We did it! I was part of an international research project that has led to the publication of this book. No Substitute for Kindness: The Story of May and Stanley Smith (May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, 2017).
Stanley Smith was an Australian businessman, WWII operative in China and expert horticulturalist. His life took him from a comfortable Brisbane upbringing to the danger of war and finally to a life half-way across the world. His Chinese-born wife, May Wong, grew up during the civil war in China and the fighting against Japanese occupation. May and Stanley met through their work for British propaganda and intelligence in the Chinese wartime capital of the city then known as Chungking (Chongqing).
Together the lives of Stanley and May Smith make a gripping read in the newly published book, No Substitute for Kindness. Commissioned by one of the philanthropic funds established by the couple, a team of researchers and writers from the United States, England and Australia have pieced together a fascinating biography.
I was one of the historians who worked on the book. My principal task was to research the early years of Stanley Smith’s life. He was born in Brisbane in 1907 and was a student at Eagle Junction State School. Stanley then won a state scholarship to the Church of England Grammar School or ‘Churchie’ as it is commonly known. Continue reading →
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 →
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.
Archives Fine Books in Charlotte Street, Brisbane
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.
We had pre-purchased our tickets for the Brisbane Lions vs Hawthorn game so bypassed the ticket queue but the small ticket windows at the Gabba caught my eye. I wonder what it is like for the ticket sellers working behind these portholes?
Last week I was back in Brisbane. Family from Melbourne and Sydney joined our Brisbane family to watch the Hawthorn vs Brisbane Lions football game at the Gabba. After an enjoyable family weekend, I stayed on for a few days to do some research. That plan was somewhat hijacked when my brand new laptop had a major failure. I had to use a spreadsheet on a tablet while I was working in the archives. It was a slow and fiddly way to work. Tablets are great, but not for working with spreadsheets.
I was going to blog about my stay, but I was about to copy a draft of this post from my computer to my blog when my laptop failed and I couldn’t access the document. These computer problems made me rather grumpy for a couple of days but I decided to stop dwelling on my first world problems and from then on I enjoyed my visit.
I am back in Sydney now and have decided to share with you the posts I was planning to publish last week. In a happy coincidence I have found out it is Queensland Week. Queensland Week celebrates the separation of Queensland from New South Wales on 6th June 1859. So now I have a good pretext for publishing my Queensland posts this week.
During our football weekend we stayed at Kangaroo Point which is walking distance to the Gabba. One of the families I have been researching lived in this area in the late nineteenth century but I knew that this is one of the most heavily developed areas of Brisbane so I was not expecting to find any of the buildings connected with this family.
I like walking the streets trodden in the past by the people I am researching. Even if there have been a lot of changes one can still gain a sense of the topography and how the places they frequented related to each other. Sometimes one can strike it lucky and find a building that has survived a century of urban redevelopment. On a morning walk we found such a place. The schools my family had attended had been demolished, but the church next to these schools has survived. Continue reading →
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 →