Delving into the Archives

Walking into the Mitchell Library I think can be very daunting. No I don’t know what a microfiche is, no I don’t know how to print, wait, what – my library card has expired! (Surely library cards don’t have expiry dates).
Initial hurdles, it turns out, were easily overcome. I didn’t really think that my research would take me into the depths of an archive. Mostly, I’ve been chatting to my family, and destroying any sort of order that mum had the photos in. But when Dad said that Schenk & Co got most of their business from a huge half page ad in the Yellow Pages, I thought that I probably would be bad historian if I didn’t follow that up.
Actually, Dad said the White Pages. Companies don’t really advertise in the white pages. I did not know this, being a child of the twenty first century. After about an hour of fiddling around and trying to make the microfiche legible, I did find my family listed, and the company, but it was no half page ad. It was only after that that I thought maybe it’s the Yellow Pages that does company adverts. Turns out the Yellow Pages didn’t exist in the 1960s and 1970s. It was called the Pink Pages. But actually, there was no ad in that either. What Dad was actually thinking of was the Western Sydney Buyers Guide.
The actual struggle of finding it I can only blame myself for. I tried smash repairs, repairs, wreckers, cars. It was actually under motor. But once I had figured that out I was set. Schenk & Co had a small ad, not really the half a page that Dad seems to remember, but still quite significant for a small family business.
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I feel like my project is a little more valid now. I know that family histories are valuable, but compared to all the fabulous projects being undertaken by my peers, I feel that I really have taken an easy road. Definitely a great experience feeling like an actual historian, looking for actual sources in an actual archive.

New PhD – William Matthew Kennedy

On behalf of the Department of History, a hearty congratulations to William Matthew Kennedy for the award of his PhD.
Matt’s thesis, entitled “Recolonizing Citizenship: Australia and the Ideal of Empire, 1867-1911,” was supervised by Mark McKenna, and deals with the relationship between an emerging Australian national identity and a more global, racialized, imperial political identity in establishing a settler-colonial ‘republic’ based on a contested notion of British rights. In developing his argument, Matt looked at the impact of communication technology, colonial philanthropy, and colonial imperialism and was particularly commended for situating this developing political identity relative to other constituent parts of the empire, most notably British India and the Pacific region within which Australia acted as a sub-imperial power. Examiners praised it as an “important contribution to the literature; one with relevance to historians of Australia, of other settler colonies and of the empire as a whole.” “Packed full of suggestive insights…adding up to a vibrant new appreciation of the relationship between Australian and imperial identities.” “Highly original, timely and compelling.”
Well done to Matt on this fine achievement. Congratulations.

Pondering Public History

Before I started the HSTY3902 unit, when I thought about public history I often discounted its validity because I believed museums and other historical spaces only showed the public the stories/images of the past they desired to remember or commemorate. However, one particular reading from the unit has managed to change my perspective. Thomas Cauvin’s article ‘Shared Authority’ highlights that public history has the possibility to be more than just an arena to unquestionably celebrate/commemorate victories and tragedies. In Cauvin’s article I like the idea that “…historians should strive to understand [the past] as it really was, not as what people want it to be, and by doing so should endeavour to create a space for discussion about the past”.
As many are aware, there are multiple perspectives and interpretations of the past and each need to be heard, discussed and analysed in order to create a truer picture of history. Only by allowing public audiences to see and hear multiple voices, including those which juxtapose to their own experiences or views, can there ever be a ‘shared authority’ of the past between historians and different groups and individuals of the public. If only one story is ever told from a singular point of view, it can ever only feel owned from a small fragment of society.

1 Step Forward 2 Steps Back: It’s all history!

You don’t always know where you’re going, what you’re looking for or what you’ll end up with, but even more so, it’s sometimes hard to stop looking! It’s an exhilarating, ironically non linear ‘choose your own’ adventure where anything could happen, so many tracks to go down. You go on tangents and find things you never expected to, or wild goose chases where nothing turns up. Sometimes records are missing or literally eaten by rats, or a perhaps a paper shortage! But how fabulous is that! The gaps keep you coming back, it’s a thirst for the whole picture. You get to know the ‘characters’, imagine their lives, feel a strange connection and a sense of responsibility to finish what you started. I am doing a history of ordinary people, who lived in a ordinary house, but ordinary for me is what makes this type of history so exciting. Anyone can become history and anyone can find it. History is part of family life, the community, the future.
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(Certificate of Title: Henry Wardrope 1910 Vol 2102 Fol 117 )
Mr and Mrs Wardrope are my centre point from which my study spreads. This project spawned from an enquiry from their ancestor, their beautiful sepia portrait and their house between the old Town Hall and Blue Mountains Echo (later ‘Daily ‘paper). I still do not know the end result, but the experience has been invaluable. I feel attached to their story, even if it is not exceptional it serves as an insight to the lives of migrants, the experience of family and work in the early 20th century, the township of Katoomba and the legacy members make serving the community.
It is also an interesting look at the evolving urban environment. Still seen to be as a large Township, Katoomba has grown from a mining town, a touristic centre, a medical escape to a vibrant multicultural hub for all types of people and business still serving some of the functions it once did. A study of this property, the changing size and shape it took over time, the amalgamation, transformation and destruction serves as a larger analysis of the growth of settlements and urban expansion. Further, it is interesting to understand how history meets heritage and how a study of the people and places are key to preserving aspects of the past for our future. And while a car park stands there now and much of Katoomba has been reshaped since its earliest developments, respect of the past lived experience is crucial, even starting from the smallest house squeezed between two key buildings.
As I do not wish to give too much of the story away, I will leave you here, hopefully keen to learn more about the voyage of the Wardropes across the world to the unknown, settling in the inner west before finding their community in the Blue Mountains, about the agricultural to urban evolution from the first land grant to the car park for Civic video which stands there today. Local, small scale history is important as it is relatable, it as an unseen aspect of our past and past community members which have contributed to our lives today.

A change of plans …

I remember hearing from other students from last year’s class speaking about how they chose their final project structure at the last minute, or changed their idea just in time to stress out completely. A common theme among them, though, was how proud they were of their final product.
As I heard these recounts, I thought (a little too smugly) that that was nice, but it didn’t apply to me and my organisational genius. I had picked out my organisation, I had organised a position and started volunteering every Friday at the library, and I was gathering research for a walking tour. I was set.
I didn’t account for the role that genuine interest plays in the history making process, or at least in the academic sphere. To be clear, I certainly did not dread my original project idea (which was to create an informative blog around the ‘Crime in Vaucluse’ walking tour that the Woollahra Library will give sometime in December), yet something was bugging me. I remember the multiple encouragements that Mike gave us that were along the lines of: make use of your skills, experiment with different modes of communication, and strangely enough… have fun with it! (I’m sorry, what?)
And for me personally, this is the act of writing. Without going into depths about my hopeful future in this practice, it is what I am drawn to again and again. I mentioned in my last blog about the difficulties I was facing in terms of imagining the human qualities and character behind Sir Henry Hayes (an Irish convict who set up Vaucluse House). I dove further into this interest, and narrowed my research to feature just Sir Henry. It seemed the more that I delved into his past, the more fascinated I was by the character he must have been. To lay out a few facts from the research I have gathered using the Woollahra Library Local History resources:
-Sir Henry Hayes was a Sheriff in Cork, who came from a wealthy manufacturing company. Around 1795, he became a widow with 7 children.
-Hayes abducted Mary Pike, a wealthy heiress. He showed little remorse of this act, and Mary Pike fled to England with her reputation in ruins.
-Hayes eventually turned himself in after two years on the run. Why did he do it? This question has been bugging me an insane amount!
– He paid for the best room money could by on board the Atlas, the convict ship heading for NSW.
– Immediately he showed a distaste for authority, becoming enemies with Governor King, and constantly being sent to other parts of the colony under suspicion of organising uprisings against English rule.
-He tried and failed (and tried again) to set up Australia’s first Freemason House and it is rumoured that he hosted the first legitimate Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at his home, Vaucluse House.
The list goes on, but most importantly I want to portray these facts (that are so often condensed to dates and places) to a wider audience that might be interested in this man through a different mode- that of narrative history.
I plan to create some diary entries with the first-person perspective of Sir Henry Hayes and post them to a blog site of my creation. Crucially, I will be basing all the facts upon historical evidence, and I will have links to the various primary or secondary sources that I have used to create the story. In this way, I plan to bring a different mode of interest to the biography of such an interesting character.
At the end of the day, I want people to possibly stumble across this account of Sir Henry and be intrigued enough to read on, to read the primary sources or visit the Vaucluse House. I have offered Woollahra Library the opportunity to draw attention to the project if they feel that it will increase interest in the historic site, and the historic man.
At the moment I am in the process of writing up the diary entries and putting them on the website. I have learnt so much during this process- from working out how to set out a website, to thinking about the best way to produce content in an original yet educational manner. I am swiftly realising that the balance between entertainment and historical education is a fine one, but I am enjoying having the freedom to choose how I want to present the story of this man.
I certainly didn’t take into account how long the research period would be. Thankfully the Woollahra Local History department had many wonderful, hard-cover books that gave me the majority of my information. This was good news too, as most of the scarce information on Sir Henry Hayes on the internet is either far too vague, or written by historically-minded writers who haven’t shown any evidence for their claims. Then came the time consuming task of writing these quotes up in a Word document, so that eventually I can paste quotes onto the site (with full referencing, obviously). This is all to ensure that I can say that a large portion of my work has been based on historical facts mentioned by previous publications.
Regardless of this work, it has been such an immersive and challenging experience that already is giving me a sense of pride in what has been made so far. I plan to continue this work after I hand in what I have written so far, because I am realising now that I will not be able to write all the diaries entries that sum up the long Convict-Career of Sir Henry Hayes. I suppose I fell into the trap of thinking I could do more than was realistic. Regardless, I still have a week(ish) until I have to hand in my project, so I hope to keep writing up until that point. I hope the end product reflects the time and effort I have put into it. All in all, I have learnt some genuine skills through this project, and it has been a rewarding task to try and create something that both meets the academic interests of my course, but also engages me as a writer and historian.

Breaking through the noise

The semester had come to close and I have turned my focus from researching to presenting. I will be submitting two projects – a website and a video. Originally I intended to submit just the website, but after seeing the end product I decided it wasn’t original or creative enough. Don’t get me wrong, I think the website looks beautiful and serves the purpose of highlighting the fascinating lives of the old girls whom I researched and I hope the KOGU community will find it useful, but it wasn’t enough. So I decided to create a video. A video which isn’t really a documentary isn’t really a movie and isn’t an interview. I am not sure what to classify this video as, but I hope that will be the strength of it. I tried to create something that was a little unusual and different and I hope I have succeeded.
One of the major reasons I wanted to create something different is because I have found through my study of history, ancient and modern than the unusual and more original stories and presentation formats are often the ones most remembered. Today is the 11th of November – Remembrance Day. My knowledge of World War I is not great but there is one story which I love – the Christmas Truce story. The story goes that on Christmas Day 1914 the British and German troops on the Western Front called a cease fire for the day and played football in no-mans land. To be honest, I am not entirely sure that the story is true, but I think it is (or at least hope it is). Now I think the reason this story is so well known is because it is different and unique. In the constant history of war and hatred and opposition this one story of peace and kindness shines through. Throughout history there are many well-known anecdotes or stories that have been remembered and passed down and I think we have to ask ourselves why these stories are remembered and captivating whilst others are not. I think stories like these are especially important in local or community history because they have the ability to infect people’s brains and be transmitted and become alive. Stories which are alive and captivating are so important in local history when the historian is always struggling against the tide of people interested in wars or revolutions and not the local swimming pool. I hope that my story and my presentation method can act like this and cut through to the people who will appreciate it the most.

But what did you learn?

As this session comes to a close, reflecting on what I have learned through this course seems like an appropriate idea to write about. The themes I think of when reflecting on this course are the concepts of public history, local research and community engagement. These three things are completely new to me and highlight just how much there is for me to learn at university and through history. Through learning these things this session, it expanded my outlook of my local and university community.
This learning experience has highlighted indigenous, local and community histories that I otherwise would not have known about. The stories and tales found through local research highlighted the need for public history and community engagement. A story that stands out to me is one of Alexander Berry (one of the founders of the town) who collected and exhibited indigenous skulls, both in Australia and Scotland. Through local research I found this story, through community engagement, I discovered the context of Alexander Berry, and through an analysis of public history, I was able to find a way to mold it into my work.
The recount of Alexander Berry’s actions highlighted to me how discovering things through local research it is both interesting and relevant. The context and background that this gives to the history of the David Berry Hospital. I found a small detail can provide a context to the family and community. Through engaging with these themes, I found meaning in all we have learned this session and find I am much better able to negotiate all the information found during community engagement.