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Leonhard Adam: ‘Dunera Boy’, Lawyer, Anthropologist and Artist

14 June 2021 6:00 pm

Leonhard Adam, Tatura Camp, Australia, 1942

Online Talk

Born in Berlin in 1891, Leonhard Adam was rising to prominence as a judge and an expert on international tribal law and culture when the Nazis’ enforcement of a law in 1933 aryanizing all the professions stripped him of his position. Receiving a warning that his name had appeared on a list of academics to be “liquidated”, he left Berlin for London. This was in 1938.

Adam had been visiting Britain and lecturing at colleges, universities and at the Royal Anthropological Institute since 1934, which meant that he had established an invaluable network of connections. This enabled him to find a job in the UK and to continue to give lectures. During this time he was also working on his best-selling Penguin book, Primitive Art, published in 1942.

He was, in fact, in the process of re-establishing himself in Britain when he was arrested, interned and sent into exile on the “Dunera” in 1940 – the ship which sailed from Liverpool to Australia, overloaded with 2,500 refugee internees, Nazi prisoners and crew in catastrophic conditions.

Arriving in Australia, Adam was interned at Tatura, in northern Victoria. There he and other academic internees founded a university called “Collegium Taturensis”. He was released after a year and a half to teach at The University of Melbourne, as well as to document the Sir Baldwin Spencer Collection of Aboriginal Objects at the National Museum of Victoria. Fluent in several languages including Punjabi and Mandarin Chinese, he would also become the first teacher of Mandarin at The University of Melbourne.

Much of his life experiences have also been documented in his paintings, including pictures of Tatura internment camp, the dramatic scenery of Central Australia and, much earlier, delightful sketches and paintings of London.

In her talk, Mary-Clare Adam, Leonard’s daughter, will highlight the dramatic events in his life on two continents before and after the two World Wars.

To book, click here.