Week 6 in History Beyond the Classroom

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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.
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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.
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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
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Tales from the tombstones with Judith Dunn
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Michaela Cameron talks of her own ancestors and their stories

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