A home at Old Government House

The first time I saw Old Government House it was like stepping back in time. I had missed my stop at Parramatta and was walking in a park for longer than I thought possible in Sydney. It was after climbing yet another hill that I was suddenly struck by a Georgian style house rising out of the landscape. And yet, over the last three years, approaching the house has felt a little bit more like coming home, as I have come to be familiar with its layout and its many wonderful volunteers.

Old Government House, Parramatta

Old Government House has been managed by the National Trust since 1967. As the former country residence of Australia’s first ten governors and the oldest public building in Australia, the house is a significant relic of Australia’s Colonial past. Through the National Trust visitors are able to walk through the restored house and grounds whilst learning about life in the early colony and the role of the first governors. This is all information I learnt during my first information session as a volunteer. Yet, as I have continued to volunteer at the House, I have learnt so much more about the role of the National Trust and the difficulties and significance of maintaining history in Australia.

I have learnt more about the early governors of New South Wales and their influence on the Colony.

I have continued to confront the difficult truths of the early colonial period in the Sydney region.

I have learnt more about the National Trust and the role they play as a non-governmental organization preserving and maintaining Australia’s history.

I have met Mr Fopp the butler, who is usually only seen during formal dinners, and  the old schoolmistress who still teaches lessons with slate and chalk.

I have felt phantom pushes on my back when leaning out to lock the top windows at the end of the day.

I have opened hidden panels and looked at thousand-year-old shells built into the walls.

I have learnt how to wind and re-set a two-hundred-year-old clock.

And I have learnt what someone’s face looks like when they can see and sense the history of a place that continues to be looked after and cared for.

Perhaps most importantly I have come to know and admire the many volunteers at Old Government House who all bring their own knowledge and stories to the House. I have also come to know the many paid staff who work tirelessly to maintain the house whilst also organizing the volunteers and exhibitions. As a result, I consider myself very lucky to be able to contribute to this amazing organization. My project with Old Government House will involve creating a booklet of stories about significant figures in the early Colony, with a particular focus on female voices and experiences. I hope to be able to bring all that I have learnt whilst volunteering to this project and include the voices of the many volunteers and staff who have taught me so much about Australia’ Colonial past.

Although Old Government House is closed presently, it will be reopening soon! For more information about the property and information on how to visit please visit the Website.

An Archaeological Site Right in Sydney’s The Rocks

The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre, The Rocks

The organisation that I am working with for my major project as a part of History Beyond the Classroom is Sydney Harbour YHA & The Big Dig Archaeology Centre. This organisation centres around the archaeological site, The Big Dig. The Big Dig, spanning two half-city blocks, is a large archaeological site in The Rocks of Sydney. The artefacts discovered at the site have ranged in date from the 1790s to the 1930s, and it has been suggested that if further excavation was to be undertaken, even older artefacts would be found. The site underwent excavations in 1994, and was then partially left in situ and used as a display feature of Australian history and archaeology. This site has the unique opportunity of bringing together such a valuable piece of history with Australia’s tourism industry, and with many school-aged children, eager to learn more about Sydney’s past.

Sydney Harbour YHA has been built with the unique opportunities of this site in mind. The hostel, which provides accommodation to people travelling, has been built around the site, creating opportunities for visitors to interact with the site. Visitors are able to view the dig site from a series of constructed walkways and glass panels, as well as through the artefacts and explanatory signs that are also on display at The Rocks Discovery Museum. The purpose-built site has been internationally recognised with a UNESCO Asia Pacific Award for Heritage Conservation. The nature of the YHA is that international guests are frequent visitors, and so this combination of tourist accommodation and Australian history is able to be well combined. Visitors both from overseas and the local area are able to view and enjoy the site and its history.

In addition to this, The Big Dig is also heavily involved in educational outreach, providing many school-aged children with the opportunity to visit the site, and engage with archaeology in a hands-on way. The organisation runs a number of in-depth, experiential and curriculum linked programs, aimed at really connecting the students to the material. There are several different programs, delivered through Sydney Learning Adventures, each of which focuses on a particular aspect that the site has to offer, ranging from an exploration of Sydney’s early colonial and convict history to the history of Chinese immigration.

Personally, I find the work that this organisation does to be very interesting, and very valuable to our understanding of Australia’s history, and the place that archaeology holds within in. The Sydney Harbour YHA is an interesting building, which has very cleverly made the archaeological site a feature and attraction, while simultaneously protecting and preserving it. In doing so, the value of the site is able to be articulated to an international audience. As well, I feel that using the site to facilitate the learning of students is very important. Especially for younger students, leaning through engaging and hands-on experiences can be really valuable, and can leave a very lasting impression. I am looking forward to contributing in a small way to this work, and to the preservation and sharing of the history of The Rocks.

Saving the Reef’s future by looking backwards: A joint project with ACMS

The intersection between science, history and activism will be highlighted in my multimedia environmental history project with the Australian Marine Conservation Society (ACMS). It will explore how technology and historical analysis can benefit real world conservation work and assist ACMS to produce a detailed timeline of their historic impact.

Together with my supervisors Cat and Katie, I decided that it would be best for me to link my existing interests with a particular section or team in their organisation. This is something that would most benefit their organisation as well, knowing who to align me with throughout my project for archives and for further information. It would also give that section some concrete content for them to use in their work. All conservation work in this organisation is very site specific. I have decided to work with the reef team, based in Queensland who develop conservationist methods of communication to help to protect the Great Barrier and Ningaloo reefs from climate change devastation.

In a meeting I suggested that given the visual nature of these reefs and the multi-sensory nature of the reef in general, I would like to produce a multimedia photo essay that would be accompanied by a range of multimedia tools including oral histories (recorded on my zoom recorder) and historiographic analysis text. This would be built into a webpage but would also be submitted to them as separate pieces of historical analysis which they have said they could either use as a whole or separate and use at different stages of their campaign.

The project will be a historiographic analysis of coral bleaching in Australia. Through a range of technologies, I will analyse how our opinions have changed regarding the coral reefs over time and when the media has really started paying attention. The project will be both a timeline (in part) and a visual history analysis, unpacking how images have impacted Australians with regards to Coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef have increasingly lengthened and gained severity since evidence first emerged in 2002.

Possible challenges moving ahead could include organising time to meet with science communicators (over the phone) for audio interviews and on a practical level, building the website which will require me to up-skill to a higher level of web development. Its an opportunity to improve my digital literary skills and explore how coral imagery can interact his historiographical analysis.

Cat and Katie have noted that they will put me in touch with the communication team in a couple of weeks so I am able to liaise with them about what will suite their existing interface and what kind of access I am able to gain to their archive of conservation work. She is also asking coral reef scientists if they would be comfortable being interviewed. In the meantime, I am reading the works of Ian McCalman (who I have spoken to about an environmental history/Communications honours) and Killian Quigley. I’m sure the Sydney Environmental Institute would be able to assist me in many other ways as well.

As this organisation is so acutely dependent on science communication, but so many of their staff are short of time to do deep history work on their organisation and its impacts as they work to improve the future for Australia’s coral reefs, I hope that my project will provide a new way of looking at the organisations work. Hopefully this will be an initiative that I can continue to develop with them over time and will create a precedent for the ways in which they can digitally communicate their impact through time. Kat has also mentioned that a history of reef conservation and bleaching will tie in well with the 40th anniversary of the Great Barrier Reef as well as being a big priority in the lead up to World Heritage deadlines and WH Meeting in 2022.

I hope that this work with ACMS will reflect the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations between the sciences, humanities and environmental NGOS of Australia and explore the remarkable effect this collaboration has already had. I am passionate about the work this organisation does and hope that my experience as an environmental documentary researcher will help me to assist this important organisation.

Ahoy There! Migration in the 1950s

This year is Australian National Maritime Museum’s 30th Anniversary and in celebrating this milestone, this is dedicated to the amazing team at the Sea Museum!

The Sea Museum

Australian National Maritime Museum - Noisebox
Photo by Noisebox

When one thinks of the Sea Museum, the first word that comes to mind would be SHIP! However, the Sea Museum is so much more than you could imagine. It contains various exhibitions, collections and resources on our unique maritime history, including Indigenous, Migration and Ocean Science. Due to the vast range of their collections, the museum is suitable for everyone to come in and explore. The museum also has an education department that runs workshops and tour guides for school/university students. The Vaughan Evans Library is the research library of the museum and holds various collections that is reflective of its interest. This will include the booklet “For New Australians” (1957/1958), which is the basis of my project.

Although the Sea Museum is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Their doors will open to the public from the 1st December, 2021 – so get vaccinated, book your tickets and get ready to be swept away! For now, you can explore the museum through their website which offers you a snapshot of the museum’s collection.

My Project

For History Beyond the Classroom, I am collaborating with Dr Peter Hobbins who is the Head of Knowledge at the Sea Museum. I was interested in this organisation as I have always wanted to visit this museum but have yet to do so due to my misconception of the museum being based on ships. What really drew me to this collaboration was the fact that it explored the topic of ‘migration’. As a person who has migrated to Australia, I’ve always had a deep fascination with Australia’s history of migration. Also, as a history teacher, it would be a wonderful opportunity to work with a museum on a project to develop my novice historian skills. I have always told my students that knowing something is different from doing it. So, in reflection of this mantra, I’ve challenged myself by enrolling into this unit and undertaking a major project with a museum.

My project is based on Peter’s private collection of booklets, “For New Australians” (1957/1958). These were government issued booklets that were provided to post-war migrants to aide them in learning English. For the project, we have decided to create a blog post for Sea Museum’s website as it would be an interesting way to incorporate the original source material in a way that promotes greater historical knowledge. I plan to write about Australia’s society and culture in the 1950s which is well-aligned with the contents of the booklet as it contains scripts that migrants could use to learn everyday English – an important aspect of their assimilation into Australian society. Furthermore, I will discuss the White Australian Policy which was still in effect at the time of the booklet’s issuing, showcasing that at the time, there was racial bias against non-European migrants. To create an engaging blog post, I am also hunting down audio recordings of the radio broadcast in the ABC Archives and the NAA. The inclusion of an audio recording will bring these booklets to ‘life’ and allow the readers to engage with the source in an immersive way. I am super excited about this project but also filled with trepidation as I have never written a blog post in my life, especially one that will be potentially published on a well-known museum’s website!

Collection of “For New Australians” booklets (Photo by Nandar Lin)

What is the Gaelic Club?

The Gaelic Club premises. Only the top floor is still used by the club. An “Irish” pub operates for profit on the lower two floors, without any connection to the Irish National Association. Photo: Irish Echo Australia, 2019.

A question I didn’t expect myself grappling with heading into this project was perhaps one of the more simple ones – what is The Gaelic Club? A casual observer going there every now and again for a drink might just think of it as one of Sydney’s many Irish-themed pubs, with the added caveat of having to walk up a flight of stairs once.

The Gaelic Club is an institution and a space that is far more complex, and may be many different things, depending on whom you ask. While it’s a pub, it has one bar, a small selection of drinks, and no screens or poker machines. It does not operate for profit, and has often run at a loss. It is very consciously a place for the preservation of Irish culture, music and language in a society where that is not the default. It is also a community hub – people from young adults to the retired come for the community, to meet people and to see familiar faces. There are signs around the club advertising financial assistance for Irish in Sydney facing hardship far from family supports.

It is a home for Friday night traditional music sessions – people from across Sydney, from a range of backgrounds come down to play tunes and sing songs, and this is a key draw that has brought me to the site. Irish language lessons take place on Mondays. It is the place I’ve heard the most Irish being spoken outside of Ireland. Groups such as Sydney Queer Irish use the space as a base, and it is the home of the Irish Support Agency – despite being a small upstairs floor of a building in the city.

The building’s ground floor was sold in 2003 in the wake of issues stemming from an attempted redevelopment and contests over management. Prior to this, my understanding is that the ground floor was used as a space to hold regular Irish dances, events in which people would socialise, gather, meet partners and so forth. I’ve chatted now with quite a few people who have been around the space for a while, and a common thread is that it really was a central place for the Irish in Sydney. It was a space newly arrived people might come to find a job, to access support or make friends.

I’ve been going to the Gaelic Club for a while on and off, originally for Politics in the Pub some years ago and more recently for the traditional music sessions, so I knew a few familiar faces when I headed there last Friday night. I got chatting with a few people and got some contact details, and a project began to take shape.

I was chatting with a fella who has done some work with the Gaelic Club and the Irish National Association before, and realised after talking to him that he had created an oral history project of Irish seniors in Sydney, known as A Lifetime of Stories, linked here. It’s inspired my project, which in its formative stages is looking likely to be a compilation of audio recordings, dealing with the ways that people use the space and how that has changed through time and/or across generations.

The Jarjum Project: Culture cultivates minds

When I first heard about the project, I knew I wanted to choose an organisation that catered to my interest in community and oral history. After going back and forth with ideas in my head I mentioned the project to a friend from uni. When I told him I wanted to work with an Indigenous history he said he thought Jarjum would be perfect. He had previously volunteered at the school as a teacher’s aide and talked about the kindness of the staff members and the welcoming environment. After researching more about the school I saw its value of community and cultural connection which is central to my project. Redfern stands on Gadigal land and has been home to a large population of Aboriginal people since the early 20th century.

What drew me further to the school was its main focus – providing education for Indigenous children who are struggling in a mainstream schooling environment. Jarjum is a primary school that through a value of community history, ensures Aboriginal children are able to access integral aspects of their culture from a young age. Jarjum also recognizes the importance of parent involvement, in that developing a child’s cultural conscience begins at home. There is a real need for more schools like Jarjum, particularly in regional areas as the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children remains where only 36% of Indigenous Year 5 students in remote areas are at or above national minimum reading standards[1]. A lack of adequate resources for teachers and Aboriginal role models in rural areas attributes to this, which is why Jarjum exceeds in its education of Indigenous children.

After getting in touch with Matthew Smith, the principal of Jarjum, I was sure I wanted to work with them for my project. I plan to conduct interviews within both the school and the wider local community and I believe that this will be done best through a visual medium. Oral histories are about listening and observing; therefore, I think that the style of my project is significant in ensuring that all aspects of history can be captured – the people who are producing it and are a product of it. I also hope that visual engagement allows students, parents, and members of the community to benefit from my project.

Although there are obvious ethical challenges I will face when undertaking this project, I believe that the proper acknowledgment of such sensitivities can help to avoid them. As a non-Indigenous person speaking with Indigenous people about their culture, I have to remain aware of the position of non-Indigenous people in the Indigenous historical narrative. I spoke with the principal of the college about my concerns, and he agreed that approaching the project as a listener and observer is crucial. I plan to conduct my interviews in a manner that focuses on the history of the school and the local Indigenous community, rather than trying to ‘understand’ or gain insight into individual histories, which can be seen as invasive and insensitive from an Indigenous perspective.  

[1] NAPLAN. 2019 . National Report for 2019. Achievement in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy , Sydney : ACARA.

A Space for Complexity: Podcasts as Public History

My project seeks to illuminate the incongruity between ‘enshrined’ history and the infinite complexity that one observes when studying history. The ‘conversational’ format of a podcast, I argue, can potentially ‘fill the gaps’ that ‘enshrined’ histories leave and provide a complexity that other forms of public history, such as museum exhibitions, struggle to due to their form. Particularly in the Australian context, the careful selection of certain histories create misguided perceptions of the present that seep into various aspects of the society. This project, and podcasts in general, can be a worthwhile space in which non-historians can grapple with the infinite complexities of Australian history on the way to achieving the ultimate goal of a self-actualised national identity.  

My project is in collaboration with the Professional Historians Association ACT & NSW (PHA ACT & NSW), an organisation in which its members can continue professional development, network with other historians, and connect with potential clients for their work. The PHA also publishes articles and reviews in which historians can showcase their work, represent members in contractual and employment matters and provide potential guidance on engaging public historians for appropriate work conditions etc. The final project will involve interviews with various members in which we will discuss their historical practice, their work and a broad historical debate. The interview involves three questions that are asked to each interviewee, namely, what brought you to a career in history, have you ever experienced any obstacles when dealing with politically sensitive histories, how you do include reflexivity in your historical practice, and ends with a question about a large historical discussion relating to their area of research. For example, the interview I conducted with a historian who has worked a lot in Australian media history, particularly women’s experiences, ended with a quote from Anne Summers, ‘We have changed a lot, but we haven’t changed enough. I asked if she agreed with the quote, and what equality would look like in the Australian media landscape.

In addition to the podcast itself, I’m thinking about everything ‘around’ the project. I’ve decided on a name, ‘Chatting History’ and have created a logo (below) and will create bibliography-like document to include as the ‘shownotes’ for each episode. These will include the sources that I used to prepare and develop the questions for the interview and will explain anything in the interview that I feel is necessary, such as particular references to people who I feel some may not know.

I will also create a transcript of the interview (thankfully I’m using Soundtrap, which is editing software that generates a transcript for you) and will publish them on either the PHA NSW & ACT website or create a website entirely dedicated to the podcast, which will be linked to the PHA website. At the beginning of each episode will include an introduction to the interviewee, and the end will include instructions on where to get more information about the interviewee. This will aid in the potential of the podcasts to market the PHA ACT & NSW, and its members, to the public.

The Hunter Family of Yodalla, Emu Plains

Yodalla, Emu Plains, 1917

Still standing today, Yodalla is the name of the house once owned by the Hunter family of Emu Plains. Located in close proximity to the Nepean River, it was purchased by Norman Hunter in 1914 and was the site of the family’s apple orchard. Today, the house sits across Nepean Street from the Hunter sports field. The Hunter family was of dual importance to the community of Emu Plains, through their contribution to the agriculture and food production of the area, and their contributions to organised sport. Norman Hunter was the managing director of Miss Bishops Catering Company, which was, at one point, the largest catering company in Sydney, catering for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. His family was also important in organising community events to support Australian troops during World War Two.

Penrith City Library

One of the main local history archives for Penrith and its surrounding suburbs, including Emu Plains, is Penrith City Library. They maintain an archive of census records, newspaper clippings, council and land records, and over 4,000 historic photographs. Much of this material is accessible online through the library catalogue, and they maintain a website (penrithhistory.com) which provides further information on Penrith’s history. For material which is not available online the library has a research room dedicated to local history research, which can be accessed by members of the public on certain days.

Norman Hunter, 1956

The Norman Hunter Collection

The library has created a collection of material related to Norman Hunter and his family. the collection has been used as a reference for a number of books written about the history of Penrith, for example Penrith: the Makings of a City by Lorraine Stacker. The collection is still being added to, and this is where the library has asked for my assistance. They have come into possession of some home videos recorded by the Hunter family on their property Yodalla, but they have not yet sorted them. In preparation for them to be uploaded to the library catalogue, the library has requested that I watch the films and provide brief descriptions of them.

The significance of my project

As outlined above, Penrith City Library is an important organisation for the preservation of history in Penrith and the surrounding area. I hope that my project will be able to contribute to the expansion of their archives, and thus play an important role in preserving our local history. Although the Hunter family was important to the development of Emu Plains there is relatively little accessible information about them, so I hope that my contributions to the library’s Norman Hunter collection can assist in spreading historical knowledge of the family.

The library has also expressed interest in having me write in more depth about the role of the family in regards to agriculture in Emu Plains. I believe this would be a beneficial companion piece to the films and other items in their collection, and I hope it will also achieve the goal of increasing the family’s local historical profile.

82-84 Dixon Street

The front door of 82-84 Dixon Street

If you look at this photo, you might think this is just an old Chinese centre.

 You might not even notice that when you walk past it.

But this small building has carried the history of the Chinese community and represented the connection of the Chinese community and Dixon Street, which is the Chinatown we know nowadays.

 Why this is a meaningful building?

The 82-84 Dixon Street building is believed to be the first Chinese building and business in Dixon Street. Also, this is one of the earliest land acquisitions by the Chinese.

82-84 Dixon Street is the site of the critical firm Kwong War Chong. The Kwong War Chong trading company represents the Chinese community economic activities, which involve importing and exporting. Moreover, Kwong War Chong helped many Chinese with their daily life and work in Australia. Their business included being agents of Chinese residents in Sydney and rural areas, sent money to relatives in China, assisted with paperwork and tax payments, provided accommodation and even repatriated the remains of Chinese who died in Australia.

The newspaper advertisement

The business in Kwong War Chong allowed the Chinese people to feel intimacy and connection with their country even they were far from their home.

Unfortunately, this meaningful building is going to be developed by another company. As to preserve the shop, the Chinese Australian Historical Society obtained into state heritage listing. Now they will negotiate with the development company about the significance of history and culture in this building and hope to transform the ground floor and the two beds into a museum of Chinese Australian history.

The Chinese Australian Historical Society is the organisation that I am working within this unit.

About the Chinese Australian Historical Society

Logo of The Chinese Australian Historical Society

The Chinese Australian Historical Society was founded in 2002 by Professor Henry Chan (University of Newcastle, NSW). The Institute has been actively committed to advancing the study of Chinese history in Australia through workshops, seminars and conferences. Research areas include Chinese Australian family history; The home of early Chinese Australians in Guangdong; A family organisation in Sydney; Chinese shops in rural New South Wales; Trans-pacific China; History of Australian Chinese Women’s Association; Archives and how to use them. These activities have helped increase public awareness and understanding of the contribution of the Chinese people to Australia.

I chose this organisation because I am interested in Chinese Australian history. I want to know the history of the Chinese, why they decided to arrive in Australia, and what they met after they arrived. In addition, I feel some connection between the organisation and me because of my Chinese cultural background.

What am I doing now?

My primary work in the project will be researching the Chinese newspaper about Phillip Lee Chun, the dominating figure of the Kwong War Chong and the articles or advertisements of the business in Kwong War Chong. The research allowed the Chinese Australian Historical Society to have more evidence to negotiate with the developer about preserving the building.

Mr. Quong Tart’s social world with the Society of Australian Genealogists

My name is Caitlin Williams and I’m going to be working with the Society of Australian Genealogists to create an online exhibition highlighting the rich collection of ephemera that relates to the social life of Mr. Quong Tart, a Chinese Australian businessman who lived in Sydney in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) supports the education and research of amateur and professional family historians. They run regular seminars and workshops on conducting research with digital and well as physical records, and also provide certificates and diplomas in genealogy. The SAG also has its own archives, which is where the Tart collection is held. I have been working closely with Dr. James Findlay, the SAG archivist to develop my project for HSTY3902.

Mr. Tart was a unique figure in 19th century Sydney, who appears to have gained social acceptance amongst the middle class whilst remaining a strong advocate for Chinese market gardeners and other Chinese labourers in Sydney. He appears to have been a popular figure and taking on formal roles at many social events- singing Scottish ballads (his wife Margaret was Scottish), giving addresses and toasts, and even “kicking off” at a fancy dress soccer match! I plan on mounting a digital exhibition of the invitations to social events Mr. Tart attended or presided over. The scrapbook which was created by Margaret contains various invitations has been digitised and indexed by the SAG archivist and their dedicated volunteers. This gives the SAG an opportunity to promote the depth of their collection and potentially meet new audiences online. The volunteers have also created an index of the names of attendees and performers who appear on the invitations to these social events- a valuable source of information for genealogists.

The challenge that is posed by this collection is that it primarily textual, without strong visual appeal (photos, illustrations, objects, etc). I am using the exhibition platform Omeka to display the scrapbooks and physically map the location where social gatherings took place. I’m hoping that the map will be a visually appealing introduction to these scrapbooks, and perhaps encourage curiosity about the social world of Sydney in centuries past.  Omeka needs a lot of metadata to work effectively and I’ve spent quite a bit of time already getting to grips with is tagging and metadata features to ensure researchers can easily uncover the wealth of historic data that is stored in these invitations. I have work experience in libraries, and while I’ve not had full reign over designing an exhibition from the ground up, I’m enjoying the challenge so far and am confident I can produce a good outcome for the SAG.  I’ve really enjoyed brainstorming ideas for the exhibition with Dr. Findlay over zoom. With the COVID-19 restrictions easing in Sydney, I’m also allowed to go visit the archives to see the scrapbooks and some family photographs of the Tarts in person next week!

Mr. Tart attended several Cycling related dinners and races
Many programmes included in the scrapbook collections indicate that Mr. Tart was to sing a Scottish ballad.