The Menzies Centre for Australian Studies is the lead Australian studies centre in Europe, promoting an understanding of Australian history, society and culture throughout Britain and beyond.
The Menzies Centre is one of 12 research centres in the Arts & Humanities Research Institute (AHRI), a hub fostering innovative interdisciplinary research across the Arts & Humanities Faculty.
Established in the University of London in 1982 and moved to King's College London in 1999, the Menzies Centre is endowed by the Australian Government and subscriptions from a large number of Australian universities.
The Centre's object is to promote Australian studies in British and European universities, helping to cement intellectual links between the two regions. Our staff are closely involved with the International Australian Studies Association (InASA) and the European Association of Studies on Australia.
The Centre's public activities include lectures, conferences, seminars and literary readings and attract a diverse audience, helping to produce a more comprehensive, detailed and balanced perception of Australian politics, economics, life and culture than is popularly available. The Centre also administers scholarships and fellowships, offers undergraduate courses in Australian history, film and literature, MA modules in Australian Studies (history, politics, film and literature) and supervises MPhil and PhD research.
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The Menzies Centre today
The Menzies Centre is the most substantial centre for the study of Australian history and culture in Europe and one of the most significant in the world. It directly supports the research of three faculty staff with specialisms in Australian history, literature and film, the postdoctoral work of Menzies, Rydon and other Visiting Fellows, and more broadly it promotes Australia-related research and teaching undertaken across the various faculties of King’s College London.
Menzies Centre staff produce research of international significance, host a range of research-based and public-facing activities, supervise doctoral projects, and convene BA- and MA-level teaching with Australian content in the History and English Departments at King’s.
Staff contribute also to Comparative Literature and Film Studies programmes, and are closely engaged with other work in the College’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, particularly via the Arts and Humanities Research Institute and the annual Arts and Humanities Festival.
Over time the Menzies Centre has been supported by King’s College London, the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Britain-Australia Society, the Menzies Foundation, the Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Trust, the Cook Society, the Lincoln Britain-Australia Trust, trustees of the estates of Sir Trevor Reese and Professor Joan Rydon, the Northcote Trust, and Bicentennial Scholarships and Fellowships.
In Europe the Centre has enduring and close links with the Centre for Australian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, the University College Dublin Australian Studies Centre, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (London), the Australian Studies Centre, Barcelona University and the European Australian Studies Association.
Further afield, it has links to the Foundation for Australian Studies in China and the American Association for Australasian Literary Studies; and in Australia with the International Australian Studies Association, the Australian Historical Association, the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, the Australian Studies Centre at the University of Melbourne, Australian Studies researchers at the University of Sydney and many other Australia-based individual researchers and collaborative projects.
The Centre has also forged strategic partnerships with non-Higher Education Institutions for specific projects and ongoing shared research interests. These currently include the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum, the National Museum of Australia, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian and New Zealand Festival of Literature and the Arts, the Origins Festival of First Nations, and the Australian High Commission.
In the past staff have also worked closely with the Australian War Memorial, the Barbican Centre, the British Film Institute, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Government of Western Australia European Office, the Imperial War Museum, the offices of the Agents-General for Victoria and Queensland, and the Royal Academy of Art.
Over the years the Centre has built up a large and diverse group of participants and collaborators for its activities, comprised of students, alumni, academics and members of the general public all of whom are welcome at panel discussions, lectures, seminars and other fora hosted by the Centre.
The object of the Menzies Centre within the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, King’s College London, shall be the promotion in Britain, and in Europe more widely as opportunity offers, of the understanding of Australia, its past, its present, and its future directions, by means appropriate to an academic institution, including:
- teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, supervising theses, and engaging in research, particularly in the fields of history, literature, and the social sciences
- organising public seminars, conferences, briefings, readings and lectures, and promoting publications, where appropriate in conjunction with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies or the Australian High Commission or Australian Business or like bodies
- developing the Centre’s role as a major source in Britain of public information and comment on Australia, particularly in political, social, economic, educational, historical, literary, cultural and business fields
- providing opportunities for discussion and personal contact among those interested in Australia
- arranging for British scholars to work in Australia and for Australian scholars to work in Britain
- administering the Australian Bicentennial Scholarships and Fellowships scheme and like schemes
Understanding Australian studies 'globally'
The Menzies Centre will globalise the ambitions set out in Objectives, aiming:
- To develop over the next three years the Centre’s global reputation in academe for excellence in Australian Studies research, particularly in its key research areas (Appendix 2), and as a major player in the global understanding of Australia, its past, its present, and its future directions. This includes: making the Centre a recognised portal for communication between Australian Studies centres worldwide; and building a wider sense of ownership of/belonging to the Centre among members of the King’s College London research and student communities.
- To sustain and develop the Centre’s reputation for excellence and innovation in the undergraduate and postgraduate teaching of Australian history, literature, film and culture at King’s College London.
- To raise the Centre’s (and the College’s) media and online profiles in Britain and Australia through hosting high-profile speakers addressing topical subjects in debates, ‘in conversations’, readings and public lectures.
- To develop strategic partnerships that assist the Centre to meet its object of promoting understanding of Australia, widen its impact and/or enable the development of research grant applications.
In globalising the ‘objects’ of the Menzies Centre via the goals above, we also sets out to fulfil the function of research centres and institutes within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. These are:
- To generate research environments which enable: the development of collaborative and/or transdisciplinary research projects and grant applications; the recruitment of postgraduate research students; and postgraduate research skills training.
- To attract key academic thinkers and high-profile speakers for talks, lectures, panel discussions etc. which enable public engagement with research at King’s.
- To forge links (where appropriate in conjunction with the King’s Cultural Institute), with non-Higher Education Institutions whose work complements and enhances the objects of the Centre specifically and the work of the College at large.
Key research focus and related research areas 2014-2017
In research terms, the key conceptual challenge for the Menzies Centre in the next three years is to explore and theorise the relationship between Australian Studies (and area studies more generally) and world-planetary frameworks for the study of human culture.
Harvard’s Professor David Armitage (at the Menzies Centre’s launch of the Cambridge History of Australia) identified this as the major intellectual challenge for contemporary historians of nation; Professor Robert Dixon, who holds the Chair of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney, has articulated similar challenges for Australian literary studies.
In all cases this involves an engagement with challenging new conceptions of time and in concrete terms often entails connecting humanities research to time-scales more familiar to the sciences, to paleo/anthropology’s long history of human migration and, in the case of Australian Studies, to the contemporary legacies of traditional Indigenous Knowledge forged as a complex epistemology over tens of thousands of years.
In fact Australian Studies affords an extraordinary perspective on world-planetary studies. Hence the Menzies Centre will foreground it as a field which:
- Encompasses a period from 60,000 years ago to the present (and where cultures of inscription, story-telling, and intellectual engagements with country have existed for tens of thousands of years.
- Registers human culture as conditioned by non-human ecologies and environmental factors;
- Is alert to the ancient and modern phases of immigration which have forged contemporary Australia;
- Explores the entanglement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous histories and ways of knowing to understand present-day human experiences;
- Seeks intersections of the Arts and Sciences as expressed in the Western tradition to understand the long history of human life in Australia;
- Is peculiarly situated at the meeting-point of cultures of the Global North and Global South, and of the Global West and Global East.
Research at the Menzies Centre will enhance debates rising from such parameters through its tradition of promoting research focused on the longstanding relationship between the peoples of Britain and of Australia (conceived as ‘nations’); and between the peoples of Europe and of Australia (conceived as dwellers on geographically distant but culturally proximate continents).
A short history of the Menzies Centre
The projects and events below are directly supported by the Menzies Centre and by the College’s nominal ‘Australian Studies’ specialists, but the Centre works towards highlighting Australia-related and other relevant research being undertaken across the College.
Planetary Frameworks for the Study of Human Culture: Problems and Methodologies
This focus is the subject of the symposium at which the Menzies Centre will be re-launched in 2014, and underpins GRAS and other research events at the Centre.
Related research areas
Global Conflict: Remembering the First World War
This incorporates the Menzies Centre/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade project Australia in War and Peace, 1914-1919, the Monash-based Australian Research Council project Anzac Day at Home and Abroad: A Centenary History of Australia's National Day (Bridge), and events planned to mark the centenary of the First World War.
Off Country: Australian Aboriginal Studies Sans Frontières
This incorporates the Menzies Centre partnership with the British Museum’s Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, the National Museum of Australia, and the Origins Festival of First Nations.
Geographies of Belonging
This includes work on the history of Australia House, discussion fora affording international perspectives on borders, migration and asylum, and the Centre’s longstanding research interest in Australia’s Britain.
The move to establish an Australian Studies Centre in London was a Fraser Government initiative realised under the subsequent administration of Prime Minister Bob Hawke. In effect it was also a legacy of the work of Dr Trevor Reese, the distinguished scholar of Australian and Commonwealth history, who had been Reader in Imperial Studies at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS), University of London, until his death in 1976. The Centre continues to honour Reese’s memory with an annual lecture in his name given by an up-and-coming historian of Australia, jointly hosted by the ICS.
Seeking an appointment to carry on Reese’s pioneering work the then Director of the ICS Professor W. Morris-Jones and Academic Secretary Dr Peter Lyon approached the Australian Government, which led, after some negotiation, to the establishment not only of an academic position in Australian history at the ICS but a Centre for Australian Studies, to be funded by annual grants from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Support from the University of London, the Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Trust, and the Britain-Australia Society also ensured the success of the scheme.
While the Centre began in 1982, it was officially opened by Prime Minister Hawke in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on Tuesday 7 June 1983. In his speech the Prime Minister alluded to Her Majesty’s attendance (when the Duchess of York) at the 1927 opening of Parliament House in Canberra, noting, ‘Why, the Queen mother is a living centre for Australian Studies in herself!’
He continued: ‘I suppose it is true to say that a generation ago, we would have scarcely though that the establishment of an Australian Studies Centre in Britain was necessary; and by many, not even desirable.’ Touching on his arrival at Oxford in 1953, Hawke recalled: ‘I found that the perception of Australia as an independent nation with its own aspirations, with its own identity, its separate patterns of historical and political development, its own social and cultural values, and its need for a specifically Australian foreign and defence policy, not much further advanced’ when another Australian arrived in Oxbridge, William Wentworth, well over a century before.
‘The University of London’, Hawke went on, had ‘always been progressive in outlook’, and now its Australian Studies Centre ‘will help provide a new understanding of Australia in Britain, particularly among young people, and help to make the people of Britain better aware of the tremendous changes which have occurred in Australia, especially under the impact of the post-War immigration program, and the recognition of Australians that they belong forever to the South-East Asian region.’
The gentle ribbing was received with good humour, as was Hawke’s declaration that, in Sir Robert Menzies’ footsteps, he was next off ‘to the cricket at the Oval this afternoon’.
The first Chairman of the Centre’s Board was former Australian Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC, PC, who was succeeded by Professor Robert O’Neill (now Emeritus Fellow of All Soul’s, Oxford) in the early 1990s and followed by Mr. Michael Cook, AO, Professor Arthur Lucas, FIBiol, and since 2014 Mr. John Dauth, AO LVO.
The Centre was initially staffed by a fixed-term professor-director and an administrator. Directors were Professor Geoffrey Bolton (1982-1985), the late Professor Thomas Millar (1985-1990), Professor Jim Walter (1990-1993), and Professor Brian Matthews (1993-1996). Professor Carl Bridge, who had lectured at the Centre in 1987-1989, was appointed Director of MCAS in 1997.
Fixed-term lectureships were established, with a series of early career researchers enhancing the Centre’s reputation for quality teaching and publication. Many Menzies Centre lecturers have gone on to senior positions in the field, suggesting the historic significance of the Centre for the professional development of Australian Studies personnel. Menzies, Rydon, and other Postdoctoral Fellows also made excellent contributions to the Centre’s research environment and extended the Centre’s publication list.
Menzies Centre directors and lecturers initially taught into the federal University of London BA History programme or, from the early 2000s, the BA English programme at King’s College London. An MA Australian Studies programme was also offered until 2010-2011.
In 1988 grants from DFAT were replaced by support from the Menzies Foundation, leading to a re-naming as the Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies. A Department of Education, Employment and Training grant for developing Australian Studies in Europe was obtains in the early 1990s. Monash University briefly funded a lectureship at the Centre, and subscriptions from other major Australian universities began.
Menzies Foundation funding ceased before 1999, and in that year the move to King’s College London was negotiated by Professor Carl Bridge (then Director of the Centre), Professor Arthur Lucas (then Principal of King’s College London), the Chair of the Menzies Centre Supervisory Board, Mr. Michael Cook, and Monash University. This would also give the Centre access to British teaching and research funding for the first time. The move was underpinned by an AUD$5 million endowment from the Australian Government. The affiliation with King’s marked a new era for the Centre’s broadening activities, research capacities, and long-term sustainability.
The withdrawal of Monash University’s close involvement with the work of the Centre led to the embedding of Menzies Centre staff in host Departments at King’s, and eventually the structure of the Centre we see today. Dr Ian Henderson joined the Centre as Lecturer in Australian Literature and Film in 2004, teaching into the undergraduate and postgraduate-taught English, Film Studies and Comparative Literature programmes at King’s.
In 2005 the Centre moved from its headquarters at 28 Russell Square to the Australia Centre on the Strand, opposite King’s. A year later, in the interests of facilitating the supervision of doctoral-level research, Professor Bridge and Dr Henderson were appointed to continuing positions (and in ensuing years were fully integrated as staff members of the Departments of History and English respectively).
In 2007 MCAS welcomed Dr Frank Bongiorno who was appointed initially to an ongoing Senior Lectureship in Australian Studies at the Menzies Centre and later within the Department of History. The Centre moved into the Strand Campus of King’s College London in 2009. In 2011 Dr Bongiorno departed for Canberra to become Associate Professor of History at the Australian National University. In 2011 Dr Simon Sleight was appointed Lecturer in Australian History by the Department of History, bringing expertise on the histories of youth cultures and public space in Australia. In 2014-2018 the Centre will be joined by British Academy Fellow Dr Peter Kilroy whose project is Screening the Torres Strait: Remediation and Documentary Film (1989-).
Dr Henderson was appointed Director of the Menzies Centre for a period of three years from 1 September 2014. Under his leadership the exploration of ‘planetary’ and ‘deep time’ parameters for Australian Studies will be encouraged, with further emphasis on bringing interdisciplinary arts and sciences research to bear upon the study of Australia.
Research and teaching at the Menzies Centre has also been energised by the impact of digital technologies, which will continue to transform humanities research and enable exciting new ways of connecting researchers around the world. Such intellectual, theoretical, technological and practical developments are creating—and will continue to create—highly novel ways of understanding what ‘Australia’ and the ‘Australian’ might mean in coming years, changes MCAS research and teaching will continue seeking to explore and understand.
The Centre is now administered through the College’s Arts and Humanities Research Institute, directed by Professor Max Saunders with Institute Manager Pelagia Pais. Current Menzies Centre staff have offices in the Chesham and Virginia Woolf Buildings at the Strand Campus of King’s, and the Centre’s research-based seminars and lectures now take place in the full range of facilities available at the College. The work of the Director continues to be funded by the Australian government’s endowment. Funds generated by the endowment also contribute to the Centre’s support for Australian Studies researchers, and its many other research-based and public-facing activities.