I have reported a number of keynote presentations from the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association this week, but my representation of the conference would be lacking if I did not report the humour that popped up throughout the five days in Canberra.
The conference theme, ‘The Scales of HIstory’, lent itself to some light-hearted quips. Of course there were the fishing jokes but I did not hear any music jokes. However, one presenter did some unexpected a capella singing (a rather fancy way of describing how Rosalie sang). Then there was the Canberra weather. We woke up to -4 one morning – surely a joke!
What can be more Australian than an esteemed historian being delayed arriving in Canberra because her bus hit a kangaroo?
Canberra… Australians are good at making mirth at the mention of their capital city. Mark McKenna delivered a fine keynote speech about Canberra and the now not-so-new parliament house. But he was left scratching his head on a number of occasions when the audience laughed at some of his comments. McKenna mentioned the rather surprising fact that the architect of the new parliament house read Patrick White novels to learn more about Australia. Tune laughter and a rather perplexed Mark McKenna.
Canberra has a rather perverse humour directed at visitors. Take the sheer number of roundabouts, or the time it takes to walk across the massive expanse of Northbourne Avenue. When walking one direction across Northbourne Avenue all the pedestrian lights are synchronised to facilitate the pedestrians’ journey across the road. But walking the other direction, one can still get stranded in the pedestrian island in the middle of the road even after an undignified run from part way across when the pedestrian realises they are not going to make the entire distance.
But I have triumphed. I actually succeeded in crossing that Northbourne Avenue in that tricky direction in one set of traffic lights and while pulling a suitcase along! You need to picture Yvonne tearing across Northbourne Avenue in her red hoodie and the roar of the wheels on her suitcase warning all in front that she was coming. I was not going to be beaten!
The Canberra morning construction alarm was so reliable I did not need to set an alarm on my phone once during the conference. Canberra, like most Australian capital cities, is currently populated by many building sites. A number of conference participants staying at different accommodation venues found that we were close to building works. Every morning the workers at the two construction sites on either side of my accommodation started their noisy tasks at 6:45. Unfortunately they also worked on Saturday morning when I had hoped to sleep in.
Universities around Australia love constructing new buildings – the Australian National University is no exception. We spent the week walking alongside construction fences. I hope that the designers of the new buildings learn from the problems in the old buildings. One of the rooms used by the conference was small and narrow. It had a whiteboard and projector screen along the length of the long wall with three rows of seating squeezed into the narrow room facing the whiteboard. People on the extreme sides of the screen had an interesting time trying to read the screen from a 15-degree angle or worse.
Another room had a chair and table combination setup that looked like it came from a 1970s sci-fi tv series. These chair/table thingamajigs would have been quite ordinary but the designer decider to add a tray and wheels underneath. Can you imagine a first-year class in this room with a lecturer or tutor struggling to keep the class’s attention while the students were careening around the room? These contraptions have the potential to be used for a form of dodgem cars fun. Perhaps the university could embark on some revenue-raising and charge people to roll around and knock themselves about?
The presentations at the conference were generally very high quality, but we did have some lighter moments. A presenter discussing Big History enthused how this area of study was a great way to learn about science for those who had been turned off by other forms of science education. A member of the audience ‘fessed, “I can’t bond with a hydrogen atom” to laughter in the room. But the presenter was pleased to hear that yes, the historian who had no friendship with hydrogen, was open to addressing that issue by learning about Big History.
What is a conference without conference bingo? A participant used her initiative (a nice way of saying she was procrastinating) and produced a bingo sheet for the conference. This is a great idea but in the end the #OzHA2018 tweeps were rather distracted by the content of the papers (very good) and organising meetups and dinner at the end of each day (very important).
Next year we could be better prepared for conference bingo – ie procrastinate earlier. Perhaps we can have a cheap prize? In a nod to the tacky 1970s, perhaps we could start a tradition of awarding a snow-dome of the location of the conference to the winner of the bingo. But if the conference is ever held in tropical Townsville we could be in trouble.
There were humorous moments I missed because I was tweeting some seriousness and missed the cause of jest. But as we are rigorous historians, we know the importance of a complete conference archive, so I hope that you will add what I have missed in a comment below.
This is the seventh post in a series I have written about the 2018 Australian Historical Association conference. The other posts in this series are:
- 2/7/2018, PHA NSW/ACT at the Australian Historical Association Conference – PHA NSW & ACT blog
- 3/7/2018, The 2018 Australian Historical Association Conference Begins!
- 4/7/2018, War, Masculinity and Belief – day 2, Australian Historical Association Conference
- 5/7/2018, Some Incomplete Thoughts on the Scale of History – Part 1
- 6/7/2018, ‘Decentring Australia’ in the History of Convict Transportation