Pause, Reflect and Share on Book Giveaway Entries

The 200th post book giveaway has been run and won. Congratulations to the winners James, Jo, Robyn and Helen! Thank you to everyone for your entries and a big thank you to the publishers – Magabala Books, NewSouth Press, Text Publishing and UQP Books for supporting the competition. These and many other publishers are great supporters of historical writing in Australia.

As a requirement of entry for the book giveaway, readers were asked to answer one of three questions. This blog is made all the better because of feedback from readers via comments, but here was a chance for me to get some specific feedback and ideas from you. I appreciate the thoughtful responses you gave. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing some posts in response to this feedback, but I can quickly respond to some comments in this post. Continue reading

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200 Posts and Five Years of Blogging!

DSC_6271My last post was my 200th post on this blog. Wow! This milestone crept up on me, as did the fifth anniversary of this blog last August but now it is definitely time to reflect on these milestones.

Some posts have stood out for me. Sometimes I finish a post knowing that the writing is particularly strong. Generally this is when I have been particularly moved by the subject matter, whether it was a well-written book or an episode of history which has stuck an emotional chord within me.

It is the humble archive that has been the source of much of many of my posts. Archives are a crucial bulwark of human rights. The story over the last five years which demonstrated this with crystal clarity was the case of four elderly Kenyans who sued the British government for human rights abuses during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s. For years the British government had denied their complaints and told historians and lawyers that no relevant documents existed about this issue. But the Kenyan’s legal team pushed and as I explained in ‘Archives are important, very important’, millions of colonial documents were found to have been illegally hidden from public view.

‘If… we are going to sin, we must sin quietly’, wrote the British Attorney-General to the Kenyan colonial authorities. This was the title of my second post about the issue in which I explored the troubling question of how such horrific crimes could have been ignored for so long. If you only have limited time to read this blog this is the one post I would like you to read. It demonstrates why historians and archivists are vital professions for any society professing to uphold human rights and democratic values, but it also shows how flawed archives can be and how historians sometimes fall short in their over-reliance on government archives. This post also seeks to understand why so many people do nothing when people in authority commit crime as part of their job. Continue reading

Researching in Brisbane Again

photo of young girl dressed up as a nurse and young boy dressed up as a wounded soldier with arm in sling.

Like children in many parts of the world, Queensland children were affected by the Great War. This cover of the weekly newspaper, The Queenslander from 1st December 1917, is captioned, “The Spirit of the Times”. Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland.

Over the last few weeks I have returned to my research roots. I have been exploring the history of Brisbane from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of the Depression. My client is interested in the life story of a man who was born in Brisbane in the early twentieth century who moved to Sydney as an adult. He went on to work in East Asia during World War II and then became a successful business man. It is a pleasure to be part of such an interesting multi-national, collaborative project.

Once again I have been exploring the education history of the time, the politics, the culture and the experiences of young people growing up in Brisbane during this era. Fortunately I still have the references and workings for my honours thesis which was about Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum held in 1910. Some of the work I did on that is relevant for my current research.

I gladly left our sodden house for a research trip to Brisbane – what a delight to have working lights and a good internet connection for a few days! I immersed myself in old records the Queensland State Archives and the State Library of Queensland as well as exploring the local area where our man had grown up. A good sense of place is important if an historian to portray the history well. There is nothing like walking the streets and visiting the places which are the sites of the history that is being researched. Continue reading

What a Weekend!

Lots of towels and hard work from a daughter with a mop and sponge minimised the flooding from under the door.

Lots of towels and hard work from a daughter with a mop and sponge minimised the flooding from under the door.

What a weekend! Stumbling Through History Links, my list of useful, free Australian history resources has burst into life thanks to readers suggesting links to add to the list and sharing the page on social media. This post will also come to the inbox of several new readers – welcome to my blog!

It was also a weekend where we bore the brunt of storms in Sydney. I had just made a breakthrough in my research when I looked out the window and said, “oh no”! It was ominous. I left my research breakthrough unrecorded and we rushed to the side door which has been the source of water flooding into the house several times in the last ten months. Just a couple of hours ago I had cleaned out the drain in front of the door, organised a pile of towels, a sponge, chamois, bucket and mop. We were armed and in position!

But I hadn’t counted on water flooding through the ceiling upstairs. I left a daughter furiously mopping up the water downstairs and ran upstairs with bowls, and a bucket. Already the carpet was squelchy. A five litre bucket filled in less than five minutes. I did a shuttle back and forth to the bathroom to empty the bucket and bowls. Continue reading

War, Emotions and Beliefs

Melbourne Museum sign

It is hard to get a good photo of the aircraft hangar like building that contains the Melbourne Museum. While the outside of the building may look uninspiring, the exhibitions inside of the building are well worth a visit.

Over the last few months I have been dealing with life, the universe and the mundane. I had so much on my plate that I regretfully decided to reduce the pressure by taking a pause on my blog. But I am back! Over the next few weeks I will share some of what I have been doing. Today I thought I would give you an update on my book project.

When I was in Melbourne for the birth of our first grandchild I took the opportunity to attend the War and Emotions Symposium at Melbourne Museum. Over the last year there have been many war conferences, books, exhibitions, television series and other events hoping to catch the interest of people during the centenary of World War I. I couldn’t possibly give attention to all, and frankly, too many are superficial or cross the line by glorifying war but I’m so pleased I had the chance to attend the War and Emotions Symposium. Continue reading

Pause, Reflect and Share… and a note to publishers

Peter Stanley standing on the, left, holding his book. I am standing on the right.

Peter Stanley and I at his book launch earlier this month.

Tomorrow I am driving to Canberra and will be in Melbourne at the end of the week. I am looking forward to researching at the State Library of Victoria and the Public Records Office of Victoria as well as catching up with family and friends. I have identified some key soldiers for my book and will be doing further research into the lives of a couple of the Victorian soldiers.

While World War I will be the focus of my book, I want to write about some of the experiences of the soldiers in their families and schools before the war as well as looking at their lives after the War. Soldiers brought the culture and learning they had received as children to war with them. The War stayed with them for the rest of their lives.

As you can imagine I am reading a lot of books about World War I. Most are well written but the one I am reading at the moment is infuriating because of the lack of referencing. I have done a bit of my own research to try to substantiate some of the author’s claims but cannot find proof of major claim about a statistic of the War. Humph! If a history is not properly referenced unfounded claims can be passed as truths. For all we know these books can be a mix of fiction and history, a member of the ‘faction’ genre.  Poorly referenced histories are not good sources. I have found another book on the topic which I am hoping is properly referenced.

Publishers – if you want your history books to be taken seriously then allow your authors to publish their fully referenced work! Why should we believe unsubstantiated claims?

As my then seventeen-year old daughter observed several years ago, footnotes (or endnotes) are ‘sneakily important’. Read that post for more about the problems of lack of referencing and the rise of ‘faction’.

I will step off my soap box now. Continue reading

Write it Down!

Western side of the library building with two large banners advertising the Treasures Gallery. Small deciduous trees with no leaves are in the foreground.

National Library of Australia at sunset. I took this as I dragged myself away from interesting research to have dinner one night this week.

At times research is like pulling teeth but then there are the wonderful times when you race through the work, doors open one after another revealing hints that suggest that you might be close to a big break through. Over the last few months my research has been humming along. In the couple of weeks it has been particularly fruitful. This week I have been pursuing some fascinating stories in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial and the National Library of Australia.

I am immersed in the thoughts of some of the most reflective men in the Australian Army during World War I through their diaries. While these soldiers are among the most forthcoming soldiers to wield a pen in the AIF (Australian Imperial Force), they often stop writing when I find the subject most interesting. Over the last few months I have been working with other sources to reveal more about those tantalising stories.

The beliefs of the soldiers of the AIF were cloaked by the larrikinism of some soldiers and derisive comments about army chaplains. Their letters and diaries are dominated by accounts of the work of war but every now and then there will be a sentence or two which sheds light on the complex beliefs of the soldier. Surrounded by death every day and charged with the task of killing others, some Australian soldiers pondered the great spiritual questions of life and death as well as the moral questions which a war inevitably brings. I am now searching in other archival sources to find out more about the comments soldiers made in their diaries. In particular I am researching the stories of soldiers who may not have left any writing for us to research today.

Continue reading