The COVID-19 Lockdown conditions in Victoria which continued through 14th September, 2020, meant that if there was to be an annual Humboldt Birthday celebration for Victorian Fellows, something we have become accustomed to for many years, it would have to be done by Zoom. Our President, Gabrielle McMullen, recalled a suggestion from the Honorary Consul for Victoria, Michael Pearce, a regular attendee at our annual birthday celebration. This suggestion had been put forward by Michael during our 2019 celebration in the Melbourne Hofbrauhaus, which was not well attended, that in order to improve the attendance at this annual function, we should include a presentation on an interesting topic.
Little did we know in September, 2019 that one year later we should be “in lockdown.” But nevertheless, Gabrielle recalled Michael’s suggestion and offered a presentation which our Victorian Rep on the National Committee, Sarah Turpin-Nolan, advertised to her Victorian Fellows and hosted the Zoom function. For the potential interest of Fellows outside of Victoria, who may also be prevented from having the customary AvH Birthday celebration on account of COVID-19 restrictions, we also advertised our Victorian celebration more widely.
The result was most successful, with an attendance of 18, the best we have achieved for this annual celebration in Melbourne for some years. We were pleased to welcome Michael Pearce, as always. An added bonus for all present and as a result of sending the notice of the Zoom meeting to Dr Katrin Amian in Bonn, she too joined the celebration during her “morning coffee break” at the Foundation in Bonn. Katrin also invited her “new recruit” at the Foundation, Carmen Klein, who had only commenced at the Foundation on 1st September.
Gabrielle’s presentation for which she imagined that she was Alexander von Humboldt, the great man, himself, visiting Australia to join us for his 251st birthday, Australia having been a country he had not been able to visit during his lifetime. It was a most fascinating presentation which summarised, firstly, Humboldt’s meeting with Joseph Banks through his friendship with Georg Forster with whom he travelled to England. Gabrielle then discussed the input to Australia on the part of various “Humboldt disciples”, such as Ludwig Leichhardt, Ferdinand Mueller and Georg Neumayer.
Representing Humboldt, Gabrielle reminded us of his most innovative thoughts on what are serious 21st century topics, such as climate change, multi-disciplinary approaches to scientific problems and networking.
It was then a pleasure to drink a toast to Alexander von Humboldt to celebrate his 251st birthday.
Following Gabrielle’s presentation and some interesting discussion, it was pleasing to hear from Katrin Amian who emphasised that, even in these difficult times, the Foundation is keen to receive applications for Humboldt Fellowships and Awards. It was also an excellent opportunity to meet Carmen Klein who will have a responsibility for relationships with Australian Fellows and who looks forward to joining us for our Biennial Symposium, hopefully, in November, 2021.
You may like to read Gabrielle’s presentation which has already been published, together with a most impressive image of Alexander von Humboldt at Uluru, on the website, Language on the Move, based at Macquarie University.