What a Weekend!

Lots of towels and hard work from a daughter with a mop and sponge minimised the flooding from under the door.

Lots of towels and hard work from a daughter with a mop and sponge minimised the flooding from under the door.

What a weekend! Stumbling Through History Links, my list of useful, free Australian history resources has burst into life thanks to readers suggesting links to add to the list and sharing the page on social media. This post will also come to the inbox of several new readers – welcome to my blog!

It was also a weekend where we bore the brunt of storms in Sydney. I had just made a breakthrough in my research when I looked out the window and said, “oh no”! It was ominous. I left my research breakthrough unrecorded and we rushed to the side door which has been the source of water flooding into the house several times in the last ten months. Just a couple of hours ago I had cleaned out the drain in front of the door, organised a pile of towels, a sponge, chamois, bucket and mop. We were armed and in position!

But I hadn’t counted on water flooding through the ceiling upstairs. I left a daughter furiously mopping up the water downstairs and ran upstairs with bowls, and a bucket. Already the carpet was squelchy. A five litre bucket filled in less than five minutes. I did a shuttle back and forth to the bathroom to empty the bucket and bowls. Continue reading

Historical Research on Show in Sydney All This Week

Conference sign stating name of conference

The Australian Historical Association conference is being held this week at the University of Sydney. Photo by Julie-Ann Robson

This week we can get a peek at the themes and topics will be in the histories we will be reading over the next few years.It is the week for the annual festival of history, more soberly known as the conference of the Australian Historical Association.

I have done a preliminary scan of the conference programs and the abstracts of papers to be presented at parallel sessions and in this post will share an overview of the conference.

Not surprisingly the words surrounding the issues of race, empire and colonialism in history dominate the abstracts. A perennial topic of interest at these conferences is the post-settlement history of Aboriginal Australians as well as other topics surrounding colonial life in Australia. We had a great plenary panel last week at the Global Digital Humanities conference on ‘Indigenous Digital Knowledge‘ which featured Australian Aboriginal academic researchers, including the Aboriginal historian, Julia Torpey. I wonder how many Aboriginal historians will be presenting at this year’s conference?

This theme is also reflected in the keynote presentations. If you are in Sydney this week, book now for a public lecture by leading Australian historian, Ann Curthoys. She will be speaking about ‘Race, Liberty, Empire: The foundations of Australian political culture’. This is a free event held at 5:15pm on Wednesday at the City of Sydney Library. Curthoys has written books such as Freedom Ride: A Freedomrider remembers, How to Write History that People Want to Read (co-written with Ann McGrath), Is History Fiction? (co-written with John Docker), and she has co-edited Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective (free via ANU Press and a great read). This is a great chance to hear an Australian author talk about the kind of history she writes. Continue reading

Conference, Hack, Conference

An Aussie Rules football match earlier this year in western Sydney. This is where I segue into a comment relating to the conferences but really, I don't think any of the international attendees at the conference at University of Sydney this week will be attending a footy match.

An Aussie Rules football match earlier this year in Western Sydney between Greater Western Sydney and Hawthorn. This is where I should segue into a comment relating to the conferences but really, I don’t think any of the international attendees at the conference at University of Sydney this week will be attending a footy match. I could also make a comment about attendees kicking goals and being ‘on the ball’ but that has been done before. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t find a photo that related to the subject matter.

Today I am embarking on a crazy eleven days. This week I am attending the International Digital Humanities Conference at the University of Western Sydney. When that ends on Friday, I then head to the State Library of NSW for the weekend of the GovHack competition. I’ll be there throughout the weekend extracting a variety datasets about World War I as part of a team which will produce something online which will help people gain greater insights into an aspect of the history of the War. Then on Monday 6th July the annual Australian Historical Association conference commences. I am delivering a paper at this conference.

Digital Humanities is an emerging discipline about the use of technology in humanities research. GovHack is an annual competition where Australian governments, and this year New Zealand, encourage people to use government datasets, merge them, filter them, visualise them and generally be creative with them in order to find new insights and help people to connect with this information. The WWIHack is part of the GovHack competition this year. Cultural institutions from around Australia and New Zealand are making available datasets about World War One available for the competition. All datasets are freely available for anyone to use, so even if you are not entering these competitions you can also have a look at them and see what you can make of them.

I am exhausted thinking about it, but in these two weeks I will learn so much that will be useful for my work. As well as an important learning opportunity these events will recharge my enthusiasm for my book and make me look at it in a new light.

I will be sharing my experience of these activities through blog posts and tweets. These are the hashtags I will be using on Twitter (@perkinsy) over the next couple of weeks:

I realised I had not explained what digital humanities and GovHack were when I wrote this late last night so I quickly added an explanatory paragraph this morning.

“Genealogists are becoming the new social historians” says professional historian

three women and one man standing in front of a table with flowers and two copies of Fractured Families standing up.

Lisa Murray (City of Sydney Historian), Jo Toohey (CEO of the Benevolent Society), Tanya Evans (author of Fractured Families) and Max Carrick (family historian mentioned in Fractured Families). Photo courtesy of the Benevolent Society.

“Australian history has been transformed by the contributions of family historians”, says Dr Tanya Evans, historian at Sydney’s Macquarie University. Her new book Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales, is the result of collaboration between Tanya Evans and some of the many family historians who have worked with the archives of Sydney’s oldest non-religious charity, The Benevolent Society.

“… genealogists are becoming the new social historians…”, remarks Evans in the prologue. She points to the painstaking research conducted by family historians which has revealed the lives of those of their forebears who were numbered among the poor and the outcast.  Fractured Families  is about those forgotten people of history and their descendants who cared enough to learn more about the difficult lives of their forebears.

The interest Evans has about the lives of poor people bubbles through the book as does her admiration of the work done by family historians. She sees great value in the work of family historians noting that, “… the more people who become involved in the endeavour, the richer and more democratic our knowledge will be.”

Cover of book

Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales, by Tanya Evans (UNSW Press, 2015).

Fractured Families is an easy book to pick up and put down. Each chapter has a new set of stories about the lives of those who sought assistance from The Benevolent Society during the long nineteenth century and the wealthier people who contributed to the care of the impoverished. The narrative meanders around the events of an eclectic group of lives. It is effectively a series of cameos. Sometimes the reader can engage with the people of the past, at other times the information conveyed is too fragmentary for the reader to feel moved by their stories.

The impact of these stories may have been greater if the photos that are bunched onto photo pages in the middle of the book had instead been inserted at the relevant places in the text. When dealing with fragmentary history, photos are a rich historical source which convey the story more powerfully if there are not enough words in the archives. Fractured Families includes two disturbing photos of emaciated babies which would have made the telling of the cold statistics of starvation and infant mortality in Sydney more potent if they had accompanied the relevant text. Unfortunately the high cost of producing books with photos scattered through the text is a serious limit in the effective use of photographs in the telling of histories such as this one.

This book does not have literary pretensions – there are too many “as described in chapter X” or “these are explored in chapter X” for that. The language used is very accessible with the occasional use of words such as ‘gendered’ or ‘power relations’ and a political earnestness which reflect the author’s academic roots. As befitting someone with Tanya Evans experience as a historical consultant for popular television programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? Evans has written a book that any general reader will find easy to read.

Continue reading

Aussie Rules Football in Melbourne and Sydney

A red and white t-shirt, dark blue t-shirt with Hawthorn logo on and a Hawthorn Football Club scarf

We’re kitted out for the AFL Grand Final here in Singapore. We have an old Swans t-shirt, a Hawthorn t-shirt and a Hawthorn scarf in case the air conditioning is too cold!

This post continues my series, Introduction to Australian History, which is written for people who have recently settled in Australia or live outside Australia and want an introduction to our history and culture.

This weekend the AFL Grand Final will be held between the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn football teams. This is a huge event. Around 100,000 fans flock to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (the MCG, or simply The Gee) for a full afternoon of intense Aussie Rules football. Over three million viewers will be glued to the game on television around Australia and it will be broadcast throughout the world.

Australia’s home-grown football code ranked fourth in the world for attendances at games in 2012. AFL games in 2013 attracted an average of 32,163 fans passionately barracking for their team. Only the US National Football League, the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League exceeded these attendances. AFL is the most prominent Australian Rules (Aussie Rules) competition in Australia, but it is only one among many Aussie Rules leagues in both cities and country areas. Continue reading

WWI Soldier’s Daughter to Speak About Peace

Head and shoulders photo of Judy Hassall

Judy Hassall

This Sunday in Sydney a human rights champion will be talking about her lifetime of work and how she was influenced in this work by her father, a veteran from World War I.

If you are in Sydney tomorrow morning I encourage you to attend.

Judy Hassall is the daughter of Archie Barwick whose wartime service has recently featured on the ABC television series, The War That Changed Us. Archie Barwick returned to Australia and lived a full life in northern New South Wales. He was more than a valiant soldier and expressive diarist. He helped to create a vibrant family and gave to his community. Judy Hassall is part of his legacy.

As I have written previously Judy has had a big impact on many lives, including mine. She used what she learned from her parents to spend a life time working to foster intercultural harmony and shining a light on human rights abuses. Continue reading

Travelling Back in Time

History is about time. That is so obvious that it is easy to take it for granted. While I have been moving I have been pondering what time means for my book.

Some Exciting News marked a new era for Stumbling Through the Past. I finished it on the last day I will be in Australia for some months. I hit the ‘publish’ button, then shut down my computer ready for the drive to Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne. I had finally reached the day I was going to Singapore.

Suitcases deposited, exorbitant overweight luggage charge paid, I zoomed away into the sky through the sunset and beyond, heading backwards in time.

I travelled further back than most.

Wiltshire standing with several soldiers sitting.

Captain Wiltshire (left) with soldiers at Gallipoli. Photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial H14019.

Ensconced in my seat I opened my laptop and went back to the evacuation of Gallipoli in World War I. Captain Wiltshire was marshalling his troops in their final march to the beach and the waiting ships. It was a dangerous time. If the Turks realised what was happening the Allied troops would have suffered massive casualties. Wiltshire described in his diary how the troops deadened the sound of their boots by wrapping torn blankets around them for their final march on the peninsula. The evacuation was a triumph snatched from the debacle that was Gallipoli. The soldiers reached the island of Lemnos safely. Continue reading