Conference on Dr Evatt at Bond University

David Day

After six long years and twenty- four short issues Hummer has finally stirred up a minor controversy. No longer can the editor nurture grave doubts as to whether anyone actually reads the journal. Hummer No. 24 contained an article, criticising the forthcoming conference on Dr H.V. Evatt to be held at Bond University, citing the reservations of such eminent Sydney labour historians as Duncan Waterson and Ken Buckley. The conference organiser, Dr David Day of Bond University, was and is not at all pleased. In the interests of one hundred blooming flowers his response is ‘published in full and is unedited, as he specifically instructed.

Contrary to the article in the last issue of Hummer, the conference on the life and work of Dr Evatt to be held at Bond University on 14/15 July 1990 will not be an attempt to ‘get Dr Evatt’. Rather, it will be an attempt to get to grins with Dr Evatt in all his many public roles – as an historian, lawyer, judge, foreign minister, world statesman and politician. Dr Evatt was a figure of considerable controversy during his lifetime and he continues to excite debate whenever his name is mentioned. This conference will provide the first major assessment of his contribution to the public life of Australia and of the wider world. More than twenty papers have already been offered taking all manner of views on his life and work.

It is a scholarly conference open to everyone at which a wide range of views is expected and welcomed. Duncan Waterson’s recommendation that ‘Hummer obtain and publish a list of paper givers and attenders’ smacks of McCarthyism and is a contemptible suggestion from an academic. With respect to Ken Buckley, it is regrettable that he has chosen not to attend although he is perfectly entitled to do so. It is even more regrettable that he has chosen to elevate his decision to a point of principle on the basis that the conference is to be held at Bond University. This can not go unchallenged. Although the university was partly established by Alan Bond and carries his name, it is not his university. It is an independent community of scholars dedicated to the highest standards of teaching and research and committed to the free flow of academic discourse. If Ken chooses to single out Alan Bond, as opposed to Burns Philp, then he would be better advised to boycott the beer rather than to boycott his academic colleagues. Although we will miss Ken’s presence, that will not make the conference a ‘fizzer’. In fact, it is shaping up as one of the most exciting academic conferences for some time.

Not only will there be various kinds of historians in attendance, but there will be lawyers, political scientists, members of the Evatt family and of the Evatt Foundation. The full list of paper presenters will not be decided until November when I would be more than grateful for Hummer to publicise the program.

Readers of Hummer who wish to attend the conference or to offer a paper should write to me for further details:

Dr David Day
School of Humanities
Bond University
Gold Coast QUEENSLAND 4229

Further comment on this issue is invited. (Ed.)

[A letter by] Ken Buckley

The Editor Hummer

Dear Sir

Dr Day skirts around three issues concerning the Conference on H.V. Evatt which he is promoting at Bond University next year.

  1. Private Universities. In the U.S.A., the main exemplar, there are undoubtedly some good private institutions – and some bad ones. This private sector actually has considerable dependence upon public funds. In Australia, the historical development has been markedly different: public institutions have held the field, relying upon funds from governments and (until the Whitlam government acted) student fees. Many of the problems faced by Australian universities and colleges today stem from shortage of funds. Establishment of private institutions is likely to exacerbate that situation as public funds are diverted to support them. Bond University is already seeking public money, despite its early disclaimers of any intention of doing so.
    Claims to dedication to high standards of teaching and research must be proved before being accepted. What happens to entry standards in the case of a private university struggling to keep afloat? Are students offering cash by way of fees to be rejected if they don’t match up to recognised standards? Perhaps the market will decide?
  2. Bond University. According to David Day, the institution which employs him is not Alan Bond’s university. Rather, it is ‘an independent community of scholars … committed to the free flow of academic discourse’. Really? Where do their salaries come from, if not Bond Corporation? That corporation is not altruistic. It has a large interest in the real estate which it owns around the University. The Corporation’s controller is best known in business circles as a shuffler of corporate paper and securities. The corporation itself is notorious for avoiding payment of tax by the use of tax havens such as the Cook Islands.
    I shall treat Bond University seriously as an independent community of scholars when they organise a public conference on Bond. There are great possibilities here – Bond in Bell, Bond on Lonrho, Bond in Chile, Bond in boats, Bond in brewing. Till then, I shall continue to boycott Bond’s beer – though unfortunately Burns Phil doesn’t produce an alternative brew.
  3. H.V. Evatt. In principle, the ‘Doc’ is an admirable subject for a conference, and discussion could be expected to be critical as well as laudatory. Yet the venue is calculated to promote the public image of Bond University rather than that of Evatt; and the conference is being organised by one person, not a reputable body such as the Australian Historical Association. This has implications as to the kind of speaker who has been invited to present papers. Despite extensive publicity about the conference, nobody has yet been named as definitely giving a paper. However, Dr Day has named some people as ‘prospective’ paper-givers, and they strike me as being predominantly from what might be termed the Official Historian – cum International Relations – Defence establishment.

On past form, these people may be relied upon to damn Evatt with faint praise. Neither the H.V. Evatt Foundation nor the Australian Institute of International Affairs is willing to associate its name with the conference. I shall certainly not be present, as a token Labour historian or in any other capacity.

Yours sincerely
Ken Buckley
23 August 1989