The School of History recently held a very symposium to honour the career of Professor Desley Deacon upon her retirement. Entitled Gender, Biography, Modernity & Film, these multiple themes still fell well short of covering the key topics tackled in Desley’s publications.
The Symposium was held on the 6th and 7th April. This also provided an occasion to announce that Desley has now been awarded the Honour of appointmebnt as Emeritus Professor.
Desley has been a wonderful colleague, a supportive supervisor of postgraduate students and an inspiring writer. Her impressive career has spanned the United States and Australia and has traversed sociology, history and other disciplines, always providing fresh interdisciplinary perspectives. Not only has she written a brilliant biography of Elsie Clews Parsons, she is working on two more biographies that promise new insights into the gendered history of the twentieth century. She has been active in equity and women’s issues at the ANU and the University of Texas and has led the way in offering fresh approaches to the history of voice and sound.
Appropriately, the symposium was launched at the National Film & Sound Archives, which provided generous support by allowing us to use their theatre and for the cocktail reception beforehand. Guests included members of Desley’s family and leading scholars and film buffs from around Australia. The Keynote Speaker, Professor Jane Marcus, a former colleague of Desley’s at Austin, Texas, travelled from New York to attend the event and honour Desley’s achievements.
Desley provided a wonderful illustrated lecture in the NFSA Arc Theatre, entitled ‘Judith Anderson in Forties Hollywood: From Rebecca to Pursued’. A welcome was provided by the Dean of the College of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Toni Makkai, who provided an insider’s perspective on Desley’s powerful influence of fellow senior women.
On Wednesday, Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Mandy Thomas provided an official welcome, followed by some fascinating remarks from Professor Jill Matthews on Desley’s life and career story. The keynote speaker Professor Jane Marcus of the City University of New York presented an exhilarating lecture “Dead Children and Ruined Houses”; Virginia Woolf and the Spanish Civil War.’ Several people rushed up to ask for references to fascinating little-known books by women authors. Jane Marcus commented on the impressive representation of senior women at ANU.
Participants included Barry Higman, Pat Jalland, Marilyn Lake and Wendy Webster. Wendy launched the co-edited volume Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity – one of Desley’s recent (and numerous) collaborative products. Presenters of papers included Ann Curthoys, Barbara Caine, Sue Sheridan, Georgine Clarsen, Joy Damousi, Carroll Pursell, Melanie Nolan, Ann McGrath, Susan Magarey and Jill Roe. The cast of luminaries in the audience was testimony to Desley’s drawing power.
One of the astonishing things about the event was the number of women who said that Desley had helped them very substantially at an important juncture of their careers. People travelled from far and wide at their own expense to celebrate. It was a very enjoyable event that both reflected on past work and bounced off Desley’s new work, opening up in progress and future historical projects. Participants enjoyed a dinner at Vivaldis afterwards. It was terrific for Desley’s colleagues to meet some of her family members.
We were all pleased that Desley has made so much happen in her career! It has been innovative, expansive, adventurous and path-breaking. Everyone present was pleased to have travelled a bit of the journey with Desley.
The Symposium convenors were: Angela Woollacott, Jill Matthews, Ann McGrath. Karen Smith organised logistics, and the enjoyable food and wine.