Anniversaries and events often prompt us to reflect on historical narratives. Not just what happened, but also the historical meanings of events, their legacies, and our personal responses to them. Last week Nicole Cama looked at the origins of ANZAC Day commemorations in Sydney and I thought we’d use the tail end of ANZAC day to reflect upon how historical events inspire creative practitioners, especially writers and artists.
The Dictionary of Sydney used the anniversary of the centenary of the Great War as a prompt for new articles on the subject, to share knowledge with our readers and listeners, and promote historical understanding. Many authors, journalists and historians have released or updated books around this subject including Joan Beaumont with Broken Nation (winner of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History) and Alastair Thompson with ANZAC Memories: Living with the Legend (new edition). One Hundred Stories, produced through Monash University, tells (silent) multimedia stories that remember the men and women who lost their lives and those who returned to Australia, the gassed, the crippled, the insane, and all those irreparably damaged by war. The BBC Radio also produced a multimedia series The War That Changed the World looking at Australia’s experience of World War I.
Historic events, like war, also inspire musicians and artists. Patriotic songs and protest songs against war have been composed and sung in response to almost every modern war. There is an interesting summary on the Australian government website about songs of war and peace with links to lyrics and sheet music. Several months ago the Blacktown Arts Centre hosted It’s Timely, an exhibition exploring the legacy of Whitlam’s election and policies (Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’ speech was delievered at Blacktown). As well as providing historical memorabilia about the event, contemporary artists were invited to respond to Whitlam’s legacy.
At the moment, there is an exhibition at Auburn Peacock Galleries that explores the legacy and meanings of the Gallipoli campaign and the Great War. It’s called “Then, Now, Tomorrow – After the War“. The history of the Gallipoli campaign resonates strongly in the Auburn area as thousands of people of Turkish descent have settled in the suburb since the 1970s. We have a piece on the history of Auburn authored by Terry Kass.
The exhibition features new works commissioned by curators Penny Stannard and Nicole Barakat and each artist has some sort of personal connection to Auburn – be it cultural, familial or place-based – and this drives their exploration of the meanings of Gallipoli and their connections to Auburn. What is wonderful about this sort of creative engagement with history is how diverse the responses and artistic expressions are. There are a range of media and methods used including collage, crochet and more traditional watercolours. And the individual stories that inspired each piece, that attached to the artworks, are fascinating. ‘Then, Now, Tomorrow – After the War’ is on at the Peacock Gallery within Auburn Botanic Gardens until 17 May.
You can listen to a podcast of my segment with Matt at 2SER Breakfast here. Tune in again next week for more of Sydney’s history courtesy of the Dictionary of Sydney, on 107.3 at 8:20am. Don’t miss it!