The Destruction of Memory

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012.

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012. Photo via The Telegraph, India.

The rebels had fled, but before they left they had destroyed a precious archive. The world gasped in dismay as the mayor of Timbuktu announced that a library recently built to hold Timbuktu’s historic manuscripts had burnt to the ground.

At the time the Mayor did not know that while some historic manuscripts were now a pile of ashes, most had been saved. Yet these manuscripts were not the only physical reminders of a rich culture that were destroyed.  During their ten months ruling Timbuktu the rebels destroyed most of the city’s Sufi shrines. It was no accident.

The deliberate targeting and destruction of culturally significant items occurs too often. In our life time we have witnessed the detonation of the giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001. In 1992 the heart of the cultural heritage of Bosnia was destroyed when the library in Sarajevo was subjected to the artillery fire of Serbian troops who were encircling the city. The deliberate nature of the attack was evident when snipers shot at firemen trying to save the library.

Director of 'The Destruction of Memory', Tim Slade.

Director of ‘The Destruction of Memory’, Tim Slade.

Director, Tim Slade is working on a documentary which he hopes will help people understand the serious nature of this ‘war against culture’.

“The killing of people and the killing of books and buildings are intimately and inextricably related”, states Slade. Referring to Raphael Lemkin, the man who helped to create the UN Convention Against Genocide, Slade observes, “Lemkin saw that it can be difficult to wipe out an entire people, but a group can be annihilated if their identity and culture has been erased.” Continue reading

The Dictionary of Sydney Needs Your Help!

A dictionary is the first place anyone consults when they want to know the meaning of a word.  Likewise the Dictionary of Sydney is the first place you should go to if you want to know anything about Sydney, past or present.  It is a ground-breaking project where historians, whether amateur, professional or academic collaborate to create a dynamic and comprehensive website that is both authoritative and easily accessible.

Yet funding for this project is under threat.  The major sponsor of the project is the City of Sydney Council. Next Monday (30/7/2012) the Council will decide whether to release the funding it had approved ‘in principle’ in 2011.

Yesterday I asked the editorial co-ordinator of the Dictionary, Dr Emma Grahame, some questions about the Dictionary which she answered via e-mail. Continue reading

The Regime of the Coin Tea Has Come…

Person holding penny over cup and saucer on a table with other coins on it.

Coin tea anyone?

“The regime of the coin tea has come”, declared ‘Sympathiser‘ in the Brisbane Courier  in 1909.  This announcement was apt.  If you do a search for ‘coin tea’ on the National Library of Australia’s  online newspaper database (Trove) you will be struck by how popular this form of fundraising appears to have been in Queensland during the early twentieth century until the outbreak of World War II.  94% of articles and advertisements containing the phrase ‘coin tea’ in the Trove database (as at 28/7/2011) were published in Queensland. Continue reading

Seeking Information about Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910

I have added a brief page outlining my current research interest – religion in state schools. Click the tab above and find out more.

Throughout my research on Queensland’s Bible in State schools referendum of 1910 I have been surprised at the absence of photos of the 1910 federal election and state referendum.  There were plenty of cameras around in 1910.  Commentators at the time talk about the posters, the badges and ribbons worn by supporters of issues and candidates on polling day, and the prominence of women in the canvassing.  Surely some photos have survived to today?

Members of the executive committee of Queensland's Bible in State Schools League

Executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League. Source: John Oxley Library

The campaign for the Bible in State schools referendum was conducted by volunteers throughout Queensland.  The minute book of the executive of the Bible in State Schools League is held at the John Oxley Library and I have tracked down the minute book for the Warwick branch of the League.  Branches of the League were established throughout Queensland.  Where are their records?  Women were important for fundraising and campaigning.  Do you know where the records of the Women’s branch of the Bible in State Schools League are?

I am interested in reconstructing the voting process on polling day.  With the help of a report in The Brisbane Courier I am taking a close look at voting at the Bulimba School of Arts.  I am interested in any photos of this building prior to World War I.  Naturally accounts of the day written by people who were there and photos of the polling booth and those who were manning it would be icing on the cake.

My first point of call on these questions are libraries and local history groups in Queensland, but I thought I would also throw the question over to people in the virtual world.  Was your great grandmother one of these canvassers?  Did your great grandfather belong to one of the branches of the Bible in State Schools League?  Was your church hall the site of one of the public meetings of the Bible in State Schools League?  Maybe you have photos or posters that were used on the day or during the campaign?

Please feel free to share your information in a comment to the blog below or contact me at


  • Photo of the executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League, State Library of Queensland, Neg. 121189.