There is a saying in academia, that the best PhD’s are the ones that are finished. After more than 10 years of graduate study spread over almost 20 years and three countries, I am proud to have finally crossed the finish line and am able to say, “I am done!”*
Today, my PhD is being conferred. I am super-keen to be able to use my hard-fought doctoral title, so I have elected for the university to award my degree without me walking across the stage. Indeed, due to the pandemic, this is the only option for anyone who would like, or needs, their degree right now. While we can attend a future ceremony for the experience, I suspect it will feel a little hollower than a regular graduation.
Eighteen months ago, I walked past the graduation hoop-la outside the main university hall. For the first time since starting as a PhD student, I felt a desire to be a part of it, and a sense that I might just get there too. My mind was full of possibilities: Would I graduate in summer or winter? What would I wear? Which fellow-students would be there with me, and which friends will make signs to hold up, and cheer for me outside the limited-numbers venue? And what would it feel like, to finally achieve the coveted title of ‘Dr.’?
Thus motivated, I knuckled down and focused on drawing together all the data I had gathered and analysed into a coherent document. My fieldwork had taken me around NSW and into Victoria, seeking to uncover non-traditional representations and commemorations of Anzac which occurred during the Anzac Centenary. I was especially interested in items created for competition or displays, such as rural agricultural shows or local craft exhibitions. Representations encountered included knitted or crocheted poppies, embroidered postcards, quilts of varying sizes, and decorated cakes.
My completed thesis draws attention to the variety of everyday practices that sustain the Australia’s connection to Anzac. I argue that crafty commemoration functions to broaden and shore up foundations of, rather than changing or challenging, the Anzac narrative and its unquestioned place in Australian collective identity.
In my analysis I show that vernacular Anzac Centenary commemorations have value and significance at both the individual and national level. This is important, as so much about what we know about Anzac is tied closely to the traditional spheres of commemoration which are largely institutionally controlled and homogeneous.
Through crafty commemoration, Anzac is sustained as a feature of Australian life not just because of ‘top-down’ influence, but also through the ‘ground-up’ practices of everyday people. This point has particular relevance given how back in April, Anzac commemorations had to be re-thought in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although I am proud of my research and the contribution to knowledge I have made, it doesn’t feel quite right to celebrate the completion milestone at this point in time. Much like sentiments of Anzac commemoration I observed across my research, the end of my degree feels more like a time for reflection and contemplation.
Central to this reflection is acknowledging those who have inputted to help me get here. I am grateful to my supervisor Laurajane Smith, and the ANU for the opportunity to have a second-chance to follow the academic path. I also acknowledge that my candidature was made possible via an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. Not everyone gets a chance to pursue their dreams, and to be supported at a personal and institutional level to further social science knowledge in Australia means a lot.
I am also grateful to an extensive network of supporters: my wife, family, friends, fellow students and work colleagues. As I say in my thesis acknowledgments, my thesis was completed by me, but I was not alone in the journey. These connections have helped me stay grounded and were a source of inspiration and support when the academic endeavors were overwhelming.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I have immense gratitude for the participants in my research who volunteered their time to talk with me and whose creative expressions of Anzac commemoration are the basis of my research. While I may be feeling somewhat ambivalent (for now) about finishing, I am certainly not ambivalent about the contribution others made to help me get here. I am indebted to my participants’ kindness and generosity. Thank you.
*"Done" is a relative term, I am now progressing a Master’s in Evaluation through the University of Melbourne.
Image 2: A ‘crafty commemoration’ created by Emma and entered in the Sydney Royal Easter Show
Dr. Emma Wensing is a Sociologist and Managing Director at Rapid Context. She completed her PhD through the Australian National University where her research explored the meaning and impact of non-traditional practices of Anzac commemoration.