By Teresa Singh
This week I followed a lead for my exhibition to the Trades Hall labor museum in Haymarket. As I was walking there through the fringes of China town, past retail stores and office buildings I almost missed the entry twice. Shouldered between a Glue store and a high rise sits a historic building, once a bustling unionist headquarters, a place where the ‘8 hour day’ was literally won, where the first industry guilds hung their banners… and now?
I walked around the empty museum mystified. My guides voice drifting in and out, the picture of trade unionism himself; I envisioned the room as it initially was in the 1800’s. Long tables filled with intellectuals, anarchists, disgruntled workers…the ‘buzzing proletariat’ for whom, someone as fond of Russian history as I am, has an irrevocable affection for.
Their collection on anti-conscription was kept in a corner swarmed by the banners they had assembled “don’t conscript our daddies”, “no more conscripts” and the moniker which brought me here “Save our sons”. When I asked my guide how it was they came by these signs, some of which were over 100 years old, having been used in the petitions against conscription in WW1, he said many were found in junk stores – on their way to the tip. I was visibly shocked, it was to be the theme of the day.
We began to move off topic from anti-conscription efforts, to the nature of the institution itself. Its own history providing hours of conversation. Neale and his colleague sighed, the funding of this precious site was virtually non-existent, and developers had already bought out a significant part of the building, which had survived since the early 1870’s. They conceded they had taken to buying certain items together, in order to spare them from disposal. The same tragedy almost befell their library. This library was a small room lined floor to ceiling with glass cases full of 19th century books, truly unbelievable relics. This collection was the work of the original Trades hall occupants, determined to create a body of literature which would educate the working class they devoted their lives to. I climbed up ladders to classical anthropological texts I myself recognised from my studies at Uni. A sea of worn and tattered time capsules stacked the cases…Darwin’s social theories, totemism, the American Revolution, poetry, ancient encyclopedias. The collection was a testament to the pioneers of the institute. I drank in their century-old literary choices; confident it did educate, confident it did now. I had never seen books this old in mere shelves, not displayed in glass boxes or guarded with airport level security such as those at the state library.
The idea that a room filled with classic texts this precious was threatened with dismantling seemed impossible. But indeed they had only just succeeded in saving it. ‘State and Federal significance’ is the way he phrased it, with many other beautiful Trade Halls Australia-wide having their libraries dismantled and contents disappearing, it was one of a few of its kind left.
Who did OWN these? Does anyone come here and help in the preservation of this important, priceless collection? No, he replied, they do what they can with the display and have a paper restorer on staff that volunteers her services but funding has not made its way to the trades Hall yet, they seemed doubtful it ever would.
When leaving the museum with copies of the material from the display and banners etc. I was again struck by their incredible willingness to share, their eagerness to lend me original items and their obvious joy in sharing union history. Stewardship over the past was entirely absent. Union history was, all at once, theirs to protect, share and impart. It was mine to take and repurpose in a peacemaking exhibition as I pleased. It dawned on me as I walked out, the building may be changed or come under attack, but as long as men with as great a passion for what it represents, remain, this history can never truly be endangered.
A thinly veiled Simpsons reference to kick off my blog, but the question stands; who is thinking of the children? The Surf Clubs are and have been since they were formed. The system before nippers became a part of SLS NSW, was that local kids would be scouted from the Queenscliff Ocean pool swim team (Dannie being one of them) at the age of 14.
The current system at most surf clubs and Queenscliff is the nippers that has children from as young as 5 or 6 running up and down the beaches on a Saturday or Sunday morning. As a more senior member Dannie states in a very relaxed interview I held with him on a sunny morning down at the clubhouse, “God the kids have it easy these days, but they still complain. It’s hard and they don’t have the energy to get themselves into trouble on the weekend… that’s how we had it and it kept me out of trouble. It works.”
In the same discussion with both Dannie and Dave (old hands at the club) the theme that it was harder in their day was brilliant. The message they really wanted to get across to me however was that the club is good for the kids. It kept them out of trouble, it kept Dannie’s kids out of trouble (*he hopes) and they think it keeps kids good. Why wouldn’t it. Training throughout the week, then up early on the weekends patrolling or competing. It is this community engagement element that has drawn my attention recently and is what I plan to focus on.
Expanding on the military connection I have found out from talking to club members, that emergency services is in many cases an obvious career path that follows growing up around the club. Dannie himself became a Police Officer and he reels off a list of other men that went from teenagers in the club to various emergency services positions. This is not to say that they all do, but the regime and training of lifesaving lends its self to a more formal career path.
Arriving at the Information Desk, I asked the librarian, “I’m doing a ‘history’ on Glenwood. What resources do you have?” I came in with no plan but with an open mind. Before this I began to open random filing cabinets in the library intrigued as to what random things I could find for this project, only to be looked at suspiciously by the librarian as if I was about ransack the place and mess up their archives. Nevertheless with the librarian having a willing heart, she searched the library database finding a sparing amount of news articles and images of a historic house within Glenwood. Initially I began to get concerned as I feared that there was a limited amount of resources available and I would have to widen the scope of the project, to make up for the short fall in information.
Image 1: Proposed Street Plans of Glenwood (Landcom, 1994)
However there was a treasure trove to be found, opening up the padlocked filing cabinet under the manila folder files of Glenwood and Glenwood Schools. Maps, brochures and newspaper articles highlighted the initial developmental stages and designs of the suburb in the early 1990’s to mid-2000’s. Largely published by the developers of the site, Landcom, they promised that the suburb would become “one of the best locations in the west”, with sites of public reserves, shopping centres and transport connections within or in close vicinity of the area. Although largely utilised as a marketing tool, the brochures highlighted what buyers may be on the outlook for, particularly with its emphasis on a suburb where access to all necessities is a possibility.
Image 2: Landcom brochure advertising the proposed features and characteristics of Glenwood. (Landcom, 1994)
These resources largely gave me the foundational basis for this project, which is to focus upon the developmental progress of Glenwood from the early 1990’s to what it is now. However just after writing the previous sections of this blog, I’ll probably focus more upon from the early 1990’s to the mid 2000’s to limit the scope of the project, but also focus upon a time period where most residential development within Glenwood had occurred. I am hoping that many other resources come about and especially from the residents of Glenwood, who could hopefully open their own ‘filing cabinets’ and be able to share their collections of Glenwood’s developmental past.
My research project involves the history of the David Berry Hospital. I grew up in Shellharbour, a town twenty minutes away from Berry, and my mother worked at the hospital for many years. For this reason, it was an easy decision to investigate the hospital. Through my initial research, I found that the hospital has a rich indigenous history involving the care of women and children affected by the stolen generation. I also discovered that the Bomaderry Children’s home (only another ten minutes from the hospital) was where these children were taken. The home was the biggest and first in the state, and if the children fell ill, they would be treated at the hospital.
The Bomaderry Children’s home has been described as the “home of the stolen generation.” If this is so, why have I never heard of it? I went to school half an hour away from the children’s home and was often at the hospital as my mother worked there for many years. Why was I never taught about the home or the treatment of children at the hospital in school? Or told by people in the town or at the hospital? This hidden history that no one seems to be teaching or talking about in the town is surprising to me. I am astonished that I was not taught this history or told of the indigenous suffering so close to where I live.
In class, we recently discussed the notion of history being a form of activism. Is this lack of history a form of political silence? Is it underlining a forgotten generation and an unwanted Australian history? Or is it simply something that has been overlooked accidently? Is it possible that it could accidently be ignored? While the Indigenous people in the area keep the history alive, many individuals have forgotten, or just do not know.
Similarly, the history wars highlight this issue and their effects are now seen in the education of Australia’s children. However, what is being taught to Australian children during the interim of these debates and the years taken in to organise curriculum and education tools for indigenous history. Should we wait until the debate is over? Will it ever be over? Can the history of the indigenous people who suffered in the Children’s Home and were treated at the hospital be forgotten and ignored? Due to this debate is it, therefore, possible to write a balanced history of the home and the area?
From the ages of 8 to 15 I lived on Whale Beach – the second most northern beach in the formally Pittwater Council (now Northern Beaches Council I think?) – and I loved every minute of it. I was a cliché as a kid, jet blonde hair, year round tan and a love for a face full of salt water. The Surf clubs are the centre of these places. For me it was the Cabbage Tree Club down on Palm Beach along with the Packers, the Hewitt’s and Guy Sebastian for a brief period. As much as that is a name drop it brings up the point that everyone and anyone can be found in one of the 36 clubs dotted along Sydney’s coast. However, far and away the largest group among them is Military. There is an affinity between surf clubs and Military that fascinates me, why is it so tied together?
When I went for a visit down to Queenscliff SLSC on the same beach as two other thriving clubs, I was greeted by two former Australian defence force men. they walked me through the typically sandy and slightly damp bottom floor and led me up the stairs where I was greeted with tens of honour boards. The majority were for personal and club achievements and various awards won by the club or given out internally, and yet front and centre on the biggest wall was military service. By no means the longest list in the building with Queenscliff having a lot of success in national competition and yet, it took centre stage.
There is a sense of inevitability that this research will take me down a road of men rehashing their war stories to me and I would love to hear them, but I also want to go deeper as to the why. What is the appeal of a surf club to these men in particular?
I have no idea where this story will end up even as I read more and more I wonder if there is more to be found. I have been introduced to so many characters, from so many backgrounds and yet I keep coming back to military. Is it my favouritism toward military history or is it that Surf Life Saving Clubs have a natural affinity with former military men? all I know at the minute is that I keep meeting people of hero status, not is some Victorian Cross kind of way, but in a way that shows you how life should be and who you should be as a person. That has no historical impact in the grand schemes and yet I am beginning to see it as the fabric of history in community.
I have always enjoyed what I thought of as material culture in history, and through my history units so far have persistently been drawn to the study of objects, art, buildings – tangible things. From the decoding of erotic messages in medieval mirrors as gifts of courtly love, to the subtle political alliances that imbued 18th century court dress, the deciphering and interpreting of the stuff of a particular period, has always floated my academic boat.
This process of investigating and drawing inferences from material objects and tangible items, and using them as primary sources, has been somewhat complicated in my mind in this unit through the distinction between private and public history.
Rosenzweig and Thelen’s examination of people engaging with their private history every day through the use of family photo albums and heirlooms, but not necessarily viewing this process as “history” has intrigued me. In being told the story of my mother’s immigration to Australia, and looking at the “vintage” luggage tags from the three month journey, am I engaging in history or nostalgia? If I viewed luggage tags from the same era in the Immigration Museum of Melbourne, surely that counts as history?
On reflecting upon this question, I realised that to date, my university history studies have always have focused on periods and societies from at least two centuries ago, meaning I have never really had to consider this before. Of course a 16th century tapestry is a historical artifact, but what about the quilt that my mother was given by her aunts, and still sits on our couch at home?
One of our class speakers, Mark Dunn, inspired me with his inclusion of images and material objects (like advertisements) in a public history context, and the idea of curating the material culture of private individuals and establishments and presenting them for public consumption, is something I would love to further explore.
In her book Private Lives, Public History, Anna Clark explores the relationship between Australians and their heirlooms, family photographs and stories. In questioning whether “granny’s embroidery” is really history, and indeed, whether people feel more connected to these tangible familial memories than the history they learn in class, Clark has me wondering if my engagement in the objects themselves, is really the deciding factor. If I want to catalogue and display the luggage tags, to investigate the (somewhat horrid) 70’s style influences of the quilt, surely the question of whether it is an exercise in history, or nostalgia, doesn’t really matter.
‘Eryldene’: A Place for Stillness
The concept of a house museum, of freezing in time the domestic life enjoyed within a specific property, is one which gained traction in Australia in the late twentieth century. Significant homes in New South Wales were preserved and given protection by institutions such as the National Trust and the Historic Houses Trust, now Sydney Living Museums, to enable visitors to gain an enhanced understanding of different modes of domestic living over time. ‘Eryldene’, an historic house and garden at Gordon on Sydney’s North Shore, is an example of this impulse to interrogate history. The property is today owned and managed by the Eryldene Trust and is open to the public throughout the year.
‘Eryldene’ was the home of Professor E.G. Waterhouse and his family from its construction in 1914 until the death of Professor Waterhouse in 1977. The house, designed by William Hardy Wilson, is a fine example of colonial revival architectural style and is little altered from its original design. It retains much of its original furniture and art works and as such allows visitors an insight into the life of a privileged Sydney family in the first part of the twentieth century. The Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Sydney, Waterhouse was part of an educated elite which was central to the intellectual life of Sydney in the mid-twentieth century; as a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for over twenty years he was friendly with many artists, critics and patrons.
Beyond its cultural and architectural importance, it is the manner in which the house is integrated into its garden setting which imbues ‘Eryldene’ with its unique character. The design of the garden was a joint project between Waterhouse, Hardy Wilson and later members of that architect’s practice over a number of years and represents a fusion between the Arts and Craft movement and the Asian aesthetic that was at the heart of much of Hardy Wilson’s work. As a world authority on the propagation and cultivation of camellias, Professor Waterhouse developed the garden as a showcase for this species and today there are over 500 varieties throughout the ‘Eryldene’ garden. This very personal response to site evokes a sense of stillness, of timelessness, that is at the heart of ‘Eryldene’.
The significance of this property was recognized in 1979 through its purchase by the Eryldene Trust, an independent body formed by the local community which has as its aim the protection and preservation of this unique property. The work of the Trust to open ‘Eryldene’ to the public and provide modes of interpretation for visitors represents a cogent example of a community response to its connection with history.
When I found Touching Base, I knew immediately that this was an organisation I wanted to work with. Touching Base recognises physical and sexual needs as human rights. They provide support to both those with disabilities and sex workers, creating a space where the two parties can intersect. The meetings are not necessarily penetrative, the experiences are just as much about touch and affection than they are about sex. Touching Base provide education, support and connection between the two groups and emboldens disabled individuals to take ownership of their sexuality. This to me, is such valuable work.
I grew up with two intellectually disabled aunts: Sharon and Sandra. Growing up I was never uncomfortable with their ‘disabilities’. Their immaturity, spasticity, and epilepsy – in my eyes this was all a part of their identity. On my tenth birthday, Sandra had a seizure in front of me; it was intense but it was understandable, acceptable behaviour. Afterwards, I remember asking my mum the actual diagnosis of their disability but she couldn’t tell me. It turns out no one had thought to ask. In a town of 2000 people, the details weren’t that necessary: it was just who they were and that was ok.
But there was another side to the girls, they were more than just their disabilities. Sharon, the more rambunctious of the two, would attack you with her love, while Sandra stood by shyly, waiting for her turn. They loved Slim Dusty, a cheeky VB and water fights. Those water fights were the terror of my childhood. Sharon would always take it too far, laughing manically as she cornered the children of the family, throwing eggs, flour and anything she could find.
What did make pre-pubescent Donna uncomfortable was the outright desire they expressed when talking about men. In particular, men who played sport. Tony Modra (or Godra as he was known in South Australia) was their idol. Looking back now, I get it. I mean, he was basically an Adonis.
Modra lined their walls and on every visit they would pull me into their room to admire his chiselled features and short shorts. This overt expression of their sexuality did not fit with my understanding of who they were. I was so challenged by their sexuality and their free expression of it.
Recently when I introduced them to my partner, a tall dark handsome type, I was delighted to see that nothing has changed. I was immediately relegated to the background: Sandra stared and stared while Sharon bombarded him with trivia, holding him close with a possessive hand on his arm. Now in their forties, you can still see their desire to be touched by someone other than a carer, to be touched with love and affection.
I never imagined I could use history to aid a cause so near to my heart. I’m so excited to be working with an organisation that enables those sidelined by mainstream society and acknowledges their basic need for affection. An organisation who can help those like my aunts find an outlet for the needs their carers can’t fill. My work as a historian will help them access grants and hopefully permanent funding which will allow them to help women and men experience what the rest of us take for granted.
There comes a point in one’s academic studies when you begin to wonder why on earth you are doing what you are doing. What are you supposed to do with all this knowledge about theories and concepts, other than become an academic and teach another generation about all the concepts and theories you have learned? What if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life tied to the University? What can you possibly do with all of this study that will impact the world in any way? Where on earth is the practical side to all of this learning? I cannot begin to express the relief I felt after attending a class that showed this very “practical side” of history. I still remember the growing excitement within me as I sat in my very first class for the semester and listened to Michael talk about how historians have taken their university learning out into the “real” world. I remember thinking over and over again, with a mounting passion, that this, this was the answer to the oppressing question of ‘what on earth am I going to do with my life?’.
As the course unfolded, my passion only grew as, week by week, guest speakers spoke of the numerous ways in which they interacted with the world of public history. They talked about the ups and downs of working in both the “professional” academic sphere and the “amateur” local sphere. They described their various works and how they had taken their university learning out into various areas of Australian society and created so many projects of all shapes and sizes. The opportunity to travel to places one would not normally go and to dig in to histories that aren’t widely heard, and then use your own creativity to express and communicate the history you find to a wider, public audience is everything I could hope for in a career. Unfortunately, finding these opportunities with the addition of getting paid is not always easy. But the encouragement I felt in listening, week after week, to how these various historians had done it inspires me to reach forward regardless.
Our semester-long project is one of the most exciting things I’ve done at university and I have thoroughly enjoyed the prospect of going out and “doing history”. As I scrolled through the numerous organisations listed on the History Beyond the Classroom website in my first week of semester (the earliest I have ever started any project in my entire life), Saint John’s Cemetery immediately caught my eye. I have always loved cemeteries. That sounds a bit morbid, I know, but cemeteries hold so many glimpses of stories that we will never fully know. Not just in the words carved into a gravestone, but in the pictures on the stone, the font of the text and the shape and placement of the gravestone itself. Even just the dates given on each stone, the simple statement of one’s age, has always drawn me into the stories of cemeteries.
And so, on the Monday of week 5 (the eagerness I had to start this project only took me so far) I finally pushed through my anxiety of talking to strangers and composed an email to the secretary of the Friends of Saint John’s Cemetery, enquiring as to whether they might be interested in working with me for my project. Only a few hours later, I arrived at class to realise that our guest speaker was none other than Michaela Cameron, a member of the Friends of Saint John’s Cemetery and the driving force behind the Saint John’s Cemetery Project! I listened eagerly as Michaela spoke of her work with the cemetery and with getting biographies of the first fleeters written and made available through the cemetery’s website (stjohnscemetery.jimdo.com/). Michaela also talked about building a strong presence in social media, and so inspired me to begin my own history blog (which can be viewed at hideawayhistory.jimdo.com). I very much enjoyed setting up the website and have found great pleasure in researching and writing about small parts of history I find in my day-to-day life.
I have begun work with Michaela and am currently working my way through the burial records of Saint John’s Cemetery to find Female Factory workers who are buried in the cemetery. Though I have not worked out what my final project will be, simply going through these records is as enjoyable and intriguing as walking through a cemetery. Seeing patterns in names or noticing when there is an above average number of deaths suggests so many stories left untold. And there is a great deal of satisfaction in finally deciphering a word written in such cryptic handwriting! The chance to tell the stories of those buried in the cemetery, even if it only through a list made available to any curious web surfer, is a chance I take on with a passion and with much anticipation of what I might find.
The ‘History Beyond The Classroom’ unit allows for individuals to bring awareness to the stories of a community that are often untold, sometimes forgotten or simply are unknown. In undertaking this unit, I want to highlight that history is not just confined to a museum or to the archives of a library, but rather it can be just a few streets away, within our own local communities, where through time and change in industries, houses and the physical landscape, bring about stories and experiences of how it was once was.
For my initial investigations of the suburb of Glenwood, I sort collaboration with the Glenwood Community Association. From me they were seeking some form of ‘history of Glenwood’, which I think would be fantastic, but with additional consultation, we are still yet to clarify on how this would look. However with this occurring in due time, I decided to undertake my own small investigation of Glenwood through walking. In geography, walking is seen as a geographical research method, which aims to make observations of the real world. When working upon the history of Glenwood, I really wanted to capture real examples that existed. And so there was a place that I knew had some form of heritage attached to it, I had often driven past it, but never had the actual opportunity to go there and examine for what it was worth. This area was Glenwood Park Drive which was connected to the streets Thompson Crescent and Diamond Avenue. Within this location it hosts Glenwood Park House and Parklea Public School.
Glenwood Park House was built in 1853. Classified as a Victorian-style home, it was initially utilised as a property for farming where orchards, wheat and hay and a dairy herd had been present (Powell, 2005). Since then the property has served different purposes whether it be for the grazing of cattle, as a medical centre and to what it is now a private property (Powell, 2005). A heritage listed building, it is surrounded by parkland and vegetation which somewhat obscures its full view upon a hill, whilst housing from the early 2000’s surrounds the property.
Just down a few meters is Parklea Public School. Upon face value it looks like a modern school built in the early 2000’s. However on the school sign, it proclaims to be a school established in 1919. What is interesting is that the school retained its name although it was relocated to its current site in 1999 (Sharpe 2000, p.38). I guess no matter how well you know the suburb that you live, there will always be new things to learn and notice, whether it be the minuscule change to the natural landscape or in discovering new facts about a place. Walking can provide further contextual insights into a suburb. Although utilised in geography, walking is a method that makes history that much more tangible, which can give a broader perspective as to how life could have possibly been like in the past. I feel that there is a greater sense of appreciation, when one is able to visibly see with their own eyes, at history being presented in front of them. History was just a few meters away from my own home. I sure that there are plenty of stories to be shared about a place just a few meters away, of the years that have gone by.
Powell, D. (2005). Glenwood Park (Sorrento). Retrieved from http://roots-boots.net/history/blacktown/glenwood.html
Sharpe, A. (2000). Pictorial History Blacktown and District. Kingsclear Books Pty Ltd.