Pause, Reflect and Share: Frenetic July!


The day after THATCamp #OzHA2013 I walked around the harbour near the centre of Wollongong. This beach is just a couple of minutes walk from the harbour. Wollongong has a population of around 200,000 people yet there is no-one to be seen on this beach.

In last month’s ‘Pause, Reflect and Share’ I warned of a ‘frantic July’ coming up.  That sounds like I was rather anxious about July, but I wasn’t.  A better word for it is ‘frenetic’.  It was madly busy, but fulfilling.  I have now been spat out on the other side of frenetic July giving me a chance to pause, reflect and share.

July is an opportunity to reflect on the first six months of the year.  I started the month by analysing the all the book reviews which had been written for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge in the first half of the year.  “In just six months participants have written 1,100 reviews, reviewed the work of over five hundred Australian women authors and read nearly seven hundred books”, I wrote.  This is the result of a wonderful collective effort.  Nearly two hundred volunteers wrote reviews which they contributed towards the Challenge in order to raise the profile of Australia’s women writers.  It is a privilege to be helping out with such a successful online initiative.

I also reflected on six months of reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs for the Challenge.  That revealed that over half of the reviews in this section of the Challenge were reviews of memoirs.  I was surprised that only thirteen biographies had been reviewed and eighteen histories.  I suspect this is because readers are not aware of the wealth of interesting histories and biographies that are available to read so I am creating lists of biographies and histories written by Australian women for those people looking for a book to read.  I have added some books to the lists on this blog: ‘Some Histories Written by Women‘ and ‘Books at #OzHA2013‘.  Keep an eye on the bookshelf for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge group on Goodreads.  I’ll be updating that with more histories an biographies soon.

The focus of the month was the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association in Wollongong 8th – 12th July.  I have covered this in numerous posts.  What I have not shared is the circumstances in which I wrote these posts.

I drove from Sydney to Wollongong in our twenty year old car. After attending the opening reception I became rather lost finding my way back to my accommodation.  I drove a lot further than I intended so it was with some relief that I eventually reached the carpark where I was staying and lined up the car to enter the parking space.

The car stalled.  Then I saw what looked like smoke coming from out of the bonnet.  I smelt burning rubber.

I managed to start the car again and drove it the two metres needed to park the car and then I evacuated the area.  It was dark but the smoke pouring out of the car was highly visible.

After a panicked call to my husband, we concluded that it was steam not smoke.  I kept an eye on the car for a couple of hours and the steam subsided.

I had to get the car fixed in a city I was unfamiliar with.  While I could easily walk or take a shuttle bus to the conference venue, I needed a working car to drive home from the conference at the end of the week so I realised that I would have to miss some conference sessions so that I could get the car fixed.  It was disappointing but this is the kind of thing that life coughs up.

I had a backup plan in case the car proved to be a write-off.  My accommodation in Wollongong was within walking distance of a train station so I could abandon the car in Wollongong if necessary and make my way back to Sydney via train.  Fortunately I did not need to implement this plan.  I missed most of the conference sessions the next day but the car was repaired.

I was glad that I chose to stay at cheap student accommodation because each morning I had breakfast with other attendees staying there. Fellow blogger, Janine Rizzetti was also staying at the same accommodation.  One night she and I caught a bus from the conference venue to the CBD.  We were chatting about our day when a man behind us invited us to have dinner with him.  He was another attendee at the conference.  Janine seemed to know him and accepted the invitation.  I enjoyed the spontaneity of it all so accepted the invitation too.

A few other people on the bus were also invited. As we left the bus I discovered that the man was Richard Broome, author of Aboriginal Australians.  This has been an influential book over several editions and I have used it for many essays. Historians don’t tend to show their faces on the books they write and certainly not in academic journal articles so at these conferences a name can be more recognisable than a face.

Another author was at our table – Julie McIntyre from University of Newcastle.  She has written First Vintage: Wine in Colonial NSW (Sydney: New South Books, 2012).  Our table was completed by two historians from Wellington, one from Townsville, Janine and myself.  But I must not forget to mention the large group of zombies having a meeting on the table behind us.  Apparently the atmosphere was not to their liking (were we too noisy?) so they left for the pub.  We had a lovely evening.

As you are aware I was blogging throughout the conference.  Writing a blog post takes some time so I generally did not get to sleep until close to one o’clock each morning.  I was staying at student accommodation at the university and it was rather cold.  One night around midnight I wandered to the kitchen to get myself a cup of tea.  It was very quiet. As usual the kitchen light was on.  I entered the room and to my astonishment found a group of students wearing party hats, standing silently around a table with a cake on it.  One of the students offered me a piece of cake. Bizarre things happen at midnight!

I had another task on my mind during the conference.  I was on the organising committee for an affiliated conference which was to take place the day after the main conference ended.  This conference was a digital humanities ‘unconference’ called THATCamp #OzHA2013.  THATCamps are held around the world.  The participants themselves propose sessions and then on the day they vote for which sessions should be held.  The participants who propose the sessions lead them but the sessions are not lectures.  They are more like seminars. The participants comment and ask questions throughout the session. The person who is leading the session does not own the platform.  Where relevant another participant may go to the front and demonstrate something.  The organisers of these conferences act as facilitators.  They organise the venue, run the introductory session where the participants decide on the program and make sure that things are running smoothly during the day.

As with any event there are last-minute things that needed to be organised so I had to skip another session of the main conference so that I could attend to THATCamp jobs that needed doing.  It all ended well.  A small but enthusiastic group of participants ensured we had a very productive day.

The harbour at Wollongong.

The harbour at Wollongong.

Being IT literate is handy and other people think so too.  I sat back exhausted but happy on the evening of the day on which THATCamp #OzHA2013 had been held.  My phone rang. It was from my masters swimming club.  We were a week away from the state relay carnival.  Relay team entries were due in five days and the only person who could operate the program which calculated our teams had to leave the country due to a death in the family. Could I help?

You can’t say no to requests like that so I spent the next few days learning how to use the program which is custom-built, produced the team lists required, shared the list with club members, fielded requests for changes, ran the program again… You get the idea.  The person who created the program and managed our club’s carnival entries has devoted a lot of time to the club over many years.  I was pleased that I could help him and the club.

The week after the conference I was delighted to find that Stumbling Through the Past was listed on list of ‘Top 50 Genealogy Blogs 2013‘ compiled by Inside History magazine.  When writing these posts I hope to appeal to anyone who is interested in history.  Appearing on this list indicates that Stumbling Through the Past is appealing to an important group of readers – those passionate about family history.

The Lake of Brightness at the Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney

The Lake of Brightness at the Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney

After the conference I was spent.  One of our daughters was visiting us from Melbourne and invited me to join her on a visit to the Chinese Garden of Friendship at Darling Harbour in Sydney.  It is a little oasis of calm in the centre of the city – just what I needed!

I also made a quick trip to Canberra to take another daughter back for the start of the university semester.  This gave me a chance to see the Turner exhibition at the National Gallery – something which I had been looking forward to for some time.

At the end of the month I finally started to learn how to program in Python.  I had been wanting to do this for some time so I was pleased I finally did it.  Hubble (my other half) is also learning Python, although at a much higher level.  So we;ve been having  geek sit-ins in our lounge room for several days alternating between gnashing our teeth when we couldn’t get it to work and celebrating our achievements.  Football and cricket on television provided a good backdrop for our work.  I had a couple of projects that in mind while working through the lessons but for reasons out of my control I couldn’t do either of them.  Then I realised that I could practise some of my new skills on the archive of tweets from the Australian Historical Association conference.  The result was the last three posts I wrote for the month giving an overview of the Australian Historical Association conference.

August looks like being a calmer month. I’m looking forward to consolidating what I learned during July and attending to those more mundane but important things that need to be done.

Blogging in Frenetic July

July was the best ever month on this blog.  I wrote my 100th post for this blog and  wrote more posts in July than I have ever written in one month before.  As usual they were scattered over a number of blogs.  Here is the list in chronological order:

  1. 7th July: ‘Review: Paint me Black by Claire Henty-Gebert‘ – my NAIDOC Week post, Stumbling Through the Past
  2. 9th July: ‘The Challenge: A Mid-year Overview‘ – Australian Women Writers’ Challenge
  3. 9th July: ‘Histories, Biographies and Memoirs: Reflection on Six Months‘ – Australian Women Writers’ Challenge
  4. 10th July: ‘Books at the Australian Historical Association Conference 2013‘ – Stumbling Through the Past
  5. 11th July: ‘Fresh Observations of War and Military‘ – Stumbling Through the Past
  6. 12th July: ‘Rethinking Indigenous Histories – some reflections‘ – the 100th blog post on Stumbling Through the Past!
  7. 18th July: ‘We had a great day!‘ – THATCamp #OzHA2013 blog
  8. 24th July: ‘Historians Ask: Who is our audience?‘ – Stumbling Through the Past
  9. 28th July: ‘Histories, Biographies and Memoirs – Roundup #6 2013‘ – Australian Women Writers’ Challenge
  10. 30th July: ‘2013 Australian Historical Association Conference – The Program‘ – Part 1 of my overview of the Australian Historical Association conference, Stumbling Through the Past
  11. 1st August – ‘2013 Australian Historical Association Conference – on social media‘ – Part 2 of my overview of the Australian Historical Association conference, Stumbling Through the Past
  12. 1st August – ‘Analysis of #OzHA2013‘ – Part 3 of my overview of the Australian Historical Association conference, Stumbling Through the Future

I’ve included the posts of 1st August because all the work was done in July. They were also posted on 31st July… Western Australian time.

I’m still thinking of celebrating the publication of the 100th post on this blog.  On twitter people have voted for a competition, chocolate and cake.  Maybe I could do all three?  What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Pause, Reflect and Share: Frenetic July!

  1. Congratulations, this was a mighty month and as one who regularly reads your blog, I am not at all surprised that it is becoming so popular and well-regarded.
    You’re not stumbling, my friend, you are making great strides!
    Lisa xo


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