History in splendid isolation

The recent visit by students from the ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ unit of study to the former Quarantine Station on North Head, provided a great opportunity for dynamic discussion surrounding topics of representation, interpretation and the roles played by museums and heritage sites in shaping public perceptions of history.
The group’s visit was hosted by myself and Peter Hobbins from the University of Sydney’s Quarantine Project, a three year collaborative research initiative focused on the rock carvings and other markings made at the site during its period of operation between 1835 and 1984. The students were very interested in the site and had lots of great questions about its history, the historic buildings and our collection of five thousand movable heritage objects. The site’s adaptive reuse by the Mawland Group – a special interest tourism company who work within the fields of nature tourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism and heritage tourism – was also a topic of conversation along with the site’s management as a hotel, conference and events facility.
The Quarantine Station is a diverse and dynamic site which lends itself to an immense variety of projects. Peter and I encourage students to take on research projects that relate to the Quarantine Station or its surrounding heritage sites as part of either this unit’s major assessment or projects developed in the future. Peter provided some great ideas for projects in his recent blog post, though students are welcome to propose other ideas. Feel free to contact Peter or myself with any questions you may have (E: qstationheritage@mawlandgroup.com.au).
It was a pleasure to host the group and we hope to see the University’s history students on site again in the future.
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Rebecca Anderson, the Quarantine Station’s Curator, speaks to HSTY3902 students 7 September 2015
Image courtesy Peter Hobbins

Willoughby Girls 50 Year School Reunion

A wonderful story emerges!
I first came into contact with the Willoughby Girl’s 50 year school reunion when I saw an advert in my local newspaper. My initial idea for the community project was to create a podcast with interviews from the women at the reunion on their favourite school memories. In my mind, this project would be a quaint little audio collection of women reminiscing on happy days at school.
However, after a few weeks the Willoughby Old Girls, very sweetly, approached me with some subjects for enquiry that they had always been curious about but had been too shy to investigate, and wanted to take this perfect opportunity (how often does a willing historian come a knocking?) to get to the bottom of. Dipping my figurative research fishing line into local libraries and internet sites, I did some initial research into each suggested avenue with varying levels of success. But finally the hook snagged on something so substantial that my whole project trajectory has been subsequently completely re-orientated.
As is true of most stubborn curiosities and long-lasting concerns, this area of interest revolved around the people we once knew. One of the Willoughby Old Girls was very interested in Pallister Girls Home, the local corrective institution that housed some Willoughby students, and more importantly, the stories of the girls who once lived there.
The great snag that caught my research line was an unassuming office in the city called the Anglican Deaconess Ministries Office. I presented myself, unannounced and unbooked, to the office and was warmly met by the lovely staff at ADM, Ken and Sarah. Here I was shown files upon files of archived primary sources referring to Pallister Girls Home. I was given access to original photos, girl’s case study evaluations before and after they went through the home, daily routine schedules, admittance criteria, sheets of rules, incidences of ‘moral danger’, the matron’s handbooks and donor lists.
With so much untouched information on Pallister, I intend to change the main thrust of the podcast to be about the stories of the ‘Pallister Girls’ that these women went to school with.
The Willoughby Girls 50 year reunion last Monday was a wonderful opportunity to compliment my archive research with oral descriptions of eye witness memories of the girls from Pallister. But more than that, being with the women themselves (my ‘clients’), raised a question in my own mind; why are school reunions significant? Why do people attend them? And what is the nature of the conversation at such events? Whilst my community project will compile into a podcast my findings (supplemented by the women’s memories) on the Pallister Girl’s Home, my major work will additionally present my findings on these latter questions too.
Here’s to a twisting plot and surprising turns, and a special thank you to the ADM office for letting me into their archives, and the Willoughby Old Girls for letting me into their memories.
(Photo courtesy of ADM archives. One of the girls in the photo was recognised and named by the Old Girls at the Willoughby School reunion)

Literary Connections to Local History

This blog entry sounds a lot like a project proposal but, to be frank, in essence, that’s precisely what it is ; )
I took the above photo (plus many more) of Australian Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White’s residence in Castle Hill. White and his partner Manoly Lascaris named the house “Dogwoods” and it was from here White wrote his Nobel prize winning novel, Voss. The residence is privately owned now and is used as office space for a family law firm. Luckily for me, however, the owners are aware of the heritage-listed building’s historical significance and were happy for me to tour the inside and take photos, which I provided as archive material to my historical society.
For my major project I am creating a webpage for Hills District Historical Society’s website on the literary connection of Patrick White to the area and how literary representations of place can help us to shape history. I managed to get hold of some really interesting census information for the Hills District during White’s residence in the area, and have purchased a copy of White’s application on Lascaris’ behalf supporting his naturalisation (which I will donate to the HDHS as further archive material).
I am going to link the anxieties of “otherness” in White’s texts (and society at the time) to Castle Hill. As a place of increasing acceptance of “otherness”, demonstrated through the census and White’s texts, I thought it would be a nice way to “wave the flag”, if you will, for the local history of Castle Hill. The census information, application for Lascaris’ naturalisation, and White’s autobiography about their relationship also helps to link White (through time) to the current environment of immigration through asylum, LGBT rights and marriage equality, etc that I thought would be a proud connection to the area.

Sources and Selection – Week 9 in History Beyond the Classroom

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Associate Professor Julia Horne (pictured above) joined us this week in History Beyond the Classroom and drew from her extensive public history experience to talk about sources, selection, and ethical dilemmas. Before Julia became an academic (and did her PhD) she worked as a social history curator at the Powerhouse Museum; as the manager of the Local History Coordination project, a Bicentennial-funded history project at UNSW to liaise with community and public history organisations throughout NSW; and as the co-ordinator of the Oral History Program in the UNSW Archives. She is currently a councillor of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), and chairs the ANMM Audience, Programs, Outreach and Education Committee. From 2007 to 2013 she was a councillor of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Australia’s oldest scholarly historical society, and at the University of Sydney, she is a member of the Art Advisory Committee and the Heritage Advisory Group, both established to advise on matters of museum and heritage policies. Julia has also worked on a number of consultancies including the Blue Mountains World Heritage Nomination (as historical respondent for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Domicelj Consultants), UNSW WomenResearch21, and various historical surveys on overseas students, women and engineers for UNSW.
Julia is also now the University Historian at the University of Sydney and an associate professor in the Department of History, where part of her position involves the management of the university’s oral history collection, working with the University’s heritage environment, and contributing historical advice to university policy development. Her major current public history project is Beyond 1914 (video below; see http://beyond1914.sydney.edu.au/) Her publications are in the field of the history of travel and the history of universities, education and women and include: The Pursuit of Wonder: How Australia’s Landscape was Explore, nature discovered and tourism unleashed (MUP: Miegunyah Press 2005) and Sydney the Making of a Public University (co-authored with Geoffrey Sherington, MUP: Miegunyah Press 2012).
Julia talked to the class about her early experiences with public history at the Powerhouse Museum, and the need to weigh up aesthetic and historic value and the need to draw in the public. The selection of sources to engage a wide audience, to tell stories, and to critique the past was a key component to a successful public history project. She presented the class with some entertaining examples drawn from her own experiences. Julia also exhorted students to experience place as much as possible when thinking about public history, and also to think about public history as something that should influence the present. She also talked about privacy issues, which sparked an interesting discussion in our ensuing tutorial – about our responsibilities as professional historians both toward the past, and our subjects. Finally, Julia mused about the idea of turning to historical fiction to tell stories that are difficult to piece together in more traditional formats. Several students in this class, I know, are keen to follow up on this and experiment with that format themselves. I’m keen to see where that might take us…
In the ensuing discussion, we also viewed some short public history presentations created by other students, including the fabulous ones done at Monash University with Alistair Thomson (see: https://vimeo.com/groups/makinghistory/albums/10825, and noted the many different kinds of primary sources students were using in their community projects. We ended by conducting oral interviews on each other, experiencing some of the uncomfortableness of being both the interviewer and interviewee that Lorina Barker noted in her wonderful essay that we read this week: ‘“Hangin’ Out” and “Yarnin’”: Reflecting on the experience of collecting Oral Histories’ History Australia, Vol. 5. No. 1 (April 2008) .

Captured by history

In opening up the Quarantine Project to scholars from ‘History Beyond the Classroom’, the response has been impressive!
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Both I and the Q Station’s curator, Rebecca Anderson, were delighted that so many students made their way out to North Head for a brief tour and discussion of the site’s many layers of history. If we had known the turn-out would be so strong, we would readily have suggested a longer tour, plus time for individual roaming. However, everyone is welcome to visit again as individuals or groups – for more information, click here.
North Head also offers a vast range of opportunities for projects connecting the past with the community. We’ve had conversations and emails with a number of students since the visit, so don’t be shy if you still want to explore ideas! We can help connect you with groups and the resources to plan your own small-scale research projects such as:
• moments of disease at sea and in Sydney, from personal experiences of suffering to the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic of 1919
• histories of detention for quarantine, for processing of people and goods, or for ‘illegal immigrants’ held onsite from the 1950s to the 1970s
• humanitarian stories of the ‘Operation Babylift’ evacuation from Vietnam in 1975, or the temporary rehousing of Darwin residents after Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day, 1974
• individual or family lives linked to the historic inscriptions and gravestones spread across the site
• social histories of living and working in the isolated Quarantine Station community
• narratives of voyages to Sydney, whether crew, immigrants, travellers or returning soldiers
• the military history of North Head, including its system of bunkers, coastal artillery and occupation by the army in WWI and WWII
• contemporary histories of local and environmental politics after North Head was handed back to NSW in 1984
• the challenges of public history and interpretation across a large, historically rich site now being adaptively re-used for leisure and commerce.
Do feel free to get in touch to explore some of your ideas; we’ll help if we can!
Peter Hobbins

Public and Applied History Prizes

The History Council of NSW just announced that Meg Foster, a former University of Sydney History student, has won the 2015 Deen De Bortoli Award in Applied History for her essay “Online and Plugged In?: Public History and Historians in the Digital Age.” The judges said that this essay ‘provides important insights into how digital technologies are democratising not only access to research materials but also the dissemination of history. It reflects on what this means for history professionals who can no longer dominate discussion of the past and suggests that ways forward lie in more collaborative approaches’. Meg Foster is currently doing her PhD at the University of New South Wales.
The Deen De Bortoli Award was first awarded in 2015. Generously funded by the De Bortoli family it is named in memory of Deen De Bortoli (1936-2003). The purpose of the Award is to encourage historians writing Australian political, social, cultural and environmental history to approach their subjects in ways that use the past to inform contemporary concerns and issues. The winner will receive a citation and a prize of $5,000 at the Annual History Lecture during History Week.
For 2016 the subject for the Deen De Bortoli Award will be for works in applied and public history that have the potential to inform good public policy. The winning entry will demonstrate a sound, critical knowledge of the relevant historiography, a high level of competence in the use of primary sources, and the capacity to develop complex arguments linking the past to contemporary, contentious issues currently impacting on Australia. Nominations for work undertaken between 1 October 2014 to 31 March 2016 for the 2016 Award close 31 March 2016. See: http://www.historycouncilnsw.org.au/excellence/deen-de-bortoli-award-for-applied-history/
Students of HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom may want to think about entering their projects in this competition, as well as PHA NSW &ACT Public History Prize. The Public History Prize is an annual award offered by the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT (PHA NSW&ACT).
The PHA NSW & ACT is now calling for entries for the 2015 Public History Prize for students. Slight changes in the condition of entries have been made for this year’s prize to enable more students to submit their work. The 2015 Public History Prize is open to any students (undergraduate, graduate diploma, master studies) in NSW and ACT whose work engages with the field and practice of professional and public history (both Australian and international).
Entries are now open for the 2015 PHA NSW & ACT Public History Prize, which comes with a $500 prize.
More information, including submission guidelines and deadline can be found here: www.phansw.org.au/pha-nsw-public-history-prize
Entries close on 4 December 2015.

Outdoor Museums

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See the little hut there on the left of this watercolour image?* It is one of the convict huts that, from 1790, lined both sides of High Street, Rose Hill, better known today as George Street, Parramatta. And on Saturday morning, I saw that convict hut with my very own eyes! This is because I was one of a few very lucky Parra locals who scooped up tickets to one of five free tours the Parramatta Park Trust offered the local community. The purpose of these tours was to inform the community about the Park’s multilayered history and showcase the archaeological work currently being carried out for the Trust by GML Heritage. You can see images and read all about the tour and Parramatta’s convict huts here on my blog “The Old Parramattan”: https://theoldparramattan.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/parramattas-convict-huts/
Free community tours like this one have become a regular occurrence at Parramatta Park since the inclusion of Old Government House and Domain on the World Heritage list of Australian Convict sites in 2010, which has enabled a lot of important heritage projects to be undertaken. The Park’s gatehouses, for example, are being restored one by one; the Macquarie Street Gatehouse, The George Street “Tudor” Gatehouse, and Mays Hill Gatehouse have all already been transformed through incredible conservation works and prepared for adaptive reuse. The Dairy Cottage that once housed emancipist George Salter is also about to receive some tender loving care and, with the aid of modern technology, will soon completely immerse visitors in the old convict world. But the Trust hasn’t just set its sights on restoring the historic buildings located within the Governor’s once private domain…
Historic landscapes are also on the Trust’s agenda. A bush regeneration program restoring a remnant of the now-rare Sydney Coastal River-Flat Forest has led to the removal of introduced exotic trees and plants to allow native species to regenerate. Subsequently, visitors can experience part of the landscape as it was for the Darug people for at least 20,000 years on the “Aboriginal Landscape” trail. And, as the Trust’s Principal Program Officer (Cultural Heritage) Stephen Thompson informed us on Saturday, “The Gardens” precinct surrounding the George Street Gatehouse—where the convict hut remains were revealed—is also undergoing its own $2 million-metamorphosis into an “outdoor museum.” In the coming months, the Trust will be restoring and, where necessary, reconstructing features of this section of the park’s historic landscape; namely the early nineteenth-century Macquarie Convict Bridge and pond. Great care is being taken to ensure this work is completed using stonemason techniques and materials authentic to the convict era. Essentially, Thompson noted during our tour, visitors to this area of the park in the near future will be able to look at the colonial watercolour images and see some of those old features of the convict world in reality. Great Scott! It’s like time travel! (Hopefully, dear reader, you are not too young to recognise that Back to the Future reference!)
Broadly speaking, the “outdoor museum” has many benefits. It is, quite literally, “public history” insofar as it is presented in public open spaces; for professional historians, this means it is, along with social media platforms, ebooks, and apps, another option we have available for publishing or presenting our histories to the widest possible audience. After all, as Emeritus Professor John Hirst has told many a History Postgrad in his seminars at USYD, “If you’re going to the trouble of writing history, don’t you want people to READ it?” Some members of the community might be, for a variety of reasons, disinclined to read a history book or visit a museum in the form of an imposing architectural edifice, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to reach them! We just need to tell our histories in a variety of ways.
Successful outdoor museums, such as Parramatta Park or the new Heritage Courtyard at the Parramatta Justice Precinct,** subtly blend in with both natural and public urban environments and, thus, have a greater capacity to gently engage diverse—even the most reluctant—members of the community in stories of the past. This is important work, if only because it can improve an individual’s sense of connection to the place in which they live. Moreover, we all learn better when we are stimulated by a different environment and kinaesthetic learning situations that force us to be outside breathing fresh air and moving around. Outdoor museums take the typically sedentary activity of studying History not just beyond a classroom, but beyond walls entirely.
* View of Governor’s House, Rosehill, Parramatta c1798. A convict hut is on the left. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales [a928407 / DG SSV1B/3] (Dixson Galleries) via Dictionary of Sydney.
** See my blog post “Parramatta’s Convict Huts” on my blog “The Old Parramattan” to read about and view images of the Heritage Courtyard at the Parramatta Justice Precinct.
Some social media accounts you may wish to follow:
Parramatta Park Trust: @ParraPark on Twitter and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/parrapark
GML Heritage: @gmlheritage on Instagram and their website: http://www.gml.com.au/
The Old Parramattan: @oldparramatta on Instagram and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theoldparramattan
Photos below by Michaela Ann Cameron:
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Ashfield Polish Club

For my major project I hope to work with the Ashfield Polish Club in order to produce a small documentary exploring what the club means for both Polish and Australian people in a contemporary setting. I would love to explore the origins of the club and how it has transformed over the years and document this history. I have met some incredibly colourful and vibrant characters during my visits so far, and I am currently waiting on a response from the Board of Directors regarding whether or not my project will go ahead. On my last visit I spent several hours speaking to an old member in the depths of the on-site library. There are hundreds of books in there and I would have uploaded pictures but I am unfortunately not technologically savvy enough for such ventures. I will leave you to imagine the rows of books cramped into an old building behind the club officially dubbed the ‘Polish House’. Hopefully the members will be willing to be interviewed because there is so much history there. If you are ever passing through Ashfield on Sundays then I highly recommend dropping in for a drink and some pierogi in the afternoons!!

Aboriginal Heritage Management – Week 8 in History Beyond the Classroom

This week we had David Watts (pictured above) come in from the Aboriginal Heritage Office, a unique joint initiative by a group of councils across northern Sydney, including North Sydney, Manly, Warringah, Ku-ring-gai, and Pittwater to protect Aboriginal Heritage in these areas (http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/). David Watts, the Aboriginal Heritage Manager, was one of the key founders of the Office back in 2000, and continues to play a leading role in the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites, education, and a prize-winning volunteer site monitoring program that empowers community members to take responsibility for our shared heritage and past.
David talked to students about his role in the organisation, the many challenges they faced and continue to face, and his extensive experience in Aboriginal heritage management. He has worked on site surveys and archaeological excavations, conservation management plans and protection works. He has given talks all over the world about Aboriginal site care and managements, as well as cultural tourism advice, and he has developed several Aboriginal Heritage Walks within the northern Sydney region (including some of the walks and resources you can find here: http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/downloads1/). David engaged us all with his honest and realistic approach to public history, and also talked about his own past and the way that shaped his approach to the present, and his responses to continued racism as well.
David’s talk helped set the tone for an ensuing discussion on “Decolonizing Methodologies” and especially the struggle over “research” in indigenous communities where there has been a long history of imperial and post-colonial intrusion by researchers. David’s talk, and the readings, helped draw attention to the sensitivities involved in indigenous history and the need to think carefully about our intentions and purposes in doing it (something we need to be mindful with any project, it seems). We talked about respect for indigenous knowledges and methodologies, and also talked a little more about public history being a route to “purify” the past, in Peter Read’s terms – a place where, if done properly, we can come together to reconcile and start to heal the trauma of the past.

Community Project – NSW Writers’ Centre

As the mid-semester break approaches, I’m getting ready to buckle down and make a good start on my major project. I’m working with the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, whose headquarters can be found in the picturesque and historically significant Callan Park in Rozelle. This site was once occupied by the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, where several prominent writers and poets were patients over the course of its history. How might strolling through the extensive grounds be changed by the knowledge that the likes of Louisa Lawson and Francis Webb may have done just the same decades ago? In consultation with the director of the Centre, my current plan is to write a page for their website exploring the history of writers on the site. I’m hoping, along the way, to gain a better understanding of how the history of a place can influence the way it is used in the present.
So far, much of my work on this project has been done among the shelves of the State Library. I’ve been researching the writers who were residents of the Hospital at one time or another, looking for any scraps of evidence about their lives there. Over the break I hope to be able to do more hands-on research: exploring what remains of the historic buildings in Callan Park, taking photographs, and really getting a sense of what the site used to be like.
I’m also going to be helping out at the Writers’ Centre, and will hopefully be able to chat to some of the members about their knowledge and perceptions of the park’s history. On previous visits to the Centre, over afternoon tea, multiple people have remarked on different aspects of the history, so it’s clearly of an interest to some members. As my project moves along I may expand on my web page idea to include something more interactive that allows visitors to explore the history themselves – perhaps a walking tour? I’m excited to see where this partnership takes me!