Seeking asylum in music

Queensland’s conservative history has helped obscure some of the more florid aspects of the conscription debate during World War I, according to Q ANZAC 100 fellow, John Thompson.

During his fellowship year, John has been investigating a number of key wartime flashpoints such as the raid on the Government Printing Office in Brisbane in 1917.

Queensland Premier T. J. Ryan in a studio portrait taken in London

Then Prime Minister Billy Hughes ordered the military seize copies of Queensland parliamentary Hansard that recorded a controversial anti-conscription speech by the then Premier of Queensland, T.J Ryan.

John tracked down one of only three surviving copies of the controversial speech in the John Oxley Library’s J.J. Stable collection. Stable was the Commonwealth Government Senior Assistant Censor charged with confiscating the hansards.

“I think that the conservative history of Queensland has to a large extent obliterated the memory of our progressive past.”

“While the conflict between Hughes and Ryan was at times spectacular, it occurred in the context of a general anti-German, pro-empire consensus.”

The story of George Campbell Thompson (no relation) also piqued the former barrister’s interest.

“George was arrested for various episodes during the free speech campaign of 1913 and, after serving a month in prison, was incarcerated in the Goodna Asylum for the Insane for almost 18 months.”

“His diagnosis was ‘political agitation’ but when he was released on probation, he went straight to the School of Arts to address a protest meeting.”

Such rich anecdotes make compelling reading, but John is not looking to convert his research into an academic text.

Instead he hopes put his research to song.

John, who has been involved in the national folk music scene for 30 years, believes it will be challenging “turning stories from Queensland’s past into songs that resonate with the music of the period”.

“The stories I have compiled and the songs which have resulted are to be presented as a multi-media performance.”

He hopes to present this performance at the State Library of Queensland and other venues and festivals around the country.

John praised the richness of the collection and the supportive staff at the library.

He advised 2016 fellowship recipients to be “prepared to follow the information that presents itself, shifting your focus and challenging your preconceptions”.

“Above all, enjoy the wonderful opportunity to discover and learn.”

If you would like to know more about the 2016  Q ANZAC 100 Fellowship program, come along to the Fellowship showcase and information night on Thursday 3 March at 5pm.  For more information or to book tickets, please go to SLQ's What's On webpage or email Fellowships@slq.qld.gov.au or call 3840 7879 or 3842 9823.

Dianne McKean

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