Public and Applied History Prizes

The History Council of NSW just announced that Meg Foster, a former University of Sydney History student, has won the 2015 Deen De Bortoli Award in Applied History for her essay “Online and Plugged In?: Public History and Historians in the Digital Age.” The judges said that this essay ‘provides important insights into how digital technologies are democratising not only access to research materials but also the dissemination of history. It reflects on what this means for history professionals who can no longer dominate discussion of the past and suggests that ways forward lie in more collaborative approaches’. Meg Foster is currently doing her PhD at the University of New South Wales.
The Deen De Bortoli Award was first awarded in 2015. Generously funded by the De Bortoli family it is named in memory of Deen De Bortoli (1936-2003). The purpose of the Award is to encourage historians writing Australian political, social, cultural and environmental history to approach their subjects in ways that use the past to inform contemporary concerns and issues. The winner will receive a citation and a prize of $5,000 at the Annual History Lecture during History Week.
For 2016 the subject for the Deen De Bortoli Award will be for works in applied and public history that have the potential to inform good public policy. The winning entry will demonstrate a sound, critical knowledge of the relevant historiography, a high level of competence in the use of primary sources, and the capacity to develop complex arguments linking the past to contemporary, contentious issues currently impacting on Australia. Nominations for work undertaken between 1 October 2014 to 31 March 2016 for the 2016 Award close 31 March 2016. See:
Students of HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom may want to think about entering their projects in this competition, as well as PHA NSW &ACT Public History Prize. The Public History Prize is an annual award offered by the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT (PHA NSW&ACT).
The PHA NSW & ACT is now calling for entries for the 2015 Public History Prize for students. Slight changes in the condition of entries have been made for this year’s prize to enable more students to submit their work. The 2015 Public History Prize is open to any students (undergraduate, graduate diploma, master studies) in NSW and ACT whose work engages with the field and practice of professional and public history (both Australian and international).
Entries are now open for the 2015 PHA NSW & ACT Public History Prize, which comes with a $500 prize.
More information, including submission guidelines and deadline can be found here:
Entries close on 4 December 2015.

Outdoor Museums

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See the little hut there on the left of this watercolour image?* It is one of the convict huts that, from 1790, lined both sides of High Street, Rose Hill, better known today as George Street, Parramatta. And on Saturday morning, I saw that convict hut with my very own eyes! This is because I was one of a few very lucky Parra locals who scooped up tickets to one of five free tours the Parramatta Park Trust offered the local community. The purpose of these tours was to inform the community about the Park’s multilayered history and showcase the archaeological work currently being carried out for the Trust by GML Heritage. You can see images and read all about the tour and Parramatta’s convict huts here on my blog “The Old Parramattan”:
Free community tours like this one have become a regular occurrence at Parramatta Park since the inclusion of Old Government House and Domain on the World Heritage list of Australian Convict sites in 2010, which has enabled a lot of important heritage projects to be undertaken. The Park’s gatehouses, for example, are being restored one by one; the Macquarie Street Gatehouse, The George Street “Tudor” Gatehouse, and Mays Hill Gatehouse have all already been transformed through incredible conservation works and prepared for adaptive reuse. The Dairy Cottage that once housed emancipist George Salter is also about to receive some tender loving care and, with the aid of modern technology, will soon completely immerse visitors in the old convict world. But the Trust hasn’t just set its sights on restoring the historic buildings located within the Governor’s once private domain…
Historic landscapes are also on the Trust’s agenda. A bush regeneration program restoring a remnant of the now-rare Sydney Coastal River-Flat Forest has led to the removal of introduced exotic trees and plants to allow native species to regenerate. Subsequently, visitors can experience part of the landscape as it was for the Darug people for at least 20,000 years on the “Aboriginal Landscape” trail. And, as the Trust’s Principal Program Officer (Cultural Heritage) Stephen Thompson informed us on Saturday, “The Gardens” precinct surrounding the George Street Gatehouse—where the convict hut remains were revealed—is also undergoing its own $2 million-metamorphosis into an “outdoor museum.” In the coming months, the Trust will be restoring and, where necessary, reconstructing features of this section of the park’s historic landscape; namely the early nineteenth-century Macquarie Convict Bridge and pond. Great care is being taken to ensure this work is completed using stonemason techniques and materials authentic to the convict era. Essentially, Thompson noted during our tour, visitors to this area of the park in the near future will be able to look at the colonial watercolour images and see some of those old features of the convict world in reality. Great Scott! It’s like time travel! (Hopefully, dear reader, you are not too young to recognise that Back to the Future reference!)
Broadly speaking, the “outdoor museum” has many benefits. It is, quite literally, “public history” insofar as it is presented in public open spaces; for professional historians, this means it is, along with social media platforms, ebooks, and apps, another option we have available for publishing or presenting our histories to the widest possible audience. After all, as Emeritus Professor John Hirst has told many a History Postgrad in his seminars at USYD, “If you’re going to the trouble of writing history, don’t you want people to READ it?” Some members of the community might be, for a variety of reasons, disinclined to read a history book or visit a museum in the form of an imposing architectural edifice, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to reach them! We just need to tell our histories in a variety of ways.
Successful outdoor museums, such as Parramatta Park or the new Heritage Courtyard at the Parramatta Justice Precinct,** subtly blend in with both natural and public urban environments and, thus, have a greater capacity to gently engage diverse—even the most reluctant—members of the community in stories of the past. This is important work, if only because it can improve an individual’s sense of connection to the place in which they live. Moreover, we all learn better when we are stimulated by a different environment and kinaesthetic learning situations that force us to be outside breathing fresh air and moving around. Outdoor museums take the typically sedentary activity of studying History not just beyond a classroom, but beyond walls entirely.
* View of Governor’s House, Rosehill, Parramatta c1798. A convict hut is on the left. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales [a928407 / DG SSV1B/3] (Dixson Galleries) via Dictionary of Sydney.
** See my blog post “Parramatta’s Convict Huts” on my blog “The Old Parramattan” to read about and view images of the Heritage Courtyard at the Parramatta Justice Precinct.
Some social media accounts you may wish to follow:
Parramatta Park Trust: @ParraPark on Twitter and Facebook:
GML Heritage: @gmlheritage on Instagram and their website:
The Old Parramattan: @oldparramatta on Instagram and Facebook:
Photos below by Michaela Ann Cameron:
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Ashfield Polish Club

For my major project I hope to work with the Ashfield Polish Club in order to produce a small documentary exploring what the club means for both Polish and Australian people in a contemporary setting. I would love to explore the origins of the club and how it has transformed over the years and document this history. I have met some incredibly colourful and vibrant characters during my visits so far, and I am currently waiting on a response from the Board of Directors regarding whether or not my project will go ahead. On my last visit I spent several hours speaking to an old member in the depths of the on-site library. There are hundreds of books in there and I would have uploaded pictures but I am unfortunately not technologically savvy enough for such ventures. I will leave you to imagine the rows of books cramped into an old building behind the club officially dubbed the ‘Polish House’. Hopefully the members will be willing to be interviewed because there is so much history there. If you are ever passing through Ashfield on Sundays then I highly recommend dropping in for a drink and some pierogi in the afternoons!!

Aboriginal Heritage Management – Week 8 in History Beyond the Classroom

This week we had David Watts (pictured above) come in from the Aboriginal Heritage Office, a unique joint initiative by a group of councils across northern Sydney, including North Sydney, Manly, Warringah, Ku-ring-gai, and Pittwater to protect Aboriginal Heritage in these areas ( David Watts, the Aboriginal Heritage Manager, was one of the key founders of the Office back in 2000, and continues to play a leading role in the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites, education, and a prize-winning volunteer site monitoring program that empowers community members to take responsibility for our shared heritage and past.
David talked to students about his role in the organisation, the many challenges they faced and continue to face, and his extensive experience in Aboriginal heritage management. He has worked on site surveys and archaeological excavations, conservation management plans and protection works. He has given talks all over the world about Aboriginal site care and managements, as well as cultural tourism advice, and he has developed several Aboriginal Heritage Walks within the northern Sydney region (including some of the walks and resources you can find here: David engaged us all with his honest and realistic approach to public history, and also talked about his own past and the way that shaped his approach to the present, and his responses to continued racism as well.
David’s talk helped set the tone for an ensuing discussion on “Decolonizing Methodologies” and especially the struggle over “research” in indigenous communities where there has been a long history of imperial and post-colonial intrusion by researchers. David’s talk, and the readings, helped draw attention to the sensitivities involved in indigenous history and the need to think carefully about our intentions and purposes in doing it (something we need to be mindful with any project, it seems). We talked about respect for indigenous knowledges and methodologies, and also talked a little more about public history being a route to “purify” the past, in Peter Read’s terms – a place where, if done properly, we can come together to reconcile and start to heal the trauma of the past.

Community Project – NSW Writers’ Centre

As the mid-semester break approaches, I’m getting ready to buckle down and make a good start on my major project. I’m working with the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, whose headquarters can be found in the picturesque and historically significant Callan Park in Rozelle. This site was once occupied by the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, where several prominent writers and poets were patients over the course of its history. How might strolling through the extensive grounds be changed by the knowledge that the likes of Louisa Lawson and Francis Webb may have done just the same decades ago? In consultation with the director of the Centre, my current plan is to write a page for their website exploring the history of writers on the site. I’m hoping, along the way, to gain a better understanding of how the history of a place can influence the way it is used in the present.
So far, much of my work on this project has been done among the shelves of the State Library. I’ve been researching the writers who were residents of the Hospital at one time or another, looking for any scraps of evidence about their lives there. Over the break I hope to be able to do more hands-on research: exploring what remains of the historic buildings in Callan Park, taking photographs, and really getting a sense of what the site used to be like.
I’m also going to be helping out at the Writers’ Centre, and will hopefully be able to chat to some of the members about their knowledge and perceptions of the park’s history. On previous visits to the Centre, over afternoon tea, multiple people have remarked on different aspects of the history, so it’s clearly of an interest to some members. As my project moves along I may expand on my web page idea to include something more interactive that allows visitors to explore the history themselves – perhaps a walking tour? I’m excited to see where this partnership takes me!

Community Project Beginnings

For my community project I am working with the Temple Society, a German society who lived in Palestine for nearly a century after leaving the Lutheran church when “The Holy Land Called” (as is the name of Dr Sauer’s book on the subject). They were keen for me to make them a cookbook; collecting together not only a tonne of recipes, but also documenting the origin of the recipes and the ways in which their food evolved as they moved from Germany to Palestine and then to Australia.
As a basis I was given copies of the 1990 Playgroup cookbook and 1991 Templer Cookbook, both which contain several typed up recipes yet do not make mention of their origin, significance and the stories behind the food. I will be using my volunteer time to gather new recipes, hear the stories of a number of community elders and members, explore the archives and hopefully put together a book which captures their food history.
The working title of the book is Jaffa Orange, an orange variety the Templers were said to have cultivated.
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Quarantine Station Field Trip

I’ve never written a blog post before (so what I’m lacking in blogging ability I can hopefully make up in pretty pictures).
On Monday we went on a field trip to the Quarantine Station on North Head. It was hard not to be completed distracted by the stunning view of the harbour, visible from almost every location on the site. At the same time I was completely taken aback by the inscriptions in the stones, the lovely old buildings and the waste which remained from a time when nothing could leave the site.
There existed a strange balance between old and new as we walked from the landing site lined with red leaved trees (where boats would have docked when they were declared to be carrying ill passengers) to the hospital buildings up a steep hill. The site was overgrown, being part of a national park, yet these buildings were in immaculate condition, and now house guests and host weddings. There was a hospital room we visited which is primary used for school education, and had been restored to resemble a 1800’s ward complete with metal bed frames and Florence Nightingale style uniforms on display. Yet as we continued further along the path, towards the isolation area (in which people who were not yet sick but had been in close contact with those who were stayed), there was an restored shed which had a brand new timber deck, deck chairs and a new sign which read “Isolation Guest Lounge”.
The Quarantine Station is not only an archaeological site, a historic site and a site for educational purposes, but is also a four star hotel with a conference centre, function rooms, restaurants and a museum. It’s wonderful that with the support of a private company the Q Station can be sustained and enjoyed presently whilst maintaining its connection to the past and without compromising its historic value.

Facing Outwards – Week 6 in History Beyond the Classroom

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This week we paused to think more about our work with local and community organisations, and our major projects. To help us think through what we might do, we heard from Michaela Cameron, a PhD student in the Department of History who specialises in early Native-European relations, and particularly the “soundscapes” of early North America (see: .
On the side, Michaela has also been exploring the local history of her own neighbourhood in Sydney, and over the past few years has developed quite a wide and interesting public history presence. She has written numerous reviews of historic sites for Yelp, for example, created a Sydney history twitter account (, an instagram account for promoting Parramatta history and especially the Female Factory in particular ( and and and has also done work for the Dictionary of Sydney, including creating a walking tour app of Convict Parramatta which should be out shortly ( .
Michaela showed many of us what an “outsider” and a trained historian could bring to the public history table, particular if one listens, learns, and collaborates with local experts and the vast knowledge they often bring to the subjects. Michaela offered practical tips about having clear aims, and knowing what purpose any engagement and its public outcome might serve, including thinking about the audience for any public history project.
Michaela also stressed the need to go multi-modal, and think about bringing in text, visual, and audio material. She also showed us some fabulous examples of using primary sources and social media to “sell history” – and noted that while some organisations are already very good about using social media, it is often something we can help with if we are on top of it. So, too, can we try to draw attention to great resources such as Trove (
Primary sources in particular can entertain as well as inform, but they can also draw attention to some important causes (see for example: and and and and ). Michaela also notes that we should use a wide range of sources, and look for the ‘gaps’ – the silences, or the history that is not being done, or communicated particularly well.
Finally, Michaela also showed that history students could collaborate with each other to strengthen their efforts, and also help local/community organisations make connections between themselves and others, and with other organisations in particular that might help. Putting a grassroots campaign in touch with the Mitchell library, or the Dictionary of Sydney, for example, can pay dividends. And of course, we can use social media for activist purposes. See the petition to save the Female Factory here:
Following this stimulating talk, we divided the class into small groups according to the kinds of organisations they were working with, or hoping to work with. There is a great range of interests and different kinds of organisations, ranging from historical societies and historic sites, museums and libraries, to sports and community clubs, health and welfare groups, and activist/political groups. Students shared experiences and challenges, and with Michaela’s talk as inspiration, began to think about how that work might translate into a public history project. The possibilities are endless…

History as Confrontation or Reconciliation? Week 5 in HIstory Beyond the Classroom

This week we had both Louise Prowse and Mark McKenna in as guests to talk about local history. Both have “done” local history, as well as engaged with their communities and with local historical societies. They spoke about the theoretical/conceptual challenges of doing local history, as well as some of the practical issues that might arise. Of course, there is a strong relationship between the two, especially when raising questions that don’t always resonate with those who you are raising them with, as Louise pointed out. This can at least help push us to change the questions or think differently about our approaches.
Discussion ranged across a number of issues, including the relationship between the local and the national, the kinds of sources that might be important, and relationships between local authorities, the community, and the professional historian as well as the “hierarchies” of local knowledge and authority too.
We also talked about the tension inherent in working with local groups and writing analytical history, which again raised questions about who our histories are for, and what are they for? Do we need a sense of personal connection, or a common point of interest to work well together? Where do we feel a sense of belonging? What do we feel connected to? Do we need to connect with communities/localities that we study? Can we “own” a history that is not ours? Or is written by someone else? What can we bring to the table as “insiders” and as “outsiders”?
And the key question again, what is our role as historians? Mark McKenna has written that history should be about confronting myths, rather than reassuring stories. But Frank Bongiorno and Erik Ekland have written in their article “The Problem of Belonging: Contested Country in Australian Local History,” that instead of confronting myths, we should think about excavating the “historical meanings of social memory.” What role do myths play in our historical consciousness?
Building on all of this, I think one of the most important questions that arose from the readings and discussion this week is whether we can/should think of our histories as acts of reconciliation?

Letting Go – Week 4 in History Beyond the Classroom

This week Annette Cairnduff, the University of Sydney’s Social Inclusion Director, came to talk to the class about the issue of inclusion, especially at Universities, and the University of Sydney in particular. She told us of her own background, the work done at the University of Sydney over the past six years, the collaborative projects encompassed in the Bridges to Higher Education Project, and why she is a passionate believer in the goal of inclusion. Both Annette and Hannah Forsyth, whose work we read in tandem (A History of the Modern Australian University [2014]), noted that while Universities have become more inclusive over the past one hundred years or so, they have also continued to be sites of exclusion, too. And Sydney University still has some way to go to fulfil a more expansive vision of an inclusive University. For some of the efforts of Annette and the social inclusion unit, including Compass, see
Annette’s talk echoed the readings on community history, too, or perhaps histories in communities. As noted last week, Martha Sears has urged us to think about history in ecological terms, as a dynamic and organic system where diverse and different parts contribute to the health of the whole. A more diverse and inclusive University will be a healthier and more dynamic place, too. Genuine engagement with a broader community is also a route toward a healthier University and is of course part of the University’s strategic plan.
Based on some of the exciting proposals for community work that have emerged so far in this unit, and which we discussed a bit this week in our tutorials, I am hopeful that students can play an important part in both connecting and engaging with diverse constituencies, and thinking more inclusively about history and history-making. It is clear from the readings and discussion this week that that would involve a recognition of the limits of our own knowledge; an openness and attentiveness to new forms of expressing knowledge; and a valuing of other ways of thinking about history and knowledge.
As Michael Frisch has written, an engaged history is about sharing authority, and letting go of some of our preoccupations and interests and what we know (like our traditional idea of research, writing a history essay, and playing it safe with something that we already know we do well). Doing so does and has raised anxiety levels a bit. This is understandable. Students are doing something new here – something so new that we don’t actually know what will result exactly. As Martha Sears notes, if we take this seriously, let go of our “authority” (as a history student) and engage, listen, and learn, history and history-making can be something more alive – organic, dynamic, etc. But not knowing what will result is scary, maybe even terrifying at times (and part of the “letting go”), but it is also the point at which we’ll all hopefully learn most.