Review: South Australia on the Eve of War

Book Cover

South Australia on the Eve of War, edited by Melanie Oppenheimer, Margaret Anderson and Mandy Paul, (Mile End, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2017).

South Australia on the Eve of War paints a picture of life in South Australia before the outbreak of World War I. Its ten chapters, each written by a different historian, are easy to read overviews of various aspects of life in South Australia before the outbreak of war. These chapters provide an introduction to topics such as South Australian politics, families, the lives of immigrants, Aboriginal people, rural life and town planning. With the assistance of endnotes for each chapter, the curious reader can delve further into any topic that interests them.

The time between the 1890s and the outbreak of war in August 1914 should receive more attention as it was during this era that people formed the attitudes which they brought with them to the Great War. But history is more than a series of wars with a bit of peace in between. This era is fascinating in itself as it was the era which saw the birth of Australia as a newly unified nation. Continue reading

Review: My Ngarrindjeri Calling

Warning: This post contains references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased. The books referred to in this post may also contain references and images of deceased Aboriginal people.

My Ngarrindjeri Calling by Doreen Kartinyeri and Sue Anderson (Aboriginal Studies Press:  Canberra, 2008).

My Ngarrindjeri Calling by Doreen Kartinyeri and Sue Anderson (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2008).

“Never put black history on white paper” the elders taught her.  One time Doreen Kartinyeri did not follow this instruction. She wrote about secret women’s business on Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island), South Australia, in a bid to stop the desecration of important Aboriginal sites on the island.  The instruction, “to be read by women only” was written on the outside of the sealed envelope and it was sent to the office of the Federal minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra.

In this memoir Doreen Kartinyeri gives her explanation of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge controversy of the 1990s. Kartinyeri shares the story of her life and explains how she came to know about the secret women’s business. Her life story clearly establishes her expertise in Aboriginal knowledge and her identity as a Ngarrindjeri woman.

Kartinyeri was devastated when the Federal shadow minister for the environment, Ian McLachlan, threw her instructions aside and tabled the contents of the envelope in parliament.  “I knew I would pay for this error of judgement”, she says. “That day my mi: wi [soul, spirit] was ruptured. I should never have put black words on white paper, and my punishment for breaking that Ngarrindjeri law was about to begin.” “It was still no consolation when two days later McLachlan did resign or even when Deane Fergie brought the secret envelopes back from Canberra.  I was feeling really disturbed, really sick to my stomach about it all”.

A Royal Commission was held in South Australia to ascertain whether the Aboriginal women had fabricated evidence about secret women’s business. It concluded that they had lied. “I cried enough tears to flush the River Murray”, said Kartinyeri.

This book sears with emotion. Kartinyeri’s childhood on a mission living in a two-room house built from flattened kerosene tins was rent apart when her mother died. At the age of ten she was forced to leave the mission and live in the Fullarton Girls Home in Adelaide. Continue reading

New Year: Some reflections

Sydney Baha'i Temple

Baha’i Temple, Ingleside, Sydney.

Today is New Year for millions of people around the world.  21 March marks the equinox and also one of the most ancient festivals still celebrated today – Naw Ruz.  This festival is celebrated throughout central, western and southern Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus.

The reason that I am celebrating it is because it is also a holy day for Baha’is.  It marks the end of the annual nineteen day fast. The Baha’i Fast is a period of spiritual reflection for Baha’is.  It is an opportunity to replenish one’s spiritual batteries.

I really felt that I needed the Fast this year and was looking forward to it so much that I started my reading for the Fast early.  During February I had become bogged down in my reading and probably a bit jaded at life.  I needed the spiritual boost that the Fast gives.

Aside from reading the Holy Writings, I read several books about the Baha’i principle of equality between women and men.

Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God.”


Baha’u’llah is the Founder of the Baha’i Faith.  As you can see from the above quote, the equality between women and men is a foundational principle of the Baha’i Faith.

It had been years since I had read extensively about this Baha’i principle and given that it has animated so much of my views on the subject and my participation in initiatives such as the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, I chose this to be the theme of my reading during the Baha’i Fast. I read three books, one of which I have read before, however it is the end of the Fast and I haven’t finished reading any any of them.  For this reason I hesitate to call this a book review.  Rather this post is a summary of my reading journal for the Fast. Continue reading

Historical Evidence – Sometimes we will never know

Photo of front of two story red brick school building

Dorcas St State School, South Melbourne designed by Charles Webb and built in 1880

This post started as a simple report of a few presentations at last week’s Buildings, Books and Blackboards conference in Melbourne, then it became more reflective than a report before finally morphing into a discussion about how historians construct history.  Conferences are gatherings where historians learn and share.  However, as a result of writing these blog posts about the conference, my learning from the conference has continued well after the close of the event. Continue reading

Significant Historic Australian Education Collections – Deakin University, Geelong

Entrance to Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library

One of Australia’s most extensive collections for the history of education – the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University, Geelong.

While working on the Teaching Reading in Australia project I had the opportunity to work in some of the best archives in Australia for the history of education.  These archives are significant repositories of Australian history.  Some don’t get the attention they deserve, others are well recognised but their education collections are little known.  In this, the first of a series of occasional posts on education archives in Australia, I share with you the delights of one of the most extensive education collections that I know of in Australia.  It is held by the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University in the city of Geelong, Victoria. Continue reading

The Emergence of Anzac Day

Anzac Day procession, Brisbane, 1916.

Each year Australians and New Zealanders observe Anzac Day on 25th April.  ANZAC Day  is a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember their war-dead and the terrible suffering soldiers endured while carrying out what they were ordered to do.  25th of April was chosen for Anzac Day in recognition of the day when Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the shores of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War One.  This did not lead to victory but to a stalemate costing the lives of many men on both sides.  Anzac Day is not a celebration of military victories, nor is it a remembrance confined to memories of World War I.  It is a commemoration of the devastation wreaked by all military conflicts.

This post started with the question; how and when was the first Anzac Day commemorated?  I thought I knew the answer but as the process of writing for publication requires writers to carefully justify opinions and facts I did some further research.  The application of this discipline quite often leads to surprises for the writer on the way and this was certainly the case for me.
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Know Your Database

If you are interested in reading more about digital humanities, check out my other blog at

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.

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