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 prize is open to NSW & ACT students engaged with the field and practice of public history. The winner will receive a certificate and a prize of $500, presented at the PHA NSW & ACT’s Public History Prize awards night on the 1st of March, 2016.
2015 Public History Prize entries close on 4 December 2015.

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Quarantine stories

Come and join ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ students who will be presenting their work on Sydney’s Quarantine Station on site on Sunday 22 November
Scratching the surface: life after the first quarantine
Molly Clarke
What’s in a headstone? A look into the shipping networks of the early Quarantine Station
Jacob Mark
Qantas and the Q Station: a shelter from the storm
Miguel Alzona
Operation Babylift: Vietnamese refugees at the Quarantine Station
Stephanie Barahona

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Schools and History: A Literal Take on ‘History Beyond the Classroom’

In a very literal sense, the name of this subject – ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ – has proven to be platform on which my project has been both conceptualised around, and oriented upon. My community engagement over this semester has been with Cammeraygal High School, a comprehensive, co-educational government high school established on Sydney’s Lower North Shore in 2015.
What is History? Who, and what, is history for?’ were the questions which opened our discussions in Week 1 of this semester, and it is, somewhat fittingly, the change in my responses to these questions which reveal the significant learning this unit has forced me to undertake.
Indeed, thirteen weeks ago, I was debating several questions: What could be ‘historical’ about a school currently filled with 100 12 year-olds? Can a place that has only been in existence for ten months construct a ‘valid’ or ‘meaningful’ history? Would placing labels of ‘heritage’ and ‘legacy’ at this point of its story be artificial, forced, even contrived? What sorts of stories from its opening year could – or would – be worth telling and memorialising?
These questions have, in a sense, been dispelled as I’ve gone throughout the semester: firstly, as a result of the process of engaging with the school, its community, and its story; and secondly, because this unit has taught me to re-imagine the ‘boundaries’ I had put onto the historical discipline. My project has shaped into an examination of how the concepts of place, history, and community collide in the construction, access, use, and redefinition of public spaces. It seeks to situate this very early – and constantly developing – history of Cammeraygal High School within a broader reflection on the centrality of physical space in the construction of historical identities. It will, moreover, make the argument that a sense of history (or what might academically be referred to as a ‘historical consciousness’) has been present in the very conception of this school, and underscores and motivates the development of its vision and imagination.
As we near the conclusion of this semester, above all, I have been forced to realise the dynamic, multiplicitous, and meaningful place from which history originates. If anything, my initial concerns about whether my project could unearth a ‘valid’ or ‘meaningful’ history revealed a prejudiced view of what constituted a ‘significant’ account of the past. And as I’ve realised through the people and stories I have had the privilege of encountering, the telling of history originates from a place of generosity and a desire to have stories and memories preserved. That is not to say that history isn’t conflicting and contested – because it often is – but the spirit in which history has been offered and shared with me this semester has showed me its importance and its life beyond both the university and high-school classrooms.

Chifley College Year 11 History Prizes

What do the Roman Colosseum, the Emperor Commodus, Roman aquatic displays, the Atlantic slave trade, and Lee Harvey Oswald have in common? They were all topics of prize-winning research by Chifley College Senior Campus students for their Ancient and Modern History Year 11 Historical Investigations.
The essay competition is held in conjunction with the Departments of History and Classics and Ancient History at Sydney University, and judged by academics from both the modern and ancient disciplines.
Sydney University and Chifley College Senior Campus have been working together for the past two years as part of an equity program in order to encourage students to achieve academic excellence and to consider University as an option.
In 2014, together we instituted a new Year 11 Essay Prize, and this year the Department of History donated book voucher prizes of over $300 for the winners and runners-up – prizes that were matched by the school. HSIE teachers at Chifley College organised an amazing prize ceremony and invited aspiring Year 11 students, current Year 12 students, and the parents of the students competing for prizes.
Charles Tan was named the winner of the 2015 Sydney University Ancient History Essay Competition, one of the school’s top prizes for a Year Eleven History Student.
The prolific reader and writer about Ancient History issues was praised for writing an essay that “was well-written and well-presented, and does a great job of complicating our more popular ideas of history by looking at the ancient evidence and the history of conflicts between Christianity and Paganism in the Roman world”.
He said that he got the idea for his historical investigation from a film study of Agora, and wanted to explore the factors that contributed to the conflict between the Roman Empire and the developing Christian faith and the ways that the growing political influence of Christian bishops in Alexandria turned the Christian Church from a religious body, to a major political power. The judges thought the examples chosen to do this showed Charles was “thinking like an historian” and was “well-researched and argued, the essay showed good attention to the historiographical debate and had a really strong conclusion.“
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Prize-winner Charles Tan
Juliana Campbell, the winner of the 2015 Sydney University Modern History Essay Competition, explored development of the transatlantic slave trade up until 1750.
According to the Sydney University judges, her essay “was impressively coherent, comprehensive, and well-written. Campbell’s explanation of the shift in the status of Africans in colonial America due to changing demands for labour demonstrated a sophisticated historical analysis. It demonstrates both sound knowledge of the content, and a sophisticated University-level approach to the topic.”
Prize-winner Juliana Campbell
Other notable essays included Charles Tan’s exploration of the assassination of JFK which was awarded 2nd place in the Modern History competition. In the Ancient History competition Varonica Paulo’s investigation into interpretations of Commodus and Precious Ibekaku’s study of the Colosseum were both awarded 2nd Place. Juliana Campbell was awarded 3rd. The judges agreed that it was hard to separate the essays and that they all showed the hallmarks of great historians in the making…
On Friday, October 23, I travelled to Mount Druitt with a new group of volunteer history students for the prize ceremony. We learned about the great work students were doing in their other HSIE subjects, and got a chance to talk to students about University life, and also to parents and relatives about University options for their children. After the formalities, we also got a chance to talk informally with the current Year 12 students.
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Michael McDonnell congratulates Juliana Campbell with Dianne Harper looking on.
Precious Ibekaku, who received second place in the competition, spent some time talking to current students at Sydney University, chatting about school and university life. She believes that the chance to work alongside university students, and have them support her in her studies, provides an opportunity “to get a feel for what University will be like. It’s really useful, it makes me think about what I will do after my HSC, and helpful in setting goals for academic success. Most of all though, because of these conversations, I know I will be welcomed when I come to University and this makes the whole process seem less scary”. The judges said that her essay was “written with flair, with a good critical evaluation of a range of sources, and makes a convincing argument that the purpose of Roman aquatic displays was not just entertainment but political.”
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Precious Ibekaku with her father, Ray
As well as the essay competition, the partnership between Chifley College and Sydney University includes a mentoring program with History Extension students as well as regular visits of senior students to the university campus. Starting in December last year, for example, University of Sydney students Natalie Leung, Rachael Simons, Thomas Boele, and Elizabeth Miller all volunteered to mentor History extension students, and worked closely with Year 12 students Ema Pikuana, Brieanna Watson, and Shaun Mudliar over a series of visits between the school and Uni. Natalie and Rachael are pictured below with Ema, Brieanna and Shaun in Manly, where we enjoyed an end of program day out.
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Chifley College Students Shaun, Ema, and Brieanna, with Sydney Students Natalie and Rachael, at Manly
In 2014, three Chifley College Senior Campus students received E12 scholarships for undergraduate degrees at USYD, and a number of 2015 students have been awarded conditional scholarship offers, dependent on their HSC results, including both Brieanna and Ema – successful graduates of the Extension history mentoring program. We are looking forward to having them both here to study history next year and wish them well on their last exams!
This year, Thomas Walker, Natalie Leung, and Shayma Taweel will work with History Extension students Juliana Campbell, Charles Tan, and Marieka Hooymans on their projects. We are looking forward to hosting them here at the University on Friday December 4 to refine topics and do some library research.
Special thanks must also go to the wonderful teachers at Chifley College Senior Campus for their efforts in organising these programs, the prize ceremony and their warm welcome to us, especially Dianne Harper, Robert Pecovnik, and Terri Katsikaros. We are inspired by the teachers and students every time we visit. Many thanks for the great day out at Chifley College. And many congratulations to all the prize-winners and essay writers – an impressive and talented cohort!

The Shady Origins of our Suburbs

HSTY3902 comrades!

Home stretch is here and I can almost see the finish line! As I scramble to put together my final research project, I thought I would give a rather honest opinion of my experiences so far…

I keep having these really frustrating dreams about my project. I wake up with heart palpitations and sweat beads down my face (okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but still).

I have been working with the Whitlam Library in Cabramatta. They have a fabulous team of heritage officers who do all sorts of great local historical research, such writing books for local clubs, conducting oral interviews, much of which is in collaboration with the Fairfield Museum.

My project is to find the OFFICIAL date of establishment of each of the 27 suburbs under Fairfield Council (south-west Sydney). There are banners in each of the suburbs which state the “date of establishment”, but unfortunately, some of these dates are wrong. I have to go find primary sources showing the “real” dates and give the the info to the Fairfield Council (which is also my final project).

Historians love dates. They are our little comfort pillows; they slip complex situations into simple time frames. Ah, how lovely! How sweet! How romantic!

But I never imagined it would be so hard to find a single date.

I have spent hours wading through newspaper clippings, council records, advertisements, maps. You name it, I’ve looked. And yet, it has taken me hours to find one little piece of information.

I feel like the gods of history have been toying with me. I feel like a mouse being cruelly chucked around by a cat: lulled into a false sense of security, only to be once again snapped up in its deceiving paws.

Take the suburb of Edensor Park. There is heaps of information available through newspaper archives and private letters. Edensor Park was mostly isolated farmland up until the 1950s. But, it did have post office and telephone line (predicament #1: does that mean it’s “officially” established?”). However, it didn’t reach its suburban peak until the 1970s when a huge land release occurred, and much of the area became residential (predicament #2: is this the time of “official” establishment?). And on top of this, I can’t find a single document which explicitly states the date of proclamation. So many documents, but so little information. And Edensor Park is one of the least of my worries.

It’s times like these when my inner historian is really put to the test. I have learnt that you need creativity and you REALLY need to think for yourself. There are no history books to tell you what to think (so that’s what lecturers meant when they kept saying “critically and independently” analyse! Who would’ve thought?). At the end of the day, if I can’t find a date IN a source, I have to come to some conclusion, given the sources I do have. Maybe Edensor Park was established in the 1920s and maybe it was “reborn” in the 1950s? Perhaps I will give the Council both dates instead of just one.

Nevertheless, I have also had some breakthroughs (cue triumphant orchestral music). When I found a newspaper clipping which explicitly stated that Wakeley was established in 1979, I almost cried with joy. I felt like I was looking at my first child. So many emotions after such a long labour.

So, my comrades, BE BRAVE!

I used to think love was a battlefield, but you know what? History research is a battlefield, especially if you’re dating it (pun absolutely intended).

If there is one thing I have learnt, it’s that history isn’t a beautifully bound book written by some famous historian. History is the many tedious hours of research, scouring through barely legible newspapers, maps and photographs, only to find yourself exactly where you started. And when you do find that one magical piece of information, it’s about knowing what to do with it.

Crying in the archives

The end of semester is nigh at Sydney University. Our jacaranda is in full bloom, finding a free desk in Fisher is near impossible, and no doubt the students’ (and perhaps the staff’s) collective caffeine intake has skyrocketed. In the frantic rush to finish off assessments it can be difficult to recall our naïve enthusiasm of the beginning of semester, let alone the ghosts of semesters past. Yet as I was doing some final research for my project yesterday I was vividly reminded of one of readings from the 3000-level unit I took last semester: ‘Crying in the archives’ by Curthoys and McGrath. It provided helpful guidance on doing archival research as well as reflecting on its pleasures and challenges (hence the title). Even more than being reminded of this article, I found myself living it.
My project chronicles the history of writers at Callan Park – from poets who were patients there when it was a mental asylum, to the present activities of the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. One of my subjects is Frank Webb, a renowned Australian poet who spent several years at the asylum as well as at other psychiatric institutions. While I’d thought my research was complete, I stumbled across a catalogue listing for a package of papers donated to the State Library by a friend of Webb’s after his death. Based on the dates listed, I didn’t think it would be very relevant for my project and it got pushed to the bottom of my research list. Yesterday, motivated by my need to see another source, I finally made the trip. And what a goldmine it was! After a lengthy process that made me feel like a true scholar – obtaining the fancy gold Special Collections library card, requesting the item from a wizened librarian who recommended various others sources for me to look into, and finding a free desk in the impressive Mitchell Library, I finally opened up the file.
Among letters written from other institutions, there were two from Webb’s time at Callan Park – one photocopied but the other an original letter addressed to a friend. I knew I’d hit the jackpot with that one letter alone, but it wasn’t until I read through them all that I realised the significance of what I’d found. Biographers have described Webb’s stay at Callan Park as particularly bleak, with him composing no poetry at all in that four years. I don’t know if they’ve read these letters, but the truth of their assessment bleeds out of those pages. He writes of the Communists that supposedly surrounded him, and seems worried to the point of paranoia about rumours that were apparently spreading about him outside the asylum walls. Webb claims that his friend’s previous letter was withheld from him by a nurse, and seems to trust only one person to faithfully deliver notes to him.
In other letters he is frank (ha!) about his unhappiness, but weaves this in among relatively cheerful responses to his friend’s recent trip overseas and tales of mutual acquaintances. It is only in the Callan Park letters that you get a sense of his overwhelming despair: “I have been unable to think of writing a poem, nor ever be able again to write whilst in this Hospital.” His utter despondency brought me to tears in the middle of the library. To be fair I cried last week because I saw a happy dog, so I’m not sure I can be trusted to accurately gauge emotional impact. But holding the very pages he wrote on, seeing the shape and slant of his handwriting, and reading his words to “Dear David” was a visceral and moving experience. Curthoys and McGrath were certainly right when they described the “joy and exhilaration” of encountering personal documents in the archive.
And don’t worry – I made sure those priceless documents were safely out of the path of my tears!

Operation Babylift at North Head Quarantine Station

Hello friends of HSTY3902,
The organisation I am conducting research for is the Q-Station Sydney Harbour National Park. It is located at the historic site of the former North Head Quarantine Station, near Manly. As early as 1832, the site was used to quarantine new arrivals to the colony via ships that had or might have been exposed to infectious diseases, such as small pox, whooping cough, the Spanish influenza, etc. By 1975, the station was turned into a temporary migrant centre. The site housed victims from Cyclone Tracy of 1974, to Vietnamese orphans from the Vietnam War in 1975 (which I’ll explain a little further down). The site continued to operate until its closure in 1984. Nowadays, the site is used for conference and accommodation purposes. It is also home to one of the most famous paranormal tours in Australia and forms part of Sydney Harbour National Parks.
My major project will be based on Australia’s version of ‘Operation Babylift’, both seen in Canada and the US. This year marks its 40th anniversary in Australia. Operation Babylift was primarily an American initiative which saw around 2,000-2,500 Vietnamese children airlifted towards the end of the war right after the fall of Saigon in 1975. According to Dr Peter Hobbins (whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our excursion to the Q-station), this ‘operation’ has a unique historical link with the site. However, this has not been thoroughly explored and documented.
Between April-May of 1975, as mentioned, the station was temporarily turned into a migrant centre. According to one nurse on the site at the time:
“On arrival in Sydney, 100 children were admitted to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and the rest were taken to the Quarantine Station at North Head, Manly.”
If you are interested in reading this very interesting and unique account, see:
Interestingly, Operation Babylift fell on the cusp of Australia’s first major refugee mission/response, per se. Hence, this saw the Whitlam government initially hesitant to take in refugees. Despite this fact, the government and the embassy in Vietnam were “pressured on these three issues: refugees, the evacuation of Australian embassy staff and the evacuations of orphans.” Inter-country adoption became one of the major facets of this operation right here in Australia, as seen in the US and Canada (source: Fronek, Patricia. “Operation Babylift: advancing intercountry adoption into Australia.” Journal of Australian Studies 36, no. 4 (2012): 445-458).
As stated on the Quarantine Station website, the Q-Station is an ‘ideal place to examine the changes & evolution of a site over time. The history of the Quarantine Station parallels and reflects Australian & world history”. This is very true for a site which is home to a variety of stories situated within Australia’s colonial and post-colonial past. However, as mentioned, one of these stories has been relatively untold. Nonetheless, considering the importance of this unique piece of Australia’s immigration history, I really do hope I can do it justice.
More to come soon.
I would just like to mention an unrelated thing: This unit has by far been one of the most challenging classes I have ever encountered. Regardless, it has allowed a student of history like me to witness and analyse this discipline from a different and exciting angle; an angle to which I thought I’d never have the opportunity to look through. Essentially we have been told to get up from our seats, walk through the classroom door to discover what lies beyond us (hence history ‘beyond the classroom’). For history is all around us, waiting to be discovered and one day be a part of the larger picture of our ‘fabric of society’, of the world.
So thank you to Michael, Peter and peers! I hope we can all finish strong in what has been just as rewarding as well!

History that Matters: Week 13 in History Beyond the Classroom

The view from Fort Michilimackinac, now Mackinaw City, Michigan. Or a view of Anishinaabewaki? Whose lands? Whose Perspective? Whose History? (Photo by author)
Our last formal meeting in HSTY 3902 History Beyond the Classroom took place on Monday, October 26. Students presented on their community work and major projects, reflected on their experiences, and we had a fun end-of-year party to cap it all off. In their presentations and reflections, the students once again impressed each other, me, as well as visiting colleagues from the History Department at Sydney University. Many thanks to all who came along to hear about their work.
Hannah Forsyth also joined us from ACU, where she has been coordinating a similar course. Hannah and I dreamed up this unit of study together several years ago while working on our Social Inclusion program. Teachers at the disadvantaged schools we worked with asked us to help get their students out of the local ‘bubble’ that they were in. Hannah and I also came to realise that our own Uni students (along with us) often seldom left the ‘bubble’ they were in. We were keen to think of a way to push students out of the comforts of the classroom and engage with communities and groups with whom they might not normally interact and to think of the challenges and opportunities of history from a different perspective than the traditional essay allows.
The origins of the class in our social inclusion efforts has meant, I think, that engagement has been central to what the students have been doing which, in turn, has meant the students are all doing local or community-engaged history as much as they are doing public history. The two do not necessarily always go together, but the students have convinced me that in combination, community-engaged public history makes for a more grounded, meaningful, and accountable approach to the past, one that challenges the hierarchies of academic history in many different ways – and often in ways that I did not foresee happening.
The blog posts written by students throughout this semester testify to the meaningfulness and transformative effect of doing community-engaged public history. This was only reinforced when Hannah asked students how their work this semester has enriched their sense of history, or made them think differently about the place of history in the world.
Students immediately noted that working with “real people” demonstrated how personal history could be, and how important it is to so many different kinds of people. They could also see how many different ways people use history, and just how different those ways could be from “academic history.” Indeed, many students said they understood now in a more tangible way the different roles of history and how it works in practice (and one or two noted that they could now see history as a career – they could finally answer that question “what will you do with a history degree!).
Some of the students working with organisations that didn’t have a specific historical focus also said they felt they were doing important work documenting these organisations and their activities, and that history could be about this history in the making, not just preserving sources or telling stories about the past. One noted how important it was to do this, because she felt that no one else would do so, and it could be lost. And even while it was frustrating at times, and not always historical in nature, students could see how our historical skills could be useful in non-historical settings, and with non-historical organisations.
The students’ work with different kinds of organisations also seemed to democratise their view of history. “History is everywhere,” they declared, and not just where historians (or archivists) say it is. One student noted that his work made him realise that this was a great opportunity to reclassify what constitutes history – to query what we normally value. Working with community groups helps us “decentralise historical importance and what we should consider important.” Additionally, “local history shows us what is important to generations of residents and how important their history is as well.”
Significantly, some students noted that they realised for different individuals and groups, history could be “therapeutic,” and they could see how people used history to “reshape themselves and their world.” One student said her community-engaged work made her feel like the course was helping her to help other people.
In the end, because they saw how seriously others took history, the students said they learned to take it seriously too. Indeed, many noted they had spent far more time on their work for this class than any others they had ever taken, that they “got involved more,” because they saw just how important their work was to other people – that it “mattered.” This was only reinforced as students realised that other students and non-students were interested in what they were doing, both inside and outside the University, and that unusually, they were also keen to talk about what they were doing in their history class! Suddenly, their work was not just about getting a good mark, “going through the motions” of writing an essay, or even developing skills. There was much more at stake, and several students noted that they came to realise that the history they were doing was about much more than themselves.
You can see why I’m more than a little sad about the course coming to an end. The students in HSTY 3902 have impressed, inspired and energised me from the start. I’m sure that many thought I was a little mad when I explained what we would be doing way back in Week One. Likely some still think so! But this group has persevered, thrown themselves into their work, and pioneered a way forward for future classes.
Along the way, they have not been the only ones learning. This course and the students’ work has made me think very differently about my own work, made me question my relevance as an academic historian, and forced me to acknowledge that we have much more work to do to make our work accessible, to think about our responsibilities as historians, and to be more accountable for the histories that we write.
The class might have ended, but I’m very much looking forward now to reading students’ reflective diaries, and seeing their major projects come to fruition. Stay-tuned…

“Improving the sport”: Why I’m working with the Parramatta Basketball Association

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Home of the Wildcats: The picture above shows the Wildcats’ logo side by side with the Auburn City Council’s slogan: “Many cultures, one community.”
As a kid growing up, I had three great loves – history, photography and basketball.
Storytelling comes in as close second.
Not many people know this but it was through my exposure to the works of Andrew Bernstein and Nathaniel S. Butler – both renowned sports photographers who had covered games for the National Basketball Association (NBA) -that I developed my love for photography.
In terms of basketball history, I am a walking encyclopaedia.
I can talk about basketball all day long given the opportunity. In fact, I once spoke about it so much that someone suggested, sarcastically, that maybe I should write a book about it.
So I did. Or at least I am trying to.
I’m not a good basketball player but I love this game and I’ve learnt over the years that when you love something, you will always find away to utilise any resource at your disposal to improve it.
Dr. McDonnell’s “History Beyond The Classroom” program gave me the platform to achieve just that.
With the academic freedom he had given us, I decided to use my passions to craft a historical book, filled with stories, images and statistics, about basketball in Sydney, a city I have grown to love in my nine years living here. It is also a city in need of more literature to be written about its rich local basketball history.
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Early years: Photographs of the PBA operating out of the Auburn Basketball Centre during the 1970-80’s with players playing on concrete floors.
Enter the Parramatta Basketball Association (PBA), the brains behind the Ultimate Basketball League (UBL).
I first came across the UBL in 2013, I remember quite a few of my friends played in their league. It was their inaugural season and it attracted a lot of former and aspiring National Basketball League (NBL) players such as Luke Martin, Ben Knight, Graeme Dann and Luke Kendall. The UBL’s full games were live streamed. They were even sponsored by Spalding – the official sponsor of the NBA. In other words, the UBL was a huge hit in the local basketball scene in Sydney.

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