When Ludwig Leichhardt came back: The Cold War and an uncanny return

25 October, 2013
3.00 - 5.00pm

Dr Andrew W. Hurley
International Studies Program, University of Technology, Sydney

In mid-1988, the long lost Ludwig Leichhardt returned to Sydney after an absence of over 140 years. Not once but three times over, and via an unlikely Cold War route. Ludwig R.H. Leichhardt, the great-great-grand nephew of the explorer and a man who strongly resembles his famous relative, travelled from East Germany to participate in a conference in March. The East German Liga für Völkerfreundschaft [International Friendship League] presented a relief of the explorer to the City of Leichhardt on 11 April. Finally, a bronze bust, for which Ludwig jr had sat as model, was flown in from East Berlin as national present to Australia in the Bicentennial year; it was unveiled on 9 May. Focusing on the bust, and drawing on archival sources, this talk analyses that strange return. I take as my starting point the notion that the bust can be an inherently unsettling art form; this bust can challenge us to probe some of the meanings invested in ‘Leichhardt’, not only in (East) Germany and in Australia, but also in a transnational space. Leichhardt emerges from the gift exchange as a complicatedly incontinent, transnational figure: One who is never fully owned or disowned; who was subject to competing German national claims; one who was ousted from popular narratives of the Australian nation, but who made a surprise return on cue for the Bicentennial. But this bust figured both presence and absence in other ways, and therefore asks us to think about what Leichhardt memorialisation might have elided. In particular, the broad context of its giving both disavowed and emphasised Indigenous experience of colonisation at a time when settler Australia sought to accomplish the feat of celebrating its Bicentennial, and including Indigenous people in doing so.

Location: SLC Common Room 524, Brennan MacCallum Building

Contact:Dr Tristan Lay
Phone: 61 2 9351 2262