Interview with Emeritus Professor C.P. Fitzgerald

From the ANU Oral History Archive
Interview conducted 2 May 1991
Interviewed by Stephen Foster
Edited and transferred to web media by Nik Fominas and Peter Stewart

Biographical introduction: Professor FitzGerald was born in 1902 in London and was educated at Clifton College, Bristol. Family problems prevented him from accepting an offer to Lincoln College, Oxford and after a couple of years of office work in London he travelled to China.

He lived in China for a number of years from 1923 until the outbreak of the second world war, working and researching. During this period he published his first three books on China. He tells the story of his early life in the book Why China?.

In 1946 he returned to China as a representative of the British Council.

The Australian National University invited him in 1950 to give a lecture tour in Australia and then asked him to accept the position of Reader in Oriental Studies. He arrived to take up this post in January 1951. The Readership was attached to the Department of Pacific History.

He was offered a Professorship in 1953 and created the Department of Far Eastern History.

After retiring from the university in 1967, he was awarded a D.Litt. based on examination of his published works and the title of Emeritus Professor.

* This transcript has been edited by the interviewee.

Transcript: Recording dDuration: 2 hours (2 tapes) Transcriber: Diana Nelson


          Identification: this is an interview for the ANU Oral History Project taking place on 2 May 1991 with Emeritus Professor C.P. FitzGerald. My name is Stephen Foster.

          Professor FitzGerald, you've already told us a lot about your early career in the book, Why China?, published by Melbourne University Press in 1985. I wonder if we can focus in this interview on your relationship with ANU and begin, perhaps, before you were formally associated with ANU, because I understand you had some early contact with people who were later prominent in the university like Raymond Firth and Copland and Sir Frederick Eggleston.

To begin with the first one, Raymond Firth. When I attended Professor Malinowski's anthropological seminar in about 1935, in London, before I went to China for the Leverhulme Fellowship, Raymond Firth was the number two to Malinowski in that department at the London School of Economics, and that's when I first met him. He was always there on these occasions and he used to attend the seminar which was weekly. And so I knew him quite well back then before there was ever any question of the ANU - before the war, you see.

So when the ANU came into the picture and he came out here to advise, I think, on the Interim Council or whatever it was, I saw him again then, of course, a lot. I've seen him since in London, from time to time. But he didn't stay in the end here. He was asked to, I think. He was asked to take over the Research School of Social Sciences, wasn't it?

          Pacific Studies.

Pacific Studies. But he didn't. I don't know, perhaps his commitments in England or he didn't want to, perhaps - I don't know.

          Was Firth interested, in those early days, in China?

I don't think so particularly. No. I would have said that˙.... No, I don't think he was. What was his line?

          Well, his particular line, I guess, was the Pacific more narrowly interpreted but I wondered about his interest in your work - specifically in your activity?

Up to a point, but, as you say, his interest was the Pacific in the island sense, more, I think. Yes, that was Firth. The other one you were saying - Copland. Sir Douglas Copland, of course, was, when we were in Nanking just after the war in 1946 onward, the Australian Minister to China. As it happened he was an old friend of the head of the British Council, Professor Roxby. I was with the British Council. Roxby died shortly after in China, in Nanking, and I for a while was acting for the British Council in China until they appointed a permanent representative or a top representative, and then I went to North China as the North China representative.

But I got to know Copland very well at that time because, well, they'd been friends and it was a very tight and uncomfortably situated community. There were hardly any housing worth having, it had been devastated by the Japanese during the war, partly. Most of us, we lived in a building, the British Council, which we used the dining room for the office, and before we ate meals everything had to be cleared off the table (laughs) and that sort of thing.

The Australian embassy was up across the lane and they didn't have any curtains on their windows and nor did we because you couldn't get any such things. So we usually exchanged intimate pictures of each other - dressing and undressing - and several of the staff. Do you know Charles Lee in Canberra - Australian Chinese? He rose to be ambassador somewhere; he's retired now. Well, he was right opposite us (laughs). And Barry Hall and Lionel Phillips - these were members of the staff there.

Douglas Copland had the embassy house which was somewhere else but the accommodation was so little that, in spite of the fact that he had a daughter there and his wife, he also put up his secretary, and I'm not sure, somebody else as well. The place was absolutely crammed, the lack of accommodation was appalling. So that was how I got to know him, and very well, you see. Then he was appointed the first vice-chancellor of the ANU and went off to do that.

As I think I may have said in my book, Why China?. I was by that time in Peking as the North China representative of the British Council, and Peking was beseiged by the communists and finally taken. For about two months or more, it was from January till April in fact, we were totally out of communication with the world as a whole. Never had a letter. No communications existed. Then a ship got through, British merchant ship, protected by what the Chinese referred to as the 'grey navy', i.e. the British Navy hull down on the horizon, keeping the KMT from interfering. And that ship brought an invitation from Copland to visit Australia and a telegram sent months later saying: 'If you didn't get my letter offer still stands'. I think I've retailed this story in Why China?.

I agreed, I was able to send a message back and months passed and I had this interesting example of a Chinese fortune teller who at the very day that the communists beseiged Peking predicted that I was going abroad to a country far overseas which I'd never been to before, at a certain date, and coming back at a certain date - all of which proved perfectly true. That's another subject.

I may add here that I'm not sure that I did say this before in the book: my experience of Chinese fortune tellers has one interesting characteristic. I know that the regular scientists won't have a bar of listening to a word you say about this sort of thing. They shut their minds to the idea that there could be anything to it. Now, if they looked at the thing a little bit more scientifically, shall we say, or objectively, they would discover something which I found out empirically, that the range of prediction is quite limited. It very rarely outlasts eighteen months, more likely within a year. I've never known a case of longer range prediction than that. Now, this is a fact, you see - a scientific fact - which ought to be investigated by somebody. Why should the range be limited? What limits it? And why can they do it at all? None of this - people won't look at it, you know. Very stupid, I think. It's not atypical, of course, of what's in the history of the human race. I mean, look at Galileo (laughs) trying to persuade them that the earth didn't - you know, the sun and the earth. I mean, prejudices are so deeply embedded that it's extremely difficult to dislodge them. One of the scientific world's prejudices is it won't look at the occult, it won't admit it exists. Now, this is silly because there's a lot of evidence that it does, and we don't know what it is, of course, but we do have examples like this of its operation which nobody as yet can explain. Well, that's that.

So I went and came back and within a month or two of returning - in fact just about Christmas time - to Peking I got a direct offer from Copland to join the ANU as a visiting reader - yes, it was supposed to be a temporary job. Well, I hadn't anything else to do and the British Council was folding 'cause they wouldn't .... The British Government wouldn't give us full diplomatic status. The Chinese Communist Government wouldn't accept anybody who hadn't. It was one of those things. The same thing had happened in Russia and there the Russians also refused - either you're a full diplomat or you're nothing at all. The British thought Russia was more important so they made the British Council (laughs) in Russia full diplomatic service but they wouldn't do it again in China - you know what these government officials are like: petty jealousies. The Foreign Office hated the idea of outsiders being given full diplomatic status, you see - loathed the thought. If they could bar it once they certainly would. Even if they had to give in once, they'd bar it again the next time. China didn't matter so much.

          I'm sure there's still parallels today.

My word, that goes on every day.

          But what about other parts of the world? What about Britain, in particular? Were there not prospects for you there?

No, I don't think so. In the immediate post-war period things weren't really good - there wasn't much opening in England at that time. So I was glad to accept this offer. I thought it was something interesting. And so I came and arrived on 1st January 1951 which makes it extremely easy to remember how long I've been in Australia (laughs).

          But before we get you here, though, when you first spoke to Copland about a visit, or when you received that correspondence and the telegram, did you guess that it would lead to a long term appointment?

I thought it quite likely would. That was one of the reasons for immediately accepting it because I thought it very possibly would. I, at that time, had been in touch with my old, original professor at the School of Oriental Studies in London, Professor Dora Evans, who was visiting Peking just before the communists took over, and she had said to me there's nothing for you in England, there's nothing doing, absolutely nothing doing, so don't try. She said it's not worthwhile - because, you see, I had no degree. I had no university degree. That was the first thing to her mind that that was going to be a complete bar to any person. It didn't prove to be so in Australia (laughs). So I came here. I came first of all for this tour. I was here for seventy days or something like that in the winter of '49. It took me all over Australia - Perth and Tasmania, Brisbane and Adelaide and Melbourne and Sydney, of course, and also Mildara [sic] for some reason or other.

          Sorry, whereabouts?


          Mildara? Good heavens!

It's on the Murray. Mildura or Mildara?


Mildura, yes. For some reason or other the product, the grape, has to be called Mildara but the town is called Mildura, you're quite right. There was some kind of a college there, I don't remember what it was - possibly the United Nations branch or something of that kind, 'cause they were quite keen here. I made a tour of a really large part of Australia at any rate - the main cities. Armidale also. There was a teachers' college in Armidale.

          A university - university college.

Now it's a university, then it was a teachers' training college, but it had a very remarkable collection of pictures, Australian pictures.

          Yes, with Heidelberg material in it - the name escapes me for the moment.

Yes, and Madgwick was the Principal of it - a charming man. Later he was head of the ABC, wasn't he? That was the sort of thing that I did on this first tour of Australia. Then when I got back ...

          Hold on a second, let's still keep you on tour. Who planned the itinerary, do you think? Was that Copland?


          So Copland was really looking after everything from beginning to end.


          And you spoke about contemporary China ...


          ... and the revolution during that period, and presumably that would be the first exposure, the first direct exposure, Australians had to discussion of the revolution.

Yes. It was very interesting because the fixation was still all with Japan. You'd give a lecture about the Chinese revolution and questions: 'Do you think Japan's going to invade us again?'- invariable, every time. The fixation on this Japan thing was really remarkable. I suppose not remarkable in the sense that it was still very real to people but it had little correspondence with the actual facts. I mean, Japan was no more capable of invading Australia at that point than Paraguay (laughs). They were completely disarmed and still under occupation with the Americans in there.

          Can you remember any questions that people asked about China?

Very few, very few questions were asked. There were some, of course, because some of the audiences were more sophisticated than others, naturally: the academic people and so forth, and occasionally attended by civil servants - that was mostly in Canberra - and foreign service people. Yes, there were intelligent questions from those people but it was only a small proportion of the audiences inevitably. And in the universities - yes, some. At that time there was no university in Australia - nowhere in Australia - where the Chinese language, sinology, was taught or studied. They had Japanese - there had been two professors of Japanese literature successively in Sydney, both were dead - the last one fairly recently, I can't remember his name now. McKenzie or some such name as that, or Macintosh. It was a Scottish name.

          I can't remember.

No, I don't think anyone does. They never had very many students, or so I understood it, but they did have some and there was this tradition, at least, of Japanese studies in Sydney University but there'd never been Chinese anywhere. So in a sense, well, I suppose in effect, I was the pioneer of all this. When I was appointed to this job I was not a Japanese expert, I was a Chinese historian and they knew that perfectly well, and so I started - I can't doubt that I did start - the study of Chinese in Australia.

          Now this must have been just Copland's particular foresight from his own experience in China.

Copland and Eggleston.

          Eggleston. Tell us a little bit about your early relationship with Eggleston, before you came to Australia.

It only began during this first visit to Australia when, I think, I met him for the first time in Canberra, as far as I remember˙- he lived in Canberra, I think, at that time. And I was introduced to him, of course, by Copland, naturally. I had no other contact in this country at all, except an old friend in the navy (laughs) - two old friends in the navy, both of whom, of course, I'd met in England at various times when they were serving there. Yes, I met him.

He'd been minister in Nanking before Copland, and he was - I remember it was arthritis or something - pretty well a wheelchair case. He moved about in a wheelchair. I remember he was living in the Canberra Hotel - that's where I first met him there. I've no doubt at all from that and subsequent knowledge that Eggleston was the prime mover and founder of the Research School of Pacific Studies. It would never have existed but for him. Copland certainly backed him up in every way but I think that Eggleston was the academic - he was a member of the Interim Council of the nascent ANU. I don't think Copland was then 'cause he became the vice-chancellor. There was a chap called Milne, too.

          R.C. Mills?

Mills. He was, I think, the chairman of the Council. I met him too, at that time. I suppose he's dead by now. But he and Eggleston were both keen on starting the Research School of Pacific Studies, of creating it. And I think they two were the prime movers that resulted in it being created. They were both members of the Interim Council, you see.

          What about Coombs? Did you get any impression that he was influential?

At that time. I don't think that at that time he had much to do with the ANU. He was the Chairman of the Reserve Bank, of course.


Governor of the Reserve Bank - yes, that's right. I remember, somewhat later - I used to know him quite well, of course, when he was still chairman and he'd been to Russia on some job. And he came back and he said that the Russians were very difficult and very sticky people to get on with, it's not a pleasant experience to have to negotiate. He said, 'I've just been to China. How different!'. China just as communist, mark you, as Russia but how different. He said, 'What charming people. How easy it would be to do business there', which was interesting, 'cause never having been in Russia I would nevertheless feel that that's probably right (laughs).

          What were your expectations of Australia? If you can just think back to when you were - the siege is going on and you're thinking about going to Australia. Did you have any clear view of what you'd find there or what it had for you as a sinologist?

It had nothing for me as a sinologist. I knew that no sinology existed in Australia at that time - that I did know. I had, as I was saying before, two old friends, both in the Australian navy, one of them is still alive. The other one was Sir Alan McNicoll who ended up as Ambassador to Turkey and other things, but he was the First Naval Member, and both of whom I'd met ages back ...

          We've just been interrupted by a telephone call from somebody who appeared to be writing Professor FitzGerald's obituary (laughs).

What were we saying last?

          We were talking about your expectations in coming to Australia and motivation - and the naval officers who were here. But I also wanted to ask you in that context about whether you felt at the time as a missionary, as it were, bringing sinology to an undoubtedly benighted people?

I knew that sinology didn't exist in Australia, I knew that, of course. I was very glad to be able to start it; that seemed to me a most worthwhile activity, because after all, in spite of the ethnic background and the cultural background, Australia nevertheless is in the Pacific world. China is significantly closer to Australia than Europe, and it was obvious therefore, to my mind, and it still is, that a large part of the future of this country is going to be bound up with that part of the world and not the original ethnic origin of the countries of Europe. I felt that it obviously would be a most worthwhile activity to promote the study of China and Chinese history and culture in Australia because that was where they were going to need it.

          While we're still talking about your expectations, what did you know about the ANU? Obviously Copland had talked to you about it. Can you remember what you thought about the prospects of this new university?

I thought it sounded a very promising idea and I was glad to be - hoping for the chance of being associated with it. One of the purposes of the ANU, avowed purpose, was to provide in Australia a place of study - a research school - for people who could not follow those pursuits in this country and bring them back, which it succeeded in doing to a very large extent in all fields - I mean science, too. After all, the School of Physical Sciences with its enormously expensive equipment, there was no possibility of an Australian scientist working on those things - nuclear physics - in Australia because there was no place where he could do it.

And that was the idea, was to create the facilities in this country, both in science and anything else, for people who otherwise would, simply be lost to the country - would go and spend their lives overseas, and it succeeded. And, of course, one of the earliest things which had been criticised but which made sense: leave every fourth year for a year. Now, these scientists, particularly scientists but also others, said, 'Well, look, unless we can get into touch with our European and American colleagues ever so often, we're going to be isolated. We're going to fall behind. You've got to be able to make a physical contact and talk to them more frequently'. So it was decided that this made real sense and so the four-year period was introduced - of course, a certain amount of gnashing of teeth in other universities arose (laughs).

          Of course.



          Identification: this is side B of tape one of the interview with Professor FitzGerald on 2 May 1991.

          Was there any suggestion before you came that you should put aside your work on traditional China, medieval China - I think you were working on the Empress Wu in the late '40s - and concentrate on matters of contemporary relevance and perhaps immediate relevance to Australia?

No, there was no suggestion that I should put anything aside. I think a lot of people, naturally, were interested in contemporary China, but there was no suggestion that I should drop classical or earlier historical studies on that account - not at all.

          Let's get you to Australia then, for the second time. You've been out and made a preliminary trip and you arrive - when was it? On 1st January?


          What did you find at the university?

Oh, at the university there was very little. We occupied a part of what had been the old hospital building in Acton. Well, the first thing, before I arrived I had had a Rockefeller Grant arranged through Copland to visit all the centres of sinology in Europe and America - not that there were too many in those days - also to buy books for a Chinese library, in Hong Kong. I had hoped to go back to Peking to do this but then came the Korean war, and that became impossible, so Hong Kong. I was there for two months or more buying books and it was not too difficult because there were, fortunately, some collections which were being offered for sale by the heirs of people who'd perished in the war and one thing and another. And Hong Kong University had custody of some of these which they didn't want to keep, so I bought a whole lot from them. These were finally all shipped to Australia.

When I got there, of course, the first thing that happened was that these things arrived .... There was nobody, I mean, it was a minimal staff. I got hold from the carpenter a sort of chisel and hammer and opened the cases. There was nobody in the whole university who could read a single word of Chinese so I unpacked these five or six large packing cases of books and put them on the shelves. That was the level of what had to be done, and so, at least, we started off that way - you, at least, knew what there was (laughs).

Then, of course, I was supposed to be attached to the Department of Pacific History which was Jim Davidson, which, of course, was concerned with the islands mostly, and I was attached to that but I thought it was very unsatisfactory, really. China is not something that you attach to something else. It's rather more often the other way round. But however, I got on very well with Jim and actually functioned as a separate setup.

Then - I don't think I've told this story before - about the second year, '52, I think it was '52 - Copland had left the university, resigned from being the vice-chancellor. What did he do then? Something else - I can't remember. The next one, as yet, had not been appointed or taken over and Oliphant was acting as temporary Vice-Chancellor and that time I got an offer from London, the School of Oriental Studies, to be an associate professor there. The pay wasn't too good, anyway. It never was in those days in England and I had, for family reasons - we were well dug in in Canberra. It suited us, the children in the school and all that kind of thing, and I didn't really want to go back for rather indifferent pay and the prospects of further advance there were not very bright. So I came to Oliphant, asked to see him, and I told him about this. I said, 'Of course, it is an associate professor, not a full professorship but it's, at any rate, rather different to being a visiting reader, isn't it?' and ...

          Said with a twinkle in your eye?

Yes. So I said to him, 'I'd like to stay here but not just as a visiting reader'. He said, 'Yes, I see'. I said, 'What would you suggest?'. He said, 'I think you better be a professor'. I said, 'That would suit me very well'. And so that was agreed, and the department was created. Jim was not sorry to let it go; he didn't want it. I said, 'Well, Oriental Studies but that's a very confusing name. Oriental Studies to Europeans means the Hittites and the Assyrians and the ancient Persians and what you will. That's what they mean by Oriental Studies on the continent of Europe. That's what we'd get people applying to do, which is nothing to do with China and the Far East. So let's call it Far Eastern History.' They agreed to that, so that's how it became Far Eastern History.

          And you don't think that there were misgivings expressed at that time about your not having a degree?

I know there were. I've been told that by friends, that there were, there was considerable belief that it was a sort of sweetheart deal with Copland.

          But by whom, do you know?

By whom?

          Who was expressing misgivings?

I don't know who exactly, but I was told this by - quite recently, not very long ago actually - by Hugh Dunn who is in Queensland. He said - and may be that it was there, I wouldn't know - but anyway, he told me this. And he said, 'Yes, that's quite true. It was only after they' - let me see, the only people, one or two people became aware of some of the books I'd written and they realised it wasn't quite that.

          But presumably, too, the fact that you'd been made an offer from London that purified you ...

That could have had some effect, undoubtedly, yes. But, of course, years later - how many years later? I'm always forgetting ...

          We're just looking at the CV.

That's right. When was my degree awarded, the D.Litt.?

          The D.Litt. - now that might be after this CV. This CV is dated 1967. And indeed this could well be the CV which was put forward when the D.Litt. was awarded.


          I'm not sure, but Who's Who will tell us. Let's just have a look at Who's Who.

That was the first degree I ever had (laughs).

          The point is, of course, it is a D.Litt. It's not an honorary D.Litt.

No, it's a D.Litt. proper - assessed on my written work by people who were asked to read it. Professor Harry Simon of Melbourne University was one, I know, because he told me so (laughs).

          That changeover from Oriental Studies to Far Eastern History, did Firth have anything to do with that, because he, at that stage, was an active adviser, wasn't he?

No. He probably knew about it, I'm sure he did, but no, it was my idea. I pointed out that Oriental Studies to the Europeans didn't mean what most Australians thought it meant, it meant something quite different: ancient near-eastern - the Hittites and that sort of people - and it didn't mean what we mean, at all. And it caused great confusion among those people and we should get people applying for scholarships who were Hittites specialists (laughs), so it would be a nuisance; that was easily agreed to.

          Now, until the time that the department was created, the Department of Far Eastern History, you were essentially on your own, yes?

Where do you mean?

          When you were the visiting reader in Oriental Studies.

Yes, I was. Yes, I had nobody else - no one.

          So you took the books off the shelves and then you got down to reading some of them, I guess.

Yes. I can't quite remember how long ago, but it was about the time that the chair was created. At any rate, there was a Russian girl whom we'd known in Peking fairly well, and her family.


Yes - Vieta Rimsky-Korsakoff, who later married a man called Dyer. She lives in Canberra and she teaches at the ANU at the present time, still there. She was, of course, bilingual or trilingual, really, because she spoke English perfectly well, and Russian and Chinese. She'd been at a Chinese university - the Catholic University in Peking. Now, at that time, after the communists came to power, she, of course, had no nationality - theoretically Chinese nationality because most of the White Russians had been granted that by the previous government. But the communist government reversed that and denied them nationality so they became stateless. And then she learnt that if she graduated from a university she'd be bound to go where the Chinese Government would send her, which might be 'Timbuktu' or goodness knows where. You had no freedom of choice, you just had to do what you were assigned, which was what was happening to the Chinese also, of course. But she thought that that didn't seem to her a very happy future so she didn't graduate. She deliberately didn't graduate and left the university.

And at that time there was a lady called Miss Birch, a missionary, a very distinguished old lady who lived near Peking. She's still more or less active but, I think, it was all being wound up gradually at that time. I'd known her there, and she knew Vieta quite well, and she wrote to me and said, 'Vieta is in a difficult position, she can't graduate. If she does she'll never be able to leave China and God knows what will happen to her, but she would love to come to Australia and she would be of great use to you, I think.' I wrote back at once. I said, 'By all means, if we can get her here', and we did, and she arrived (laughs). She was very young - wasn't even twenty-one. But she had all that was needed to make this library an operative thing. She was very useful and very good. Later on, she moved into the teaching line and she remained in that ever since, and she's one of their chief language teachers in the ANU. So that was how Vieta came. And then she married a man called Dyer later who went off to America and left her. She is the great-great-niece of Rimsky-Korsakoff.

          I wondered. So that's the early stage, and then there's the creation of the Department. How did you go about creating a Department when there were obviously so few people available?

As far as assistance was concerned, I enlisted a man called Gerrit Mulder, a Dutchman who was a very good scholar, but unfortunately within a very short time he developed a profound mental disorder, paranoia, and became quite terribly tragic. He imagined everybody was plotting to murder him or his children and all this kind of thing. In the end he had to go. He went back to Holland and refused to take what he called 'blood money', i.e. the invalid pension, which the ANU was prepared to pay him. Later, I gather, they must have run out of anything else and finally, I did hear that he did accept it in the end, but I think he's probably no longer alive. That was sad.

Then, I don't know quite exactly when, Professor Needham had been the head - temporary, as a wartime job - of the British

Council in China during the war. Wouldn't it help to try to keep Chinese scholars alive and in touch with the world? Needham's a man of very wide range, but primarily being a scientist himself, naturally, the idea was to try and keep them in some sort of contact with what was going on, which I think he was very successful in doing. So I'd come to know him, because just after the war when I was discharged from my war service in the Foreign Office, so-called, I was enrolled in the British Council through a friend who was in it and became for a while their London China man. And as such I met Needham who had been with the Council, of course, during the war - and in Cambridge and elsewhere.

And there I met Wang Ling who was his assistant, but Wang Ling - for some reason or other, either he completed what he wanted to do there or, I don't quite remember why - was quite keen to migrate. He came to me to be in the Department in Canberra where he's been ever since (laughs). He's really retired now but he still works.

          So really it was a matter of you being approached rather than having to go out recruiting.

Up to a point that was so, yes. But I was looking round for people, obviously. I can't quite remember - Lo Hui-min. I met him in London. I remember it very well. We had lunch together in a Chinese restaurant off Soho, and I can't quite recollect how, why did I meet him? How did I meet him? We must have been introduced - wait a moment. When I was in the British Council, London man, just after the end of the war Hui-min was one of our sponsored students at Cambridge. He was already a graduate of a Chinese university - post-graduate˙- and that was how I'd met him. And then, I don't know whether he'd gone back to China - I think he probably had˙- but anyway, he was back in England and I met him again on this occasion and I invited him, he said he wanted to: 'What about in Australia, What's going?'. And so I said, 'Well, come and join us' and he did, so that was how Hui-min came, and Wang Ling, too.

Sydney Crawcour was the first student. He was there before there was a department - typical ANU situation - and they'd been paying him to work in Cambridge. And so we got him back and he joined.

And then Noel Barnard, who I was introduced to by, I think he's a man called Moore[?] who was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, Professor Moore, I think his name was Moore - or Moorehead or something like that. Anyway, he was also a member of the Council of the Australian National University and he used to come over for monthly meetings. And I knew him there 'cause I was a member, too, at the time. I was the Convocation choice. I

knew him and he told me about Noel Barnard. He said, 'There's a boy called Barnard whom I've known. He's teaching in a school in Surry Hills or somewhere, teaching geography. He's a graduate in geography.' And then he told me, 'But you know, his Chinese is his thing. There's nothing going on in New Zealand'. At that time there wasn't - nothing. There is now but there wasn't then.

He said, 'I think he's very bright. He's deaf, congenitally deaf, and therefore he couldn't go to the war, but they made him a guard for the Japanese pilots, about six or seven of them, that had been picked out of the sea and who regarded themselves as dead.' Their lives were finished. They'd survived the war, they hadn't committed harikari. They were dead. So they were very easy people to guard. They didn't want to go anywhere, they didn't expect to live, thought of themselves as spiritually dead. And Noel got on splendidly with these Japs; they taught him Japanese, and also to read Chinese which, of course, educated Japanese do. So one day many years later Noel was in Tokyo in a bus and suddenly the chap opposite him leapt to his feet and said, 'Barnardsan' (laughs) - one of these pilots.

          Revived from the dead, presumably.

Yes. By that time they'd got over that. After all, the whole nation should have committed harikari by the old rules (laughs), having surrendered.

          And he became a research fellow.

He became first of all a research fellow, yes. No, he became the first PhD student and he took his PhD at the ANU, his subject being 'Ancient Bronze Inscriptions', about which he's become the world expert. He's now, in this small field, a famous name. Noel had his difficulties - difficult character in some ways. He was extremely opinionated. He was right and the rest of the world were bloody well wrong, and he was quite prepared to tell them so - I had a lot of trouble (laughs). When he took his PhD - the oral examination - and this had to be taken by somebody other than myself. Bertie Davis, the recently appointed Professor of Chinese at Sydney was chosen, and so I tried to get hold of Noel first. I said, 'Look here, don't, for goodness' sake, tell Bertie Davis that he knows nothing about it, and that you know all about it and if he thinks he knows anything he's wrong because that isn't the way to get passed.'

          And he took your advice.

Just (laughs). According to Davis - Bertie, he said, 'Some people would have taken a bit of umbrage at the way he went on but I realised that ...'. Noel in some ways is still a very unsophisticated young man and he'd come from a very simple New Zealand background. Well, as a matter of fact, the truth was that he was right, that many of these inscriptions were fakes or added on to ancient bronzes at a later time, and they were lumps of unrelated text which could be found elsewhere, and he proved it. There's no doubt about it. So that he became, in time, the world expert on these inscriptions, whether they were right or wrong, and the new ones that are found, and all that kind of thing. But, as I say, (laughs) it isn't always advisable to tell people that they are quite wrong and you are quite right all the time, and this would be his first reaction.



          Identification: this is tape two, side A, of the interview with Professor FitzGerald.

          Did you, at any stage, attempt to lay out research plans for the department or did you essentially see the people coming along do their own thing?

Do their own thing. It was too difficult. They were too diverse: Noel Barnard with ancient bronze inscriptions, somebody else with medieval Chinese history - Igor de Rachewiltz, and somebody else with Han, late Han - that was Ralph de Crespigny, and so on and so on - they were all different.

          As time passed there was, of course, a broader recognition in the community generally that we should be studying China, that China was in fact important, and presumably that meant, for the most part, contemporary China rather than ancient China. Did you feel any pressure at any stage to move more towards contemporary subjects? I know that you did, of course, but did you feel under outside pressure?

No, it came naturally, because I had been in Peking up to and during the communist takeover. I'd seen all this, I was a first-hand witness to it all and consequently - I'd always been interested in whatever went on in China - I didn't need any prompting to be concerned with contemporary China, I'd seen it, I was part of it, in my view. I was taking part in it, as it were. And classical and earlier history was my own interest and there was others, too, but I don't think there was any pressure to do one or the other, it just came naturally. I happened to have had these experiences and obviously one talked and wrote about them.

          And there wasn't any tendency on the part of the department, in general, to go towards contemporary things, the emphasis still remained traditional.

Not quite. It covered a very wide span. Lo Hui-min's interest is really in the early twentieth century, particularly the period when the foreign powers were giving loans to China, which tied them up all that sort of period˙- that's his speciality, and he edited the Morrison Papers - that's all that time. Wang Ling, he's a mathematician by training and his interest was in the classical Chinese scientific texts. And he's written books on the Chinese method of finding pi and that kind of really technical mathematical work. Well, it's quite different to anybody else's. (Laughs) You couldn't possibly combine that with anything else.

Igor de Rachewiltz's the Mongol period, you see - The Secret History of the Mongols - and he'd also written on the papal envoys to the Mongol court; there were several. He, of course, being Italian and also from family reasons they'd had, he was a close friend, family friend, of Cardinal what was his name? A French name, I think, who was the Vatican librarian. And in this way he got permission to inspect the Vatican libraries and they found the most extremely interesting things. They hadn't a clue what they were.

Now, there of course, the trouble began - or the difficulty. Could he photograph these things? Certainly not, no, nothing could be photographed. Oh no, a pity. Well, he worked on it and after all he comes from a Roman family who were not without distinction, in fact they are, his elder brother is Prince Boris de Rachewiltz - they're princes of the Holy Roman Empire. He doesn't use the title in this country 'cause he said it puts up the bills too much, but the Americans love it. Whenever he goes to America he always Prince Igor de Rachewiltz, always - the Americans lap it up, absolutely. Finally, after a lot of trouble he did in fact get - they couldn't take the documents away but he was allowed to photograph them.

Now, among these things were a correspondence between the Pope and the Mongol emperors, Kublai Khan and precedessors, written in old Persian which Igor didn't know but there were people there who did, in Rome, who could translate that. Also, seals and so forth. Now, these letters had been translated into Latin, pr‚cis, for the benefit of the Pope, and the Latin pr‚cis were quite polite and reasonable but when you read the originals it said, 'To my slave, the Pope. This is my wish ...' and then followed 'Tremble and obey'.

          It had been censored.

That's what the original actually said (laughs) and Igor was able to transcribe, or at any rate, get this transcribed, I think, first and all these documents which, of course, are extremely fascinating because, among other things, these Mongol Khans in Persia, places like that, are far removed from the original, and are turning Mohammedan because most of their subjects were, still used Chinese seal which they couldn't any longer read which are issued by the Mongol emperors, their ancestors, and their documents were these great Chinese seals˙- a thing about that square with their title in Chinese. And they couldn't read a word of it, of course, but they were using it a couple of centuries later.


And all this stuff was lying about in the Vatican in boxes, no one had ever catalogued it or anything. The famous French scholar Pelliot had looked at it, apparently, once and either only saw superficially what sort of material it was, and had simply written on it a note 'documents r‚ligieux' and no one had ever trouble to check what that meant in practice, and, of course, he was dead. And what sort of religion and anything about it, but they were, of course, papal correspondence.

          Could we talk just a little bit about your relations with those other early members of the school - your fellow professors? People like Crocker and Davidson - a little more about Davidson, perhaps - and Nadel, and who else was there?

Oskar Spate.

          Oskar, of course.

Of course, I naturally knew them all very well. I always got on very well with Jim Davidson. He was no trouble about breaking up, splitting the Department or anything like that. He wasn't a China man and he was a Pacific islander man, and he had, of course, a lot to do with Samoa. In fact he wrote the Samoan constitution when it became independent. And he had a very good story about Samoa. When the new Samoan Government was to be admitted to the United Nations - I suppose it would take place in New York or something - and they were there, and there was a New Zealander High Commissioner, Sir Hugh Macintosh, and the High Chief of Samoa, and Jim was there. He was translator and generally in attendance on the whole thing. These two were introduced to each other and the Samoan said, 'Oh, Sir Hugh, I think, you know, we're quite closely related'. This New Zealander said, 'Really, sir, why do you think that?'. 'Well', he said, 'You see, as a matter of fact, perhaps you didn't know, my grandfather ate yours'.


That was one of Jim's stories and it's from the horse's mouth, it really did happen.

          And as you say, he was a Pacific islands ...


Yes. Davidson, yes.

          Did you see that rather a contradiction in the nature of the Research School of Pacific Studies, that perhaps it wasn't quite clear about its orientation?

I think at the beginning it wasn't really clear. A lot needed to be clarified and, in fact, the creation of the Chinese and Far Eastern History Department was a big step in that clarification. You were talking just now, I think you were mentioning, the original Canberra University College, which was originally a detached college of Melbourne University, intended to provide part-time graduate education for civil servants who were displaced from Melbourne and loathed being in Canberra - thought it was the end of the world (laughs) which, indeed, it was at that time.

And then it was decided at some political level, presumably, that it should be amalgamated as an undergraduate college with the ANU. It should become the undergraduate college of the ANU and this was bitterly resented by most of the staff of the old college˙- by Fin Crisp, Manning Clark, both bitterly opposed to it. I remember at that time I was often speaking in the different cities by invitation to different groups of people˙- often universities. And I would say, there's a plan - I said, 'The college people in Canberra want to be set up as a separate university, not part of the ANU. It would mean two universities in Canberra.' Of course they went through the roof, and I told this when I got back. I said, 'You're crazy. The country isn't going to buy that; a city which is yet only about twenty or thirty thousand people with two universities. It's mad.' They wouldn't believe it.

They fought like tigers to remain independent. They didn't prevail and duly became, finally, what was called The Faculties. Perhaps it wasn't called that. It was called 'the College' for a long time. It flourished really well. It had good people there - excellent people - Bielenstein, van der Sprenkel, and others; and later Basham, Tony Johns, and it covered a wide range of Asian culture: the languages and the history, and it was a very effective institution, I think - and still is.

          Did you have anything to do with the creation of Oriental Studies, as it was then called, in the University College? I'm talking now about the mid-'50s - before amalgamation.

The creation of the college, no, but it took up this as well.

          The college introduced Oriental Studies, I think, it must have been round about '54, '55, and it was referred to as Oriental Studies in those years - I'm just checking for the precise date. It's 1952 that they set up Oriental Studies in the University College, so presumably you didn't play much of a role in the creation of that setup, which was, of course, chiefly for teaching people in languages.

Well, you may say that, but it was I who suggested getting Professor Bielenstein whom I had known in China and in Sweden. He was a linquist, still is, but he's now in Columbia, University of Columbia. He's professor there. Yes, he is Swedish. I suggested him to be head of it.

          How did that come about though, that allocation of funds ...

I was asked if I knew anyone.

          But no, leaving aside the appointment, the individual appointments. Why was there a decision, do you know, to set up that teaching organisation for languages at that time?

I think for the general, same reason: the growing realisation and feeling that Australia ought to have been able to be more linguistically and culturally in touch with these nations. And you see, the existing original Japanese chair in Sydney had become, with the death of the last professor, had lapsed virtually, and that was another - I can tell you more about that. And so there was this - a part of the whole reason why the ANU had been created. The ANU was a research institution, it took graduate students, it didn't take undergraduates. What was needed, was felt, was some place where people could learn these languages and afterwards then maybe some of them would, as they did, go to the ANU on PhD scholarships. But it was essential, it was felt, that it was necessary to have an undergraduate faculty for teaching people the languages.

          I'm just wondering who took the initiative, though. I wonder if Copland had anything to do with it or˙...

I'm sure he did. Sir John Eggleston, was he still alive then or had he died?

          Eggleston - I think he died in '52, but I'm not quite sure.

I think so. No, it would have been Copland, I'm sure, who would have been very influential in that.

          Let's just talk a little bit about some of those other people, then, in those early years. Crocker, which presumably had the problem of the Pacific again - what's the Pacific in International Relations? I mean, Crocker presumably had that difficulty in identifying just what Pacific studies was in terms of International Relations.

Crocker - he'd been, I'm not sure in what capacity, in New York when the United Nations was formed, and I remember him telling me a lot about that. He said, among other things, that the primary requirement to get a good, extremely well paid job in the UN was to be in New York at that time - that was the thing that really mattered. What your qualifications might actually be didn't matter a damn. And, of course they had - well they did have - because every country that was a member had the right to a certain number of these jobs, and really, some of them, of course, were totally uncapable for filling the duties of them. But I remember him saying one of the great problems was the Africans who would not turn up on time; had no idea of keeping a time, an appointment schedule at all. They might turn up the next day or other people would come to see them and (laughs) left standing - all sorts of problems of that kind which I daresay have not been eliminated entirely (laughs).

          You had a lot to do with Crocker?

Quite a bit. He lived in the same street as us to begin with, in Canberra - very close. I got on very well with him and I still correspond with him. He's now living in Adelaide. His son was in England at that time, at least, when we were over there, I suppose in '54 or something, on leave and he stayed with us in our flat in Bayswater for quite a while and did some various jobs. He was, at that time, something of a drop-out boy. He was very good with his hands but he, either didn't trouble to use his brain very much, but he was very good with his hands. But he was a problem for his father, I know. Anyway, it all worked out in the end quite well. He - what does he do now? Something which combines those sort of things. I rather think he's a senior man in the wildlife preservation organisation - whatever it's called - and that's very much fitted into what he was extremely - I think they've got quite a number of boys. This happens, they don't develop evenly. Their brains seem to lag behind their hands.

          Crocker senior, of course, gained some notoriety by leaving so early ...


          And, of course, he left a problem which was manifested in the Lindsay affair.

Yes, he did indeed. Crocker, first of all, he got leave for a year to do something for - Casey was the man who worked on all of this 'cause he was the Foreign Minister at the time. And Crocker got leave for a year. Then Casey persuaded him to resign and join the Foreign Service and he made him ambassador to Indonesia, among other countries - several other countries - Japan, I think, I'm not sure whether Japan - Indonesia was certainly one. So the university was a bit peeved about that because, after all, he'd had leave for a year and then he just quit without coming back. If he was going to do that, they said, why hadn't he resigned the year before; he'd wasted everybody's time. And so they were peeved about that a bit. There was a bit of ill-feeling over that.

          'They' meaning the Council of which you were a member at the time?

Yes, I think so. And generally, I think the School of Pacific Studies people felt that really a bit of a let down, because the Department of International Relations had been left rather stranded with Michael Lindsay in charge. And now, when at last, Crocker left to become a full-time diplomat the question arose of - have we gone over this before?

          In various ways but I'd like your particular perceptions of it ...

Well, the question arose ...

          ... and the part you played in it.

Yes, well, that wasn't much ... who should take over? Who should be appointed as Professor of International Relations? I was not a member of the selection committee but, naturally - it's a very small organisation, you knew everybody and you knew what was being said and talked about and so forth. They didn't think they wanted Michael Lindsay because Michael has such a precise, peculiar, rigid, black and white point of view - no shades of grey admissible. You see, he would fiercely criticise the Chinese communists for not being communist enough, for being too literal - talking to these imperialists and ridiculously betraying their own principles. The next thing, of course, was when he then went to Taiwan and when he wanted to go back to China they wouldn't have him there. Then, of course, the whole thing went right a hundred per cent round and nothing could be too bad for the communists and nothing too good for the Taiwan outfit. They didn't feel that this was quite the objective approach to international relations which they really wanted and so they invited a man from London who, I think's name was either Robertson or Roberts or something, some such name.

          Was it Martin Witt or White?

No, it was a 'Roberty' name, I'm pretty sure. And Michael promptly wrote to him and said, 'I think that this quite wrong. I should be the appointee, and I don't think I could work with you very happily here.' So Roberts (laughs), not unnaturally, said no thanks, I'm not going near it - dropped it like a hot potato. Well, naturally, the ANU were furious about this.

          Did you counsel Lindsay at all on these things?

No. I knew him, of course, but I also knew him too well to think that it would be any good. He's not a man who listens to anyone.



          Identification: this is tape two, side B, of the interview with Professor FitzGerald.

          Can I ask you a little bit about the administration of the Research School of Pacific Studies at that stage? There were, of course, deans - or there was a dean, I should say - for the early years, Jim Davidson, who gave way to the director, Crawford, in 1960, I think it was. Did that arrangement impinge on you in any way? How did the system work from your point of view?

It certainly didn't interfere with the independence of what I did, at all. I, myself, have never been a keen administrator. I was perfectly happy if they wanted to do that kind of thing, let them do it. It didn't attract me and I've never taken much interest in it. So as long as they didn't mess about with my academic activity I didn't care what they did administratively.

          Did Crawford's arrival have any bearing upon what you did and what your department did?

No, I don't think it did, at all. I think he didn't interfere in the academic thing in any way.

          But if the university was benign, Government wasn't necessarily so. Can you tell us a little bit about your various altercations with Government?

You must remember it was the Menzies' Government. Firstly, Menzies entirely followed the American line about China: they must have no political relations with it whatsoever. 'I do not speak to my enemy in the field' was one of his rather blatant, stupidest remarks. 'On the other hand, I do trade with him under the table as much as I possibly can'; the Americans wouldn't, of course - had an embargo. On the other hand, the American embargo was rather silly in Hong Kong because everything they ate came straight from China every day. If they'd really embargoed trade with China, their consulate and other Americans in Hong Kong would have starved to death or had to go home.

          You expressed yourself on this subject ...

In these words - similar - yes, I did. I'm afraid I'm rather impatient with nonsense. I don't believe in smearing over and accepting nonsensical statements from any people.

          And when did you get the first signs that this wasn't really approved, and how significant were the efforts of Government?

I think the Bandoeng was the crunch there, because John Burton, who was no friend of Menzies, of course - or him either - had been an Evatt appointment originally. Evatt had been head of the Foreign Service. And John Burton and I were invited by the University of Indonesia - that was where the invitation came from. I've no doubt at all, and nor had he, that this was a cover for the Indonesian Government, probably, but it was a cover. We were not invited to the conference by the host of the conference which was the Indonesian Government, we were invited by the University of Indonesia, and so we accepted and we went at their expense. That again, of course, was obvious - but still. And we were lodged very comfortably in a little house in Bandoeng with servants and so comfortably in fact that some of the Australian official representatives - observers of the conference - whom we knew: Mick Shann was one, and Henderson, the Prime Minister's son-in-law was the other - he was his number two. They were much less comfortably lodged. And, of course, as we saw them every day in the foyer of the conference, which was all we had access to, and many other people like that, we invited them to dinner, and they used to come to dine with us every day. So it went on.

When we came back some journalist got hold of Menzies who just alighted from an aeroplane or something, or was just about to get into one, and said, 'What do you think of Burton and FitzGerald acting as Australian representatives at the Bandoeng conference?' 'Oh', he said, 'Outrageous'. And they put words into his mouth and he blasted us to hell - a quite unscrupulous activity, really. The press were longing for a sensation, of course - you can't blame them for that - and Menzies was simply too busy to know what he was talking about, and just accepted what was put into his mouth.

This, of course, got a lot of publicity, and when the university - the Board of Graduate Studies, which was what other universities usually called the Senate, a meeting of all the professors - took this up at the next meeting, and somebody, I forget who, said, 'What do you say to this? Surely you had no right to do this.' I said, 'Let's just get it straight. What are you saying that I had no right to do? To accept an invitation from the University of Indonesia? Is that something I had no right as an individual to do?'. 'Oh, was that it?' 'Yes', I said, 'That was it. Neither Burton nor I ever claimed to be

representing Australia as observers, unofficial observers, or any other connection with the Government. We were there as the guests of the University of Indonesia and I can prove that.' So that flattened that argument. And Percy Partridge and others spoke then and said, 'Well, you know, this is absurd. I mean, the Prime Minister was bounced into making silly remarks or unconsidered remarks by press men who put words into his mouth, really.' And so the whole thing was squashed.

          But Casey did go on to compound the problem, didn't he, by saying much the same thing or something to the effect that if the Australian Government were to send representatives, you and Burton would be the last people they would have chosen?

He may have said that. I daresay it was quite true. We weren't representing, nor expecting to be chosen by the Australian Government. No, Casey, a year or so later, when I was invited by the Chinese Government - rather strictly speaking by what was called the Commission for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, which was in fact a QUANGO of the Chinese Government - to lead a cultural delegation to China, at their expense, and I was to choose the members which I set about doing: several artists, two or three writers, and from as many parts of the country as I could contact - thirteen in all. I particularly wanted a CSIRO scientist and if possible somebody - an agronome [sic] or whatever you call it - scientific agriculture.


Agronomist, yes - very important for the Chinese. So I went to see Casey who was the Head of the CSIRO, among other things, also Foreign Minister, but he was also Head of the CSIRO at that time - the political head of it, at any rate˙- it came under his department. He received me and I said to him, I explained what had happened, and what was going on, and I said, 'Of course, we'd very much like to include an senior agronomist from the CSIRO because this is a subject which the Chinese badly stand in need of and would greatly appreciate an expert on that'. So he said, 'Well, yes, I'm afraid I'll have to put this up to cabinet' which, of course, meant Menzies and - out.

          Did Peter Henderson ever express regrets to you personally about what happened?

No, I knew him - known him on and off ever since, but no, I've never had any strife with him, at all.

          Did you feel that your academic integrity was being threatened by this sort of government intervention?

Not really, because .... No, I can't say I think I thought that. I could quite see that they were anxious to bully one into keeping quiet about their foreign policy and their policy to China and so forth, but I didn't intend to submit to that, and I didn't. I don't know, I think it fell by the wayside gradually. And after all, before terribly long the wind began to change and they were beginning to think that perhaps not recognising China was a bit of mistake. After Menzies had gone, of course, it wasn't too long before Fraser did it.


Whitlam did it, and Fraser followed it up. And in fact, Fraser was known to have said to his cabinet, 'I think that every one of you with any significant portfolio should visit China', so it faded out in that sort of way in due course.

          Can I just ask you to say a little bit about your relations with other parts of the university, particularly the Social Sciences? Did you have much to do with people like Geoff Sawer, and, of course, Percy Partridge who you mentioned?

Yes, Percy Partridge was a great friend of ours, so is Geoff. And yes, those two, and who else?

          Arthur Burns?

Arthur Burns - knew him quite well.

          What about Hancock?

Yes, I knew Hancock very well and saw a lot of him.

          And did you find that there was a general enthusiasm in the university for the sort of work that you were doing?

I think so.

          Or was it an unknown quantity that ...

It wasn't everybody's cup of tea, of course. But no, I think on the whole I never felt that anybody thought I was useless or doing the wrong thing or anything like that. No, I didn't get anything but acceptance and, if you like, encouragement - certainly acceptance.

          Were you aware of the strains between Social Sciences and Pacific Studies for a time there, specifically between Hancock and Davidson who seemed to have an altercation about the building and then there was some unhappiness relating to those joint faculty meetings? Do you recall that?

I remember that there was such a thing, yes. I wasn't personally involved in it, at all, but I do remember that that was so. And of course, Hancock was a sometimes rather prickly person. You remember the famous story of the park bench?

          Yes, the park bench, of course, is one of the most significant stories in the history of ANU, and Hancock leaves it rather ambiguously, but what's your recollection of it?

His comment was, when we got up - that was as far as I was concerned my end of all connection between me and the Australian National University, but of course, within a couple of years he was coming out. I don't know what the quarrel at the park bench was about quite. I've forgotten if I ever did know.

          It's extraordinarily complicated, I'd better not go into it here (laughs). More complicated, I think, than Hancock makes out in Country and Calling.


          Might we just conclude then by you reflecting generally on the university and your role in the university? What do you think your main contribution to the university has been, and do you think that the university has been a congenial home to you for the sorts of things that you wanted to do?

Certainly, I do - a very congenial home. I can't say that I ever felt any regret at being on the staff of the ANU, on the contrary. And what it had done for me? Well, of course, it gave me the opportunity to start the study of sinology in this country which I consider will probably be the most effective thing that I ever achieved in my life, and it's more likely to last than anything else (laughs). No, in that way I have absolutely a feeling of great gratitude to the ANU for its coming into existence and giving me these opportunities.

          I know that the university has great gratitude to you, but gratitude specifically for taking part in this oral history project, so Professor FitzGerald, thank you very much.

Thank you.