Know Your Database

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Over the last week I finally got a chance to try out the tools that Wragge (aka Tim Sherratt) has devised to mine digitised historic Australian newspapers accessed through Trove. This post is about the results of applying his tools.  If you want to do this yourself check out Wragge’s posts, Mining the Treasures of Trove (Part 1) and (Part 2). Firstly let’s look at Wragge’s graph of a topic that I have been writing about this year – floods.

Graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers, from the early 19th century to the late 1950s

Wragge's graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers since the early 19th century.

Wragge has produced the graph above  showing the occurrence of the word “floods” in Australian newspapers digitised and accessible on the Trove website.  As we would expect the word is mentioned more in years when there was severe flooding such as 1893.

Continue reading

The Transformation of a Word

Dana Street2

Dana St. Primary School, Ballarat. Built in 1856. (Source: Wikimedia)

We all know that the meaning of words can change over time.  Words such as gay and cool are used in ways not contemplated one hundred years ago.  Historians need to be aware of this when reading old texts.  In my research of the  education debates in the Australasian colonies from the 1860s to 1914, I had to understand what the word ‘secular’ meant at the time.  It is much more complex than I would have ever imagined.  The word ‘secular’ has not just changed – it has undergone an extraordinary transformation. Continue reading

And the Speeches Went On and On and on and….

I had no trouble listening to Rob Oakeshott’s speech yesterday when he took over sixteen minutes to tell us he was going to support Labor in parliament.  Announcing his decision at the end of the speech rather than the beginning was a sure way to keep our attention.  Would we have listened to his comments if he had announced his decision first?

Oakeshott’s speech was nothing compared to what politicians dished up in 1910.  For the last few weeks I have been reading the parliamentary debates regarding Queensland’s Bible in State Schools referendum and the subsequent amendment to the Education Act that reintroduced religious instruction into Queensland’s schools.  We know that parliamentary debates can be lengthy but one debate on the issue in October 1910 went on for twenty three hours – yes, 23 hours!  They started at 4pm and finished at 2:20pm the next day with a 75 minute break for breakfast.  Yes, they were complaining at 2:45am but they soldiered on.

As we all know, our productivity and thought processes drop when we lack sleep.  Sometimes we get plain silly.  Take this observation from a member in the wee hours of the morning:

Mr. Murphy pointed out that religious instruction was taught in the schools in Portugal in the morning, and that might have had some influence on the revolution going on in that country.

Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 6 Oct. 1910, p. 1323.

Not suprisingly no-one responded to this comment.  Or maybe they did but the Hansard reporter was having a micro-sleep at the time.  The Hansard reporter had given up transcribing everything and had started to summarise.  The politicians chose to debate at these unusual hours.  Hansard reporters had no choice.

And in the interests of not emulating the loquaciousness of these politicians I will sign off!

Seeking Information about Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910

I have added a brief page outlining my current research interest – religion in state schools. Click the tab above and find out more.

Throughout my research on Queensland’s Bible in State schools referendum of 1910 I have been surprised at the absence of photos of the 1910 federal election and state referendum.  There were plenty of cameras around in 1910.  Commentators at the time talk about the posters, the badges and ribbons worn by supporters of issues and candidates on polling day, and the prominence of women in the canvassing.  Surely some photos have survived to today?

Members of the executive committee of Queensland's Bible in State Schools League

Executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League. Source: John Oxley Library

The campaign for the Bible in State schools referendum was conducted by volunteers throughout Queensland.  The minute book of the executive of the Bible in State Schools League is held at the John Oxley Library and I have tracked down the minute book for the Warwick branch of the League.  Branches of the League were established throughout Queensland.  Where are their records?  Women were important for fundraising and campaigning.  Do you know where the records of the Women’s branch of the Bible in State Schools League are?

I am interested in reconstructing the voting process on polling day.  With the help of a report in The Brisbane Courier I am taking a close look at voting at the Bulimba School of Arts.  I am interested in any photos of this building prior to World War I.  Naturally accounts of the day written by people who were there and photos of the polling booth and those who were manning it would be icing on the cake.

My first point of call on these questions are libraries and local history groups in Queensland, but I thought I would also throw the question over to people in the virtual world.  Was your great grandmother one of these canvassers?  Did your great grandfather belong to one of the branches of the Bible in State Schools League?  Was your church hall the site of one of the public meetings of the Bible in State Schools League?  Maybe you have photos or posters that were used on the day or during the campaign?

Please feel free to share your information in a comment to the blog below or contact me at


  • Photo of the executive committee of the Bible in State Schools League, State Library of Queensland, Neg. 121189.