Out of the ordinary: co-editing a collection of Australian Methodist biography


… by Patricia Curthoys

Over the past few years I have been involved, with William Emilsen, from Charles Sturt University, in editing a collection of Australian Methodist biographies (Patricia Curthoys and William W. Emilsen, Out of the Ordinary: Twelve Australian Methodist Biographies, Unley, MediaCom Australia, 2015). The collection was published in November 2015, one of several books produced to mark the bicentenary of Methodism in Australia. (The others include Glen O’Brien and Hilary Carey’s also edited collection, Methodism in Australia: A History, Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2015). As editors we adopted the view that biography was an important way into the history of Australian Methodism – the story of Australian Methodism could not be fully told apart from the people who made it.

The criteria for selecting who should be in the collection included that they had to be people who had achieved some public recognition within the Methodist Church of Australasia (1902–1977), but with no substantial biography already written about them; that together they had to be representative of the diversity of Australian Methodism, including ordained and lay men and women across, as far as possible, the Australian states and territories; and they had to be deceased. These criteria were intellectually sound. They were also influenced by an appreciation of part of our potential readership: ex-Methodists who we hoped would recognise at least some of the names! The final list was also determined to some extent by the availability of historians and historical theologians willing to write the biographies.

In December 2014 we held a two-day workshop with our contributors, made possible by funding from both Charles Sturt University and the (Australian) Religious History Association. At that workshop contributors made short presentations about their prospective subjects as well as providing feedback and suggestions on each other’s chapters. Our task, as editors, was made considerably easier by our contributors’ professional responses throughout the project to our numerous requests and to often tight deadlines. Once almost final versions of the chapters were received in early 2015, another ten or so people undertook the task of reading and commenting on the chapters. Then William and I exercised final editorial control. Our search for a publisher for the project was made fairly straightforward by William’s previous, successful, publishing experience with MediaCom Australia. We were particularly heartened that MediaCom’s CEO immediately warmed to the idea of publishing a collection of Methodist biographies in the bicentennial year of the arrival of Methodism in Australia.

William and I had worked together before, productively and amicably, most particularly on a co-authored history (Susan Emilsen, Ben Skerman, Patricia Curthoys and William Emilsen, Pride of Place: A History of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, Beaconsfield, Circa, 2008). It struck me at one point during this project that one of the reasons we worked so well together as co-editors was that we are both fairly pedantic people – a personal attribute not always, I would suggest, sufficiently appreciated by others but a quality which comes into its own when working as an editor! Editing the collection, as well as contributing a chapter each was a huge task. But it was also a rewarding one. The book has been selling well, particularly amongst ex-Methodists. We hope it will also be of use to historians seeking to understand various aspects of twentieth-century Australian Methodism.

Image: Methodist Church at Noarlunga [Source: adelaidia.sa.gov.au]

‘All in a muddle’: The Red Cross and the Liverpool Field Hospital


… Ian Willis recently gave a public lecture on the Liverpool Field Hospital and its involvement with the Red Cross at the Royal Australian Historical Society at History House in Sydney.

‘All in a muddle’ was how Mrs Isabelle Wallace Turner, the president of the Greenwich Red Cross, described the chaotic situation she witnessed at Liverpool Field Hospital in 1915. There was a shortage of beds, linen, medical supplies and equipment, toiletries, foodstuffs, and other basic essentials. The hospital was caught in a perfect storm of poor planning, under-resourcing and an influenza outbreak.

At the outbreak of the First World War Australians were mostly innocents abroad, though some had participated in the Boer War in South Africa. The young nation entered the fray of war with an enthusiastic response from voluntary recruits for overseas military service and a desire by those left at home to do something to help.

Those at home formed a host of patriotic organisations; one of the most successful was the Australian branch of the British Red Cross (BRC). It was formed in August 1914 within days of the outbreak of war under the inspired leadership of the wife of the Governor General, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson. She drew on the 40 years of experience in war and peace that the BRC had developed since its founding in 1870 and on its most famous volunteer, Florence Nightingale.

While Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett was reporting the Gallipoli landing and creating the Anzac legend things at home were not quite going to plan. The military authorities were overwhelmed by the realities of war, particularly as casualties mounted from the Gallipoli campaign.

Shortages and other problems had emerged at Liverpool Military Camp from its establishment in November 1914. A contributing factor to the chaotic situation at the field hospital was the poor location of the military camp on the Georges River floodplain. An ‘old soldier’, Damper Bill, claimed in the left-leaning Australian Worker that cows would not use the site.

Mrs Wallace Turner started hospital visiting at the Liverpool Military Camp in February 1915. She was alarmed at what she found and on her own initiative organised Red Cross relief goods through the Greenwich Red Cross to try and ameliorate the situation. This was typical of the response of Red Cross workers in a host of situations in the early months of the war.

Over 10,000 individual relief items were sent by Sydney Red Cross headquarters to the hospital between February and July 1915. These items included linen, bedding, hospital clothing, surgical equipment and supplies, toiletries, foodstuffs, and other items including clothes lines, hurricane lamps and cigarettes.

The Parramatta Red Cross under the leadership of Mrs Cook, the wife of the former prime minister, stepped in and fitted out one ward of the field hospital. Other Red Cross branches fitted out other hospital wards and the Parramatta Voluntary Aids provided support services.

Things were finally starting to look up at the hospital when in July 1915 the camp’s problems hit the headlines. The local federal member of parliament, Richard Beaumont Orchard MP, delivered a blistering attack on the mismanagement at the Liverpool Military Camp. The prime minister called a royal commission, hearings were held at the camp, and witnesses detailed a litany of problems. Commissioner Rich’s brought down a series of adverse findings about the camp management, particularly at the field hospital.

The Red Cross did not escape criticism. There were scathing comments from Thomas Anderson Stuart, a member of the general committee of the New South Wales Red Cross and professor of physiology at the University of Sydney. Anderson Stuart accused the Red Cross of misappropriation of funds for providing enamelware and furniture at the camp hospital that he maintained would have otherwise been provided by the military authorities. In August the businessman and politician James Ashton, a member of the executive committee of the New South Wales Red Cross, mounted a strident defence of the organisation’s decisions at the camp. In October Lady Helen Munro Ferguson lambasted critics in a speech at the Sydney Town Hall.

Nevertheless, the exposure of problems did result in improvements. The Sydney branch of the British Medical Association stepped in to provide assistance at the field hospital and the Red Cross Home Hospital Committee supervised other enhancements to its services.

The story of the field hospital and the Red Cross is a small part of a broader picture of how wartime patriotic organisations filled gaps in soldier welfare, ranging from recreational facilities, relief goods, and convalescent and rehabilitation facilities. There was little acknowledgement of these contributions during the war and even today acknowledgement of these efforts is largely silent.

Remembering isn’t enough


Travelling across America, the country reveals a tapestry of contradictions. These were certainly evident in the lead up to Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday of May. In cemeteries and towns the bunting, flags and flowers come out, to remember the fallen and to welcome the beginning of summer. For some the weekend is solemn; for others it’s a holiday to herald warm weather and hot dogs (between Memorial Day and Labor day (5 September) Americans will eat 818 hot dogs per second).

The figures vary but it is certain that the most deadly wars for Americans were the Civil War (conservatively 625,000 casualties), followed by WWII (405,399). We visited the site of the bloodiest day in the Civil War: Antietam. 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on 17 September 1862. The battle led to Abraham Lincoln issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This information can be gleaned at the National Park’s visitors centre but mostly the display concentrates on the logistics of the battle.

Memorial Day originated after the Civil War (1861-1865) to commemorate the soldiers who died. The vision of the nation’s premier military cemetery, Arlington, established in 1864, is to be ‘a national shrine – a living history of freedom – where dignity and honor rest in solemn repose’. It is a vast and impressive place where more than 300,000 are buried. But its acres of white crosses sanitise the realities of war rather than explaining how the soldiers’ sacrifice contributed to freedom.

Memorial sites are impeccably kept and the tours for visitors are well organised. (Arlington receives more than three million visitors a year.) The narrative offered revolves primarily around sentiment; facts and figures can be obtained but the causes and consequences of war are not part of most spiels.

In 1910 an American psychologist (William James in The Moral Equivalent of War) offered an explanation for this reverence for the fallen:

The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party. The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals… modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.

20160519_135913Returning to 2016, a former Marine infantry officer and journalist Jim Michaels wrote just before Memorial Day about the loss of a relative in WWII. He told how his uncle had collected documents to preserve the memory of his brother. He concluded: ‘Remembering is all we can do.’

At Hiroshima on the Friday before Memorial Day, President Obama, on the other hand, said: ‘We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again’. Yet, the US government has just announced it will spend USD 1 trillion over 30 years to modernise and upgrade its nuclear arsenal. As Democrat Senator Ed Markey commented, the Administration ‘cannot preach nuclear temperance from a bar stool’.

In downtown Chicago on the Memorial weekend, there was a big parade in the centre of town and a fireworks display on Saturday evening, not to mention two Beyonce concerts. As people remembered the fallen and revelled in the first bout of sunny weather, not far away a fifteen-year old was shot dead, one of the victims of sixty shootings in Chicago during the Memorial Day weekend. Such are the contradictions of American life.


Francesca Beddie

Photos: Arlington cemetery; a wreath at a memorial to American policemen, Washington DC.