Historians Walk the Talk

A man and a woman holding a wide photo.

Dr Ian Hoskins holding a copy of a panorama of Sydney Harbour photographed from Holtermann’s tower in 1875.

If you want to get to know an area better, enjoy history and some gentle outdoor exercise you should consider joining history walks.

Historians have been conducting history walks for many years.  You can join a walk guided by a historian or you can download the notes for a history walk and do the walk in your own time.

This week I joined a history walk conducted by North Sydney Council historian, Dr Ian Hoskins.  The walk was one of myriad events held throughout New South Wales last week for the annual festival of history – History Week.

Following Photography’s Footsteps’ introduced walkers to sites associated with nineteenth century patron of photography, Bernhardt Holtermann, as well as those linked with photographer of the construction of the Harbour Bridge, Frank Cash.  But it also included a lot more. Continue reading

Sausages and Australian Elections

After casting their ballots voters around Australia were greeted by cheery volunteers raising funds for their local school.

After casting their ballots voters around Australia were greeted by cheery volunteers raising funds for their local school.

Sausages and elections go hand in hand in Australia.  The schools and community centres which are used throughout the country as polling booths take advantage of elections to do some much-needed fundraising.  The most popular fundraising event is the sausage sizzle.

DSCN9935 White BreadAll that is needed is a barbeque, sliced white bread and tomato sauce to make a sausage sandwich.  Often fried onions are included.  I have no idea why manning the barbeque is traditionally a male thing.  In my family it isn’t.

But I digress.

Stumbling Through the Past was born a little over three years ago on the day of the last Federal election in 2010.  I was writing up my thesis which included discussion of the Federal election of 1910.  Writing about the Federal election of one hundred years ago was an obvious topic to launch my new blog. You can read that post here.

So I had to write an election day post today to celebrate the third anniversary of Stumbling Through the Past and pay homage to the event that helped me start my blog.  But what to write about?  I had planned to write a serious post about technology and elections, but it has been an intense week this week.  I was in no mood to write a serious post.

It came to me when I saw that “#sausage” was trending world-wide today on Twitter:

Continue reading

Search For WWI Soldier Diaries Held by State Library NSW

One of the many postcards soldiers sent their families from northern France during WWI.

One of the many postcards soldiers sent their families from northern France during WWI.

11/11/2013: I have taken down the page referred to in this post because the State Library of NSW has launched a new portal to their WWI collection and now have one page on their website which lists all the transcribed diaries. See my post ‘New WWI Website from State Library NSW‘ for an overview and links to the Library’s WWI pages.

Are the World War I diaries or letters of the person you are researching available on the website of the State Library of New South Wales?

The Library has a collection of over two hundred diaries written by people serving in WWI which they are transcribing and making available on their website.  Yesterday I gave a brief talk about my research using the LIbrary’s European War Collecting Project to professional historians from around Australia who were meeting in Sydney.  As I mentioned in my last post about Archie Barwick’s diaries, the State Library of NSW collected these diaries in the aftermath of WWI and volunteers are spending many hours transcribing them. This is an ongoing project, there are many more to transcribe.

After my talk yesterday some historians expressed interest in accessing this collection.  In order to assist professional historians and family historians access the collection I have created a spreadsheet listing the names of those who wrote the diaries which are held in the collection together with links to the pages on the State Library of NSW website where you will hopefully find the transcriptions and images of the pages of the diary you are interested in.

The spreadsheet is available on a new page on this blog, ‘Search WWI Diaries at State Library of NSW’.

Please let me know whether you find this spreadsheet useful in the comments below.

Happy searching!

Addendum 2/9/2013

The State Library has many plans for the centenary of WWI and is eager for people who are researching any of the authors of these diaries to contact them directly.  Please contact:

if you have any information about these diarists to share.

The Diaries of a WWI Soldier

Soldiers Diaries AdvCThere were many advertisements just like the one above, placed in newspapers around Australia after the end of World War I. The soldiers of Australia’s citizen army had finally returned and some of them brought with them intimate historical records of the war – the diaries they had composed on the battlefronts. The principal librarian of the State Library of New South Wales, supported by the Library’s trustees, recognised the value of these records and set about collecting them through these advertisements.

The European War Collecting Project is a significant collection held by the State Library of NSW. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been immersed in these soldier diaries. The volunteers at the State Library have done a tremendous amount of work transcribing them which is enabling me to examine the diaries digitally.

I am still in the midst of working with these diaries but I realised early on that the diaries of Archie Barwick are a significant part of this collection. The day after I had quickly glanced at one of his diaries I received an invitation to a book launch at the State Library of New South Wales. Harper Collins has recognised the significance of his diaries and has now released these diaries in book form.

four people gathered around a table looking at the original diaries.

Looking at Archie Barwick’s diaries at the launch: Elise Edmonds (State Library NSW), David Hassall, Judy Hassall and Alex Byrne (State Librarian, State Library NSW). Photographer: Joy Lai, State Library of NSW.

Continue reading

East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia

East of India logoMany Australians would be unaware of how much Indians have contributed to this country.  Indians have traded with Australia since the first European settlement; they have lived and worked here for over two hundred years.  Yet we don’t often hear about this aspect of Australian history.  The exhibition, ‘East of India: Forgotten trade with Australia’ currently being held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney is a welcome opportunity to learn more about this.

Understanding historical context is vital in good histories and this exhibition provides plenty of that.  The items shown in ‘East of India’ weave a story of power, wealth, violence, culture and everyday life.  The visitor is first immersed in the history of colonial India starting from the time when the Portuguese adventurer, Vasco da Gama, became the first European to find a sea route to India, to the Indian Rebellion in 1857.  During the age of empire it was the sea, not the land which provided the transportation through which European nations dominated the globe.

‘East of India’ has some stunning exhibits, among which is a map on a parchment from 1599 with a section of the northern coast of Australia labelled as ‘beach’. I couldn’t help thinking how appropriate that label is! I was also attracted to a tiny locket commemorating the wedding in 1662 between Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, Portugal.  What struck me as remarkable about the locket was not its form, but the enormity of what it represented.  Catherine’s dowry included the Portuguese territory of Bombay (now Mumbai).  I found it staggering that the wedding between two people could have such great repercussions for people who lived in a place that required months of arduous travel to reach. Continue reading

Quietly Pushing Barriers Aside

Every student attending Hamilton High School photographed standing outside school building in 1953

This photo of Hamilton High School in Victoria was taken when my mother was in Form 1 (year 7) in 1953.

This week came the disappointing news that the participation in Maths by girls in their final year of school in New South Wales is declining significantly.  In 2001, the first year when students were no longer required to study a Maths or science subject in year twelve in order to qualify for university entrance, 90.5% of girls studied Maths whereas 96.9% of boys did.

The disparity between the genders in participation in Maths was already noticeable in 2001.  Ten years later this disparity has worsened.  By 2011 girls participation in year twelve Maths had dropped to 78.2%.  The participation of boys had also decreased but not to such a degree.  In 2011 90.2% of boys studied year twelve Maths.

Rachel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at University of Sydney noted that this problem is partly due to the attitude about girls and women being bad at Maths.

There are many, many examples of girls and women excelling in Maths.  Jane Gleeson-White has highlighted the stories of three Australian women who are clearly brilliant at Maths.  She could have listed many more.

Unfortunately some dismiss these women as being ‘unusual’ (which is often code for ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’). Yet the story about Clio Cresswell, senior lecturer in mathematics and statistics at University of Sydney, caught my eye.  It is not the tale of success in maths one would expect.  Cresswell told Jane Gleeson-White that she struggled with maths at school.  What led Clio Cresswell to ultimately succeed in maths at a high level?  Read Jane Gleeson-White’s post to find out!

In this post I want to highlight a story of an ordinary woman and her quiet determination to participate in science and to study Maths.  She was not brilliant at Maths but she enjoyed it and wanted to pursue it. Her story demonstrates some of the subtle and not so subtle barriers that dissuade many women from studying Maths and Science.

This woman is my mother. 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