Review: South Australia on the Eve of War

Book Cover

South Australia on the Eve of War, edited by Melanie Oppenheimer, Margaret Anderson and Mandy Paul, (Mile End, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2017).

South Australia on the Eve of War paints a picture of life in South Australia before the outbreak of World War I. Its ten chapters, each written by a different historian, are easy to read overviews of various aspects of life in South Australia before the outbreak of war. These chapters provide an introduction to topics such as South Australian politics, families, the lives of immigrants, Aboriginal people, rural life and town planning. With the assistance of endnotes for each chapter, the curious reader can delve further into any topic that interests them.

The time between the 1890s and the outbreak of war in August 1914 should receive more attention as it was during this era that people formed the attitudes which they brought with them to the Great War. But history is more than a series of wars with a bit of peace in between. This era is fascinating in itself as it was the era which saw the birth of Australia as a newly unified nation. Continue reading

Why We Need News Services for Australian Children

Snapshot of Crinkling News home page

Click on this image to see Crinkling News in action.

Crinkling News is an Australian newspaper for children. Each week it brings news and current affairs to children aged between seven and fourteen years old. It also provides children with opportunities to do reporting and editing. Crinkling News is staffed by professional journalists and advised by a child psychologist so the content is age appropriate and has high standards for its news reporting. As Crinkling News points out, children are curious about the wider world, but regular news and current affairs media do not explain what is going on in a manner suitable for children.

I don’t have children in this age group so I had not heard of this newspaper until the last fortnight when Crinkling News launched a campaign to raise funds on Indiegogo. Children love the newspapers as do parents, grandparents and teachers, but without more funds for business development it will have to close.

In an era when the idea of truth is being battered; when social media is too often a conduit for rumours, innuendo and hate; when superficiality is lauded over complexity; our children need their own sources of reliable news. We want them to become informed, inquiring adults. They cannot do this if they grow up hearing snippets from scare-mongering current affairs programs and reading social media posts peddling falsities that have been dressed up as news. Continue reading

Review: The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith

Cover of the Anzacs

The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith, (Melbourne: Thomas Nelson Australia, 1985)

The fog rolled down the river and engulf our house. The cold and damp penetrated the walls and windows. Our only view, an opaque whiteness. Through the stillness, the sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post reached us from the nearby cemetery. Another old soldier had died.

This was the house our family was living in when Patsy Adam-Smith published The Anzacs, her iconic history of Australian participation in World War I. Adam-Smith recognised that the 1970s were the last chance to talk to many of the surviving soldiers, so she interviewed veterans for her book as well as reading copious letters and diaries written during the War.

The Anzacs sold over 100,000 copies after it was published in 1978, at a time when Australia’s population was 14 million. But like other popular books, publishers were not very keen on it when Patsy Adam-Smith approached them seeking a contract. “It won’t sell. It’s about war,” one publisher said. This was the era of the peace movement and revulsion about the war in Vietnam. Compared to now, war histories were not prominent in bookshops. Continue reading

Maybanke Anderson: suffragist and social reformer

Change in a culture often occurs in fits and starts, in confusing whirls of ideas and protest followed by quiet periods where old orthodoxies percolate through society again but in a different guise. Reform digs in its heels. New form orthodoxies flex their muscles and then we find the times of protest, ideas and reform are upon us again. As we cycle through complacency, protest and reform injustices are gradually addressed.

This has been the life of the quest for equality of women and men. Undoubtedly enormous progress has been made over the last two hundred years. Yet despite hard-won gains, there is still so much that can be improved. An important aspect of the movement to equality is reviewing the history of human achievement and telling the stories of women’s achievements which have been forgotten over the passage of time or never properly recognised and told in the first place.

Book Cover of Maybanke Anderson bio

Maybanke Anderson 1845-1927: Sex, suffrage & social reform by Jan Roberts, published by Ruskin Rowe Press. This review is of the second edition published in 1997.

In writing the biography of Maybanke Anderson, Jan Roberts has ensured that the contributions of a leading educationist and prominent leader of social reform in New South Wales continue to be recognised. Maybanke Anderson was a leading public figure in the debates about the problems women and children faced in New South Wales during the 1890s and the early twentieth century. She established a school known for its high standard of education, was a leading light in the campaign for women’s suffrage, spent years working to establish free, high-quality kindergarten education and was the founder and editor of a feminist magazine.  She was one of a small group of women and men who pushed the issue of a better life for women to the front of public debate time again.

Jan Roberts has written an illuminating biography about Maybanke Anderson but Roberts faced a struggle to cover the early years before Maybanke became a public figure. A biography ideally covers the entire life of a person and accounts for the time before the subject became well known. Yet the documentary record before a person comes to prominence is often sparce  Continue reading

‘Thank you to my wife’ – unpaid work by women

1 man standing holding paper next to a woman typing

This photo from 1950 says it all. For much of the twentieth-century men wrote and dictated while women typed. Photo courtesy of the Museums Victoria. (Museums Victoria has an excellent open access policy and a large collection online – check it out)

Research and writing involves a lot of repetitive time-consuming tasks such as typing, editing, transcribing and formatting data. All the public hears about is the amazing discovery. The bulk of the work is essential but it can be rather monotonous and certainly not news-worthy.

Over the last few of days #ThanksForTyping has emerged on Twitter to recognise the wives of academics who did a huge amount of this unglamorous and unpaid but essential work for their husbands in the past.  Often the only public acknowledgement they received for this was a sentence noting the debt owed to ‘my wife’ in the acknowledgements of the book or thesis.

Bruce Holsinger from the University of Virginia started the hashtag and found some extraordinary examples:

That woman must have been a world champion in multi-tasking and juggling, but how much sleep did she get? She was a part-time lecturer in chemistry. Has she been properly recognised for her expertise in this field? Continue reading

Islamic Museum of Australia

White building with large grey Arabic writing on it

My mother outside the Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne.

“I would like to visit the Islamic Museum,” said my mother when I visited her in Melbourne last year. My mother likes visiting art exhibitions, but she doesn’t visit many museums. Her request surprised me. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like many people she has been appalled at the anti-Muslim rhetoric which is too often heard nowadays. She has always been interested in other cultures. Why wouldn’t she as a Christian be interested in learning about Islam?

Things intervened but we finally visited the Islam Museum in time for its third anniversary. The building is a striking design which declares the Australian roots of the Museum and its place in our modern world. It is adorned with an Arabic excerpt from the Quran which translated reads:

So narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect

And we certainly did a lot of reflecting inside. Continue reading

History and Time – It’s All Relative

A watch face with no band

Do you think this watch last worn in the 1980s is an historic object?

Every now and then my daughter and I think about how the times in which we live will be perceived by people in the future. “They did that???,” we imagine incredulous school students of the future saying when told about things that happen that seem to be weirdly normal today.

But when will school students be taught about 2017 in their history lessons? I will make a bold prediction. I don’t expect lessons about 2017 to be taught in schools until some time around the 2040s. Continue reading