Local Sports History: the scramble to salvage the past

For the past few months I have been working with local football (soccer) club Hurlstone Park Wanderers. We have been trying to recover records of a metropolitan-wide football tournament that ran through the 1950s called the Canterbury Cup. Hurlstone Park won the tournament numerous times and calls this period its ‘golden era’.
An issue that I have come across in my research is access to archival material. Local sporting organizations are invariably run by a handful of dedicated individuals who have precious little time for preserving and maintaining archives. There is also a high turnover in these administrative roles, making it very easy for records to go missing. A more general problem is that these materials are almost always held in private collections (i.e. in a box in someone’s garage). A huge chunk of my work has been making phone calls to many very willing but mostly bewildered former players and administrators.
This week I met with the President of the Canterbury Football Association, Ian Holmes. Ian is typical of many people working in local sport. He spends countless unpaid hours dealing with complaints, negotiating with uncooperative councils and, interestingly for me, tracking down lost archives. Ian explained that although the association is nearly 100 years old, it has very little record of that history. Most of the archives were destroyed in a fire many years ago. Recovering records from personal collections has become a matter of great urgency as many older players pass away. Ian’s work is as much genealogical as it is historical. It is quite literally a race against the clock to recover these records.
The history of local sporting organizations should not be forgotten (or lost). The place of sports in local communities can reflect wider cultural phenomena (e.g. race, class, gender). Often, sport can be a vehicle for social change, as was the case with the influx of non-British migrants into the Canterbury area in the 1950s. It is to history’s great benefit that in sporting organizations around the country there are likely to be hundreds of people like Ian, doggedly salvaging what remains of the past.

Aboriginal and European history on the Northern Beaches

It’s hard to say where the inspiration for my project came from. As a resident of the Northern Beaches, I have lived my whole life in close proximity to sites of incredible natural beauty, many of which are of spiritual and cultural significance to Aboriginal people. However, ever since I chose Modern History as an elective in Year 11 I’ve had a huge love of European history (which was only furthered by a school trip there that same year, and through study at uni).
I don’t think that these were conscious influences on my project. It’s only by typing this that I’ve really come to realise it. Forefront in my mind as I developed my idea was our class field trip to the Quarantine Station, which I was fascinated to learn was a site devoted to healing in pre-European times. I found it incredible that both Aboriginal people and European settlers viewed the site as a place for the ill, and that really got me thinking – this is a place that two almost incompatible cultures have come to consider significant. How unlikely! I wondered if there were other places in the region that might also have a significance that transcends cultures.
My mind was all but made up when David Watts came to speak to us about his work at the Aboriginal Heritage Office, which sounded like a match made in Heaven as far as my project was concerned. I contacted David in the hopes that I could volunteer with the AHO as an Aboriginal site monitor, a proposition to which he agreed!
The first Monday of the mid-semester break was spent with Viki Gordon and other volunteers at Manly Dam, learning how to locate and protect Aboriginal sites in addition to discovering more about the varied projects the AHO participates in. This was a truly fascinating day, and I learned just how steeped in indigenous culture my local area is!
I have high hopes that my work with the AHO will help me uncover more sites of significance to Aboriginal people, and then research the reasons why Europeans may also find these sites to be worthy of preservation or if they are significant in a different way. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to share the location of the sites that I’ll be monitoring, but I strongly suggest coming up this way and wandering around the national parks or along the coastal walks, you never know what you might find!

Public History Project Updates – Week 11 in History Beyond the Classroom

Archive Fire Temple Society.jpg
Our class reconvened this week after the AVCC break and public holiday last week. While difficult to get restarted after the break, and with only three weeks left in the semester (hard to believe), I’ve been inspired anew by some of the amazing projects that students are developing. Proposals were due on Friday, and a first glance over them revealed some thoughtful and exciting initiatives. This was only confirmed in class, where we discussed projects in small groups then heard short presentations from individuals brave enough to talk about their work to the class.
Up first was Steph Beck, who has already blogged about her project here: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/09/community_project_beginnings_1.html We learned about her amazing journey to Melbourne to visit the rarely-used archives of the Temple Society (http://www.templesociety.org.au/), her horror at discovering the damage to some of the documents there by a fire (pictured above), and some of the marvellous discoveries she made in some of the files. She has documented a little of her physical and metaphorical journey into the foodways of the fascinating Temple Society on her instagram account at: https://instagram.com/stephsfoodhistory/ But recognizing that some of the older members of the society may not have easy access to the internet, Steph has also been thinking about how she can make her major project – an annotated collection of historical community recipes that span three countries and over one hundred and fifty years – more accessible to all of the community. A book publication awaits…
We also heard from Mitchell Davies, who has also just blogged about his work with the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society (http://www.cahs.com.au/) at: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/campbelltown_beyond_the_classr_2.html Mitchell, a lifelong resident of Campbelltown, is keen to bring together his love of local history with his teacher-training work to inspire a new generation of high school students to learn more about the interesting past all around them. Mitchell regaled us with some of these tales, including the story of Fisher’s Ghost, which animates much of Campbelltown’s community history, and has inspired an annual Festival http://www.fishersghost.com.au/ Mitchell is keen to use the social media platform Tumblr to bring these stories alive for students, but also to showcase the thoughts and work of those who work at the Historical Society.
Michael Rees also spoke about his work with the Female Factory Friends http://www.parramattafemalefactoryfriends.com.au/ Michael, who also blogged about this recently at http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/democracy_in_action_first_cont_1.html, recounted his first meeting with the Friends at a rally at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney as they presented a petition to save the Heritage Precinct in Parramatta (pictured below). He spoke about his steep learning curve about Parramatta history, and the various political and cultural interests at play in the controversy, and how that raises interesting challenges for presenting particular versions of the past at this critical juncture in the campaign to save the Heritage Precinct.
Finally, we also heard from Erin Gielis, who is working with the Rotary Club of Waitara (http://www.waitararotary.org/). Erin spoke of her engagement with the Club and how influential it was in shaping her own experience of community and the broader world to which the Club gave her access. She also brought to light the different kinds of challenges – and opportunities – students faced when working with non-historical organisations. The Waitara Club is relatively young, formed about thirty years ago. Though interested in the past, they have not had the chance to do much with their history and few of the members feel qualified to write it, and so the field is wide open for Erin to help them fill that gap. She has been interviewing members, past and present, and thinking about different ways of presenting this history via their website especially. Erin also raised important issues about the kinds of purposes such a project serves in not just documenting the activities of such an important community organisation, but also in drumming up interest and support for its survival in the future.
I hope I got everyone. Needless to say, these were inspiring stories of adventures in community history that could be of lasting impact. Students have certainly inspired me. After holding out for years, I’ve finally joined the twittersphere in order to get the word out about these great projects. Join me at https://twitter.com/HstyMattersSyd for updates about these great projects.
Female Factory Petition.jpg

Campbelltown Beyond The Classroom

As a lifelong Campbelltown resident I have been only too willing to make Campbelltown, my home, the subject of a major project. I feel fortunate that Campbelltown is not only an area of historical importance (especially in the early days of the colony), but is also a place where much of the heritage has for the most part been well-preserved.
On my journey thus far, I have discovered that Campbelltown has many stories to tell many of which I had little to no knowledge about. Thus far it has been an enriching experience. For my major project I aim to establish a Tumblr blog entitled Campbelltown Beyond The Classroom, which shares some of these interesting stories. These stories will be targeted towards high school students studying history elective in years 9-10. I feel that local history is often a neglected part of school history, despite being one of the more accessible components of it. I believe that local history has a great deal to offer students, and is often a kaleidoscope of fascinating stories, places and personalities – something for everyone.
Prior to creating my Tumblr blog, I was fortunate enough to meet with members of the Campbelltown Airds Historical Society stationed at Glenalvon House – and am forever grateful for members consenting to participate in some sit-down interviews and sharing their experiences and passion for Campbelltown’s local history and heritage. The society also graciously provided many resources which have thus far have proved extremely useful. A piece on the society and Glenalvon House (in addition with interview excepts) will form a prominent piece of the blog.
Although this still very much a work in progress, my preliminary sketch of the blog looks a little like this –
A. Introduction page – purpose of the blog – history elective
B. My volunteer work – Campbelltown-Airds Historical Society & Glenavlon House
C. My volunteer work – Oral Histories excerpts – local and community histories
D. Local history – Personal connections/recollections
E. Campbelltown – Birthplace ~ The Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie
F. Campbelltown Stories –
1. Tale #1 – Early Industry: James Ruse
2. Tale #2 – Contact History – Bull Cave
3. Tale #3 – The Appin Massacre
4. Tale #4 – St Peters Anglican Church
5. Tale #5 – St John’s Catholic Church
6. Tale #6 – William Bradbury
7. Tale #7 – Military Past: Bardia Barracks
8. Tale #8 – Campbelltown’s Communist Past
9. Tale #9 – Campbelltown’s Notorious Claim to Fame – Fishers Ghost

Democracy in Action: First Contact with the Female Factory Friends

Strangely enough, during my first contact with the Parramatta Female Factory Friends I was witness to history in the making.
Having filled out the contact form on the Factory Friends’ website in early August, I received an E-mail from the organisation’s President Gay Hendriksen asking me if I could be at NSW Parliament at 10:30am on Thursday the 19th of August to sign a petition.
I arrived to find a large group of people assembled outside the Parliament, many of whom were wearing ‘Parramatta Female Factory Friends’ badges. Other attendees appeared to be from Unions (the CFMEU and USU), and the North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group. Gay informed me that today the Female Factory Friends, and other groups concerned about residential development in the Parramatta area, were presenting a petition to the Parliament with over 10,000 signatures. This petition aimed to put a stop to proposed developments in the Parramatta historic precinct (where the Female Factory is located) including a 30-storey high-rise apartment building. To achieve this aim, the petition sought recognition for the Female Factory and surrounding area as a National Heritage site.
I was able to sign the petition and talk to some of the people who had been involved in the incredibly arduous process of collecting (with pen and paper, as per NSW legislation) all of the signatures. This was a great opportunity to hear about people’s diverse motivations for involvement in the campaign and the Factory Friends group. Some people were the descendants of factory workers who wanted the site preserved to honour their family members; others believed that the Parramatta precinct was an invaluable insight into Australian colonial heritage, and some people simply wanted the area protected against overdevelopment. These conversations gave me an insight into just how much hard work is required for groups interested in public histories to preserve historical sites and generate interest in their significance. Unlike academic historians who usually have a devoted audience (small as it may be), groups interested in public histories must engage the community before they can convey more detailed histories. Thus, they must not only convince an audience, but create one.
Later, we were received at the Parliament by Greens MPs Jamie Parker and David Shoebridge, as well as Labor MP Penny Sharpe. All three of these parliamentarians spoke of the significance of the Female Factory as a historical site, and the importance of its preservation. They also compared the factory to other similar early-colonial sites in Australia, such as Tasmania’s Port Arthur, which has already received National Heritage listing. I found it interesting that David Shoebridge reflected on 1827 riot at the Female Factory (which was caused by poor conditions and rations for factory-workers) as one of Australia’s earliest industrial actions. This aspect of the Female Factory’s history seemed to resonate with many members of the crowd (and particularly the Union-affiliated attendees) and demonstrated the way in which particular narratives can make historical sites and events resonate in the present.
Following the MPs speeches, we entered NSW Parliament House where the petition was formally tabled. In one of the Parliament reading rooms, we then assembled as a group and people who had been involved in the campaign (including Gay herself) spoke about its importance. Many speakers highlighted the significance of the factory as a historical site which commemorated women’s involvement (and exploitation) in the early Australian colony. One speaker, who had migrated from Greece to Australia in the 1970s, said that he failed to understand how Australians could be so oblivious to the historical importance of the site. “No one would ever be allowed to build an apartment on the Acropolis,” he said. Another speaker also recognised the role of the Female Factory as a point for early contact between British colonists and indigenous Australians on the Parramatta River.
Suffice to say, my first meeting with the Factory Friends was pretty exciting. I witnessed a grassroots movement of people interested in a historical site petitioning democratic representatives for its preservation, and heard many stories about the significance of the site to the group’s members.
For more information about how the petition was compiled and presented to the NSW Parliament, and photos from the day, see: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-20/push-to-protect-parramatta-womens-factory-from-development/6711438

An Invitation and an Update: Fleet Street Heritage Precinct

Dear friends of HSTY3902,
I am writing my first blog post as part diary entry, part promotional piece, on my work with North Parramatta Residents Action Group (‘NPRAG’). I met with Suzette Meade, President of NPRAG, on Tuesday. Although we have been in contact over the phone and via email for the past couple of months, this was the first time we have met in person. Suzette showed me the grounds of the Parramatta Female Factory site and its surrounds, located at 5 Fleet Street in Parramatta. I was truly taken by the beauty and quiet majesty of the buildings, which although incredibly old (dating back to the early 1800s) remain in mostly good condition. Walking through the old buildings you can still see (and touch) the intricate markings left by individual convicts on the sandstone blocks which form the structures—apparently common practice which identifies which convict cut which stone and was thus entitled to wages for it. This site contains some of the oldest buildings in Australia’s history, and perhaps even more than the few which remain in the Sydney CBD today. It was a remarkable experience to walk through such an old and historically significant site, and particularly poignant that this was my first visit in the 21 years I have lived just a 10-minute drive away.
What is even more poignant is the fact that this wonderful experience—of walking through two-hundred-year-old cottages, of touching convict-carved sandstone, of smelling the sweet perfume of overhanging wisteria vines and of witnessing a colony of endangered bat species make themselves at home in the trees above—could come to an end all to soon. Suzette has been at the vanguard of NPRAG’s protests against current proposals, put forward by developer UrbanGrowth NSW, to develop the site into a residential precinct consisting of between 4000—6000 apartments. When I had spoken to Suzette earlier and had learned of the proposal, my understanding was that it threatened the site because the apartments would sit near the current site, across the road, imposing not just a twenty-plus-storey shadow but various other infrastructural strains that come with housing thousands of new residents. But when I walked through the site and Suzette showed me a sky-view artist’s impression of exactly where the new apartments would sit, and pointed out the proposed plots as we stood amongst the buildings, I was shocked to realise that the proposal includes the placement of apartment blocks within the site itself—some right next to the original convict structures. It is hard to understand why anyone would think it a good idea to place modern apartment blocks in amongst such a quiet and beautiful historical site, and the sprawling green grounds that surround it, but this is precisely what Suzette and NPRAG have been campaigning against since January this year.
But enough lament. It was wonderful to meet Suzette and see her passion and determination to fight this proposal, as well as to nut out exactly how I can help NPRAG in the historical work I do for them over the next few weeks. A lot of my work will be focused on the upcoming symposium that NPRAG is organising as a day for the public, organisations, members of parliament, and other interested groups to have an open discussion about the proposal and how it will compromise a site of so much national historical importance.
Suzette is keen to get more university students and members of the educations sector on board with this discussion, and would like to extend an invitation to you, the class of HSTY3902 (as well as any other interested academics from the university) to attend the symposium. It will be held on Monday 12th October, which does fall on our class day however will run from 9am—4.30pm so might allow those who are interested to come for even just a couple of hours in the morning. Tickets for the general public are $20 each but Suzette has generously given us a discount code to receive 50% off on the price (so it’ll just be $10 a ticket = bargain!). Just enter HISTORYMATTERS at the registration to receive this. The symposium will be held at the Parramatta Leagues Club. To buy tickets and view more details about the symposium visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/fleet-street-heritage-precinct-symposium-tickets-18493278895
I know Parramatta is not really near uni but I do encourage you to come along if you’ve got the morning off and are able to make the trip. It’s a short walk from the Leagues Club to the site, where you can have a look at the buildings for yourself and really appreciate how special it is that so much history lies in a relatively little-known and under-appreciated location.