War, Masculinity and Belief – day 2, Australian Historical Association Conference

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2018 Australian Historical Association conference, 2nd to 6th July.

At the end of the day I sat down to write up a post about the sessions I had listened to at the Australian Historical Association conference but I struggled to find a common theme in all of them on which I could develop a coherent post. But of course, I chose these sessions because they all said something about my current interests in war, masculinity and belief.

I heard some great papers yesterday. Both Rosalie Triolo’s paper on ‘Statehood, Strength and sorrow in Australian and German school Songs, 1870-1918’ and Michael Gladwin’s, ‘Preaching Australia: Sermons, emotions and religious sensory practice in Australian history’ examined different historical aural experiences – one secular and the other religious. Triolo drew on the fact that singing was compulsory in early 20th century Victorian school classrooms. “Rote learning through rhythm”, was the advice of educational experts. Through careful examination of the Department of Education’s regular publication for schools, The School Paper, Triolo analysed the songs that were published for use in schools. She noted that before the Great War, the songs were British in origin, but with the onset of war, songs were also drawn from outside the Empire. La Marseillaise, the Belgian and Russsian national anthems were published as sentiment towards the suffering of those countries developed during the War. Triolo noted that no songs were published in 1917, but publication of songs resumed in 1918. She did not speculate on the reason for this. I wonder if this was reflective of the depressed state of Australia as the casualties mounted and no end was in sight? It was also the year of horrendous strikes and the divisive referendum on conscription.

Pianos were an important technology in the early 20th century classroom.

Michael Gladwin’s paper examined the aural and visual soundscape in churches. He noted that sermons were an important form of public communication in 19th century Australia, as were newspapers. He finds newspapers a good source on how a sermon was received. Sermons were assessed in many ways. A good sermon had to appeal to both the emotions and intellect. As the century progressed the middle classes became less vocal when hearing a sermon. By the end of the century they preferred to listen in silence. He is at the start of an exciting new project Hilary Carey developing on these themes.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on Ned Kelly. I certainly do, and it is coloured by an over-enthusiastic grade 4 teacher spending waaaaay too much time on bushrangers. I would not have chosen to listen to Glen O’Brien’s paper on ‘The religious world of Ned Kelly’ but it was in the same session as Michael Gladwin’s paper. I am glad that I did listen. I found O’Brien’s argument persuasive as he urged us to look more deeply in how Kelly drew not only on his religious background but the multi-church society of 19th century Victoria. He shared evidence that despite secularism there was a significant amount of interaction between people from different religious backgrounds at the time. “It was the age of prosletysing,” argued O’Brien when explaining why a Methodist preacher would engage in conversations about religion with Ned Kelly.

“The language of the Bible shaped his conscience,” said O’Brien but at the same time acknowledged that Ned Kelly was a “violent man”. O’Brien’s paper was not a hagiography. It was a sophisticated reading of the historical evidence.

After O’Brien’s and Gladwin’s session I dashed into another room in another building and heard part of Effie Karageorgos’ paper on ‘Australian military psychiatry from South Africa to the First World War’. There is an abundance of evidence regarding the mental health issues and treatments of soldiers who fought in the First World War, but not much regarding the Australian soldiers in the Boer War. But as Karageorgos noted, the experience of the Boer War is an important context to consider when analysing the First World War. She noted that Australian authorities shyed away from diagnosing mental illness in Boer War soldiers as at the time conditions such as ‘hysteria’ were seen as feminine conditions. She noted that Australia lagged behind Britain in war psychiatry during this period despite fighting with the British Army. The ‘heightened masculinity’ in Australia at the time was the possible reason for this she argued.

Lea Doughty was the only presenter of a regular paper yesterday who I heard explicitly present arguments about the scale of history in her research on pharmacy units in the First World War. She also pointed out the importance of the pre-war context in understanding historical issues in the First World War. Pharmacy involves the use of pharmaceutical goods as well as the provision of pharmaceutical services. She noted that consideration of pharmaceutical goods requires the historian to consider scales such as the local, national and global in order to consider trading networks and the production of the goods. She also considered the micro-scale of the pharmacy dispensary in the hospital, and the interaction between pharmacists and nurses. In her sophisticated argument she also compared the New Zealand and the Australian organisation of the pharmacy units in the armies. She ended by noting that the support units such as pharmacy and veterinary units are poorly researched.

Slide and photo

Lea Doughty has struggled to find primary sources about the pharmacy units in WWI, but she did find this photo of an AIF pharmacy in England.

Yesterday I attended two keynotes, one of which was on music and Sufi Islam in India presented by Katherine Butler Schofield. I am not qualified to comment on the latter nevertheless it is good to stretch oneself and recognise that the world is far better than one’s one miniscule interests. I will comment on the morning keynote panel which was on the conference theme in a later post.

This is a very personal account of my experience of the conference. It is wonderful to see so many people tweeting using the #OzHA2018 hashtag. There has been good tweeting of other sessions and I urge you to spend some time looking through other tweets.

I don’t know of anyone else who is blogging the conference. I hope that someone else does, but to do it requires a lot of time each evening. The conference is an intense time of learning, sharing and networking. I hope my energy keeps up for the rest of the week!

Related Posts

This is the third post in a series I have written about the 2018 Australian Historical Association conference:

9 thoughts on “War, Masculinity and Belief – day 2, Australian Historical Association Conference

  1. Thanks for this, Yvonne, I think it’s wonderful that you do these posts, and I can certainly relate to the exhaustion at the end of the day because I used to do it for the education conferences I attended.

    You might be interested to know that by the time I was at Teachers’ College in the mid 70s, the three year course included a year long music component, which, yes, promoted singing strongly. Not for the purpose of ‘rote learning through rhythm’ but for the social and emotional benefits that singing brings. Since pianos were long gone out of classrooms by then everyone had to learn to play recorder and xylophone as a tool for teaching a tune. But the lecturer was very worried about the rising tide of popular songs being taught to children… he explained that the vocal range and dexterity of children is limited, and (as you’d know if you’ve ever heard a school choir wailing songs from the pop canon), they simply cannot tunefully sing most of what purports to be music nowadays. The classic folk songs like Greensleeves, he said, were enduring because they are easy to sing.

    At Springvale West Primary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we had a school population of refugees from all over the world. So our singing program was Australian folk songs, and every Friday afternoon, with me at the piano and four other teachers holding up handmade posters with the words and conducting, 120 10-13 year olds sang Click Go The Shears and The Road to Gundagai and so on. They loved it and so did we, and I bet those kids from far and wide know the words to Aussie folk songs better than local-born kids who’ve never had the chance because they’re warbling Yellow Submarine instead.

    But alas, our lecturer at college didn’t just lose that battle. Music is rarely taught in primary schools these days, and even the daily singing of a song at some time during the day is rare. Every now and again the issue surfaces in the media, and then it subsides and things go on as before. The solution is simple: fund a dedicated music teacher in every school, and timetable a minimum half an hour each week. But bean-counters don’t want to pay for that so they pretend that generalist teachers can and will teach music. But what they forget is that those teachers like the one in your photo were themselves taught music at school. They could play an instrument, and they were familiar with the classical repertoire. Today’s teachers have no such skill or experience.


    • World War One Love and Sorrow was a 2014 exhibition (at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton) that I would have loved to have seen. It also would have had a lot to say about the 2018 AHA theme of war, masculinity and belief. But that is the beauty of blogging for historians 🙂


    • We could have a long chat about this! I also bemoan the lack of singing in primary school classrooms. As a volunteer SRE (special religious education) teacher, I would use the CD that was supplied with our curriculum and we would all sing to that, but then I wanted to use different music that was not pre-recorded. I was astonished when I found that grade 2 students could not hear a pitch and hold a note when they sang! We used to sing a lot in kindergarten and prep. Then it petered out so we only sang at our weekly assemblies and in school music lessons.

      Those early primary years are when children are most adept at learning basic songs which sets them up for a musically rich life. Instead, we are impoverishing the lives of our children by not getting them adept and comfortable with using their voices.

      I could go on and on. But perhaps it would be best to resume this conversation over coffee when I am next in Melbourne?


  2. Thanks for the great report! Sorry that I wasn’t there, especially to hear my student Lea presenting, so it’s wonderful to have an independent perspective on her work – especially one so glowing. She’s thrilled!
    Cheers, Peter


  3. Hello Yvonne

    Thank you so very much for such lovely words – and for our fantastic chat over lunch on Friday! Will be in contact when I get back to New Zealand as promised.



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