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

Exhibition of Soldier Diaries at State Library NSW

war diaries sitting amongst red poppies

Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

We gasped as we entered the exhibition. The enormous room was dominated by a wall of hundreds of World War I diaries. Born at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, the Middle East or on an Australian naval boat, these diaries now sit in the calm and comfortable conditions of a new exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales.

There are big diaries, little diaries, stout ones and thin ones. Some contain pragmatic accounts of the experiences of the diarists; others contain discussions of the literature they read and their thoughts as they battled internally about the horrors they were participating in.

The State Library of New South Wales has launched a major new exhibition that draws on the wealth of material in the diaries. Life Interrupted: Personal Diaries from World War I is comprehensive. It includes the familiar aspects of Australian participation that you would expect – Gallipoli, the Western Front and the Middle East. But it also includes the often overlooked military action by the Australian Navy and World War I in New Guinea. The exhibition has a section on Australian prisoners of War and scattered throughout are the words of a World War I nurse and army chaplains. Continue reading

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2014: What I learned

A glorious day at the hub of the Sydney Writers' Festival at Walsh Bay.

A glorious day at the hub of the Sydney Writers’ Festival at Walsh Bay.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a wonderful celebration of books. Who says the book is dead when over 80,000 people flocked to hear writers talk about their work! The program featured 450 writers talking at sixty venues throughout Sydney. I only heard six authors at the Festival but I was happy. Just attending two sessions allowed me to come away with a little more understanding about books.

Adrian McKinty, PM Newton and Malla Nunn are crime writers with a lot to say. They have good rapport with each other making the ‘Keeping it Real: Crime as Social History’ session an enjoyable event. Their discussion touched on the reasons why I like the novels of PM Newton so much. Place is very important in her work. She explores what I call the ‘real Sydney’, the one that is grimy, slightly dysfunctional and people living life hard.

Malla Nunn said that the work of all three authors is a good example of the ‘social novel’ or the ‘social problem novel’. These types of novels explore real social issues in real places. The work of Charles Dickens such as Oliver Twist is a good example of the social novel, as is John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Newton pointed out that the modern social novel is most often seen in crime fiction. Continue reading

Historians Walk the Talk

A man and a woman holding a wide photo.

Dr Ian Hoskins holding a copy of a panorama of Sydney Harbour photographed from Holtermann’s tower in 1875.

If you want to get to know an area better, enjoy history and some gentle outdoor exercise you should consider joining history walks.

Historians have been conducting history walks for many years.  You can join a walk guided by a historian or you can download the notes for a history walk and do the walk in your own time.

This week I joined a history walk conducted by North Sydney Council historian, Dr Ian Hoskins.  The walk was one of myriad events held throughout New South Wales last week for the annual festival of history – History Week.

Following Photography’s Footsteps’ introduced walkers to sites associated with nineteenth century patron of photography, Bernhardt Holtermann, as well as those linked with photographer of the construction of the Harbour Bridge, Frank Cash.  But it also included a lot more. Continue reading

East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia

East of India logoMany Australians would be unaware of how much Indians have contributed to this country.  Indians have traded with Australia since the first European settlement; they have lived and worked here for over two hundred years.  Yet we don’t often hear about this aspect of Australian history.  The exhibition, ‘East of India: Forgotten trade with Australia’ currently being held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney is a welcome opportunity to learn more about this.

Understanding historical context is vital in good histories and this exhibition provides plenty of that.  The items shown in ‘East of India’ weave a story of power, wealth, violence, culture and everyday life.  The visitor is first immersed in the history of colonial India starting from the time when the Portuguese adventurer, Vasco da Gama, became the first European to find a sea route to India, to the Indian Rebellion in 1857.  During the age of empire it was the sea, not the land which provided the transportation through which European nations dominated the globe.

‘East of India’ has some stunning exhibits, among which is a map on a parchment from 1599 with a section of the northern coast of Australia labelled as ‘beach’. I couldn’t help thinking how appropriate that label is! I was also attracted to a tiny locket commemorating the wedding in 1662 between Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, Portugal.  What struck me as remarkable about the locket was not its form, but the enormity of what it represented.  Catherine’s dowry included the Portuguese territory of Bombay (now Mumbai).  I found it staggering that the wedding between two people could have such great repercussions for people who lived in a place that required months of arduous travel to reach. Continue reading

Reflecting on National Reconciliation Week 2013

20130602 Temple by Qi Jie Oh C

Sydney Baha’i Temple – photograph by Qi-Jie Oh.

“Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place…” The words sung by the a capella choir filled the Sydney Baha’i Temple with glorious harmonies accompanied by the rumbling thunder of the storm outside.  I shut my eyes and allowed the sounds to resonate through me.  Beauty and emotion intertwined in that moment.

The effort to drive through the wind and rain to attend the special service for National Reconciliation Week at the Baha’i Temple was worth it.  We imbibed the teachings of holy writings from around the world which exhort those who read them to treat everyone with justice, to create a peaceful world.   After the service I was fortunate enough to hear Bettina King, an Aboriginal lawyer, and Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, speak about reconciliation.

It was the end of a tumultuous week.  During National Reconciliation Week Australians had celebrated indigenous achievement and remembered a difficult past.  We had also despaired when we were confronted by further evidence that our society fails to achieve the standards of inclusiveness, fairness and kindness that we aspire to. Continue reading

The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s capital

colour map of the proposed city of Canberra.

Preliminary plan of Canberra by Walter Burley Griffin, 1914. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

The capital city of Australia is a twentieth century creation.  It emerged from a paddock in rural New South Wales one hundred years ago.  On 12th March 1913 Lady Denman, the wife of Australia’s Governor-General, stood on the newly laid foundation stones and announced the name of the city to be – Canberra.

The city had already been born by the time the crowd gathered in the empty paddock to hear its chosen name.  The ideas for the built structures had flowed from the minds of American architect Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in Chicago over fifteen thousand kilometres away.  In turn their design was indebted to the ancient landscape on which it was to be built and the indigenous people who nurtured that environment and from whose language the name of the city was derived.

This year is the centenary of the founding of Canberra.  It is also the year when one of our daughters moved to Canberra so we will be visiting it more often than we usually do.  Last month we fitted in a visit to the National Library where I saw their exhibition, ‘The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s Capital’. Continue reading