The Professional Sceptic

mess-of-books-c2This blog post introduces something new to Stumbling Through the Past. I want to help authors at the start of their book-writing careers but I can’t possibly review every debut history or biography that is published. So I hope to post the occasional post written by an Australian or New Zealander author who has just published their first history or biography to help them connect with potential readers. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy reading interesting posts about histories that they might not otherwise have known about.

If your first history or biography has been published recently and you are interested in submitting a post, check out my guidelines and make me a pitch. I encourage women, indigenous people and those who are from a culturally diverse background to take me up on this.

The first post in this occasional series is from Avan Judd Stallard whose book, Antipodes: In search of the southern continent was published by Monash University Publishing In November 2016.

Enjoy!

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Vale Jill Roe

Head and shoulders of Jill Roe with sandstone background

Jill Roe 1940-2017

It is with sadness we heard about the passing of Australian historian Jill Roe late last week. During her life she made a significant contribution to Australian history. Through her passing Australia has lost a great contributor to our society, but her work lives on and enriches our lives.

Jill Roe is best known for her biography of Australian literary icon, Miles Franklin. Stella Miles Franklin: a biography is the book she is most renowned for, and for good reason. It is not only a literary biography, it provides a window through which we can understand what it was like for an enterprising Australian woman to work and support themselves during the first half of the twentieth century. Stella Miles Franklin took Jill Roe twenty-six years to research and write. It is both highly regarded as an academic work and an engaging read for people wanting to read it for leisure. You can read the review I wrote of this impressive book in 2012.

Jill Roe dedicated much of her life to biography. She was the chairperson of the editorial board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) between 1996 and 2006. During this period the organisation won a substantial grant which allowed it to make the biographical entries freely available online. She is described in ‘The ADB’s Story‘ as “energetic, decisive and knowledgeable” and during her period at the helm observers noted she was an “effective negotiator”. During her life she contributed twenty entries for the ADB either as sole author or collaboratively. Just two months ago the ADB presented her with a medal for her services.

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Noise, Newcastle and the Challenge

Walking along the breakwater at the entrance to the Newcastle Harbour.

Walking along the breakwater at the entrance to the Newcastle Harbour.

A pounding base was thundering across the large park in front of our house as I started writing this post on Sunday night. Any music that accompanied the relentless thud had largely dropped by the wayside. We were left with the remnants. Tuneless reverberations reached every corner of our house. That morning, when the noise started, we decided to evacuate for the day.

We just wanted out, but we couldn’t think of anywhere we wanted to go. Some quick googling revealed that Newcastle is undergoing some rejuvenation so we decided to check it out. After a couple of boring hours on the freeway we reached Darby St, near the central business district of Newcastle. Continue reading

Challenge Completed!

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 logo

This review is part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

One of the joys after I finished my history degree was reading a book from cover to cover. This is the way most authors expect people to read their books, but when studying or working I found the pressure of deadlines meant that I simply mined a book for information through the index or a reference in another article or book. Worse still, my reading was terribly skewed towards male authors. At the beginning of 2012 writer, Elizabeth Lhuede started the Australian Women Writers Challenge to encourage bloggers to read more books by Australian women and to write reviews on their blogs and Good Reads. I joined and have enjoyed reading and reviewing histories, biographies and memoirs by Australian women for the last five years.

This year I have been working and have also been researching for my book about the beliefs of Australian men during World War I. I thought it would be a quiet year for book reviewing on this blog, but the universe had other plans. At the tail end of 2015 I stayed at a Canberra hotel which just happened to supply a history about the hotel written by Australian women historians in each room. So I started 2016 on this blog with a review for the Challenge – ‘A Quirky Hotel with a History’. Continue reading

Review: The Riddle of Father Hackett by Brenda Niall

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

Brenda Niall’s biography of Irish-Australian Jesuit priest, Father Hackett, is absorbing from the start. Niall starts by sharing her musings as she walks through Kew cemetery in Melbourne where Father Hackett is buried. She shares some memories of the cleric who often visited her home when she was a child and her thoughts as she sifts through that third cemetery in which the lives of a chosen few are interred – the archive. Father Hackett springs out from the pages as a vibrant, warm person but with deep sorrows in his heart. The Riddle of Father Hackett lies in Ireland in the sad and violent early twentieth century.

Like Melbourne’s Archbishop Mannix, Father Hackett lived a significant part of his life in Ireland, arriving in Australia when he was in his early forties, but he was far more enmeshed in the dangerous politics of Ireland than the senior cleric. The first third of The Riddle of Father Hackett is an engrossing introduction to early twentieth-century Irish politics. As a priest Father Hackett was close to men of the Easter Uprising and the civil war of the early 1920s such as Robert Barton, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse, Robert Barton and Erskine Childers. He used his influence to shine light on Ireland’s plight by inviting English Quakers and Americans to tour the scenes of atrocities. His clerical garb protected him from unwanted British attention. Then in the midst of this dark turmoil Father Hackett was sent by the Jesuits to Australia. Continue reading

The Corkman Hotel and the Problem of Illegal Demolition of Historic Buildings

The pub as viewed from the diagonally opposite corner with blue sky in the background

The Corkman Irish Pub at 160 Leicester St, Carlton in Melbourne as it appears on the hotel’s website

Last week Melbourne residents were appalled at the news that an historic pub in inner-suburban Carlton had been illegally demolished. The Corkman Irish Pub was opened in 1857 as the Carlton Inn and was one of the few surviving buildings of that era. It was demolished a week after a fire damaged it. The Guardian reports that the developer claimed that damage from the fire made the building unsafe but a Melbourne Council building surveyor and other experts had inspected the building and found that the damage had not caused significant structural damage.

Sadly, this is not the first time that a historically valuable building has been illegally demolished in Melbourne. When I heard the news I was immediately reminded of the illegally demolished Toorak church that we passed by each day on the way home from work in the late 1980s. It stood half destroyed for years.

Toorak Wesleyan Church on the corner of Toorak and Williams roads, was illegally demolished in the 1980s.

Toorak Wesleyan Church on the corner of Toorak and Williams roads, was illegally demolished in the 1980s.

The problem is not confined to Victoria. Just this month in Brisbane two historically significant houses were demolished after a demolition application had been refused. Last year the New South Wales Land and Environment Court fined a developer for illegally destroying the facades of a row of shop fronts on Parramatta Road in Sydney. (You can read the full judgement from the New South Wales Land and Environment Court.)  Continue reading

Australian Professional Historians and Conference Excellence

Hello again! I have been very busy the last couple of months with some projects that will come to light in due course. But one of the causes of my ‘busyness’ was one of the best conferences I have attended. Read on…

Banner of the PHA VIC“Things they never taught me at history school” was the topic of a panel at last month’s national conference of the Professional Historians Association of Australia, but it could have been an alternative title for the event. The ‘Working History’ conference held in Melbourne was unlike any other history conference I have attended because it was about professional practice, not the findings from our research.

History is a profession. Universities are influential employers of historians. There are also people who are professional genealogists and family historians. These people have many years of experience and often have certificates of qualification in this field.

I belong to another group of historians who are represented by the Professional Historians Association of Australia. We run history consultancy businesses, work in galleries, libraries, archives, museums and governments. We do all sorts of work from heritage assessments to curating exhibitions to writing and presenting history on websites. Among other things this year I have been part of a multi-national team working on a biography of a successful business man originally from Queensland who died in the 1960s.

Professional consulting historians come across different issues to those working in academia. We have to run a business and need to meet and guide the expectations of clients. We are often working in the field of public history. The history we produce needs to appeal to audiences who are not trained in history and may only have a passing interest in it.

The Professional Historians of Australia has a branch in most states. I belong to the New South Wales and ACT branch. The national organisation and each branch has a website where anyone who wants to hire an historian can get guidance on how to hire an historian and a list of historians available for hire and their contact details. There are also some guidelines on fees for hiring consulting professional historians which is useful for negotiating contracts.

Working History Conference

Last month I presented at the Working History conference organised by the Professional Historians Association of Victoria together with the national body. The program was excellent. Over two days we discussed the particular issues that we face in our professional practices. This conference was not about the outcomes of our research – there are plenty of conferences that do that. The Working History conference was about how we run our businesses, communicating history, ethics, meeting the needs of clients etc. Around one hundred historians from around Australia and New Zealand attended.

It has been over a month since the conference ended but I found it so valuable that this week I went back over my notes and the conference tweets.   Continue reading