Leichhardt's bust, or how the explorer was rediscovered during the Cold War

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Continuum, 2014, 28 (6), pp. 885 - 900
Issue Date:
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© 2014 Taylor and Francis. In 1988, the long-lost Ludwig Leichhardt returned to Sydney, not once but three times over, and via an odd Cold War route: his doppelganger great-great-grand nephew, also called Ludwig, travelled from East Germany to participate in a conference; the International Friendship League presented a plaque to the City of Leichhardt; and a bust, for which Ludwig Jr had sat as model, was presented to Australia as a Bicentennial gift. If the bust is an uncanny, inherently unsettling art form, this one challenges us to probe the meanings invested in Leichhardt in Cold War Germany and in Australia. He emerges from the gift exchange as an unstable, transnational figure: one who was never fully owned or disowned, who was subject to competing German national claims, who was ousted from narratives of the Australian nation, but who made a return on cue for the Bicentennial. But this bust figures presence and absence in ways that also ask us to think about what Leichhardt memorialization elided. In particular, its giving both disavowed and emphasized Indigenous experience of colonization at a time when settler Australia anxiously sought to celebrate its Bicentennial and include Indigenous people in doing so.
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