Tweeting the 2016 Australian Historical Association Conference

Street lamp in foreground with powerlines and buildings behind it obscured by a blanket of fog. The sun is a bright ball peeking weakly through the fog.

Conference tweeps shared a lot of photos and comments about the bleak Ballarat weather…
@AuthorClaireG tweeted about a conference excursion, “Off to the Springdallah goldfields on a very foggy morning!” The weather was drab in Ballarat last week, but this week it snowed.

Last week there was a flurry of Australian history tweeting emanating from Ballarat in Victoria. The 2016 annual conference of the Australian Historical Association was held in the old gold city and over three hundred presenters from universities, galleries, libraries, archives, museums and small businesses talked all things history.

I have attended the last four conferences, but not this year. I was one of those who following the conference twitter stream from afar. At times it was too easy to get drawn into the twitter stream and distracted from what I was supposed to be doing!

In previous years I have given an overview of the conference Twitter stream. I was particularly enthusiastic last year with three posts: the numbers and people in 2015, Twitter themes in 2015, top retweets in 2015. Also see the social media overview for 2013. So how was the 2016 conference reported on Twitter?

This year over two hundred people and organisations sent tweets using the conference hashtag, #OzHA2016. This is great. The more people tweeting the more likely we are to get a good coverage of the conference and a diversity of views. The list of people tweeting using the conference hashtag naturally includes a few people who only tweeted once or twice. I noted last year that the 2015 conference twitter stream was dominated by eleven voices contributing 76% of the tweets. This was in line with the conference twitter stream in 2013. I was delighted to see that this year a lot more people were responsible for this percentage of tweets. Thirty-nine people/organisations contributed 77% of the conference tweets.

It is in this context that we should consider the total number of conference tweets. This year saw fewer tweets than the conference last year. Between the conference start on Monday 4th July and the conference end on Friday there were 1,724 tweets sent compared to 2,625 tweets last year. There was some confusion at the beginning of the conference about the conference hashtag which would have led to some conference tweets not being counted, but I would argue that the fact that the top eleven tweeters were not dominating the tweets anywhere near as much as last year made this year’s conference hashtag a valuable one for people following afar. Continue reading

Big Questions in History: Historians and Public Policy

‘Big Questions in History’ has been the topic of the final plenary panel session at the last few conferences of the Australian Historical Association. These plenary panels have been my favourite session at every conference I have attended. The panels discuss some aspect of historians engaging with people who are not historians. Last year the plenary panel discussed ‘Who is our Audience’. This year the topic was ‘How can Historians Influence Policy’.

This was a powerful session. The ‘Big Questions’ series is always a good demonstration that history really matters, that it is not some arcane, abstract discipline. It matters to every person on the planet. If you get the history wrong, if you hide the uncomfortable bits, injustice ensues.

History opens up the possibility that it doesn’t have to be like this, Professor Ann McGrath said in her opening remarks as chair of the panel. History shows that we can take action to change things, she said.

Book cover of The Reef

The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman (Penguin: 2013).

If historians want to influence society then they need to get involved with communities said Professor Iain McCalman from the University of Sydney. He is a historian who feels deeply about the subject of his writing and it showed in his impassioned delivery at the start of the plenary panel. His book is titled, Reef: A Passionate History. He talked about how he could use his status as an author to discuss current issues concerning the management of the Great Barrier Reef with the media. He pointed out that historians can do powerful work with local communities and activists on issues.

Professor Tom Griffiths of the Australian National University concurred. “It is worth going straight to the people”, he said. “It is the ordinary people who are leading innovation re renewable energy… The people are moving faster on this issue than we can measure… They are acting on their pragmatism and dreams.” Continue reading

Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Book cover of Dark Emu

Dark Emu: Black seeds agriculture or accident by Bruce Pascoe (Broome, WA: Magabala Books, 2014).

While the Australian Historical Association conference was being held this week an important annual national celebration was taking place. This year the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Day of Commemoration Week, commonly known as NAIDOC Week runs from 6th to 13th July. Lisa Hill at the ANZ LitLovers Lit Blog runs the Indigenous Literature Week book reviewing challenge to coincide with NAIDOC Week each year.

It is tricky as I want to participate but each year it coincides with the Australian Historical Association Conference. There is nothing like a bit of determination to find a way though. Each year I choose two books to review, one by a female author and another by a male author. I read the first one in the weeks leading up to NAIDOC Week and post the review right at the beginning of the Week, but the other I struggle to read and review in NAIDOC Week. The review often comes out later… but I’ve managed to fit it in this year!

I had a wonderful day reading Dark Emu: Black seeds: agriculture of accident? by Bruce Pascoe. Engagingly written, full of interesting material and a modest 176 pages, it was the ideal end-of-conference read. Continue reading

Design 29: Creating a Capital

View of Canberra from Mount Ainslie

Canberra viewed from Mount Ainslie with the War Memorial in the foreground (the green dome), the white buildings of the old parliament house on the avenue across the lake leading to the new parliament house on Capital Hill. Photo by Alan Perkins.

This is the year of Canberra.  The celebrations of the centenary of its founding mark a point where Canberra can reflect on its past.  The one hundredth anniversary which coincided with one of my daughters moving to Canberra has caused me to rethink my attitude to the city and recognise that as a place I should take it more seriously.

A couple of months ago I wrote a review of an exhibition about the designers of Canberra, Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin that was held at the National Library of Australia.  Recently I visited a related exhibition held at the National Archives of Australia about the competition for the design of Canberra and the early glimmerings of the emergence of the capital. Continue reading

The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s capital

colour map of the proposed city of Canberra.

Preliminary plan of Canberra by Walter Burley Griffin, 1914. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

The capital city of Australia is a twentieth century creation.  It emerged from a paddock in rural New South Wales one hundred years ago.  On 12th March 1913 Lady Denman, the wife of Australia’s Governor-General, stood on the newly laid foundation stones and announced the name of the city to be – Canberra.

The city had already been born by the time the crowd gathered in the empty paddock to hear its chosen name.  The ideas for the built structures had flowed from the minds of American architect Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in Chicago over fifteen thousand kilometres away.  In turn their design was indebted to the ancient landscape on which it was to be built and the indigenous people who nurtured that environment and from whose language the name of the city was derived.

This year is the centenary of the founding of Canberra.  It is also the year when one of our daughters moved to Canberra so we will be visiting it more often than we usually do.  Last month we fitted in a visit to the National Library where I saw their exhibition, ‘The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s Capital’. Continue reading

Book Review: Flood Country by Emily O’Gorman

Author, Emily O'Gorman holding her book, Flood Country

Author, Emily O’Gorman at the Sydney launch of her book, Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin (Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing, 2012).

I would never have read this book if it wasn’t for twitter.

Last year I came across the twitter stream of the University of Wollongong’s, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (@AUSCCER) and those of researchers who work at the Centre.  I have enjoyed these tweets about geography and the environment . One day I noticed their tweets about the Sydney launch of a book written by one of the researchers at the Centre, Flood Country: an Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin.  Happily I was free at that time and could attend.

People remain connected to and dependent on the natural environment despite all our inventions designed to make us more comfortable.  However, our technology and structures have lulled us into thinking that we are immune from the vagaries of our environment.  We get a nasty shock when this veil is ripped from us in a fire, drought or flood and we are forced to confront a difficult reality.

It is no accident that I decided to read Flood Country this month.  I was going to read another book but the flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald prompted me to change my plans.

My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s.  This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.

My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s. This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.

In Flood Country author, Emily O’Gorman uses the case studies of four floods to examine the relationship between the European settlers and the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin.  She covers a broad sweep of European settlement starting with the flood in Gundagai in 1852, then moving on to the flooding of Bourke in 1890, Mildura in 1956 and the flooding in south-western Queensland in 1990.  In between the accounts of these floods are chapters that tease out particular issues of the period such as the differing approaches to regulation of water for the pastoral and mining industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the rise of the engineered solution to water management in the twentieth century. Continue reading

Thistle Thoughts

ute full of thistles

Our family’s harvest of thistles. Photo by Alan Perkins.

Today I was inspired while weeding.  This was not the dainty weeding that one does in a household garden bed.  No, one afternoon on my Christmas holidays I spent the afternoon with the rest of our family pulling thistles out of an infested paddock on my brother’s farm.  When I wasn’t pulling thistles I was chief thistle spotter and bag puller.  As you can see from the photo we filled one ute tray with thistles and there’s still more to be done.

Top half of a flowering thistle plant.

A photo of a thistle is better than the real thing – no prickles! Photo by Alan Perkins

So I suppose you are thinking that given we were weeding on such a large scale that my inspiration must be similarly large, maybe even momentous.  You may be right.  In fact my inspiration was so compelling that I have passed on a game of scrabble to share my inspiration with you.

It all started with a simple question.  Why, oh why, did Tasmania’s early settlers feel so compelled to transport such a dastardly prickly plant thousands of kilometres from its home in Scotland and plant it in the antipodes? Continue reading