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50 Treasures: James Cook University Ceremonial Mace

Our eighteenth treasure is a well-travelled fixture of JCU's graduation ceremonies. From the JCU Art Collection comes the James Cook University Ceremonial Mace.

Professor Stephen Naylor answers the question "why is this significant?"

The James Cook University Mace is a fascinating object used for ceremonial purposes and to lead the academic procession into graduation events. The origins of ceremonial maces hark back to the 12th century, where the French monarchy saw royal bodyguards or serjeants-at-arms carry a mace as a symbol of authority. As history advanced, the mace was used by parliamentary and civic leaders for formal occasions, often denoting connection with power vested in them or as executive orders. The University origins are more obscure and likely to utilise ritual as a vehicle for the construction of relationships of authority -- namely, the University’s ability to self-accredit and bestow degrees.
The James Cook University Ceremonial Mace. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
The James Cook University Mace has a rich history which began with discussions in 1987 between the Townsville City Council, led by Alderman Mike Reynolds, and the Townsville Chamber of Commerce under President Graham Jackson. The conventions of universities gaining ceremonial maces were followed, as the Townsville City Council and the Townsville Chamber of Commerce offered to donate a Mace to the University, acknowledging its contribution to the region over 30 years since it began as the University College of Townsville in 1960/1.

The development, design, production and eventual presentation of the James Cook University Mace is a story steeped in history and well collated in a small publication Symbols & Ceremonial: the Arms, Academic Dress and Mace of James Cook University 1992 by BJ Dalton. Dalton’s historic narrative regarding the origins of maces provides a fascinating insight into how a weapon designed to penetrate mediaeval armour became a symbol of authority used by Monarchy, Parliament and more recently in the University as a symbol of independence from external authority.

Chancellor Bill Tweddell and Dr. Alastair Birtles at the 2018 CASE graduation ceremony. Photograph by Bethany Keats.
The Mace itself was designed by a working party that utilised information from the University of New South Wales in understanding the origins and protocols of their Mace. The history behind the UNSW Mace revealed a rich tapestry of formalities and engagement with information being conveyed that universities never purchase their own Mace and that they would always be acquired as either a gift or donation. The UNSW archive, shared with Vice Chancellor Golding, revealed how minerals and metallurgy were sourced through industry partners BHP and Australian hardwoods sourced through the Forestry Commission were key elements in the production of the UNSW Mace. In addition, there were protocols determined, as the Mace should be carried on the left-hand shoulder and the Mace Bearer should wear white gloves to protect the polished metal surface.

Dr. Alastair Birtles acting as Mace Bearer at the 2018 CASE graduation ceremony. Photograph by Bethany Keats.
With an abundance of historic and contemporary Australian university history via Professor Brian Dalton at his fingertips, Ron Kenny—academic, artist and Honorary Curator of the James Cook University Art Collection—provided the original sketches for the Mace. Ron Kenny’s failing health restricted him from seeing the final design come to fruition, and following his death in 1987 Jane McBurnie (Hawkins), a local sculptor, interpreted the designs and produced a three-dimensional full-scale model. Graham Jackson, a local jeweller, assisted in seeking an appropriate silversmith to produce the substantial object. The design incorporated the head shape of the heraldic shield of James Cook University’s coat of arms with nine concave ridges highlighting its weaponry origins, and was crowned with a north Queensland kapok pod suggested by McBurnie. The butt of the Mace acknowledged the local Indigenous people, with references to the Pineapple Nulla Nulla, or fighting stick.
Detail of JCU Ceremonial Mace, showcasing the butt of the Mace which echos the Pineapple Nulla Nulla of the local Indigenous people. Photograph by  Bethany Keats.
The Mace was planned to be completed in February 1990. However, complexity in the production of such an elaborate design saw the initial project fail to meet the standards required and the original silversmith was unable to complete the project. Dedication beyond the cause by Graham Jackson saw more investigation and the sourcing of a new silversmith to complete the project. Following some functional and aesthetic changes to the original design, David Clayton of Brisbane was commissioned to produce the sterling silver Mace where his full repertoire of skills including bending, raising, forming and soldering were utilised in conjunction with some casting of the intricate components. The project, which had been originally budgeted for around $6000, more than doubled with the more sophisticated fabrication required. To their credit the Townsville City Council and Chamber of Commerce, and the Roberts, Page, McIntyre and Jackson families found the extra resources to see the project through. The Mace was finally completed in 1991 with the official presentation occurring on 31st May by new Mayor of Townsville Tony Mooney, to the Chancellor Sir George Kneipp and Vice Chancellor Ray Golding.

Detail of JCU Ceremonial Mace, showcasing the Armorial Ensigns of the University below the Mace head. Photograph by Bethany Keats.
The James Cook University Mace has symbolised the authority of the University for almost 30 years and has marked the auspicious occasion for thousands of James Cook University alumni in graduation ceremonies at Townsville, Cairns, Singapore and Brisbane. The ceremonial, historic and monetary value of this unique object has seen the University seek replica maces to be utilised at each of the University’s campuses, with the original Mace used for significant University events and housed within the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library in Townsville.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections will be unveiling 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University.

Author Biography
Professor Stephen Naylor is the Chair of the JCU Academic Board and has been an active participant in education, learning & teaching and the creative arts for 40 years. His creative arts background drove his professional practice for more than 20 years and has seen him as an active arts reviewer for a variety of Australian journals. More recently, his research has focused upon design and the understanding of a sense of place within the tropical region. He is currently preparing for a new Routledge monograph entitled The Venice Biennale and the Asia-Pacific in the Global Art World, due June 2020.

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