Historians are indoctrinated with the importance of dates and names from an early age. I can certainly still regurgitate the dates of significance from WWI and WWII along with names of high profile Nazi party members on demand (thank you very much HSC Modern History). For the majority of my undergraduate degree, most of my historical inquiry for essays and assessments has largely been sourced from secondary sources. So its unsurprising that it is now, when I have very little secondary sources to draw upon (except for the Local Studies gold mine at Dee Why Library) that I’m discovering just how difficult it often is making sense of the past.
My major project will take the form of ten blog posts about lesser known histories of the Northern Beaches. I came across the mention of Forestville Soldier’s Settlement in my early research, immediately intrigued, and jotted it down as a topic for one such blog post. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a very frustrating search for further information.
Inputting this exact name into Trove and Google returned very few results;
My hopes of finally stumbling across a piece of Northern Beaches history that could be told in a fascinating narrative were slowly withering away. However, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge – so I started thinking and searching laterally. Thankfully, by skimming the similar results that Google provided, I gained my first clue. Forestville and Frenchs Forest appear to be used interchangeably in different excerpts.
For those unfamiliar with the beautiful bushland suburbs north of The Bridge, Forestville and Frenchs Forest are two adjoining, but different, suburbs. This clearly hasn’t always been the case. James French was the first to settle most of this area and developed a timber industry, explaining ‘Frenchs Forest’. However, the soldiers’ settlement (an Australia-wide government initiative to provide farmland and, subsequently, livelihoods to soldiers’ returning from WWI) was actually within modern Forestville.
Given that I had now determined this particular soldiers’ settlement was located in Forestville, but potentially referred to as Frenchs Forest – I entered this into Trove and Google, crossed my fingers, and hit enter.
JACKPOT. Not only did this bring up a wealth of sources to work with (even an entire book on the subject written by a local historian!), there was some juicy details involved. The land in this area was largely infertile, and the returned soldier’s felt particularly failed by the scheme – so they launched an inquiry that was bountifully covered by local and national newspapers.
Shakespeare’s Romeo so famously asks; ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Well, he has a very valid point – tomayto, tomahto; Forestville Soldier’s Settlement, Frenchs Forest Soldier’s Settlement – different names for the same thing.
(Side note: the soldiers’ settlement scheme is itself very interesting and deserves an entire blog post or essay itself).
“Vandalism”. “Disgraceful Condition”. “Apple of Discord”. “Neglected Dead”. “Vaults in Ruins”. “A City’s Disgrace”. These are just some of the phrases used over the decades in news headings to talk about Saint John’s Cemetery in Parramatta. From as early as 1868, newspapers were calling attention to threats on the cemetery, with accusations ranging from vandalism to neglect. For over a century, the call to take action, to remember their heritage and to look after the final resting place of some of Australia’s earliest European settlers has been spoken among Parramatta locals. For this cemetery ‘is an immensely significant site…due to its links to the history of the British Empire and world convict history’ (http://stjohnscemetery.jimdo.com/about-1/).
I began looking into the history of Saint John’s Cemetery in the media after receiving a news clipping from a fellow historical student (who now has her own unique, historical blog at https://lonelybeaches.wordpress.com/) titled “Save cemetery for the nation”. Written in August of 1970, this article depicts a pretty sad and beaten picture of the cemetery’s condition. ‘Whisky and rum bottles…lay in a tomb which had been attacked by vandals’ and ‘tangled weeds and blackberries hide some of the graves’. The article speaks of an appeal made by Bishop H. G. Begbie, the Bishop in Parramatta, to restore the cemetery. This appeal was supported by the cemetery Trust as well as members of the Parramatta Trust. The hope was for descendants of the people buried in Saint John’s cemetery to take action in the restoration and to add weight towards an appeal to the Federal and State governments, as well as to the Parramatta City Council, for annual grants for maintenance.
As suggested above, this call was not a new endeavour. The earliest mention of the state of the cemetery presented on the Saint John’s Cemetery website (http://stjohnscemetery.jimdo.com/media/) speaks of vandalism that had hit a number of churchyards, including Saint John’s Cemetery. This news clipping from 1868 spoke of youths plucking ‘flowers planted by bereaved relatives and friends’ and warned that ‘the perpetrators of such wanton outrages were liable by law to severe punishment’. The aim of this notice was to caution these youths of the consequences of such acts and hoped it would be enough to deter any subsequent vandalism. As the decades passed, Saint John’s Cemetery was described as being ‘in disgraceful condition’ and ‘so unsatisfactory as to give rise to much regret’, as well as being, ‘to a large degree, in all stages of neglect and decay’. Comments such as these continued to be issues worthy of news space up until 2015 (see Clarissa Bye’s article “Historic St John’s Cemetery at Parramatta in state of neglect”).
The site has finally taken a turn in recent months, however, as the Friends of Saint John’s Cemetery work alongside Parramatta locals to restore and preserve what is left of this history. Recent events have worked to spark new interest in the cemetery, especially among the local community. Lots of work has been and continues to be done. And it is paying off; the cemetery is now quite pleasant to visit. Restoration is not enough however, and the need for funding and the proper telling of its history continues to be a prominent issue. The Saint John’s Project is working to give voice to the numerous stories of those buried in the cemetery. New medians such as Facebook, Twitter etc., are used to call for helping hands and funding, but the call remains the same as what was displayed in newspapers all those years ago: “save the cemetery”.
What draws me to the issue of keeping some old cemetery tidy and presentable is the bigger issue that Australia has with its neglected history. A few years ago, I took a trip around Europe. I visited fourteen cities and towns in nine different countries and was overwhelmed by the amount of history that stood, plain as day, in every street. Everything from old buildings to tucked away museums to cobblestone roads, Europe’s vast and rich history is out in the open for anyone to see. While thousands of people travel to Europe every year to see its historical sites, few people realise how much Australia has to offer in this very department. There are more “plain as day” sites in Australia than even I realised until very recently.
Much of this is simply because Australia, and especially its government, is not taking advantage of its historical resources. Sites like Saint John’s Cemetery would easily be popular tourist sites in a place like Europe, yet here in Australia, its often left unknown to tourist and Australians alike. It is a living testament to some of Australia’s earliest European history and can be quite a sight to behold on a sunny spring day. Walking distance from Parramatta’s historic Female Factory (yet another neglected historical site) and the Old Government House, the cemetery ‘is one of the jewels in Parramatta’s heritage crown’ and sits in a rich, historical area (http://stjohnscemetery.jimdo.com/about-1/). With the right resources, such as access to walking tours, good historical maps, clear signage and descriptions, etc., this area could achieve a very similar experience to walking through some of the old towns in Europe. The call to “save the cemetery” is not just a call for local Parramattans, but should be a call to Australians everywhere to save the history of this nation.
It has been difficult to try and argue that Sydney’s Inner west music and pub culture is historically relevant to an audience that does not necessarily recognise that attending pub gigs is culturally powerful. Perhaps it was arrogant of me to think that the community I socialise within is as captivating as I believe it to be, historical or otherwise. Everyone sort of already knows that music is an important aspect of life – the number of people walking around with headphones in attests to this. Though is it really worth historically investigating? I doubt my contact seems to think so either… he loves what he does and thrives on it, but that satisfaction does not seem to encourage greater investigative curiosity. One thing is for sure, a study on music and booze does not par with some of the more noble community causes that my peers are engaging with. It is stressful that this is what I am thinking at this stage of the project.
I blame the inextricability of music for my project’s current limbo state. Music is so connected to the experience of being human, played whenever people gather. Its accessibility means that people likely don’t think about its cultural role beyond entertainment. It operates or ‘plays’ in a free space, autonomous from politics or other rules, but is reflexively influenced by them as well. It has also been expressed that music has influenced the course of history through mobilising people power. Rodriguez, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Midnight Oil immediately come to mind. So yes, music is arguably historically relevant, but Australian pubs and drinking culture? I’m yet to articulate how.
[Sorry! The image is too large to embed]
At first look, the archives I have accessed seem to further trivialise music and booze to only have entertainment and business value. The drum ads collated by a colleague of the Rule Brothers in tribute to their work at the Annandale Hotel undoubtedly holds sentimental value, but they require a historical perspective – mine – to apply the advertisements to a broader cultural context and argue that they evidence Australia’s cultural development. While myself and the Rule Brothers confidently argue that pubs are communal spaces where ‘people power’ can be unleashed, it is difficult to find clear evidence. I can only think of Keep Sydney Open as an obvious example of this.
The fact that I could spot some familiar musical names amongst the drum ad collection ensured me that this project was personally significant: I want to prove to my audience that the two very separate worlds of history and music and booze can collide. This project presents an opportunity for me to defend my interest in history to those who perhaps are distracted by the performance factor of music.
Parramatta students handling artefacts from the Nicholson Museum
Just as they were submitting their subject preferences for years eleven and twelve, Year 10 students from Parramatta High School visited the University of Sydney in September to learn more about studying History. Associate Professor Michael McDonnell, along with Dr Elly Cowan and Professor Chris Hilliard, greeted the students and introduced them to the expansive range of topics that fall under a history degree, and the potential career options opened up by studying history at university.
A hands-on artefact session with the Nicholson Museum followed, and as the class examined a range of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, it soon became clear that we had an expert among us. Turns out one of the students could remember precise details about Ancient Egyptian funerary artefacts from a school project she had completed in Year 4. With a memory like that, she is well-placed for a career in archaeology.
Afterwards, the students were introduced to the main exhibit of Nicholson Museum by Dr Jelle Stoop of the Classics and Ancient History Department. This was followed by a campus tour led by USYD volunteers Emma Cleary, Anastasia Pavlovic, and Minerva Inwald. As they learned about and saw more of the campus, many of the students opened up a stream of questions on university life – about studying anything between journalism and music, about making friends and getting involved in social justice on campus. Others expressed uncertainty at making decisions about their futures – which, of course, is pretty normal, and there are few places better than university to embrace and explore that uncertainty.
In all of their literature, Touching Base repeatedly accredit their success, as both an organisation and an advocate, to the decriminalisation of the NSW’s sex industry. It allows them to operate and to campaign openly freely the rights of both those with disabilities and sex workers. With that in mind, I thought I’d look into the laws of our state and the history of how we came to be so damn progressive.
Sex work is regulated by state government and as such the laws differ from state to state. NSW decriminalised the sex industry in 1995, an incredibly progressive move for any state. Decriminalisation allows the best options for sex workers in terms of their own health, safety, and personal agency. However, decriminalisation was not designed with their best interests in mind. The laws were based on the Wood Royal Commission of 1994-1997, or as I previously knew it to be – Underbelly: The Golden Mile.
Australia has a long history of police corruption in prostitution; one I imagine is not specific to our country alone. Sandra Egger’s research into the early days of the colony has found a history of payments to police to keep brothels operating. This I’m sure is not surprising, the two seem to go hand in hand. Egger highlights the early 1960s to 79 as the ‘high point for police corruption.’ Coincidentally from 1968 to 1979, NSW’s laws were the most restrictive they had or have ever been. Payments to the police were seen as an operating cost for sex workers and brothel owners. This ‘mentality’ (read corruption) naturally carried over into the 1980s and 90s and what better area for it to flourish than Kings Cross. The Wood Royal Commission was instigated after claims of a paedophile network making payments to police to avoid arrest. These stories dominated the press and even looking back now they are hard to read. The Wood Commission would go on to acknowledged a widespread endemic of corruption throughout jurisdictions, but in no precinct was it as concentrated and as prolific as in Sydney’s notorious Kings Cross. A day in the Kings Cross precinct was described in SMH by a former officer:
The hours of duty for a detective on the day shift were between 8.30am and 5pm…Morning coffee commenced about 9am and continued until about 11.30am, whereupon there was a discussion about a suitable luncheon venue, which lasted until about 12.15, then lunch commenced and usually concluded about 3.30pm. It was followed by an ale or dozen at the infamous Macleay Street drinking establishment, the Bourbon and Beefsteak.
Honestly, why wouldn’t you want to be a cop? You just get to hang out with your mates and drink all day! In order to avoid jail time however one of these cops, Trevor Haken, ‘rolled over’ as they say, which was a pretty big get for the Commission. Haken’s car was fitted out with surveillance in which he captured evidence of senior detectives accepting bribes. Haken’s evidence was crucial in spurring the Commission on, a Commission which attacked all sides of the force in an attempt to break down the code of silence which prevailed. The Wood Commission found evidence of:
process corruption; gratuities and improper associations; substance abuse; fraudulent practices; assaults and abuse of police powers; prosecution— compromise or favourable treatment; theft and extortion; protection of the drug trade; protection of club and vice operators; protection of gaming and betting interests; drug trafficking; interference with internal investigations, and the code of silence; and other circumstances suggestive of corruption.
This is summed up in the catchphrase of the report: a ‘state of systemic and entrenched corruption’. Why is this interesting in relation to sex worker laws? When I first started reading about sex laws in NSW I looked at gender studies and sexual citizenship, I assumed it was something couched in the shifting political scene and second wave feminism and indeed there is an argument to this. But essentially the progressive laws that sex workers are so proud of here in NSW were not made with their best interests in mind. They were made to limit further possibilities of corruption within the police force. If prostitution is legal then it reduces the opportunity for officers to accept and enforce a ‘taxing’ system.
In 2015, the state government flirted with the idea of a new licensing system for the sex industry. The system would have appointed the police as regulators of the industry, a scary proposal for those who can remember the 90s and/or what happened on Underbelly. Touching Base, The Scarlet Alliance and Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP) fought this hard. They argued that the threat of regulation would result in brothels and workers heading underground, making health and education services harder to access. It would also jeopardise the safety of workers by shifting the nature of their relationship to the police, they would no longer feel safe to seek police assistance in times of need. And it would, of course, increase the opportunity for corruption. In May 2016 the government elected against the licensing system in NSW, reasoning that the proposal would incentivise non-compliance and would be of high cost to the government themselves.
NB: I have the utmost respect for the police and sex workers alike. I think they’re both great! And this is in no way an extensive review of the Wood Royal Commission which is in and of itself fascinating. This post could have gone on for days. I recommend having a google of it if you’re that way inclined.
Photo by Tracey Trompf from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/catherine-freyne/3976124
This past week we were again very fortunate to have Catherine Freyne (pictured) as our guest speaker to talk about ways of presenting the past. We couldn’t have got a better speaker on this topic. Catherine is an award-winning historian and media producer who specialises in 20th century urban, social and oral history. She has developed multimedia history content for the City of Sydney, ABC Radio National, ABC Innovation, Think+DO Tank and the Dictionary of Sydney.
Catherine is particularly well known for her work on the ground-breaking Hindsight documentaries at ABC Radio National (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/). But she has also worked on 80 Days that Changed Our Lives (http://www.abc.net.au/archives/80days/) and Against The Tide: A Highway West (http://www.againstthetide.net.au/). For her work in radio, Catherine has received two NSW Premier’s History Awards – a remarkable achievement by any standard.
Since we spoke with her last year, Catherine has started a creative practice PhD in history and journalism at UTS, where she also holds a prestigious Chancellor’s Research Scholarship. Like the poet Muriel Rukeyser, Catherine believes “the universe is made of stories, not atoms” and has a particular penchant for the true ones.
Catherine’s work exemplifies the power of stories. She talked to us about the many projects she has been involved with, and why she is so passionate about public history. She particularly engaged students with her explanation of how her team at the ABC recreated history on Pitt Street and in Hyde Park when making the Hindsight program, Good Sex: The Confessions and Campaigns of W.J. Chidley (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/good-sex—the-confessions-and-campaigns-of-w.j.-chidley/4605590), and also raised the bar on thinking of good public history apps when talking about the Against the Tide project which is still in development and which Catherine contributed to in 2014. The app allows users travelling along the Parramatta River on the Rivercat to make choices about what kinds of histories they are interested in, and hear of the experiences of different groups of people in different voices.
Catherine responded engagingly to students’ questions about how to get the balance right between “important” history and “interesting” history, and told us of her sense of history as political both in giving voice to the marginal and marginalized, but also as giving us a richer sense of the present, emphasising history as a process of sharing. She also talked about the need to think about different formats for showcasing different kinds of sources, and how the digital age allows us to add yet another layer to the landscape of places like the City, noting the importance of thinking about the depth of history in any one place. Catherine talked about the archives of the ABC, and the City of Sydney and great examples of public history.
Though she lamented the end of Hindsight, she also noted that students should tune in to Earshot, Radio National’s new general documentary slot which still broadcasts history features each week (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/). Catherine also told students that if they had a good ideas that might fit the program, to contact her and she might be able to help develop and pitch the idea to Radio National.
Following on from Catherine’s talk, we had a workshop on the problems and challenges that students were facing in getting their project designs off the ground. These ranged from the need for some technical advice, to dealing with creative differences and emphases between themselves and the organisations with whom they were working. While we couldn’t always come up with clear and easy answers, students learned to appreciate that there might be ways to work around some of these problems.
We also returned project proposals. Students were asked to outline their work with their chosen organisations and sketch out their ideas for their major project that has grown from that work. These proposals were a treat to read and mark. Like last year, the work students have been doing with their community-partners has been diverse, and in most cases been extremely important, fascinating, and often heart-warming (you can glean some of this through the blogposts by students on this site).
Their reflections on this work and how they plan to approach the major project were also thoughtful, creative, and provoking, and reflected a real engagement with the work they were doing, and the groups with whom they were working.
Congratulations go out to Keith Stael, who received his PhD in September, 2016.
Keith worked with Professor Chris Hilliard. His thesis was on the early intellectual development of Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman from 1930-1960. Looking at Martin’s education and work in the 1920s especially, the thesis sets out to understand the political and social context in which Martin began his career, and the experiences and circumstances that undergirded his later influential role. The examiners praised the thesis for its analysis and “deep contextualization of an important intellectual during a mostly overlooked period in his life.” “The scholarship is careful, the writing is clear, and Mr. Stael writes authoritatively and convincingly.”
Congratulations to Dr. Stael for this great achievement!
By Teresa Singh
This week I followed a lead for my exhibition to the Trades Hall labor museum in Haymarket. As I was walking there through the fringes of China town, past retail stores and office buildings I almost missed the entry twice. Shouldered between a Glue store and a high rise sits a historic building, once a bustling unionist headquarters, a place where the ‘8 hour day’ was literally won, where the first industry guilds hung their banners… and now?
I walked around the empty museum mystified. My guides voice drifting in and out, the picture of trade unionism himself; I envisioned the room as it initially was in the 1800’s. Long tables filled with intellectuals, anarchists, disgruntled workers…the ‘buzzing proletariat’ for whom, someone as fond of Russian history as I am, has an irrevocable affection for.
Their collection on anti-conscription was kept in a corner swarmed by the banners they had assembled “don’t conscript our daddies”, “no more conscripts” and the moniker which brought me here “Save our sons”. When I asked my guide how it was they came by these signs, some of which were over 100 years old, having been used in the petitions against conscription in WW1, he said many were found in junk stores – on their way to the tip. I was visibly shocked, it was to be the theme of the day.
We began to move off topic from anti-conscription efforts, to the nature of the institution itself. Its own history providing hours of conversation. Neale and his colleague sighed, the funding of this precious site was virtually non-existent, and developers had already bought out a significant part of the building, which had survived since the early 1870’s. They conceded they had taken to buying certain items together, in order to spare them from disposal. The same tragedy almost befell their library. This library was a small room lined floor to ceiling with glass cases full of 19th century books, truly unbelievable relics. This collection was the work of the original Trades hall occupants, determined to create a body of literature which would educate the working class they devoted their lives to. I climbed up ladders to classical anthropological texts I myself recognised from my studies at Uni. A sea of worn and tattered time capsules stacked the cases…Darwin’s social theories, totemism, the American Revolution, poetry, ancient encyclopedias. The collection was a testament to the pioneers of the institute. I drank in their century-old literary choices; confident it did educate, confident it did now. I had never seen books this old in mere shelves, not displayed in glass boxes or guarded with airport level security such as those at the state library.
The idea that a room filled with classic texts this precious was threatened with dismantling seemed impossible. But indeed they had only just succeeded in saving it. ‘State and Federal significance’ is the way he phrased it, with many other beautiful Trade Halls Australia-wide having their libraries dismantled and contents disappearing, it was one of a few of its kind left.
Who did OWN these? Does anyone come here and help in the preservation of this important, priceless collection? No, he replied, they do what they can with the display and have a paper restorer on staff that volunteers her services but funding has not made its way to the trades Hall yet, they seemed doubtful it ever would.
When leaving the museum with copies of the material from the display and banners etc. I was again struck by their incredible willingness to share, their eagerness to lend me original items and their obvious joy in sharing union history. Stewardship over the past was entirely absent. Union history was, all at once, theirs to protect, share and impart. It was mine to take and repurpose in a peacemaking exhibition as I pleased. It dawned on me as I walked out, the building may be changed or come under attack, but as long as men with as great a passion for what it represents, remain, this history can never truly be endangered.
A thinly veiled Simpsons reference to kick off my blog, but the question stands; who is thinking of the children? The Surf Clubs are and have been since they were formed. The system before nippers became a part of SLS NSW, was that local kids would be scouted from the Queenscliff Ocean pool swim team (Dannie being one of them) at the age of 14.
The current system at most surf clubs and Queenscliff is the nippers that has children from as young as 5 or 6 running up and down the beaches on a Saturday or Sunday morning. As a more senior member Dannie states in a very relaxed interview I held with him on a sunny morning down at the clubhouse, “God the kids have it easy these days, but they still complain. It’s hard and they don’t have the energy to get themselves into trouble on the weekend… that’s how we had it and it kept me out of trouble. It works.”
In the same discussion with both Dannie and Dave (old hands at the club) the theme that it was harder in their day was brilliant. The message they really wanted to get across to me however was that the club is good for the kids. It kept them out of trouble, it kept Dannie’s kids out of trouble (*he hopes) and they think it keeps kids good. Why wouldn’t it. Training throughout the week, then up early on the weekends patrolling or competing. It is this community engagement element that has drawn my attention recently and is what I plan to focus on.
Expanding on the military connection I have found out from talking to club members, that emergency services is in many cases an obvious career path that follows growing up around the club. Dannie himself became a Police Officer and he reels off a list of other men that went from teenagers in the club to various emergency services positions. This is not to say that they all do, but the regime and training of lifesaving lends its self to a more formal career path.
Arriving at the Information Desk, I asked the librarian, “I’m doing a ‘history’ on Glenwood. What resources do you have?” I came in with no plan but with an open mind. Before this I began to open random filing cabinets in the library intrigued as to what random things I could find for this project, only to be looked at suspiciously by the librarian as if I was about ransack the place and mess up their archives. Nevertheless with the librarian having a willing heart, she searched the library database finding a sparing amount of news articles and images of a historic house within Glenwood. Initially I began to get concerned as I feared that there was a limited amount of resources available and I would have to widen the scope of the project, to make up for the short fall in information.
Image 1: Proposed Street Plans of Glenwood (Landcom, 1994)
However there was a treasure trove to be found, opening up the padlocked filing cabinet under the manila folder files of Glenwood and Glenwood Schools. Maps, brochures and newspaper articles highlighted the initial developmental stages and designs of the suburb in the early 1990’s to mid-2000’s. Largely published by the developers of the site, Landcom, they promised that the suburb would become “one of the best locations in the west”, with sites of public reserves, shopping centres and transport connections within or in close vicinity of the area. Although largely utilised as a marketing tool, the brochures highlighted what buyers may be on the outlook for, particularly with its emphasis on a suburb where access to all necessities is a possibility.
Image 2: Landcom brochure advertising the proposed features and characteristics of Glenwood. (Landcom, 1994)
These resources largely gave me the foundational basis for this project, which is to focus upon the developmental progress of Glenwood from the early 1990’s to what it is now. However just after writing the previous sections of this blog, I’ll probably focus more upon from the early 1990’s to the mid 2000’s to limit the scope of the project, but also focus upon a time period where most residential development within Glenwood had occurred. I am hoping that many other resources come about and especially from the residents of Glenwood, who could hopefully open their own ‘filing cabinets’ and be able to share their collections of Glenwood’s developmental past.