Centennial History Book Launch

In Bonds of Comradeship: The English-Speaking Union Victoria Branch 1919-2019

Launch of the centennial history on Saturday 30 November 2019
by Margaret Birtley AM

I have been a member of the British Australian Community since the 1990s and am also a longstanding member of The English-Speaking Union Victoria Branch. I was elected to the ESU Council in 2017.

As part of my employment, I am the part-time Executive Officer of the History Council of Victoria – the peak body for history in Victoria – whose vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today, and whose aims are to advocate for history and to educate Victorians about the value of history. Consequently, I am pleased that the ESU Victoria Branch is recognising the value of its own history, and am delighted to have been invited by the ESU to launch the centennial history of our illustrious organisation.

In Bonds of Comradeship: The English-Speaking Union Victoria Branch 1919-2019 is the title of this new work. The book has fourteen chapters and four appendices. Its length is substantial – about 120,000 words – and can be compared to a PhD thesis or a long novel.

The work is still to go through a final edit, and a couple of sections are still being finalised. We expect that the book will be released progressively, chapter by chapter, commencing in early 2020 via our ESU website. It will then also be available for purchase via a print-on-demand system. Details will of course be announced in the ESU newsletter.

The author of this book is the esteemed President of the ESU, Robert Furlan.

Robert is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, with Arts honours and Law degrees. In the Arts degree, he majored in History and Literature. His honours history thesis dealt with the ideas and influence of William Lane, a seminal figure in Australia’s labour movement and in 1893 the founder of a utopian colony in Paraguay.

Robert’s professional career took him into the field of business and senior management in the human resources field.

He has been an ESU member since 1993, courtesy of corporate membership through the British Australian Community for which he is the current Treasurer. He is now, of course, also an individual member of the ESU and has contributed as an executive member of the ESU Council since 2006 and ESU Branch President since 2010. He is also currently national President of the ESU Australia. In all these organisations he has provided dedicated service, strong leadership and wise decision-making.

As Branch President here in Victoria, Robert has had full access to the ESU’s own archives (although, regrettably, very little such material survives from before the mid 1950s).

Robert has also read widely in the history of the last century, and has brought to light fresh evidence – from contemporary newspapers and other publications – about the context for the establishment of the ESU, first in London (1918) and then in many other parts of the English-Speaking world.

The book’s structure has four sections.

The introductory section comprises three chapters. Chapter 1 visualises the inaugural meeting of the ESU in London in 1918. Chapter 2 provides brief biographies of the founding members, who included a Victorian, Henry Noyes. Chapter 3 outlines the ideas and the proponents that dominated the zeitgeist of the period leading up to the inauguration of the ESU. This chapter examines the ‘crimson thread of kinship’ sentiments that inspired Evelyn Wrench to initiate the new movement.

The next section also comprises three chapters, covering the inception of the ESU Victoria Branch. Chapter 4 investigates the impact of the Great War on key figures involved in forming the Branch in Melbourne. Chapter 5 examines the most likely date of the Branch’s inaugural meeting in 1919.

Chapter 6 outlines the Branch’s formative early years and its development and influence.

The third section of five chapters deals with the Branch’s activities in fostering bonds of comradeship among the English-speaking peoples. Chapter 7 deals with the British links; chapter 8 with American links; chapter 9 with educational activities; chapter 10 with cultural activities and chapter 11 with hospitality, member educational travel in Australia and the Branch’s Red Cross activities.

The fourth section, in three chapters, outlines the ESU’s Branch leaders; notable speakers at Branch events; and an account of the ESU’s clubrooms over the decades.

The Appendices provide much detail about the Victorian Branch:

  • a forensic examination of mistakes and deficiencies in the official Presidents’ Board record of ESU Branch Presidents;
  • a timeline of important Branch events;
  • an outline of ESU scholarships and alumni;
  • and a brief summary of ESU Branch achievements.

Research has used the National Library of Australia’s online resources – in particular, the digitised newspapers that can be accessed via the Trove portal – to identify key Branch activities and functions. This has been supplemented by ESU archival material.

The book is replete with references to newspaper articles, Branch publications and other secondary source references. This scholarly approach helps to confirm the validity and accuracy of the historical account. The book is illustrated throughout by photos and images of key people and memorabilia.

In my opening remarks, I mentioned the History Council of Victoria. Earlier this year it published – with the three other History Councils in Australia – a statement about the value of history in contemporary society. In summary this statement reads: ‘History shapes our identities, engages us as citizens, creates inclusive communities, is part of our economic well-being, teaches us to think critically and creatively, inspires leaders and is the foundation of our future generations.’

Robert’s work in researching and writing the ESU’s centennial history adds value in all these ways. His book will educate and inspire our current and future members.

I congratulate the author and am delighted to launch In Bonds of Comradeship: The English-Speaking Union Victoria Branch 1919-2019.