Islamic Museum of Australia

White building with large grey Arabic writing on it

My mother outside the Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne.

“I would like to visit the Islamic Museum,” said my mother when I visited her in Melbourne last year. My mother likes visiting art exhibitions, but she doesn’t visit many museums. Her request surprised me. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like many people she has been appalled at the anti-Muslim rhetoric which is too often heard nowadays. She has always been interested in other cultures. Why wouldn’t she as a Christian be interested in learning about Islam?

Things intervened but we finally visited the Islam Museum in time for its third anniversary. The building is a striking design which declares the Australian roots of the Museum and its place in our modern world. It is adorned with an Arabic excerpt from the Quran which translated reads:

So narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect

And we certainly did a lot of reflecting inside. 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

A Lesson in Life: Book Review of Auntie Rita

Warning: This post contains references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased. The books and links referred to in this post may also contain references and images of deceased Aboriginal people.

ilw-2016Each July, book blogger Lisa Hill encourages bloggers to review books written by indigenous authors from around the world. She chooses ‘Indigenous Literature Week’ to coincide with the Australian annual celebration of indigenous culture, NAIDOC Week.

Book cover of Auntie Rita

Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins and Jackie Huggins (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1994).

This week was NAIDOC Week so I searched my book shelves for a book to read by an indigenous author. As I have already reviewed two new books by Australian Aboriginal authors this year (Finding Eliza by Larissa Behrendt and Pictures from my memory by Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis) I decided to review a highly regarded book from the 1990s. Twenty-two years after it was first published I have finally read Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins and Jackie Huggins.

Rita Huggins shares her life from her earliest years living on her country in what we know as Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland. The land sustained her Bidjara-Pitjara people but born in 1922, Rita Huggins and her people were in the sights of a government which was forcibly removing Aboriginal people from their land and into reserves. Rita Huggins tells of the traumatic day when she and her family were herded onto a crowded cattle truck and taken on a long journey south to what became known as the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve. She never lived on her country again.

This book is not a standard memoir. It is also a dialogue between Rita Huggins and her daughter Jackie. At various points through the narrative Jackie Huggins expands on points her mother makes, add her memories and sometimes challenges her mother. In doing this both mother and daughter are unsettling the memoir genre. We are all social beings. We not only live in a social context, we are challenged and have to adjust our thoughts and behaviours in response to those we live and work with. Yet writing a memoir is one of the most solitary practices. The dialogue in this memoir gives us a peek into a mother/daughter relationship. While Auntie Rita quite rightly dominates the book, the reader at times has the feeling that they are at a kitchen table listening to Auntie Rita talk about her life with Jackie sometimes chiming in with a comment about what her mother is saying. Auntie Rita says: Continue reading

Second-Hand Bookshopping in Brisbane

Hubble and I enjoy rummaging through second-hand bookshops. They are treasure troves. I buy some new books, but I am building up my Australian history collection by finding out of print, sometimes obscure gems in second-hand bookshops. Often these books are hard to find in a library near me – particularly if they solely relate to a state other than the state in which I live. I visited two great second-hand bookshops while I was in Brisbane recently. I left Sydney with a 10kg suitcase and returned with a 20kg suitcase full of second-hand books.

Red brick building with 'Archives Fine Books' sign at the bottom and "John Mills Himself' formed in concrete at the top.

Archives Fine Books in Charlotte Street, Brisbane

Book cover

Soldiers of the Service Vol II, edited by Eddie Clarke and Tom Watson (Church Archivists’ Press, 1999).

For a number of years I have been visiting Archives Fine Books in Charlotte Street. Recently I found a large room at the back of the shop that I had not been aware of. In this room I found Soldiers of the Service Volume II: More Early Queensland Educators and their Schools. Not too many people would get excited by this title, but it should be a good reference book for my work about the history of education in Queensland. I bought it because I thought it would be difficult to borrow from a library in Sydney where I live. Not only is it available in very few libraries, there was not one image of the front cover on the internet until I photographed my own and uploaded it. Now I need to find a copy of Volumes I and III. Given the interest in this book (see comments) I have added a list of the chapter titles of this book at the end of this post.

I also picked up some old school readers. School readers are generally not digitised. I am purchasing readers when I can so that I can digitise them at home using my camera, a cardboard box, a lamp and some optical character recognition (OCR) software to convert print to machine readable text using these instructions. Once I have done this I can easily analyse the text in these readers.

Continue reading

National Reconciliation Week Review: Pictures from my memory

Book cover

Pictures from my memory: My story as a Ngaatjatjarra woman by Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2016).

It is Reconciliation Week this week. An important aspect of the act of reconciliation in Australia is non-indigenous Australians listening, pondering and accepting the experiences of the first Australians. There are many ways we can participate. I chose to read the recently published memoir of a woman from the centre of Australia – Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis.

Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis is a Ngaatjatjarra woman who was born near the border of Western Australia and Northern Territory. Her parents met white people for the first time around the time she was born. Ellis explains that it was a time of extended drought in the desert which is why Ngaatjatjarra people decided to live in white people’s settlements. This is a reminder that first contact and colonialism occurred unevenly across the Australian continent.

Pictures from my memory is a story of achievement. Marrkilyi Ellis tells her story in a straight-forward manner. She proved adept at straddling the cultural divide from a young age. “I loved school”, she says. “I loved learning to read and write.” But she was also learning much from her family and community. While sharing her life story she explains to the reader some aspects of her culture in chapters about “belief systems”, “working and sharing”, “Aboriginal nights”. These chapters fit well within the narrative flow of her story. Continue reading

Anzac Day: Reflecting on Australia’s Diverse Experiences of War

Small plaque set in a boulder in a natural landscape.

On a walking track across the road from the Australian War Memorial is this memorial to Aboriginal people who have served in Australian defence forces. Find your way to this simple place of reflection on Canberra’s Mount Ainslie via the Creative Spirits website.

I have written several posts over the years about the origins of Anzac Day from the Anzac Day celebration in South Australia in 1915 and the solemn commemoration in Brisbane on 25th April 1916 marking the first day that the Australian and New Zealand troops, together with large numbers of troops from other countries in the Allied forces attacked the Ottomans on the beaches of the Gallipoli peninsula.

I have written about the strong Christian history of Anzac Day that still permeates our Anzac Day ceremonies today (see, for example the 2016 national Anzac Day order of service – pdf), and the early observances of the Anzac Day silence – a reverent, respectful pause to remember the wreckage wrought by war. In another post I wondered about how respectful Australians really are when I found Anzac logos emblazoned on some rubbish bins.

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of Anzac Day and the 101st anniversary of the landing of Allied troops at Gallipoli. This anniversary is an opportunity for deep reflection about how this day can continue to reflect the ongoing history of Australia and our society’s needs both now and for the future.

It is understandable that the effects of World War I and the second part of this maelstrom which was World War II continue to reverberate today. Anzac Day focuses on the Australian and New Zealander contribution to these horrific conflict, so much so that we might forget to reflect on the enormity of these wars on a global scale. Statistics on World War I are hazy, but one estimate suggests that 65 million troops were deployed in the War, over half of whom were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The impact of World War I on Australia was significant, and so it was in many other countries throughout the world.

In my Anzac Day post last year I wrote about how the fighting at Gallipoli was not simply between the Ottoman forces and the soldiers from the Antipodes accompanied by a few, much maligned British officers. The Allied forces were represented by men and women from both the British and the French empires. It was a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual combined effort. In that post I focused on the too often forgotten contribution of Indian soldiers in the battles of the Gallipoli peninsula.

Australia today is very different to Australia one hundred years ago. The 2011 census showed that 1 in 4 Australians were born overseas and 43 percent of Australians had at least one parent born overseas. While people born in Britain continue to dominate these figures and nine percent came from New Zealand, the 2011 census showed that six percent of Australians were born in China and 5.6 percent were born in India. There were people born in China and India who lived in Australia one hundred years ago and some served in the AIF during World War I, but by any account Australia has a more diverse population now.

Does today’s Anzac Day reflect the fact that many Australians had no forebears living in Australia one hundred years ago? A few days ago historian, Carolyn Holbrook observed that Anzac Day is so powerful that marginalised groups in Australia seek to be linked to this national day. “These groups do not criticise Anzac for its militaristic, colonial or racist connotations”, Holbrook observed. “Rather they seek to be embraced by it.” Yet many Australians would find it difficult to successfully weave their stories into the Anzac Day legend. Continue reading

Review: Finding Eliza by Larissa Behrendt

Book cover

Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling by Larissa Behrendt (UQP, 2016).

Larissa Behrendt has written a nuanced and engrossing book about colonial attitudes as they operated through a particular Australian colonial ‘captivity tale’. Using the story told by Eliza Fraser who was helped by the Aboriginal people of Fraser Island after surviving a ship wreck in 1836, Behrendt turns the colonial gaze back on itself to examine the motives, the fears and the deficiencies of the Europeans as revealed in stories such as Eliza’s.

Behrendt uses her background as a novelist to examine the dramatic elements that drive the stories of Eliza Fraser.  These stories were written to satisfy the expectations of British readers for a tale of ‘barbaric natives‘, gripping adventure with a dash of sexual danger to titillate the audience. Behrendt retells the story from the point of view of the Butchulla people, the Aboriginal people of Fraser Island. She then goes on to demonstrate how various fictions justified colonial violence against indigenous people and wended their way into the legal framework that supported the dispossession of land from the traditional owners. Behrendt shows the power of stories, whether they are fictional, historical or legal in shaping a narrative that can perpetrate violence, but how these stories can also be used to dismantle the structures that caused great injustices.

In Finding Eliza Larissa Behrendt examines gender across the racial divide in colonial settler society. She rejects a simplistic judgement of Eliza Fraser’s role in all this. Behrendt acknowledges Eliza’s strength and tenacity to not only survive what would have been a terrifying ordeal for a middle-class European woman but to take the initiative to tell her story in a European culture where women’s voices struggled to be publicly heard. Continue reading