by Bernard Wood
The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. But the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees, and the weakening fall sun comes from the north, not from the south. Disappointingly, even though cyclones rotate in a clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere, my limited observations suggest that the toilets seem to flush in just the same way as they do in DC.
The University of Melbourne, which was established in 1853, is consistently ranked number one in Australia and the university website suggests it is number 33 in the world. Whatever its rank order “Melbourne Uni” is my academic home for the next five weeks. My Miegunyah Fellowship (in Aboriginal language “Miegunyah” means house) requires that I interact as much as possible with the students and staff, and as part of that effort I am a visiting scholar at one of the residential colleges that are clustered just north of the main campus.
I was last in Melbourne 40 years ago, and a lot has changed, but thankfully not the warmth of the hospitality. The academic and other staff and the students of St. Hilda’s College could not have been more welcoming. Three times a week I am invited to dine at High Table, Oxford and Cambridge-style. This means joining the Principal, Vice-Principal and Tutors in the Senior Common Room, donning an academic gown, processing through a dining room full of similarly attired students, and then walking up steps to the stage – hence the “high” in High Table. What makes this experience quintessentially Australian is that there is no dress code, so the tutors are likely to be in torn shorts and a T-shirt. This has not been my experience at Oxford and Cambridge colleges!
I was also exposed to another difference, which is how Australians pay tribute to the members of their armed forces, especially those who were killed or injured in battle. They do this on April 25th, ANZAC Day.
The letters ANZAC are an acronym for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, members of which spearheaded the ill-fated attempt to land on the beaches of Gallipoli in an attempt to swiftly defeat Turkey, an ally of Germany in WWI. The initial assault took place at dawn on April 25th, 1915, and traditionally ANZAC commemorations take place at dawn.
To commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, last year St. Hilda’s had held its own dawn service, and they repeated it this year. My fear that only handful of the 200 or so St. Hilda’s students would leave their beds before dawn were unfounded. By six am, close to a hundred students were holding candles and taking part in the commemoration. In her moving address, Barbara Green, the Principal of St. Hilda’s, explained that the Gallipoli campaign was only 14 years after Australia became a nation, and that Australia’s participation in WWI marked its “coming of age.”
It was a poignant reminder that controversies that seem to loom so large in paleoanthropology are mere froth on the surface of an ocean that consists of true heroism and sacrifice. And if you think that heroism and sacrifice is just the stuff of history, consider the recent tragic bombing of the MSF hospital in Aleppo.
The community of St. Hilda’s College provided a necessary reminder there is more to life than “knowing” the age of Homo naledi.