On the 31st of August students, professors and staff gathered in the Wooley Common Room to observe presentations from Year 11 students from Granville Boys and Miller Technology high. Their presentations and speeches were on a range of topics, from the importance of the Samuri in Japanese history, to the changing role of Pharos in ancient Egypt. The day day also involved a speech by current student Taban Alnafta about her experience on campus a Muslim student from Western Sydney. As well as a talk about student housing by STUCCO representatives (the student-run housing co-operative affiliated with USYD, which offers subsidized accommodation and facilities at $100 per week for low-income students). To end the day, the students all received congratulations and a bag each filled with USYD merchandise and information on applying to university. The teachers and volunteer mentors were extremely impressed with the quality of the presentations by their year 11 students, not far away from first year university work from my perspective!
Month: September 2018
A Voice That Is Not My Own
I was told, prior to beginning this project, that we should welcome the chance to be challenged. That we, as academics, historians, teachers, gatekeepers to knowledge, will be resisted. That we may find ourselves in a position where we must cautiously navigate the work we are doing. Working with an all-female rehabilitation and recovery centre, Jarrah House, I was conscious that I may be somewhat out of place. That I may even represent an intrusion into a safe space. That I would be a would inspire suspicion, apprehension and a disruption to routine: routine which is central to feeling safe, secure and stable. These feelings of being challenged are important: they remind me of the role I play in promoting change.
In this space, I am emblematic of a system which, in part, has restricted the voice of these women. I am the dominant voice, in a space where we are all conscious of my privilege.
I was originally going to title this blog post “A Moral Oral Tale”; I was going to write about the importance of my historical method, my purpose, the ethics of talking about and with, women with addiction. I was going to write about the importance of oral history in understanding our history (PSA: it still is!). It took me a while to realise that this frame of thinking – objective, treating the people I work with as ‘subjects’ or conduits of the past – is entirely counterproductive to the work Jarrah House does. It is counterproductive to the shift we need, as a society, to reshape our understanding and stigmatisation of, and relationship with, physical and mental illness. I was going to conduct an historical approach which distanced myself, and my voice, from the lived, often traumatic experiences that Jarrah House works with. Yet, we need some of that subjectivity which History is often afraid of. We need the humanity, the empathy, the desire to understand. In doing so, we can be a part of change.
Thus, we come back to voice. Agency, autonomy and control over voice are vital to the ways we navigate our social landscapes. By all means, I will be using oral history at the crux of my project. But, it won’t be to methodically report on objective facts, statistics around addiction, or quantitative measures of lived experience. It won’t be to distance myself from potential traumas and hard realities. It won’t be to accomplish something easy and safe.
In short, it won’t be to deliver my historical platform, or my voice. This project is more than a Moral Oral Tale. It is a platform to promote the vision of Jarrah House: social justice, de-stigmatisation, the gendered experiences of addiction, feminism. A vision which should be a vision we all are striving for. It is a platform to engage with the voice of the people in this space most silenced. Silenced by systems, by bureaucracy, by their addiction, and if we’re being honest, by men.
I was talking to my father about this project and the nature of addiction itself. Let me make it clear now: I’m no expert about addiction. But it was significant to see the conversation of addiction (read: a conversation about social justice) having relevance in my life. Having relevance in the lives of others. He asked me, “Why would it help to read other people’s stories? Don’t they just make you miserable?”
Whoa. It struck me how relevant this question was in everyday conversations around this project; why would we want to share in someone else’s experiences, when it can make us sadder? This question, since then, has remained with me. Why does it help to read others’ stories?
It cannot be the old saying, that ‘misery loves company’. Misery is too self-absorbed and all-consuming to want much company. We don’t read stories for the sake of reading of them. We don’t have a vested interest in other people’s lives – the high and the low – to make us sad.
I don’t have an answer yet. Maybe this project will take a step closer to answering that question. Hearing someone’s story is, in essence, an oral history. So, in acknowledging I have no answers, I would take a stab at answering the question:
This is the way that misery does love company: People, when reading something this significant, are relieved to learn that they are not alone in suffering. That they are part of something larger. In this case, a societal plague – an epidemic of children, an epidemic of women, an epidemic of families. It promotes voice. Agency. Autonomy. Respect. It validates emotion; it reminds us of our human histories. In speaking with people at Jarrah House, it is evident that others’ experiences help with an emotional struggle. In writing these histories, we are promoting empathy; in reading these stories, we are wanting to empathise and understand. And, if you ask me, this has such a beautiful opportunity for us as historians, as teachers, as learners, and above all, as humans.
‘A Mind to Change’
When I think about what I love about history, it’s the stories that have been hidden in plain view around us. Growing up in Balmain I have always been fascinated with the suburb’s history. From photographs and maps, to stories of Aboriginal people driving kangaroos down through the suburb for food, and children sneaking through the Balmain East’s underground tram weight, local histories have always intrigued me and captured my imagination.
The Balmain Institute is a not for profit organisation that hosts public talks and discussions on topics such as science, arts, health, education, governance, economics and the environment. Established in 2010, the Balmain Institute has links to the former Balmain Workingmen’s Institute. From 1863, the Institute provided Balmain residents with intellectual stimulation, recreation and companionship throughout the years. Furthermore, the original Balmain Workingmen’s Institute saw Balmain transform from a blue-collar area to a gentrified, predominately middle-class suburb.
Last Thursday I attended the Balmain Institute’s monthly seminar. Feeling quite nervous, I was pleasantly surprised to find a friendly group of about 50 Balmain locals. All from different walks of life, these people were here to listen and learn. This month’s speaker was Dean Parkin, the Executive Director of the Uluru Education Project, which aims to drive awareness of the Uluru Statement from Heart.
After speaking with Margaret Vickers, Treasurer of the Institute, we began to develop an idea for the project. Looking at maps of the suburb, I will produce a project that will chart how the suburb has developed since it was established in 1836. Taking inspiration from the websites ‘Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930’, and ‘Phila-place: Sharing Stories from the City of Neighbourhoods’, I will use the Leichhardt Historical Journal and the numerous maps of the suburb to develop a website showing the changing nature of the suburb. Drawing on the stories of local residents, shopkeepers and locals, I hope to create a project that will be useful for not only the Balmain Institute but also Balmain’s resident past, present and future.
Rule of Law – 3
The state of the Rule of Law globally is beginning to consume me. Sitting in the NSW State Library on Wednesday this week I found myself being confused, perplexed and horrified all at the same time. It appears to me that the world is slowly but surely falling apart.
In Australia the rule of law is almost guaranteed. It isn’t guaranteed in our constitution like it is in the USA (The Bill of Rights, being the first ten amendments to the constitution, protects the rule of law) but it is generally upheld steadfastly by our support of an independent judiciary and the bicameralism of our government system. The upper house can more or less guarantee that no one party can hold an absolute majority and, although this has happened in the past, it does not mean that the constitution can be changed through parliament, with a referendum being necessary to change the constitution.
This is not the case in Hungary. In 2010, a disenfranchised and angry electorate elected the right wing politician Victor Orban and his Fidesz Party to power with a two thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament. As Prime Minister, Victor Orban had a large enough majority to change the constitution through uncontested legislation. Immediately the government introduced their own constitution and took control of the judiciary, essentially creating a democratically elected autocratic state. Now having the power over the courts, there is no force with the ability to declare anything he does within the country as unconstitutional. Thus we have seen the end of liberal democracy in Hungary. This story is not limited to Hungary. Poland has introduced similar measures and has begun to systematically undermine the post-Cold War liberal democracy.
This project has begun to open my eyes to an issue of unparalleled importance and has left me feeling a sense of dread. Will this just be a case in the fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe and Asia, or will history repeat itself with dramatic consequences.
Born and raised in Western Sydney, you could say I was a true, proud Westerner. Attending school in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney, I was exposed to complete opposite sides of Sydney, yet was always drawn to the West. My heart. My home. Even attending the University of Sydney, where a large percentage of students come from North Sydney, I had always been identified as the segregated Westerner so when the opportunity came along for me to create, design and direct my own project, it was inevitable I wanted to work within the suburb I love and am so passionate about.
I ran into more than the usual bumps along the journey of finding an organisation. I had little to no luck, with one organisation who originally gave me a positive answer initially pulling out at the 11th hour…I was in tears…literally. I sat in class in week 7 and heard the chitter chatter of my colleagues boasting about their organisation and how “amazing” they were and they were almost done and here I was, back to square one. My search began again. Exhausted, running on no sleep, I contacted as many organisations as I could and, just like that, the Parramatta Heritage Centre waltzed in and saved me from drowning in my own tears…literally.
The Parramatta Heritage Centre, located in the heart of Parramatta, houses thousands of photos, letters, articles, journals, artefacts, memorabilia and writings from convict Parramatta to current times. It allows the public to visit, view and learn about all sources within the centre, 7 days a week. I was quite shocked that a heritage centre was open 7 days a week. It truly shows that it caters to families, including working parents. To me, that’s extremely important as centres like this should be accessible to everyone, during weekdays and weekends.
First day seeing all the sources they had and I was thrown into a huge pot of CONFUSION. It was hard enough I had no idea what to do for my project, but I had a plethora of sources to choose from that it made me stress out even more. Being a natural stress head and a perfect perfectionist, I knew right then and there that I was in for a fun ride.
I met with the archivist and curator of the centre, who were both so welcoming of me and my ideas. I wasn’t sure who was more excited about our collaboration, me or them! Although I wanted to do something within the centre itself, it already had an established website and presence within the Parramatta community. So, I sent my brain on yet another intense brain storm and a huge light bulb lit up! I wanted to use the sources that the Parramatta Heritage Centre has to present the Western Suburbs of Sydney and all it has to offer. How I’m going to present this info and what i’m going to present is still way up on cloud 9 at the moment but the ladies at the centre have been so helpful in bouncing ideas off me when I’m going off on a ramble. I was, also, thinking of doing a “Then & Now” website that shows the progression of the city and how far it’s come. This can also be something that I can add on in the future or pass down and future generations can add to it. Hopeful thinking but never say never!
Despite the challenges involved with working with an organisation that is already established in the city, I look forward to working with people who have extensive knowledge and stories about the city and the sources they look over. Daily visits to the centre will assist me in my project and move further along to completion.
History Behind the Screen: Archiving Sydney’s Queer Film Festivals
How do you tell the history of something that does not necessarily have a physical presence? How do you tell the history of an organisation that is inherently focused on changing the future of the media landscapes?
These are some of the questions I have been asking myself as I prepare to start work with the Sydney-based organisation, Queer Screen. They’re a relatively small organisation, staffed by only two full-time people, who rely heavily on the assistance of volunteers to see their film festivals take place each year. They aim not only to showcase the diversity of sexuality and gender on screen but also to help new and aspiring film-makers produce projects with a focus on diversity. In doing so, this organisation seeks to bring change to the Australian film landscape through a stronger focus on diversity.
Queer Screen has been at the forefront of creating a queer film culture in Australia and the world: they were behind the creation of the Mardi Gras Film Festival which has become one of the largest queer film festivals in the world; they organised queerDOC, which lasted ten years and was the first and only festival of queer documentaries in the world; and, since 2013, have hosted the annual Queer Screen Film Fest which not only screens films but awards a ten-thousand dollar production funding prize to a new and emerging film-maker each year.
The work I am doing with the organisation involves archiving and presenting the organisation’s early film festivals from 1993 (when the organisation was founded) to 2011. In doing so, the history of the various film festivals the organisation has organised will be presented as well as the history of how the organisation has grown over the years from when it started to the influentual presence it is now in queer cinema.
Archiving with Uncle Greg
I was very excited when I checked the available 3000 units for history, and saw a unit that really spoke to me called “History Beyond the Classroom”. One of my goals after studying at university as a secondary high school teacher, has always been to teach students about history in a setting outside of the classroom, through aspects like community history in an interactive space. This unit has allowed me to explore what it is like working outside a classroom setting, and to dive into a photographic and oral history of Uncle Greg.
I sent an email off to the Blacktown Arts Centre, in hope of getting a volunteer position with the organisation. Miguel had just the right position for me. I was directed to a lovely lady named Debbie, the Arts Centre’s Solid Ground Education Project Officer. Debbie had been working with a local Aboriginal Elder to sort through his personal collection of historical ephemera. Not only had I got a volunteer position, but I had been lucky enough to share in the history of a respected Elder in my local community.
From the first meeting, Debbie and I discussed my role and responsibilities. Debbie and I organised to meet at Uncle Greg’s house every week for two hours. I have been using this time to go through Uncle Greg’s old photographs and documents and make digital archives (matching photos to articles or events). I sit down with Uncle Greg and talk about key aspects about the photographs and then write them on the back of the hard copy. For example: Where was this photograph taken? Who is in the photograph? When was this photograph taken? Uncle Greg is able to tell me almost everything about the events in a photograph, just from a quick sighting and I am astounded at his wealth of knowledge. After sorting all of the photographs, I am going to record Uncle Greg’s oral testimony about some of the most important photographs. I am also going to create a presentation with Uncle Greg to use at his Welcome To Countries. The presentation will display his work in the community, his performance in local bands, artwork, important events he has attended and important persons that he has met. Uncle Greg is dedicated to working for and in the community and this has been reflected throughout the photographs I have come across.
It is really interesting going through Uncle Greg’s photographs. I feel special, because I have been invited to participate in learning about Indigenous culture and invited to share in knowledge that is highly personal and has been passed down through many generations. I take this seriously, as it is such an immense privilege. I have heard so many amazing stories from Uncle Greg already so far.
Often I forget to ask him to record his story because each photograph triggers a different memory and I don’t want to interrupt his storytelling to ask whether I can record. Instead when I get home from our visit, I write down everything I can remember in the form of a diary log in hopes to ask him about it again at an appropriate time.
I have been very conscious about ensuring that I am working alongside Uncle Greg, through every step of the process. I think it’s important to inquire about what photos he thinks are important, what he would like to include, how he would like to tell his history and how he would like the photos to be presented.
In the coming weeks I look forward to continuing listening and sharing in Uncle Greg’s stories through archiving and creating his presentation.
More than Meets the Eye: History Beyond the Bookshelves
Throughout this semester, we have been discovering the many ways in which local histories are informed and constructed, something that is often impacted by varied contextual, socio-cultural and even resource-driven factors. When thinking about the intricacies involved in such processes, libraries are often perceived as the places history is written within. But, as I have since discovered, this public institution plays an integral and multi-faceted role, preserving, collecting and even writing history itself.
This, I found especially pertinent when researching and liaising with the Local Studies Centre at Waverley Library. When delving into the department’s function and work, one would be mistaken to think it is simply a place where they store old books, or where past issues of the ‘Southern Courier’ are kept. In reality, the Local Studies Centre is where resident Local Historian, Ingrid, writes and preserves the history of Waverley and its surrounding suburbs (such as Bondi, Clovelly and Bronte), whilst also making such information and resources available to those community members interested in researching their own histories. The collection and archiving of sources, however, is but one aspect of history-making that involves the library. The Local Studies Centre is also a major and dynamic contributor to local historical research and conservation, helming such projects as the investigation into and preservation of the Clovelly Cemetery and the establishment of the celebratory centenary exhibition of the Bondi Beach Lifeguards.
From this we see an ever dynamic and multitudinous actor in public history emerge. Libraries such as Waverley play both a “secondary” role in preserving, archiving, categorising and making publicly accessible historical resources, and a “primary” role by writing history themselves. This role is both highly unique and intriguing and I am excited to learn how the Local Studies Centre juggles its preservationist role with its more active history writing initiatives.
Upon meeting with Ingrid and subsequently discussing potential areas in which I may be able to assist the library, it was revealed that the Local Studies Centre requires assistance on two fronts; the transcribing and digitisation of its vast collection of oral histories, and the creation of an archive which digitises artefacts, reports and manifests collected from local heritage listed homes currently held by the Heritage Planning department of the Waverley Council Chambers. Again, here we see many different roles and responsibilities in play. Hopefully, through further discussion and collaboration with the Local Studies Centre, a greater understanding of the library’s intricate relationship with historiography shall be discovered.
What the scorecards don’t tell us: an oral history tradition
My club, the Sutherland District Cricket Club, the Sharks, started in 1965. In working with the club on this public history project, the first question that faced us was understanding what ‘history’ was in the context of the organisation, what the concept meant to the club, and how it could be used.
For most local and community-based sporting organisations there is an immensity of written history in scorecards and annual reports from game to game, season to season – but they are not the whole story. What is forgotten unless recorded in scorecards, team pictures, trophies or annual reports? And what is told around the club house, or in the sheds before and after a game, or at the pub over a few beers?
The deeper history of a sporting club lies within the memories and experiences of its players – the stories that are sometimes told, but often forgotten. What comes to form the culture of a club is a history passed down through stories from the older players to the new, of the game that got away, the century that won a match, the on-field banter and antics, the highs, and the lows, the losses and the victories. In a sense, the culture of a club is built on and continues through an oral tradition of history.
Our work is shaping around the documenting of these histories of the club, the stories of players and members of the community that have been around the club for significant parts of its over a half a century of history. In the coming weeks we will hopefully be conducting video interviews with several members of the club, asking them about their best memories playing, coaching or just generally being around the club, on and off the field. These videos will be used by the club across social media platforms for both the public and local community, as well as to carry on the stories amongst the current generation of players, continuing the oral history tradition.
Local History in My Community
Throughout high school I have always been interested in my local history. Whenever I would walk past any old photographs I would stop and study the photo reflecting on the change that has occurred over the years. As a child my local library was at Warringah mall. During one visit there I notice in the foyer there was a photo of Manly Corso from 100 years prior. Alongside this was a photo of the swamp lands at Brookvale where Warringah Mall is now situated. Seeing this local history opened by eyes to the range of different histories that come from the northern beaches. I knew my family had a strong history on the beaches, but it was interesting to think that this history went well beyond my family. Because of this desire to understand more about my local history I was led towards the library. When researching different local histories, I came across the library’s local history page.
Sydney’s Northern Beaches Library is a great place to come and access local history. On the Northern Beaches there are six Libraries. Manly, Warringah Mall, Dee Why, Mona Vale, Forestville and Glenrose. For the purpose of my research project I will primarily be working with Dee Why Library and the local Historian there, however I will also be working with Mona Vale and Manly libraries’. The local history department has spent years collecting and developing local histories. The Local History Collections within the three libraries, cover many aspects of life on the Northern Beaches, including indigenous and social history, the built and natural environment and many contemporary and current issues. Each of the Local Collections are managed by the welcoming staff who collect, conserve, maintain and promote the collections as well as undertake different research projects.
Since the amalgamation of the three councils into one, the library has in somewhat merged. Prior to the merge, all their libraries had their own collections of history. Each collection would be relevant to the local area. Post amalgamation their aim is find a way to make all collections accessible to all people on the Northern Beaches.
Prior to approaching the library and going to my first meeting, I was unaware of how extensive their collections were, however after my meeting I was blown away at the range of different histories they had collected. The Libraries can collect items such as photographs from events and significant openings to personal histories that have been donated by families. During my meetings with the local historians I was able to understand their purpose and aims within the local history department. The work they are doing with the collections are remarkable and it’s great to see a place where local history is maintained and well respected.