Three Kinds of Clay, Three Kinds of Antiquity?

Date and time
Wed 08 Aug 2018, 6–7 PM

Fox Lecture Theatre, UWA Arts Building

Professor Ann McGrath

‘The 2018 Tom Stannage Memorial Lecture by Ann McGrath AM, the Kathleen Fitzpatrick ARC Laureate Fellow and Distinguished Professor, School of History, Australian National University.

1901, 1790, 1968. A federation re-enactment of Captain Cook’s Landing at Botany Bay, the arrival of the second convict fleet, the surfacing of Mungo Lady. Each dated event takes place on a continent of multiple Aboriginal nations on which the earth itself is associated with narratives of antiquity. Human societies create their own mythos – trans-temporal scenarios that communicate between past and present, and across time and place.

The Gweagal and Darug people’s uses of white clay attracted the attention of James Cook, Joseph Banks and Governor Phillip. In 1788, Phillip sent samples of Sydney clay to Banks, who sent them on to Josiah Wedgwood, who then manufactured a series of medallions depicting Hope, a Virtue from the Greek Pandora legend. To celebrate this, Erasmus Darwin published a poem that foretold a grandiose future for Sydney. Yet, the colony’s first colonial souvenirs and publications were transported alongside the convict cargo known as the death fleet.

In this memorial lecture, Professor McGrath will focus upon the story of how ‘Terra Australis’ or ‘Sydneia’ – Linnaean classifications for Sydney’s ‘primitive earth’ – became an agent in the importation of Anglo-Hellenic antiquity. What might such clay stories, replete with alluring female figures, reveal about plans to transform a strange earth? How could a fantastically storied antiquity, with it super-corporeal characters, co-exist with the Enlightenment’s fascination with science? Do Indigenous songlines provides clues? And how
might such questions relate to the more recent articulations of deep human pasts associated with ancient places like Lake Mungo and the many sites currently being researched in Western Australia?’