced it with another. Even after the body was buried in St David's cemetery, Crowther was involved in its removal and further desecration all in the name of science.1 Zealous he certainly was.

In the twentieth century, these monuments to men have been joined by others: Labor Premier AG Ogilvie, explorer Louis Bernacchi, anaesthetist William Pugh, John Glover, the colonial painter and David Boon, test cricketer. The twentieth century seems to favour professional men over colonial administrators. Statues do not reflect our heritage, but rather they create it. They are themselves constitutive of ideas about historical significance, manly worth and the appropriate uses of public space. As American historian Kirk Savage has written with regard to Civil War memorials, 'Public monuments do not arise as if by natural law to celebrate the deserving, they are built by people with sufficient power to marshal (or impose) public consent for their erection'.2 There are no statues of women in Tasmania.

The collective memories of Tasmanian communities and their identities are sustained by a multitude of museums ranging from major institutions such as Port Arthur, to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. In the Interpretation Gallery of the Port Arthur Visitor Centre, convicts have been re-cast and redeemed as skilled workers brickmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths. No less than 1000 different occupations were represented. The women at Port Arthur wives, governesses and domestic servants are represented as emotional subjects: 'They all faced the dangers and isolation of living at a remote penal outpost'. Most local museums celebrate local achievement in terms of the dominant industries that employed male workers and their families: mining and logging on the west coast, apple growing and timber getting in the Huon, fishing at St Helens.

At Latrobe, the flagship museum celebrates Tasmania's leading position in that occupation-turned-sport woodchopping. A Hall of Fame celebrates the world titles and manly characters of champions such as Athol 'Lofty' Grave ('A Quiet Achiever, Gentleman and Friend to All'), Doug Youd ('the greatest all-rounder ever to pick up an axe') and David Foster ('arguably the most successful athlete ever to compete in any event anywhere in the world'). In Strahan, the Visitors' Centre Museum commemorates the lives of local hero/victims including Aborigines, convicts and piners. Captions explain that the 'piners', the real heroes of the Strahan story, were 'more often than not descendants of the convicts' and true fore-runners, not of Forestry Tasmania, but of environmentalists. In Triabunna, the Tasmanian Seafarers' Memorial, dedicated in 1997, elaborately commemorates the many Tasmanians who lost their lives at sea, whether as seamen, fishermen or navy personnel.

In some towns, historic walks and sculptures complement local museums: in Campania, a Stephen Walker sculpture of a sheaf of wheat commemorates Arthur Plummer's hundredth birthday and 'acknowledges pioneering families for their determination and achievements in our region'. In Queenstown, one of Stephen Walker's sculptures, commissioned by the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Company, depicts a family of father, mother and son 'The Miner's Sunday' and a second, commissioned by the Municipality of Queenstown, shows the history of the district ('Ten Decades of Man and Mining') in twenty-one plaques; and on the banks of the Huon at Huonville, there is a series of wooden figures representing the history of the district through timber-getting, apple picking and war, built from the stumps of the trees planted in an Avenue of Honour planted in 1902 to commemorate local men who volunteered for the Boer War.

Most monuments and memorials in Tasmania, as elsewhere in Australia, commemorate those who served in, and those who lost their lives in, overseas wars. The number and prominence of Boer War memorials suggest Tasmania's strong identification with the cause of empire. Perhaps the island's most distinguished statue is the Boer War memorial on the Domain in Hobart, and its most centrally placed that in Bellerive. Ulverstone has a composite war memorial welding the Boer War monument together with those to the First and Second World Wars, which includes a clock tower. There are a number of utilitarian Second World War memorials (halls, clock towers, sports grounds) but as in the rest of Australia, war memorials commemorating those lost in the Great War are the most numerous and bear the longest lists of names and still shocking in the evidence they provide of the terrible cost of that war for small communities. They remind us that some families lost several sons and some towns the majority of their young men all in support of Britain's war in Europe. They remind us of the cost of our continuing colonial condition. And they remind us that our national identity was forged, paradoxically, as an imperial identity.

There are no monuments in Tasmania to national independence or Australian achievement, except perhaps the Gatty memorial in Campbell Town, which pays tribute to the distinguished aviator.3 Remarkably, there is no statue of Andrew Inglis Clark, arguably Tasmania's foremost nationalist and author of the first draft of the federal constitution. There are no monuments to federation or Australia's federal fathers, such as Alfred Deakin and Edmund Barton, and none to King O'Malley. The life of Premier and Prime Minister Joseph Lyons is commemorated in the domestic monuments of his two homes, in Stanley (where he was born) and Home Hill in Devonport, where he lived with Dame Enid and their children. It offers a revealing view of Dame Enid's presentation of their life together ('Home Hill is as Dame Enid left it') and the importance of her collection of memorabilia of empire.

The impulse to commemorate the past arises out of present-day needs and anchors present-day identities in ever changing ways. It would have amazed Tasmanians one hundred years ago that hundreds now regularly gather at places such as Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory to assert or claim an identity as the descendants of convicts. Others gather to assert their identity as the descendants of free settlers. In monuments and museums around the state, Tasmanians have constructed particular versions of the past with an eye to instructing the future. Often the didactic purpose is explicit: in Penguin the war memorial challenges present day sons to be 'worthy' of those who gave their lives; in Snug the war memorial in front of the school reminds 'youth' that they know freedom because of the sacrifices of an earlier generation. But some causes and their champions have sunk into oblivion. Those who fought for freedom in its many guises for an end to convict transportation, or for the political representation of workers, or for women's suffrage or for Aboriginal land rights still await public commemoration.

Marilyn Lake

Footnotes:
1. Lyndall Ryan, The Aboriginal Tasmanians, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1996, pp 21417.
2. Kirk Savage, 'The politics of memory: Black emancipation and the Civil War monument', in John R Gillis (ed), Commemorations: the politics of national identity, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, p 135.
3. The statuary on Customs Building, Hobart, to some degree celebrates federation: see Michael Roe, The state of Tasmania: identity at Federation-time, Hobart: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 2001.