Exploring My Own Backyard

When I was younger, my parents took my family on a “surprise holiday.” My brothers and I climbed into the car without a clue as to where it would take us. Were we off to the snow? The airport? Embarking on a long road trip to Queensland?
40 minutes later, we’d already arrived at our destination: Liverpool Street. In Sydney.
At first, we thought it was- must have been, a joke. We rolled our luggage into the hotel lobby and scanned our parents’ faces for hints of where we would really be heading.
Twenty minutes later, checked into our room and gazing at a slightly obstructed view of the Sydney Tower, we finally came to terms with the fact that our surprise adventure meant simply travelling from our home in the west to a hotel in the CBD.
My mum gave us a mischievous look. We were certainly surprised, I’ll give her that.
“It’s important to explore your own big backyard,” she insisted.
The holiday turned out to be wonderful; scenic, exciting and full of fascinating traces of history I’d never previously realised existed. I had a great time wandering about the city that was at once familiar and full of secrets.
Since this initial introduction to the idea of “exploring your own backyard,” I’ve seen it splashed everywhere: in travel magazines, on lifestyle websites, blogs, think pieces, you name it. Discovering one’s own city, country, neighbourhood, street… going local continues to be promoted, and rightly so, as an eye-opening and enriching experience.
Taking this history unit this semester has further emphasised the concept for me. As someone who has mostly studied history from an academic perspective, taking most of my previous courses on all that “exciting” stuff- namely European wars and revolutions, learning about local and public history has been a welcome change. I’ve discovered there are over 500 clocks hiding away at Central station, a burial ground underneath Town Hall, a collection of colourful first fleet characters buried in Parramatta and a bunch of exciting and creative ways to bring the past into the present.
As I begin to work with my community organisation- the Blacktown and District Historical Society, I’m excited to be discovering the history that’s right on my doorstep, or more specifically, at my back fence. The house behind mine is heritage listed- once home to the first president of Blacktown Shire. I spent my childhood staring at my neighbours’ gorgeous old chimneys, peering at their Victorian veranda as I swam in the pool in summer and taking in the picturesque line of its roof, long driveway, and jacaranda tree as the sun set in the afternoon. I always felt lucky that my house backed onto theirs and found that it encouraged my imagination to run free and ponder scenarios from “the olden days.”
I now have the opportunity to research this house, among others, through my community engagement, and am very much looking forward to where this exercise of (literally) exploring my backyard will take me.
History sure has its superstars- its famous figures, its celebrity cities. But I’ve been delighted to realise the importance of pulling myself away from the dramas of Bolshevism in order to plant my feet firmly on Australian turf, walk them outside and see what’s waiting for me.

Illuminating Histories

There is no denying that history has an illuminating power; an ability to shine light on aspects of the past that have largely remained in darkness. However, it has become increasing clear this week – especially when reflecting on the works of Louise Prowse – that there exist some histories that have been written with fragmented lights, resulting in a marginalised documentation of the past. Regrettably, this is especially applicable to Aboriginal and indigenous histories.
One would imagine ‘Local History’ would be at the forefront of celebrating and exhibiting evidence of local peoples of the past. Yet what struck me most profoundly about Dr. Prowse’s article was that Local Historical Societies have, in fact, for the most part of the twentieth century darkened any evidence of local Aboriginal existence. While this, of course, changed from the 1960’s when Aboriginal rights were, to a large extent, ‘popularised’, it leads me to ponder whether there are other histories that remain in darkness waiting to be illuminated by future ‘popularity’…

Continue reading “Illuminating Histories”

The Burial of Recent History

My project for the Addison Road Community Centre seeks to memorialize and honour the women who protested the ‘death ballot’ conscription for the Vietnam war in the late 60’s to early 70’s. These mothers were present at every single intake of soldiers, predecessors to the radicals and students from Sydney Uni who joined the resistance later on in the war when public sentiment was flailing. They held vigils, they wore gloves and reverently upheld signs marked “remember Nuremberg”. Despite being branded as communists – these women, mostly 40 and over, took on the job with unfettered determination.
When speaking with the centre’s historian, the scope of the project began to dawn me. Tracking down the descendants or associates of a group of older women who campaigned in Marrickville 50 odd years ago, to create an oral history, would not prove an easy task. Her words sunk in, ‘this is primary research’, ostensibly no one has ever tried to collate these diminishing second-generation accounts and recreate the dynamic political scene. I was left with a barrage of unanswerable questions. Where would i find them? How would i get them to agree to speak with me? (having expressed her own trouble in doing so) What were my hunches? What specifically did i want to find out? Who may know-someone-who-would-know-someone who could refer me? How many of this ‘x-john doe’ lived in the broader area according to the white pages? I was left perplexed and filled with dread. This was an ambitious undertaking.
After all, these protests were within living memory. Why then, was this contemporary history left uninterrogated? Whilst the annals of white, colonial Australian history, as evidenced by our lecture from Judith, remain seared in public memory and actively pursued. These women and their fight to save the nation’s sons competes with the carnival-like celebration of Anzacs and all who have served in the military for Australia. Upon further research, peacemaking, at home and internationally, is one of the few public arenas in which women have always had a decisive and initiatory role. These themes simmer above my research, recasting the information i find. This history is important. Not only as a landmark in social justice for Australia, but for the human rights issues we encounter today. No movement ever succeeded with only the anarchists, the radicals, the scholars. Ordinary Australians and older generations imagined outside the parameters of social rebellion need to be included. The women of S.O.S remind me of a group I see rallying today, dismantling the idea of what a protester is. The ‘grandmothers against the detention of refugee children’. They never miss a rally, they come in impressive numbers, they wear matching shirts and they bear witness.
Noreen Hewett, the groups lead organiser in one of her final recorded interviews, when asked as to why she founded Save our sons, said, “I have always had a general interest in the question of peace.” Indeed this is all one should need.
Teresa Singh

Club VeeDub – A history closer to home

I decided to approach Club VeeDub at the recommendation of my Dad. It’s really my dad’s fault that I’m here. You see my dad has the gift of the gab and a dysfunctional appreciation of cars that don’t (or won’t) go. So all my life I have been inundated with story after story after story of car after car after car (I never complained though, not once). It’s not terribly difficult to imagine that Dad has a network of likeminded people who are also obsessed with cars that don’t go. But Dad will tell you that it’s actually Grandfather’s fault, and Uncle Al and Uncle John would definitely tell you that it’s Grandfather’s fault (This car thing is genetic).
My Dad has had Citroens for years (Grandfather did too). The collection is mostly the same each year. But about two years ago now, Dad crossed the border. He spent $100 on a Kombi that doesn’t go. Dad recently joined Club VeeDub in an attempt to meet some people who knew a few things and had a few parts that might help get the Kombi off the lawn.
It is from this context that I contacted Club VeeDub to see what I could do for them. It turns out they have a lot of history going on. Phil, the editor of the Club’s monthly magazine, the Zeitschrift, tries to put an historical piece in each edition. He offered to let me edit the next copy of the magazine. Then Dad started talking, and now I am also writing a piece for the magazine.
I’m not going to be writing anything I thought I might write. I am going to be writing about my history. Grandfather owned a panel shop in Lidcombe that wrecked and fixed up Volkswagens. So thanks to Dad I am going to be trawling through family photos and interviewing my uncles to help inform the article. I think it should be really interesting because I really don’t know a lot about the wrecking days of the shop – although I’m sure I’ve been told on numerous occasions. What I have been told already, is that they used to use a Kombi Ute to bring in parts and that Dad got run over by a Beetle without wheels – but that’s a story for another blog.
And thanks to Dad, he is after all, the reason I am here, I have my first source.
This is a picture of Uncle John, Dad and Uncle Al on Schenk & Co’s last day of business, on the 18th December, 2014. Dad’s caption reads
“Schenk & Co Smash Repairs closed its doors today after 54 years of trade.
In its heyday we used VW Kombi utes as our workhorse. We collected parts In them. We took beetle bodies to Sims metal In them and they did countless trips to the tip.
Today we did our last ever tip run from Schenk & Co.
It was only proper that it be done in a Kombi.”
I really have no idea what happened during Schenk & Co’s Kombi era other than that. But I think that Dad, Uncle Al and Uncle John will have plenty of stories to tell. The only trouble will be fitting the stories into the article and getting them to stop talking. I think that some of the stories may not make it into the article, but I think they still are important in telling the story. I hope that I’ll be able to figure out how to do a blog for it myself, and hopefully I can do them justice there.

But What Is My History?

I have always been fascinated by history, leading me to choose as much elective history as possible throughout high school, and only naturally resulting in a major at university. This fascination probably stems from the fact that I have always been surrounded by history. My grandparents would tell me enthralling stories, I’ve long watched my Dad passionately piece together our family tree, and my Mum constructs our immediate family history in scrapbooks. Yet, my interests have always extended far beyond Australian or local history.
While I tell myself I am so interested in WWII and post-war European history because it’s my ‘family’ history (a great-grandfather and grandfather who served in WWI and II respectively, and ancestry from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany), is it really ‘my’ history?
With every session I have with my community organisation, Manly, Pittwater and Warringah History Society (MWPHS), I become more and more aware of just how unknowledgeable I am about the rich local history of the area I have lived my entire life – the Northern Beaches.
The popularity of local history, exactly what MWPHS strive to collect, preserve, and circulate, has exploded in recent years. Graeme Davison puts it clearly and simply – “Local history, which links our aspirations for community to a sense of place, our fragile present to a seemingly more stable past, has a strong claim on the contemporary imagination”.
So, I guess rationalising my attraction to European history is justified, as my family history has very much impacted my life today, linking my “fragile present to a seemingly more stable past”. But how then do I explain my lack of connection to the history right on my doorstep? (This isn’t an exaggeration. A quick walk into the bush near my house, and you’ll stumble across Aboriginal rock carvings). The history with which I should resonate, given my physical relationship, “a sense of place”.
I’ve always assumed my local area lacked an ‘interesting’ history worthy of my attention, but I’m continuously being surprised as I come across documents in MWPHS’ archives (like newspaper advertisements for Manly Ferries from the early 1900s, or photographs of one of the many farms that once existed in my suburb). Why has it taken this long for me to be exposed to this information? If I had been exposed earlier, could I have a stronger sense of belonging to my local community?
History, whether it is public, local, national, Indigenous, female (the list goes on), is very much about identity making. The power of history lies in its ability to educate about the past, in order to make sense of the present, and inform or progress the future. This happens at all levels (community/local, nations, transnational), but most basically for individuals. HSTY3902 students – who knows what little known information you’ll uncover and publicise? Whose identity may your work help shape in the future? You have the power, use it wisely.

Week 8 – Community Work and Organisations

This week we took a bit of time out to talk to previous students of History Beyond the Classroom and to find out more about the community work that students have already started this year. It reminded me of just why I enjoy teaching this course so much.
We were fortunate to have Sarah Simic and Ryan Cropp join us from last year to talk about their experiences last year, the highs and lows, the challenges and rewards, to give us practical tips on working with organisations, and to reveal some important updates about the work they did.
Ryan Cropp, who is now doing his Honours degree in history, was one of the first students last year to make contact with a group – the Hurlstone Park Wanderers Football Club. And he was one of the first students who posted a blog about his experiences. See http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/local_sports_history_the_scram.html Ryan helped inspire many students from last year to get started and see where they landed up.
Ryan spoke about his realisation that history was incredibly fragile, and relied on the often unpaid work of so many dedicated enthusiasts who care about their communities and their clubs. While at first frustrated with how few records there seemed to be about the club, that frustration and search for new records became the most interesting part of the project.
Ryan also spoke of his need to manage expectations – his own and others – about what he could realistically achieve in the course of one semester, but also the (on-going) friendships he made while doing his major project. He helped re-write part of their website http://hurlstoneparkwanderers.com.au/about-us/club-history/, and interviewed one of the older club members and made a great video about the Canterbury Cup played at the Blick Oval in Hurlstone Park from 1949-1963 (see http://historybeyondtheclassroom.jimdo.com/student-projects/the-documentarians/ryan-cropp/). Ryan hopes his work has and will continue to stir up more memories and archives relating to the club.
Sarah Simic also joined us, and talked about her false starts with a community group, followed by her major task – finding the origin dates 27 suburbs for the city of Fairfield. She thought this was going to be easy, but it turned in to a labour of love. She wrote one of the best blogposts of the year. I urge everyone to read the full blog at http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/11/the_shady_origins_of_our_subur_1.html, but here is an excerpt:
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.

Sarah urged students this year to be creative and roll with the unconventional nature of the unit, to trust their historical instincts, and to enjoy themselves. Sarah also reminded us of the practical outcome of the work many students did. Though Sarah’s report wasn’t made “public,” Fairfield has used her work to make new banners dating the various suburbs. The fruits of her work can now be seen all over the city of Fairfield. You can view her work at: http://historybeyondtheclassroom.jimdo.com/student-projects/the-writers/sarah-simic/
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The fruits of Sarah’s labour
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Plan of town made by founder John Brenan in 1838. Present day Smithfield still follows this plan.
Sarah was also able to stay and talk to students informally about their community work and the projects that might emerge. We divided up the students into groups based around the kind of work their organisations did, which included historical societies and historic sites, community and sports groups, libraries and schools, and health and welfare and government groups.
This year, we have twenty-seven students in total, working with twenty-seven different organisations, listed below. Once again, they range in scope and size and purpose, but so far all the students seem keen to get on with their work with them and open-minded about what might emerge. Students also talked about how enthusiastic many of their contacts were in their organisations, and why they got interested and involved with them in the first place.
I have been cheered again by how willing students are to think beyond the classroom and to engage with such a wonderfully diverse group of organisations. And I am very grateful for the support of our community partners in taking on the students. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more about the work students are doing, and the projects that evolve from this.
Community Groups and Centres

Addison Road Community Centre
Auburn Youth Centre
Newtown Neighbourhood Centre
Balmain Association
Friends of Callan Park
Glenwood Community Association
Historical Societies and Historic Sites

Blacktown and District Historical Society
La Perouse Museum
Manly, Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society
Blue Mountains Historical Society
Wyong Family History Group
Eryldene Historic House and Garden
St John’s Cemetery Project
Schools, Colleges, and Education
University of the Third Age – U3A (Liverpool)
Wesley College
Kambala Old Girls Union
Libraries, Health and Government
Touching Base
Woollahra Municipal Council (Double Bay Library)
Waverly Library
The David Berry Hospital
Sports and Leisure
Queenscliff Life Saving Club
Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink/Ice Skating Club of NSW
Western Suburbs Rugby League Club Archives
Club VeeDub
Music & Booze Co.
Cooma Little Theatre

Western Suburbs Rugby League Club: A History

“Sport is for those who are smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”
Rugby League has always played an important part of my life. Some of the earliest memories I have with my Dad were chucking the footy around in the backyard or going to games with him. For me, sport had always been an escape from the challenges that life threw at me. It was a way to make new mates when school wasn’t going so great. It was a healthy distraction from the pressures of Year 12. In many ways, I had always kept footy separate from my academic work. If I’m being perfectly honest, I never thought it would be possible to combine my love of Rugby League with that of history. Surely histories of sport and leisure would make classical empiricists like Von Ranke turn in their grave! Over the years I had read plenty of autobiographies and histories of the game, not once thinking that I could perhaps add to the body of work.
I mean what kind of Professor seriously wants to read about footy?
I was lucky enough for that to change last semester. Whilst taking a course that centered on the history of Sydney, I decided to write an essay on the ways in which Rugby League contributed to Western Sydney Identity. Enter the Western Sydney Fibros and Northern Beaches Silvertails. This rivalry produced what can only be described as the most violent period of Rugby League history. Spawned through a unique form of territorial class warfare. If you have a spare hour on your hands I seriously recommend watching the documentary below:
Wests Archives was an obvious choice of organization for my beyond the classroom project. Over the last few weeks I have been lucky enough to spend time with some of the stalwarts of the club. Club Director Rick Wayde has been especially helpful in gauging an idea for what I could do. Every ex player I seem to bump into at the League’s club reminds me that Rick is probably the expert on Wests history. Club archivist Neil Bennett has been an absolute champion. Over a coffee (or two….) he’s managed to show me the whole of their collection. I’m talking Jerseys, newspaper articles, stubbie holders, trophies….The list goes on.
During the mid 1990’s, media Mogul Rupert Murdoch took it upon himself to create a completely new Rugby League competition. Murdoch’s “Super League” began to rival the Australian Rugby League Competition that had been around since 1908. Players, teams and coaches swapped codes. Rivalries spawned. Court battles were won and lost. By 1997, both leagues signed a peace deal and the National Rugby League competition was born. Unfortunately for Wests, the financial constrains caused by the chaos of the years before meant that they could not enter the new competition alone. The first grade Wests side perished and merged with Balmain. Wests Magpies still compete as a sole entity at lower competition grades. Wests fans can be found at Ron Massey Cup and SC Ball Games. It is my understanding that the supporter group, aptly named “the Wests Fanatics” emerged through this tumultuous period. Rick and Neil would like me to write a history of the Wests Supporters Group after the mid 1990s.
In all honesty, I’m really excited to see where this project takes me. At the end of the day, I hope to be writing working class stories. From preliminary research and talks with Wests fans, it is apparent that the club holds a pretty special place in their hearts. We have read a lot about public history this semester. In saying that I have become even more aware of its limitations and restrictions. Oral histories that I find myself collecting will have to be reinforced with other primary evidence. I will need to understand that the project is going to take time. The club has made it clear what they want to do with my work, so I need to ensure it’s factually correct. Guest Lecturers like Louise and Michaela have showed that community groups have an uncanny ability to produce environments of inclusiveness and happiness. If I can capture that kind of sentiment, I will consider my project a success.
One my early Club Presentations
Me at the 2004 NRL Grand Final
The Boots and Jersey I wore in my Final Year at School

Week 7 in History Beyond the Classroom


Dr. Tanya Evans, Macquarie University

In week 7 in History Beyond the Classroom, we got yet another perspective on community engaged pubic history. Fresh from winning a prestigious NSW Premier’s History Award on Friday night, we were lucky to get Tanya Evans. Tanya was also busy this week, since she is current President of the History Council of NSW (http://www.historycouncilnsw.org.au/about/), and had a packed schedule of events for History Week (http://www.historycouncilnsw.org.au/history-week/)
Tanya, who now teaches at Macquarie University, started her career by doing her Honours in History at Edinburgh University, followed by an MA in Women’s History at the University of London, followed by a PhD, also at London. Though an academic historian, Tanya told us that when she moved to Macquarie from the UK she began to describe herself as a public historian who also happens to specialise in the history of family, motherhood, poverty, and sexuality. For Tanya, the line between academic and public history is too blurred to make a distinction, which arguably should not have to be made at all.
Tanya is passionate about researching ordinary people and places in the past and, more importantly, incorporating ordinary people and places in the process of her research and the construction of historical knowledge. She also loves teaching and producing public history and working in teams. In fact, Tanya helped me think through some of the challenges of teaching this unit because she also teaches a capstone community history unit at Macquarie (which has a requirement that all students complete a community engaged unit of study before they graduate), but one that is focused on collaboration between students, too.
Tanya has also curated an exhibition, writes for general as well as academic readers, politicians and social policy makers and she makes radio and television programs based on her scholarship. Tanya is a regular contributor to the popular show “Who Do You Think You Are?” both here and in the UK. She consciously tries to pitch her work at a variety of audiences because her research is targeted at disrupting people’s assumptions about the history of the family. It questions supposedly ‘authoritative’ or ‘commonsensical’ knowledge about family life in the past.
Her three books so far have been about the history of ‘illegitimacy’, poverty and philanthropy. And, as noted above, as testimony to Tanya’s commitment to community history, her last book, Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales, won the NSW Premier’s History Prize for Community and Regional History (http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/about-library-awards/nsw-premiers-history-awards). The book was a history of Australia’s oldest surviving charity, The Benevolent Society, and she wrote this in collaboration with family historians while relying on the support of the charity over several years in order to do so. Tanya was as interested in the lives of the family historians she met while doing research for this, and wanted to track how their own research has changed the way they think and live, too.
fractured families.jpg
Tanya is dedicated to the democratization of historical knowledge, and her commitment showed in her talk to the class, as well as the essay we read based on her most recent venture: an edited collection called Swimming with the Spit published by New South, which is a community history of the Spit Swimming Club at Balmoral Beach (https://spitswimclub.org/), and has just hit the newsstands everywhere….( https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/swimming-spit/). Tanya shared some of the stories she accumulated while interviewing various prominent female swimmers in the club’s history, and discussed how they wanted to shape their own stories. In doing so, Tanya reminded us that though local history is often disparaged, in fact, just about all history is local history in some way, and the real questions revolve around the meaning(s) we make of those stories.
Swimwith Spit.jpg
Finally, Tanya talked a little about her interest in presenting in different media, noting that she wrote drafts of her latest work as blog posts, which allowed for an exchange of ideas and community input. This led nicely into our class discussion of the community work that students are doing, and the major projects they are starting to think about. In the meantime, Tanya is also already starting to write a history of motherhood in Australia from prehistory to the present (!) while continuing to research the different ways in which family history is practiced. We’ll look forward to more innovative approaches, and award-winning research.

Granville Boys High School Museum Visits

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Year 7 Granville students at the University

Over the past four years, several groups of students from Granville Boys High School have visited the University of Sydney as part of the Social Inclusion program – usually Year 11 students completing individual research projects. On the 12th and 17th of August, the university hosted four classes of Year 7s in a pilot for a Project Based Learning program.
For this new project, Granville students will be investigating ancient artefacts and human remains, particularly looking at how remnants of the past are used to bring history to life in the present-day. Their case studies will include Ancient Egyptian mummies, Otzi the Iceman, and closer to home, Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. The students visited the Nicholson and Macleay museums to get a closer look and a better understanding of the importance of artefacts and remains, as well as the processes of preservation, storage, and presentation.
At the Nicholson Museum, the students handled artefacts such as canopic jars, ceramic sherds, mummy wrappings, grave-robber lamps, and Sumerian tablets. While handling these collections, they applied a series of questions to determine each object’s material, date, and place of origin. In the end it was the two swords – one Cypriot, the other Mycenaean – that drew the most attention from the students.
The staff at the Nicholson Museum were terrific guides and hosts for the boys. Craig Barker also took a group for an impromptu chat about the mummies, but quickly found out that at least one of the boys had been doing a little work on his own, and could describe the process of mummification down to the finest detail. His friends, along with us, were amazed.
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Dr Craig Barker with students in the Nicholson Museum

After learning about the material cultures of ancient civilisations at the Nicholson, the students explored Macleay Museum’s natural history collection. Upon their arrival, Jude Philp, Senior Curator at Macleay, tasked the students with locating the oldest and weirdest objects on display. Several of the students were also determined to find fake objects – but turns out the entire collection is real! Even at the end of what was quite a long day, the students were bursting with questions about the scientific instruments and animal life on display, how they were collected, and what it is like working in a museum.
We are looking forward to seeing their projects at school. And judging by their enthusiasm for learning about the history of the University and how we study history at the University and Museums, we are also looking forward to having them as students in a few years’ time.

Week 6 in History Beyond the Classroom

Judith Dunn, OAM
Last week our class finally moved beyond the classroom in a literal sense, and journeyed to Parramatta for a field trip. Spurred on by Michaela Cameron, who has helped bring the history of Parramatta alive in her recent work (see: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2016/09/week_5_in_history_beyond_the_c.html), we travelled west instead of east (as we did last year, see: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/09/q_station_field_trip.html), and discovered the heart of early European history in Australia.
Our tour guides for the afternoon could not have been better. In addition to Michaela, Judith Dunn, OAM, also offered her services and gave us a tour of the extraordinary site of the Parramatta Female Factory and worked in tandem with Michaela at the St John’s Cemetery to give us a sense of the amazing connectedness of the early history of Parramatta, Sydney, NSW, and beyond.
Judith Dunn with HSTY 3902 Students on-site at the Parramatta Female Factory

Judith has led an exemplary life as a practicing public historian and historian-activist. She is a migrant with a passion for Australian history, and currently holds a Fellowship in Colonial History. She is also Past President and served on the Society Council of Parramatta & District Historical Society for 23 years. Judith continues to develop and guide coach and walking tours (see, for example: http://www.discoverparramatta.com/events/tours/past_time_tours).
Judith initiated the Historic Graves Committee thirty years ago, is still their convenor and is author of the Parramatta Cemetery Series, a set of five books about all of Parramatta’s cemeteries: (http://stjohnscemetery.jimdo.com/the-parramatta-cemeteries/). Her most recent publication, Colonial Ladies, Lovely Lively and Lamentably Loose (https://www.bookdepository.com/Colonial-Ladies-Judith-Dunn/9780646492254), attracted an individual grant from the Heritage Branch of the NSW Department for Planning.
Judith is the recipient of a number of awards including a gold medal in Women of Australia Awards, the Australian Bi-Centenary Medal and NSW State Government Award for Services to History and Heritage and in her capacity as a TAFE Teacher won a NSW Quality Teaching Award and membership of the College of Educators. In 2011 she was awarded an OAM for services to History and Heritage. On top of all that, the indomitable Judith likes to water ski in her spare time…!
While on tour with Judith at the Parramatta Female Factory site, we learned not just about the varied and diverse history of the women who were incarcerated in the oldest dedicated women’s prison in Australia, but also the many challenges in preserving these kinds of extraordinary historic sites and their history. We walked in the imprint of the convict site and learned of the development plans to build 30-storey buildings on top of this heritage site. We also learned of the many alterations to the site over time, and the sometimes serendipitous discoveries of new developments that have been spotted and stopped only by the vigilance of people like Judith who have cared for the site for so long. Judith reminded us that while it might seem hopeless at times, heritage preservation and the stories in the sandstone will only be achieved through individual and collective action.
We then navigated our way through the growing throngs for the nearby Monday night football game (who were using parts of the PFF as a car parking lot) and Michaela Cameron pointed out some of her favourite historic sites along the main street, including Roseneath Cottage on O’Connell St. near the Leagues Club, the George St Tudor Gatehouse on O’Connell and George Streets, Bennett’s Bakery on O’Connell St., and finally St John’s Cemetery. We marveled at the juxtaposition between old and new, and alas, at the lack of interpretive signs at most of these amazing historic sites. While it seems only a matter of time before they will be overrun by new developments, the work of people like Judith and Michaela are helping to ensure that the stories behind the buildings and gravestones are not lost.
Michaela Cameron pointing out Bennett’s Bakery on O’Connell Street

As the sun set, Michaela and Judith kept us enthralled with stories from the tombs, including many woven from Michaela’s own family history in the area. The St John’s Cemetery is the oldest surviving European graveyard in Australia, and is the resting place for no fewer than 63 “First Fleeters.” Thanks to Michaela’s work documenting some of these stories, more and more people will be able to enjoy the interconnected stories of the very early European development of the Parramatta area (http://stjohnscemetery.jimdo.com/, and see: www.facebook.com/stjohnscemetery, and www.facebook.com/stjohnscemeteryproject ) and the role it played in the early history of Sydney and NSW. We also, I think, came away with a renewed appreciation that all history starts locally, and it is up to us not only to help preserve that history, but also tell it to a broader audience to ensure its importance is not forgotten, and lost.
I should also mention that at least two students from our class last year, Katya Pesce and Michael Rees, worked with organisations involved in saving the built heritage of Parramatta, the Friends of the Parramatta Female Factory (http://www.parramattafemalefactoryfriends.com.au/) and the North Parrramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG). You can read about their experiences here: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/democracy_in_action_first_cont_1.html; http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/11/parramatta_female_factory_riot.html; and http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/an_invitation_and_an_update_fl.html
To help with these preservation efforts, see www.facebook.com/parrafactory, and http://nprag.org/
And to sign the petition against developing the PFF site: https://www.change.org/p/declare-the-parramatta-female-factory-a-national-and-world-heritage-site?recruiter=131946030&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive
Tales from the tombstones with Judith Dunn

Michaela Cameron talks of her own ancestors and their stories