Chinese Settlers in Atherton, Queensland

Old Chinese Temple

The Hou Wang Temple on the outskirts of Atherton, Qld.

Through a gap in our back fence we could see the lone building in the middle of a paddock. Surrounded by grass it stood solidly and silently. The building received few visitors but we knew it was significant and deserving of care.

The building was a Chinese Temple and was all that remained of a vibrant Chinese settlement in the town of Atherton in Far North Queensland. When we were living there at the end of the century the sound of voices were rarely heard around the Temple.

The grass had grown long. 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

Women and Archival Silences

Rows of floor to ceiling shelves.

Records of women's history are often missing or obscured in archives such as these, but with creativity and persistence historians can do a lot to recognise the enormous contribution of women to our society in the past.

Archives are not neutral.  We can’t keep everything so choices have to be made and those choices reflect the values of the people making the decisions about what to keep and what to discard.  In the past people such as women, non-Europeans, Aborigines, the poor etc were not considered important contributors to our history so their stories are often not portrayed in archival records, or they were obscured in the archives by the social conventions of the time.  If the archival records were taken at face value they would reveal a distorted view of the past.  It is the job of historians to be alert to this distortion, to question the records and to look for the fleeting clues that indicate that there is something missing.

Women are often the subject of archival silences and diminution.  I confronted this when researching for my honours thesis about the Queensland ‘Bible in State Schools’ referendum of 1910. In this article one of Brisbane’s major newspapers attributed the passing of the referendum to the role of women.  Just five years previously most women in Queensland had been granted the right to vote at state polls.  A statement in the Anglican Church’s newsletter, The Church Chronicle, indicated that women didn’t just vote, they immersed themselves in the campaigning work.  This was an era when women were not considered important contributors to politics, yet they were being publicly acknowledged for their significant contribution by major media outlets.  I wanted to know more. Continue reading

Top 10 Posts for 2011

two women playing cricket

We have had lots of fun playing family cricket on the nearby oval these holidays. Here I am wicket keeping while my sister-in-law is batting. Photo by Ian Woolward

Blogs and cricket have something important in common – statistics!  This week I’ve enjoyed spending lots of time with my family visiting from interstate and watching the exciting Boxing Day test match between India and Australia.  It was a great example of test cricket – four days of see-sawing between the teams until Australia finally won.   I tried to write a blog post while watching the cricket but the cricket was way too interesting for me to write anything worth posting.   Instead, I thought I would join the other bloggers out there and create a list of the posts on this blog that generated the most hits in 2011. Continue reading

The Regime of the Coin Tea Has Come…

Person holding penny over cup and saucer on a table with other coins on it.

Coin tea anyone?

“The regime of the coin tea has come”, declared ‘Sympathiser‘ in the Brisbane Courier  in 1909.  This announcement was apt.  If you do a search for ‘coin tea’ on the National Library of Australia’s  online newspaper database (Trove) you will be struck by how popular this form of fundraising appears to have been in Queensland during the early twentieth century until the outbreak of World War II.  94% of articles and advertisements containing the phrase ‘coin tea’ in the Trove database (as at 28/7/2011) were published in Queensland. Continue reading