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Manning Clark's Legacy

Remarks introducing 2019 Manning Clark Lecture and naming Manning Clark Hall, Kambri Cultural Centre, ANU, 12 March 2019

It is a pleasure and privilege for me as Chancellor to have been asked by Sebastian Clark and other members of his family – including his brother Roland, present with us this evening – to introduce this year’s Lecture in honour of their legendary father Manning: a series inaugurated twenty years ago. We could not be more pleased to have CSIRO Board Chair David Thodey as this year’s lecturer, and I will shortly be delighted to welcome him to the platform.

It is an even greater pleasure and privilege for me to be able to take this opportunity, on behalf of the University, to announce to you tonight how we propose to further recognize Manning Clark’s legacy at ANU. And in that context let me begin by saying what a giant legacy that is.

Manning of course remains Australia’s best known and loved historian – if not always by his more prosaically inclined professional colleagues, certainly by the reading public – above all for his epic six-volume History of Australia, published between 1962 and 1981. He first came to Canberra in 1949 – via Melbourne University, Oxford and a stint teaching history at Geelong Grammar (which was obviously wasted on at least one of his pupils, Rupert Murdoch). Until his retirement in 1974 he was Professor of History, and Australia’s first Professor of Australian History – a title he wore with huge pride – initially at Canberra University College and then at what that college became in 1960, the newborn ANU’s School of General Studies.

Not the retiring type, Manning was thereafter a very visible ANU Emeritus Professor until his death in 1991, awarded an AC in 1975 and named Australian of the Year in 1980. Many of us will fondly remember him during those retirement years stumping around Australia as a kind of all-purpose public oracle, looking – as the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes him – “lean, grave, and goatee-bearded, wearing his trademark dress of slightly tattered, black three-piece suit; watch chain dangling from the fob pocket; paddock-bashing boots and crumpled weather-beaten Akubra hat”.

Those of us who have ever read or listened to Manning Clark will remember him, if for nothing else, for the grand, sweeping rhetorical contrasts he loved to draw, in often slightly archaic but wonderfully intense language, between the “life affirmers” and the “life deniers”, between the “mourners” and the “mockers”, between Henry Lawson’s “old dead tree” and “young green tree”, and to me most memorable of all, between the “enlargers” and the “straiteners”.

While given life’s complexity and variability, any classification of human instincts or behaviour in starkly bipolar terms does run the risk of sliding into parody, I’ve always thought – looking at the way in which policymakers and decision-makers address most of the public policy issues with which I have been concerned over my own professional life, including foreign policy – that Manning was really on to something here. There does seem to be a mindset which is basically open, inquisitive, adventurous and positive, and another which is narrow, confined, cautious, and negative. Most people do seem to line up, instinctively or intuitively, on one side of this line or the other.

And when they are influential in policymaking, it really does matter which way they do line up (not least for their own careers: enlargers do tend to get into much more trouble than straiteners!). When I was honoured to myself give the Manning Clark Lecture in 2011, I in fact built it around the theme of the role that the “straiteners versus enlargers” dichotomy, or something like it, has played over the years in the theory and practice of Australian foreign policymaking.

If there is such a line, there’s not much doubt about on which side of it Manning came down – not as a policymaker (for avoiding which career I suspect we should praise merciful providence), but as a thinker, writer, teacher and citizen activist. It certainly characterized his approach to foreign affairs, where what was unquestionably core to Manning’s thinking and feeling was a keen sense of modern Australia’s need to wholeheartedly embrace Asia; to abandon absolutely once and for all the White Australia Policy; to see Australia as a site in which the best of three civilizations – European, Asian and Indigenous – could merge; to recognize frankly that Britain’s day had come and gone, and to respond to that reality by forging a genuinely independent foreign policy rather than throwing ourselves into the arms of another great and powerful friend.

Manning was a wonderful teacher in a golden age of ANU teaching, when – as the late Paul Lyneham was quoted in saying in our official history – “as an Arts student being taught Economics by Heinz Arndt, Political Science by Fin Crisp, Australian Literature by A.D.Hope and Australian History by Manning Clark, tell me in what period of Australian academic life you’ve had more talented first-class people in one campus than that”.

Manning Clark’s enormous contribution to the ANU – as a teacher, a researcher and writer, a contributor to the national public policy debate on multiple issues, and simply as a great, iconic Australian – was for a long time given very visible bricks-and-mortar recognition on the ANU Campus in the form of the Manning Clark Centre, the complex of six big lecture theatres named after him in Union Court. But now the Manning Clark Centre is no more, with its rather cavernous teaching spaces not as well suited to modern practice as they used to be, and with the old Union Court now razed to the ground and transformed into the vital new beating heart of the university we see around us as the Kambri Precinct.

So we put on our thinking caps with the Clark family and decided together that the best way we could possibly think of to continue to physically honour Manning Clark’s legacy was to name after him this heart-within-the-heart of Kambri; this magnificent major events space within the Cultural Centre, with its retractable tiered seating enabling it to double not only as a theatre for big public lectures like this and major concerts, but also as a dining hall for our biggest celebratory events; and above all this new home of the magnificent Sidney Nolan mural, Eureka Stockade, donated to the ANU by the Reserve Bank of Australia and commemorating that seminal event in Australian history about which Manning himself wrote so movingly and inspiringly.

So – although this announcement may not be quite the surprise we hoped it would be, given that someone forgot to mask the name on the wall outside when this whole Kambri complex was opened last month! – it is with the utmost pleasure, and delight that this occasion is being shared with us by Manning Clark’s family on the occasion of the lecture in his name, that I now formally name this great events space, which will be visited by countless thousands of ANU staff and students and members of the public in the years and decades ahead, Manning Clark Hall.

It is now my great pleasure to welcome to the platform, to deliver the first Manning Clark Lecture in Manning Clark Hall, Mr David Thodey AO, on the subject of “Science, Research and Technology: Redefining the Future of Australia”.

Chair of the Board of CSIRO since 2015, David was before that, from 2009 to 2015 CEO of Telstra. Born in Perth, he went to school and university in New Zealand and then did a postgraduate management program at the Kellogg School in Chicago before commencing his business career, which embraced a series of senior roles with IBM in the 1990s, and with Telstra from 2001. Among his other current activities, David is chair of the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service, whose much anticipated report is due mid-year.

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2017 for distinguished service to business, notably to the telecommunications and information technology sectors, to the promotion of ethical leadership and workplace diversity, and – just to demonstrate that he is no Johnny one-note – to basketball. David has been a hugely respected and influential contributor to Australian corporate and public life. Please welcome him to the lectern.