Impact Studios

Australia’s no 1 university for research impact

Producer: Ninah Kopel

Executive Producer: Tom Allinson

Collaborating researcher: Glenda Sluga

Sound design: Joe Koning

Host: Tamson Pietsch

Voice actors: Timothy Gray, Caitlin McHugh and Henry Thai

Script Advisors: Lauren Carroll Harris and Ellen Leabeater

Thanks to: Emma Kluge and Aden Knapp for helping with research, Anna Carlson for helping with an audio sync-up, Ed Golterman for access to the ‘Nations Forum’ Archive and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision for their help and archival material.

Image Credit: Raising the ‘No More War’ banner over the HQ of the Council for Limitation of Armaments. July 29,1922, Washington, D.C. (Shutterstock)

Transcript History Lab S2Ep3: Skeletons of Empire


The Procession

Timothy Gray: There are stories in this episode that might be confronting for some listeners. And to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander listeners; a warning that we will use the names of deceased persons.

Frank Moorhouse: Those who were mutilated by the war had lost legs and arms and eyes and noses and faces.

Tamson Pietsch: In the years following World War One it was normal to see a man like this…

Frank Moorhouse: had their face blown apart and had lost often both arms…

Tamson Pietsch: he would be crossing the road, or shopping with his family or at the pub with his mates ….

Frank Moorhouse: Blind and deaf.

Tamson Pietsch: And seeing an isolated reminder of the war, that was one thing. But seeing a group of these men? on mass?

Frank Moorhouse: Mutilated men shuffling along. Thousands of them.

Tamson Pietsch: That is another story…. This is History Lab and I’m Tamson Pietsch. Broken bodies and lives lose; we still hear about these things on the news. But the scale of devastation in World war one? That’s really hard to imagine…. I mean 17 million lives were lost.

Archival tape: …and millions more are crippled.[1]

Tamson Pietsch: And the way the world responded to that loss… well that’s even harder to imagine….

Archival tape: The confidence of men in government has been shaken. It will never be restored until governments devise some way to end war.

Tamson Pietsch: because what they came up with?….was the The league of nations….

Archival tape: the league of nations to restrain their wild and destructive force…[2]

Archival tape: The league of nations was that way[3]

Tamson Pietsch: A revolutionary idea to form the world’s first international organisation in Geneva. But this episode isn’t about the league itself. It’s about the ideas the league was founded on ….

Archival tape: let them see the new world as it is, and the new spirit which inspires it [4]

Glenda Sluga: So imagine, that there is this international institution that stands for more than just your state

Tamson: The spirit of Geneva…

Archival tape:…. a world in which the affairs of nations are to be administered, in justice and reason and humanity. A world in which the chief affair, of government shall be peace.[5]

Glenda Sluga: We still have international institutions today, but the spirit of Geneva? It’s hard to even imagine that….


Tamson: So Glenda, I mean we go way back, ever since I rocked up at Sydney university in 2013, and there you were. This international history super star..

Glenda Sluga: I’m not going to look at you, cause I’ll laugh

Tamson Pietsch: [laughs] That’s good! Maybe you should just introduce yourself.

Glenda Sluga: Well…. I’m an international historian at the university of Sydney. And that means , that I write about institutions, look at the history of the bureaucracies, at their archives. But in this case, the history of the spirit of Geneva, it’s more about ideals and a horizon of expectations.

Tamson Pietsch: And that’s why we’ve got you here Glenda; can you help give me a sense of what the spirit of Geneva is all about?

Glenda Sluga: Well the sources that seem to capture the real strength of this spirit, the real emotion, they tend to be stories…

Tamson Pietsch: So do you have a story for me?

Glenda Sluga: I have three stories for you Tamson, all about Australians who embodied the spirit in different ways. So one of them is about a woman who physically went to the league of nations. One is about those who stayed behind in Australia, but went to the league in spirit. And the final story is about a man who against all odds moved through the world, not to go to the league itself, but to reveal the skeletons in its closet …..

And i think first we go back to the procession we started with.

Woman Who Went

Frank Moorhouse: I forget whose idea it was that these people should be brought to Geneva.

Glenda Sluga: All those injured World War One veterans marching through the street.

Frank Moorhouse: And they were lined up in military order in ranks, for them to march through Geneva. And they were in wheelchairs and crutches.

Glenda Sluga: This was the opening to an international disarmament conference in 1932; an attempt to stop nations investing in weapons and militaries.

Frank Moorhouse: We can all imagine just how how shocking it could have been

Glenda Sluga: And it was meant to shock the world into action

Frank Moorhouse: Virtually every organization in the world has signed a petition saying make this work. Some said we are not asking you to try. We’re demanding that the world be disarmed.

Glenda Sluga: This is Frank Moorhouse, by the way. He’s spent years in the archives in Geneva, researching the league of nations and writing a series of very well known books…

Frank Moorhouse: with the central character being Edith Campbell Berry.

Glenda Sluga: So Edith Campbell Berry was extraordinary. There was this place far across the seas called The League of Nations in Geneva. She’d never been to Europe. I’m not sure she had ever left her hometown but she got on a ship and off she went, like many other women, in search of the spirit of geneva. And that procession of all the injured world war one veterans…. Well Edith was a witness to that.

Frank Moorhouse: Edith cried and felt that that wasn’t professional behaviour. She even feels that the crying is turning her face into a rather ugly mess. And the muscles of her face her tensing up almost mimicking some of the injuries of the of the marchers. …But she pulls herself together


Glenda Sluga: she has to, she’s one of the organisers of the conference….

Frank Moorhouse:So she puts on a picnic for delegates from the various organisations that were there in Geneva …

Glenda Sluga: But the picnic doesn’t go quite to plan…

Frank Moorhouse:  she gives a speech that upsets the pacifists

Glenda Sluga: then people gate crash the picnic

Frank Moorhouse: including some of the mutilated soldiers from the procession

Glenda Sluga: they are all eating, drinking wine…

Frank Moorhouse: and the picnic gradually dissolves into a type of chaos that in some ways is an allegory. The picnic is somehow an allegory of how difficult it is for the human species to behave itself

Glenda Sluga: As Edith would say…

Frank Moorhouse: Part of the reason for the League of Nations was to teach the world good manners.

Glenda Sluga: And what’s really exciting about the story of Edith Campbell Berry is that she does represent that young Australian, enthusiastic fresh faced girl in geneva on an adventure; an extraordinary adventure. However, I should probably tell you Tamson that Edith never existed….

Frank Moorhouse: I’m the author of a trilogy set at the League of Nations: grand days, dark palace and cold light…

Glenda Sluga: Frank’s books are historical fiction ….

Tamson Pietsch: Edith is a fictional character? Why are you telling the story of a fictional character to evoke this whole spirit of Geneva thing. Weren’t there real women who went?

Glenda Sluga: Sure. But for me it’s not just Edith who captures this spirit of Geneva… It’s the man who created her.

Frank Moorhouse: My school friends tell me that I was fascinated by the League of Nations when I was in final year of high school in modern history. I became cranky because there was only half a page in the textbook about it and I was amazed at how little attention was paid to it.

Glenda Sluga: So when Frank had the opportunity to go to Geneva and immerse himself in the story of the league he jumped right in.

Frank Moorhouse: I couldn’t wait to get into the archive every morning…

Glenda Sluga: So many of the stories that Frank tells, like the the march of the injured world war one veterans through Geneva, were based on those sources…

Frank Moorhouse: It was so fascinating.

Glenda Sluga: And while Edith was loosely based on a woman who was in fact real…

Frank Moorhouse: She was a Canadian her name was Mary McGeachy.

Glenda Sluga: Her voice, her passion for the league, her spirit…. That came from somewhere else…

Frank Moorhouse: I used my imagination.

In Spirit

Glenda Sluga: There are lots of these adventure stories that come from the league…. But not all of them leave us with a sense of optimism about what it did and what it stood for and that’s just as important to know. So here’s a story in an Australian school magazine for kids from 1932[6].

Tamson Pietsch: Something tells me it’s fiction again

Glenda Sluga : yes but it’s also, in the historical parlance, a primary source. So one of my research students, Aden Knapp, found this source in the national archive when he was looking in to how the idea of the League of Nations was taken up and supported at home in Australia.

Tamson Pietsch: (reading) ok. The British Empire and mandates! The day had dawned at last when peter and margaret trent were to set sail with their father and mother….

Glenda Sluga: And at first it reads like a normal story for kids

Tamson Pietsch:….by the S.S. “Montoro” for Rabaul…

Glenda Sluga: And then we find out that Peter and Margaret’s father is an anthropologist and has been sent to this pacific island… for work…

Tamson Pietsch/ archive : What busy preparations had been going on for weeks past for the voyage and for their long stay in tropical New Guinea!

Tamson Pietsch: This isn’t just a kids adventure story, is it?

Glenda Sluga: No….

Archive: “Why must we go all the way to New guinea to bother about the natives there?

Glenda Sluga: One of the kids ask…

Archive: “Can’t daddy find enough work to do among our own Aborigines without going to New Guinea?”

Glenda Sluga: And this is how their mother responds:

Archive: “Well it’s a rather long story dear, and it goes back to the days of the great war.”

Tamson Pietsch: So it’s the League era right? Post WW1 we’re talking?

Glenda Sluga: Exactly.

Archive: “When the war ended, many great statesmen met in the wonderful Palace of Versailles”

Tamson Pietsch: which is where the decision to form the league was made….

Glenda Sluga: That’s right. And one of the problems they’re dealing with is what to do with the territories of the defeated empires, the colonial territories of the defeated empires. And in the past they would have just shared them out amongst themselves.

Archive: “some said this is simple. We shall add them to our own lands, as we have always done in the past when we have conquered a nation- the spoils to the victor!”

Glenda Sluga: But there is in the context of this new idea about the international obligations of the victor states and the creation of a League, it’s really not kosher to do that …

Archive: “‘But that sounds rather foolish,’ said dogged Peter. ‘They couldn’t hand them back to the enemy, and they certainly couldn’t leave them to look after themselves.’

‘No,’ replied his mother, ‘they couldn’t do either of those things, and they were very worried about the whole matter.’”

Tamson Pietsch: Who wrote this story?

Glenda Sluga: Well we’re not 100% sure, but the point is that it was a narrative that was common to the league of nations associations that were set up in Australia in this period to support the idea of the League of Nations

Tamson: So what happens next?

Archive: General Smuts, one of the great statesmen of the british empire suggested a brilliant solution to problem; that the colonies that had once belonged to Germany and Turkey should be entrusted to the League of Nations

Glenda Sluga: …. Other states think that the mandates idea is perfect.

Archive: Everyone finally agreed that this was a very good idea, and before the statesmen left the peace conference they decided that the governing of these native races was to be a sacred trust of civilisation!

Tamson Pietsch: So the League took over these colonies, and just dolled them out to other nations?

Glenda Sluga: Well there were conditions attached. Australia was given responsibility for former German colonies in the pacific like New guinea, and Nauru….

Michael Kirby: And so the mandate in respect of Nauru was passed to Australia


Michael Kirby: I’m Michael Kirby. I was a justice of the High Court of Australia, from 1996 to 2009.

Michael Kirby: … we simply looked on it as a place for us to remove the major asset of that island of Nauru, namely the superphosphate bird droppings which we then sold at a profit to Australia. And instead of spending all the money on the people of Nauru we spent it on ourselves.

Glenda Sluga: these days what we do have a lot about in the news is Manus Island for example or Nauru and the fact that these have become migrant detention centres, refugee centres for so-called illegal refugees. And so we know about these places but we actually don’t know the history of them ….So without these international institutions we really only know half our history.


Tamson Pietsch: So when we do dive into this history though… what do we learn? That Australia was … or indeed really is, an empire?

Glenda Sluga: You could see it that way but i think it’s more complicated. The idea of the mandates was that there was supposed to be some form of supervision from the international community. But what happened then ,was slightly different from the intention. There was never any time limit imposed, there was never any real oversight. The league had limited powers of intervention. …. The only thing they could really come up with was, and it was still important, it was regarded as important enough as a kind of a chink in the armor of imperialism, was that in the mandates, that the governing States felt that somebody was watching…

Tamson Pietsch: And that was The league of nations?

Glenda Sluga: yeah

Archive: “‘Well , it is not much fun having an Empire these days,’ said peter. ‘Too much like hard work! Why in the days of the Romans, the governors of the colonies extracted as much wealth as they could from their people, and did not care one jot for the happiness or prosperity of the natives!’”

Tamson Pietsch: What kind of message were these Australian League of Nations Union people trying to send to children…?

Glenda Sluga: That the league was building a new empire. A new type of empire…

Archive: The empire of humanity, which Is the greatest of all empires…

Glenda Sluga: So it all comes back to this spirit of Geneva. This idea which was so powerful it was being taken up at home and taught to children

Tamson Pietsch: And yet obviously also problematic right? It was still really tied quite closely to nations, which wern’t ready to part with the idea of empire….

Glenda Sluga: So that’s the point of this spirit of Geneva it could be many things to many people. So some australians go to the League of Nations in search of opportunity and political liberty. Others stay at home and try to re-imagine the spirit of geneva because they feel it links australia to the world or to the british empire, but certainly to a community of nations. For some the league of nations justified new forms of imperialism. But we also have to remember, and I think it’s as important, it opened up horizons to a new way of thinking about the world. And its this aspect of the spirit of geneva that takes us to another story tamson…

Tamson Pietsch: Another story!

Glenda Sluga: and that is the story of A.M Fernando…


Fiona Paisley: Researching Anthony Martin Fernando took me to all kinds of interesting places I hadn’t expected to go. Whether literally or through archives.

Glenda Sluga: This is Fiona Paisley, a Professor of History at Griffith University in Queensland. And her work on the history of Australian internationalism in the Pacific has led us to this fascinating individual. An Indigenous activist in the international system in the interwar.

Fiona Paisley: It contradicts assumptions that, for example, Aboriginal people were under the oppressive regime in Australia that limited their capacity for autonomous travel and we would assume travel overseas being impossible in this era.

Glenda Sluga: Fiona wanted to bring Fernando’s story to life…

Fiona Paisley: ….but at the same time being aware that there were many gaps and absences in the record.

Glenda Sluga: The most widely known story of Fernando, comes from a third person account.

Fiona Paisley: It’s very, I think typical, if you like, of the Fernando story, that the most popular example of his protest, the most well-known, the most profoundly impressive, is the one that in fact we have very little evidence of.

Archive: “Picture London in the grip of fog, and the well-fed, black-coated, bowler-hatted clerks and businessmen with their umbrellas and galoshes slopping along the Strand.”

Glenda Sluga: This is from an article called ‘Fernando: the Story of an Aboriginal Prophet’ printed in the Aboriginal Welfare Bulletin in 1964.

Archive: “Great Scott, what’s this? Against the solid stone of Australia House stands a grotesque figure, a black man, hatless and with a grey beard, a mere handful of a man with the fine bones of an Australian Aborigine.”

Fiona Paisley: … I feel It’s a bit of a 1960s version of London. So it’s all about the kind of white bowler hatted crowd – it’s got to be a rainy day…

Archive:… “He stands in a greatcoat which reaches from his ears to his ankles, and on the greatcoat, pinned from top to bottom, are scores of those little white penny skeletons..”

Glenda Sluga: little toy skeletons…

Archive: “that the street vendors sell to children”.

Fiona Paisley: There’s an image of him with long flowing hair, and hatless you know in the rain, that he’s very much a tragic figure.

Archive:.”Good Lord, the man is a walking graveyard, yet his eyes are on fire. He points to the penny skeletons and shouts as people pass, this is all Australia has left of my people….”

Fiona Paisley: So you became engaged in a political act that at once identified him as an Aboriginal man and connected the image of the skeleton in a very kind of you know Old Testament view of a murderous world. And he’s the kind of the lone speaker of this terrible reality and here, all symbolized in the skeleton…

Fiona Paisley: And then when you went to buy one off his tray he would say to you….

Fernando: this is all Australia has left of my people…

[music change]

Glenda Sluga: but there are other ways of imagining this protest……

Fiona Paisley: It might have been a beautiful sunny day

Fernando: This is all Australia has left of my people…

Fiona Paisley:… kids would love him apparently he would give toys away for free sometimes …


Fiona Paisley: So there’s a kind of fondness…Perhaps an empowering moment…

Timothy Gray: It’s what keeps him alive, and what keeps his spirit. Even though it’s a terrible subject, but the act of him doing something… gives him life.

Glenda Sluga: obviously this isn’t actually Fernando speaking…

Timothy Gray: My name is Timothy Gray. I’m a Gumbaynggir, Wiradjuri, Bidjigal man. Born in Macksville a little town mid northwest of Central Coast. And I now reside in Redfern on Gadigal land.

Glenda Sluga:Timothy has a show on Koori Radio and we asked him to come in and help us imagine what Fernando would have sounded like while staging his protest…

Ninah Kopel: Can you imagine that?

Timothy Gray: Oh yeah. I’ve gone out and done it. So how would you project that? What’s the line again sorry?

Ninah Kopel:This is all Australia has left of my people.

Timothy Gray: This is all Australia has left of my people

Tamson Pietsch: So that’s one account of Fernando, how else do we know about him

Glenda: Well Fiona has had to do some real investigative work

Fiona Paisley: …. In writing this history, it’s been important to be as honest as I can about that often ephemeral accrual of the story anchored by moments of clear primary source evidence..

Glenda Sluga: moments that start right from his birth..

Fiona Paisley: Yeah so. he was born in 1860s…

Glenda Sluga:…And throughout his life in Australia he was vocal in his opposition to the violent treatment of First Nations Australians, especially in the missions

Fiona Paisley:…he left Australia in middle age in the early 1900s

Glenda: possibly, driven away by his sense of injustice at what was happening on his home land

Fiona Paisley: and we can say that he then is in Europe certainly from the 1910s.

Glenda: And he moves around….

Fiona Paisley: So 1920s he works for a lawyer and is a street trader Trader in London. He also travels across Europe as a laborer.

Tamson Pietsch: So this is around when the League was getting started. Are you going to tell me he took his protest there?

Glenda Sluga: he considered it, but decided not to…..

Fiona Paisley: And in fact, stated that he was never going to bother to try and contact the League of Nations…

Glenda Sluga: Since the british were prominent in the League of Nations, and Fernando had witnessed first hand the legacy of the British in Australia, he had a tendency to mistrust anything they had a hand in.

Fiona Paisley: He felt it was a British League of Nations

Glenda Sluga: But of course, he mightn’t have been able to speak at the League even if he wanted to

Irene Watson: I’m not surprised that Fernando was not included in any of the League of Nations events or meetings.

Glenda Sluga: Irene Watson is a Law Professor and Vice Chancellor of Aboriginal Leadership and Strategy at South Australia University. It’s hard to catch her when she’s not on the move, so we talked with her in the back of the cab on the way to the airport.

Irene Watson: I belong to Tanganekald, Meintangk and Boandik people. They’re the First Nations peoples of the southeast of South Australia

Glenda Sluga: And she says the League wasn’t exactly welcoming to First Nations people

Irene Watson: We we know of three fairly senior Aboriginal people in the 20s making application to be heard before the League of Nations and having that application refused …

So that’s always been a core problematic in terms of having aboriginal rights heard in any international fora is the concern is that it’s it’s a space that only is inclusive of member states.

Tamson Pietsch: So Fernando didn’t go to the league….but isn’t this story about the spirit of Geneva?

Glenda Sluga: Well he didn’t go to the league, but he does appeal to the League’s spirit…

Fiona Paisley: So when he arrives in Switzerland. Or I should rephrase that; one of the times he is in Switzerland. So the one we know about in 1921, he seeks out the headquarters of a well-known pro-international newspaper Der Bund. It came out a couple of times a day and it was very with it and engaged in contemporary world issues. He succeeds in getting an interview with the editors who   are very impressed with what he has to say that they’re sympathetic to some of his ideas. They want to hear more from an Aboriginal person in Australia so they ask him to write a letter. He writes a letter addressing it to the Swiss people.

Fernando: In the name of humanity, I appeal to you to use all the means available to advance my ‘god-sent mission’, so that all the thinking men and women can learn through your paper how the Australian indigenous people is faring under British administration and rule.

Glenda Sluga: His letter goes on to say that there is a systematic attempt to eradicate his people

Fernando: Who escapes [is killed] by severe work and hunger, poisoned food, snatching of the young, and venereal disease….

Glenda Sluga: But the letter isn’t just an account of suffering. It also makes a proposition to the swiss people…. A really unusual one…..

Fiona Paisley: And he suggests setting up an international commission …

Fernando: …to establish a commission of enquiry into Britain’s management of the Australian indigenous people…

Fiona Paisley: ….that would find Britain culpable

Fernando: There are thousands of men and women of all creeds and nationalities who would step forward to take this risky work into their hands if they only knew about the systematic cruel killing that happens in Australia.

Fiona Paisley: So Fernando’s connecting with very much contemporary debates and he certainly is obviously reading the newspapers he’s up with what’s been reported there and he’s inserting the Aboriginal situation in Australia into those sorts of debates.

Fernando: I have championed this issue since 1890 and will not leave it as long as I live, and even after death, should there be a possibility to do something … In the name of humanity, Most sincerely, A.M. Fernando.

Tamson Pietsch: In the name of humanity…[repeating]

Glenda Sluga: Sound familiar?

Archive:…. a world in which the affairs of nations are to be administered, in justice and reason and humanity

Archive: The empire of humanity, which is the greatest of all empires…

Timothy Gray: It’s a bunch of words that to me mean unity, like. Putting everyone on the same playing field. Like hello. We’re all on the same level. That’s how i see it.

Ninah Kopel: can you do that one line for me one more time?

Fernando: Yeah. in the name of humanity ….


Glenda Sluga: So Fernando didn’t need to League to embrace the spirit of Geneva and the ideals of internationalism.

Irene Watson: I mean if you think about it he was there in Geneva I think in the 1920s and if we understand Australian history in the 1920s we were still under the yoke of the Aborigines Act. So you know the thought of an Aboriginal person travelling overseas independently and also on a political quest that is quite something. It’s still quite something now

Glenda Sluga: Irene was part of the group that drafted the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…

Irene Watson: I played a small part in some of those drafting sessions along with thousands of other Aboriginal people.

Glenda Sluga: …so she advocates in these international spaces.

Irene Watson: These are core concerns: land rights economic rights the right to self-determination of nation states … And they’re critical to the future identity of Aboriginal peoples because simply without the recognition of those rights, aboriginal peoples across the planet will continue to disappear.

Glenda Sluga: and even though she’s critical of international institutions, she still works with them….

Irene Watson: I don’t think we have the privilege to have the privilege of choice. I work both critically, critique the structures because they need to be critiqued for many reasons that are just mentioned and noted. However they’re also the only forums.


Tamson Pietsch: You know, something’s really been playing at the back of my mind that procession of the injured WW1 veterans that we heard about at the beginning… they were there because they wanted to disarm, right, an international agreement to disarm?

Glenda Sluga: right

Tamson Pietsch: But they weren’t successful were they

Glenda Sluga: Well no they weren’t….and in fact as history teaches us, the world continued to arm itself preparing for what would become known as WW2

Tamson Pietsch: SO the league failed…

Glenda Sluga: Well not necessarily. For long time the history we were taught was that because it didn’t stop the Second World War there was no point to it. It made no difference. That isn’t true. It made an extraordinary difference. Even though people felt it was a terrible disappointment and in some ways didn’t want to be associated with the league by the 1930s. They were even more ambitious about the second league of nations mark 2, which is the UN.

Michael Kirby: So one thing in history leads to the other.

Tamson Pietsch: Glenda you said three stories… this is at least four

Glenda Sluga: I never said I was a mathematician

Michael Kirby: By a process of computation of the times I work out that it was in probably February or March 1949. So I was then nine years of age

Glenda Sluga: when Michael Kirkby was at primary school there was a delivery of these pamphlets

Michael Kirby: They were obviously designed to put in your pocket but more significantly they were printed on airmail paper

Glenda Sluga: Which means International post, a novelty in the era before email…

Michael Kirby: Mr. Redmann was my teacher and he was trying to emphasize to us even though we were just young children how important this document was.

Glenda Sluga: and of course the document was …

Michael Kirby: The Universal declaration of Human RIghts

Glenda Sluga: When the League of Nations was invented, the notion of human rights was not on the table, but by the time the second world war came to a close you had new ideas in the aire about the type of rights an international organisation should be able to defend.

Michael Kirby: I suddenly saw that this was a pretty important document and I should pay attention to it.

Glenda Sluga: it drew him into a bigger world, thinking about social justice in broader terms than just national terms. So imagine, that there is this international institution that stands for more than your own state.

Archive: a world in which the chief concern of man is peace….

Irene Watson: Yeah I can imagine it because it already existed here in this continent prior to 1788. And the evidence for that is you don’t you don’t have a country where there are hundreds of different languages if not for the possibility of peaceful coexistence. So it’s not just simply one of imagining but of not forgetting ….

Glenda Sluga: We still have a lot to find out about the importance of the league. On the one hand it creates mandates and they lead to these these perpetuation of imperial context. On the other, they do create fora where the colonised have a voice, attempt to have a voice and are able to create networks and that’s what’s so interesting about this story. You can’t fit it in a box and say it was only about imperialism. It was only about internationalism. It’s the complexity and the fact that like national politics it has a lot of different sides to it and that richness to the history of the league is exactly what we’re trying to understand.

Frank: Edith says that the League of Nations was really a school for the world to learn how to run, arrange itself …I’m afraid that we’re still at school. We’re still learning how to run the place

Glenda Sluga: 100 years after World war one came to an end, a group of musicians gathered in Sydney to mark the occasion and remember those killed, or injured. But also in hope that the world will one day, find some way to end war.

Song: Last night I had the strangest dream, I ever dreamed before. I dreamed, a world had all agreed to put an end to war. I dreamed a saw a mighty room and was filled with men. And the paper they were signing said, they’d never fight again. And when the papers all were signed, and a million copies made, they all joined hands and bowed their hands and grateful prayers were prayed.

Tamson Pietsch: That was Margaret Bradford performing at the 2018 Armistice day free peace concert in Sydney

This is history lab and i’m tamson Pietsch. History lab is made in the studios of 2ser which sit on the land of the gadigal people of the eora nation and we pay respects to their elders past, present and emerging who have been telling stories here since time immemorial.

We loved making this episode so much that there’s more to hear, especially from our chat with Frank Moorhouse.

Frank Moorhouse: and i thought that’s incredible. It’s as though a fiction writer’s fiction, suddenly comes alive.

Tamson Pietsch: You can hear that on final draft 2ser’s podcast all about books and words.Special thanks to Glenda Sluga our collaborating historian. And to the international laureate program at the university of Sydney for supporting this episode.

This episode was produced by Ninah Kopel with the help of our executive producer by Tom Allinson. Joe Koning is the one who makes us sound good. Lauren Carroll-Harris and Ellen Leabeater helped us pull many loose threads together. Special thank you to Emma Kluge and Aden Knapp who helped all the non-historians understand what on earth. Glenda and I were talking about. To Fiona Paisley thank you for putting up with our audio quality obsessions, and Anna Carlson thank you for your time. If you like what we do head to itunes and leave us a review or send us an email. And if you’re a historian perhaps you’d like to pitch us an episode. And of course. Thanks to you for listening.









Podcast playlist


Making history in audio

December 18 · 24 MIN

History Lab audio makers explore how we’ve tried to understand the past through sound in season two


Invisible hands

December 04 · 36 MIN

Where do jelly babies come from?

Mass-produced things are all around us. But they all start with a single object. In this episode, Olivia goes looking for the patternmakers, whose invisible hands are the original creators of much of the stuff we use every day. They see a world no-one else can see. So why are they disappearing? And what will we lose when they are gone?


Producer: Olivia Rosenman

Collaborating historian: Jesse Adams Stein

Host: Tamson Pietsch

Executive Producer: Tom Allinson


The Bank, the Sergeant and his bonus

November 27 · 32 MIN

In 1817, the Bank of New South Wales opened as the first financial institution in the Australian colonies. But when the first customers arrived for the grand opening, they found someone had already made a deposit. Where did the money come from? Our producers, Jason and Nicole, follow the record trail and discover the uncertain foundations of Australia’s first bank.