Aboriginal and European history on the Northern Beaches

It’s hard to say where the inspiration for my project came from. As a resident of the Northern Beaches, I have lived my whole life in close proximity to sites of incredible natural beauty, many of which are of spiritual and cultural significance to Aboriginal people. However, ever since I chose Modern History as an elective in Year 11 I’ve had a huge love of European history (which was only furthered by a school trip there that same year, and through study at uni).
I don’t think that these were conscious influences on my project. It’s only by typing this that I’ve really come to realise it. Forefront in my mind as I developed my idea was our class field trip to the Quarantine Station, which I was fascinated to learn was a site devoted to healing in pre-European times. I found it incredible that both Aboriginal people and European settlers viewed the site as a place for the ill, and that really got me thinking – this is a place that two almost incompatible cultures have come to consider significant. How unlikely! I wondered if there were other places in the region that might also have a significance that transcends cultures.
My mind was all but made up when David Watts came to speak to us about his work at the Aboriginal Heritage Office, which sounded like a match made in Heaven as far as my project was concerned. I contacted David in the hopes that I could volunteer with the AHO as an Aboriginal site monitor, a proposition to which he agreed!
The first Monday of the mid-semester break was spent with Viki Gordon and other volunteers at Manly Dam, learning how to locate and protect Aboriginal sites in addition to discovering more about the varied projects the AHO participates in. This was a truly fascinating day, and I learned just how steeped in indigenous culture my local area is!
I have high hopes that my work with the AHO will help me uncover more sites of significance to Aboriginal people, and then research the reasons why Europeans may also find these sites to be worthy of preservation or if they are significant in a different way. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to share the location of the sites that I’ll be monitoring, but I strongly suggest coming up this way and wandering around the national parks or along the coastal walks, you never know what you might find!

Public History Project Updates – Week 11 in History Beyond the Classroom

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Our class reconvened this week after the AVCC break and public holiday last week. While difficult to get restarted after the break, and with only three weeks left in the semester (hard to believe), I’ve been inspired anew by some of the amazing projects that students are developing. Proposals were due on Friday, and a first glance over them revealed some thoughtful and exciting initiatives. This was only confirmed in class, where we discussed projects in small groups then heard short presentations from individuals brave enough to talk about their work to the class.
Up first was Steph Beck, who has already blogged about her project here: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/09/community_project_beginnings_1.html We learned about her amazing journey to Melbourne to visit the rarely-used archives of the Temple Society (http://www.templesociety.org.au/), her horror at discovering the damage to some of the documents there by a fire (pictured above), and some of the marvellous discoveries she made in some of the files. She has documented a little of her physical and metaphorical journey into the foodways of the fascinating Temple Society on her instagram account at: https://instagram.com/stephsfoodhistory/ But recognizing that some of the older members of the society may not have easy access to the internet, Steph has also been thinking about how she can make her major project – an annotated collection of historical community recipes that span three countries and over one hundred and fifty years – more accessible to all of the community. A book publication awaits…
We also heard from Mitchell Davies, who has also just blogged about his work with the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society (http://www.cahs.com.au/) at: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/campbelltown_beyond_the_classr_2.html Mitchell, a lifelong resident of Campbelltown, is keen to bring together his love of local history with his teacher-training work to inspire a new generation of high school students to learn more about the interesting past all around them. Mitchell regaled us with some of these tales, including the story of Fisher’s Ghost, which animates much of Campbelltown’s community history, and has inspired an annual Festival http://www.fishersghost.com.au/ Mitchell is keen to use the social media platform Tumblr to bring these stories alive for students, but also to showcase the thoughts and work of those who work at the Historical Society.
Michael Rees also spoke about his work with the Female Factory Friends http://www.parramattafemalefactoryfriends.com.au/ Michael, who also blogged about this recently at http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/democracy_in_action_first_cont_1.html, recounted his first meeting with the Friends at a rally at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney as they presented a petition to save the Heritage Precinct in Parramatta (pictured below). He spoke about his steep learning curve about Parramatta history, and the various political and cultural interests at play in the controversy, and how that raises interesting challenges for presenting particular versions of the past at this critical juncture in the campaign to save the Heritage Precinct.
Finally, we also heard from Erin Gielis, who is working with the Rotary Club of Waitara (http://www.waitararotary.org/). Erin spoke of her engagement with the Club and how influential it was in shaping her own experience of community and the broader world to which the Club gave her access. She also brought to light the different kinds of challenges – and opportunities – students faced when working with non-historical organisations. The Waitara Club is relatively young, formed about thirty years ago. Though interested in the past, they have not had the chance to do much with their history and few of the members feel qualified to write it, and so the field is wide open for Erin to help them fill that gap. She has been interviewing members, past and present, and thinking about different ways of presenting this history via their website especially. Erin also raised important issues about the kinds of purposes such a project serves in not just documenting the activities of such an important community organisation, but also in drumming up interest and support for its survival in the future.
I hope I got everyone. Needless to say, these were inspiring stories of adventures in community history that could be of lasting impact. Students have certainly inspired me. After holding out for years, I’ve finally joined the twittersphere in order to get the word out about these great projects. Join me at https://twitter.com/HstyMattersSyd for updates about these great projects.
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Campbelltown Beyond The Classroom

As a lifelong Campbelltown resident I have been only too willing to make Campbelltown, my home, the subject of a major project. I feel fortunate that Campbelltown is not only an area of historical importance (especially in the early days of the colony), but is also a place where much of the heritage has for the most part been well-preserved.
On my journey thus far, I have discovered that Campbelltown has many stories to tell many of which I had little to no knowledge about. Thus far it has been an enriching experience. For my major project I aim to establish a Tumblr blog entitled Campbelltown Beyond The Classroom, which shares some of these interesting stories. These stories will be targeted towards high school students studying history elective in years 9-10. I feel that local history is often a neglected part of school history, despite being one of the more accessible components of it. I believe that local history has a great deal to offer students, and is often a kaleidoscope of fascinating stories, places and personalities – something for everyone.
Prior to creating my Tumblr blog, I was fortunate enough to meet with members of the Campbelltown Airds Historical Society stationed at Glenalvon House – and am forever grateful for members consenting to participate in some sit-down interviews and sharing their experiences and passion for Campbelltown’s local history and heritage. The society also graciously provided many resources which have thus far have proved extremely useful. A piece on the society and Glenalvon House (in addition with interview excepts) will form a prominent piece of the blog.
Although this still very much a work in progress, my preliminary sketch of the blog looks a little like this –
A. Introduction page – purpose of the blog – history elective
B. My volunteer work – Campbelltown-Airds Historical Society & Glenavlon House
C. My volunteer work – Oral Histories excerpts – local and community histories
D. Local history – Personal connections/recollections
E. Campbelltown – Birthplace ~ The Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie
F. Campbelltown Stories –
1. Tale #1 – Early Industry: James Ruse
2. Tale #2 – Contact History – Bull Cave
3. Tale #3 – The Appin Massacre
4. Tale #4 – St Peters Anglican Church
5. Tale #5 – St John’s Catholic Church
6. Tale #6 – William Bradbury
7. Tale #7 – Military Past: Bardia Barracks
8. Tale #8 – Campbelltown’s Communist Past
9. Tale #9 – Campbelltown’s Notorious Claim to Fame – Fishers Ghost

Democracy in Action: First Contact with the Female Factory Friends

Strangely enough, during my first contact with the Parramatta Female Factory Friends I was witness to history in the making.
Having filled out the contact form on the Factory Friends’ website in early August, I received an E-mail from the organisation’s President Gay Hendriksen asking me if I could be at NSW Parliament at 10:30am on Thursday the 19th of August to sign a petition.
I arrived to find a large group of people assembled outside the Parliament, many of whom were wearing ‘Parramatta Female Factory Friends’ badges. Other attendees appeared to be from Unions (the CFMEU and USU), and the North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group. Gay informed me that today the Female Factory Friends, and other groups concerned about residential development in the Parramatta area, were presenting a petition to the Parliament with over 10,000 signatures. This petition aimed to put a stop to proposed developments in the Parramatta historic precinct (where the Female Factory is located) including a 30-storey high-rise apartment building. To achieve this aim, the petition sought recognition for the Female Factory and surrounding area as a National Heritage site.
I was able to sign the petition and talk to some of the people who had been involved in the incredibly arduous process of collecting (with pen and paper, as per NSW legislation) all of the signatures. This was a great opportunity to hear about people’s diverse motivations for involvement in the campaign and the Factory Friends group. Some people were the descendants of factory workers who wanted the site preserved to honour their family members; others believed that the Parramatta precinct was an invaluable insight into Australian colonial heritage, and some people simply wanted the area protected against overdevelopment. These conversations gave me an insight into just how much hard work is required for groups interested in public histories to preserve historical sites and generate interest in their significance. Unlike academic historians who usually have a devoted audience (small as it may be), groups interested in public histories must engage the community before they can convey more detailed histories. Thus, they must not only convince an audience, but create one.
Later, we were received at the Parliament by Greens MPs Jamie Parker and David Shoebridge, as well as Labor MP Penny Sharpe. All three of these parliamentarians spoke of the significance of the Female Factory as a historical site, and the importance of its preservation. They also compared the factory to other similar early-colonial sites in Australia, such as Tasmania’s Port Arthur, which has already received National Heritage listing. I found it interesting that David Shoebridge reflected on 1827 riot at the Female Factory (which was caused by poor conditions and rations for factory-workers) as one of Australia’s earliest industrial actions. This aspect of the Female Factory’s history seemed to resonate with many members of the crowd (and particularly the Union-affiliated attendees) and demonstrated the way in which particular narratives can make historical sites and events resonate in the present.
Following the MPs speeches, we entered NSW Parliament House where the petition was formally tabled. In one of the Parliament reading rooms, we then assembled as a group and people who had been involved in the campaign (including Gay herself) spoke about its importance. Many speakers highlighted the significance of the factory as a historical site which commemorated women’s involvement (and exploitation) in the early Australian colony. One speaker, who had migrated from Greece to Australia in the 1970s, said that he failed to understand how Australians could be so oblivious to the historical importance of the site. “No one would ever be allowed to build an apartment on the Acropolis,” he said. Another speaker also recognised the role of the Female Factory as a point for early contact between British colonists and indigenous Australians on the Parramatta River.
Suffice to say, my first meeting with the Factory Friends was pretty exciting. I witnessed a grassroots movement of people interested in a historical site petitioning democratic representatives for its preservation, and heard many stories about the significance of the site to the group’s members.
For more information about how the petition was compiled and presented to the NSW Parliament, and photos from the day, see: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-20/push-to-protect-parramatta-womens-factory-from-development/6711438

An Invitation and an Update: Fleet Street Heritage Precinct

Dear friends of HSTY3902,
I am writing my first blog post as part diary entry, part promotional piece, on my work with North Parramatta Residents Action Group (‘NPRAG’). I met with Suzette Meade, President of NPRAG, on Tuesday. Although we have been in contact over the phone and via email for the past couple of months, this was the first time we have met in person. Suzette showed me the grounds of the Parramatta Female Factory site and its surrounds, located at 5 Fleet Street in Parramatta. I was truly taken by the beauty and quiet majesty of the buildings, which although incredibly old (dating back to the early 1800s) remain in mostly good condition. Walking through the old buildings you can still see (and touch) the intricate markings left by individual convicts on the sandstone blocks which form the structures—apparently common practice which identifies which convict cut which stone and was thus entitled to wages for it. This site contains some of the oldest buildings in Australia’s history, and perhaps even more than the few which remain in the Sydney CBD today. It was a remarkable experience to walk through such an old and historically significant site, and particularly poignant that this was my first visit in the 21 years I have lived just a 10-minute drive away.
What is even more poignant is the fact that this wonderful experience—of walking through two-hundred-year-old cottages, of touching convict-carved sandstone, of smelling the sweet perfume of overhanging wisteria vines and of witnessing a colony of endangered bat species make themselves at home in the trees above—could come to an end all to soon. Suzette has been at the vanguard of NPRAG’s protests against current proposals, put forward by developer UrbanGrowth NSW, to develop the site into a residential precinct consisting of between 4000—6000 apartments. When I had spoken to Suzette earlier and had learned of the proposal, my understanding was that it threatened the site because the apartments would sit near the current site, across the road, imposing not just a twenty-plus-storey shadow but various other infrastructural strains that come with housing thousands of new residents. But when I walked through the site and Suzette showed me a sky-view artist’s impression of exactly where the new apartments would sit, and pointed out the proposed plots as we stood amongst the buildings, I was shocked to realise that the proposal includes the placement of apartment blocks within the site itself—some right next to the original convict structures. It is hard to understand why anyone would think it a good idea to place modern apartment blocks in amongst such a quiet and beautiful historical site, and the sprawling green grounds that surround it, but this is precisely what Suzette and NPRAG have been campaigning against since January this year.
But enough lament. It was wonderful to meet Suzette and see her passion and determination to fight this proposal, as well as to nut out exactly how I can help NPRAG in the historical work I do for them over the next few weeks. A lot of my work will be focused on the upcoming symposium that NPRAG is organising as a day for the public, organisations, members of parliament, and other interested groups to have an open discussion about the proposal and how it will compromise a site of so much national historical importance.
Suzette is keen to get more university students and members of the educations sector on board with this discussion, and would like to extend an invitation to you, the class of HSTY3902 (as well as any other interested academics from the university) to attend the symposium. It will be held on Monday 12th October, which does fall on our class day however will run from 9am—4.30pm so might allow those who are interested to come for even just a couple of hours in the morning. Tickets for the general public are $20 each but Suzette has generously given us a discount code to receive 50% off on the price (so it’ll just be $10 a ticket = bargain!). Just enter HISTORYMATTERS at the registration to receive this. The symposium will be held at the Parramatta Leagues Club. To buy tickets and view more details about the symposium visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/fleet-street-heritage-precinct-symposium-tickets-18493278895
I know Parramatta is not really near uni but I do encourage you to come along if you’ve got the morning off and are able to make the trip. It’s a short walk from the Leagues Club to the site, where you can have a look at the buildings for yourself and really appreciate how special it is that so much history lies in a relatively little-known and under-appreciated location.

History in splendid isolation

The recent visit by students from the ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ unit of study to the former Quarantine Station on North Head, provided a great opportunity for dynamic discussion surrounding topics of representation, interpretation and the roles played by museums and heritage sites in shaping public perceptions of history.
The group’s visit was hosted by myself and Peter Hobbins from the University of Sydney’s Quarantine Project, a three year collaborative research initiative focused on the rock carvings and other markings made at the site during its period of operation between 1835 and 1984. The students were very interested in the site and had lots of great questions about its history, the historic buildings and our collection of five thousand movable heritage objects. The site’s adaptive reuse by the Mawland Group – a special interest tourism company who work within the fields of nature tourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism and heritage tourism – was also a topic of conversation along with the site’s management as a hotel, conference and events facility.
The Quarantine Station is a diverse and dynamic site which lends itself to an immense variety of projects. Peter and I encourage students to take on research projects that relate to the Quarantine Station or its surrounding heritage sites as part of either this unit’s major assessment or projects developed in the future. Peter provided some great ideas for projects in his recent blog post, though students are welcome to propose other ideas. Feel free to contact Peter or myself with any questions you may have (E: qstationheritage@mawlandgroup.com.au).
It was a pleasure to host the group and we hope to see the University’s history students on site again in the future.
Rebeca speaks to HSTY3902 students 7 September 2015 - Copy.jpg
Rebecca Anderson, the Quarantine Station’s Curator, speaks to HSTY3902 students 7 September 2015
Image courtesy Peter Hobbins

Willoughby Girls 50 Year School Reunion

A wonderful story emerges!
I first came into contact with the Willoughby Girl’s 50 year school reunion when I saw an advert in my local newspaper. My initial idea for the community project was to create a podcast with interviews from the women at the reunion on their favourite school memories. In my mind, this project would be a quaint little audio collection of women reminiscing on happy days at school.
However, after a few weeks the Willoughby Old Girls, very sweetly, approached me with some subjects for enquiry that they had always been curious about but had been too shy to investigate, and wanted to take this perfect opportunity (how often does a willing historian come a knocking?) to get to the bottom of. Dipping my figurative research fishing line into local libraries and internet sites, I did some initial research into each suggested avenue with varying levels of success. But finally the hook snagged on something so substantial that my whole project trajectory has been subsequently completely re-orientated.
As is true of most stubborn curiosities and long-lasting concerns, this area of interest revolved around the people we once knew. One of the Willoughby Old Girls was very interested in Pallister Girls Home, the local corrective institution that housed some Willoughby students, and more importantly, the stories of the girls who once lived there.
The great snag that caught my research line was an unassuming office in the city called the Anglican Deaconess Ministries Office. I presented myself, unannounced and unbooked, to the office and was warmly met by the lovely staff at ADM, Ken and Sarah. Here I was shown files upon files of archived primary sources referring to Pallister Girls Home. I was given access to original photos, girl’s case study evaluations before and after they went through the home, daily routine schedules, admittance criteria, sheets of rules, incidences of ‘moral danger’, the matron’s handbooks and donor lists.
With so much untouched information on Pallister, I intend to change the main thrust of the podcast to be about the stories of the ‘Pallister Girls’ that these women went to school with.
The Willoughby Girls 50 year reunion last Monday was a wonderful opportunity to compliment my archive research with oral descriptions of eye witness memories of the girls from Pallister. But more than that, being with the women themselves (my ‘clients’), raised a question in my own mind; why are school reunions significant? Why do people attend them? And what is the nature of the conversation at such events? Whilst my community project will compile into a podcast my findings (supplemented by the women’s memories) on the Pallister Girl’s Home, my major work will additionally present my findings on these latter questions too.
Here’s to a twisting plot and surprising turns, and a special thank you to the ADM office for letting me into their archives, and the Willoughby Old Girls for letting me into their memories.
(Photo courtesy of ADM archives. One of the girls in the photo was recognised and named by the Old Girls at the Willoughby School reunion)

Literary Connections to Local History

This blog entry sounds a lot like a project proposal but, to be frank, in essence, that’s precisely what it is ; )
I took the above photo (plus many more) of Australian Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White’s residence in Castle Hill. White and his partner Manoly Lascaris named the house “Dogwoods” and it was from here White wrote his Nobel prize winning novel, Voss. The residence is privately owned now and is used as office space for a family law firm. Luckily for me, however, the owners are aware of the heritage-listed building’s historical significance and were happy for me to tour the inside and take photos, which I provided as archive material to my historical society.
For my major project I am creating a webpage for Hills District Historical Society’s website on the literary connection of Patrick White to the area and how literary representations of place can help us to shape history. I managed to get hold of some really interesting census information for the Hills District during White’s residence in the area, and have purchased a copy of White’s application on Lascaris’ behalf supporting his naturalisation (which I will donate to the HDHS as further archive material).
I am going to link the anxieties of “otherness” in White’s texts (and society at the time) to Castle Hill. As a place of increasing acceptance of “otherness”, demonstrated through the census and White’s texts, I thought it would be a nice way to “wave the flag”, if you will, for the local history of Castle Hill. The census information, application for Lascaris’ naturalisation, and White’s autobiography about their relationship also helps to link White (through time) to the current environment of immigration through asylum, LGBT rights and marriage equality, etc that I thought would be a proud connection to the area.

Sources and Selection – Week 9 in History Beyond the Classroom

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Associate Professor Julia Horne (pictured above) joined us this week in History Beyond the Classroom and drew from her extensive public history experience to talk about sources, selection, and ethical dilemmas. Before Julia became an academic (and did her PhD) she worked as a social history curator at the Powerhouse Museum; as the manager of the Local History Coordination project, a Bicentennial-funded history project at UNSW to liaise with community and public history organisations throughout NSW; and as the co-ordinator of the Oral History Program in the UNSW Archives. She is currently a councillor of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), and chairs the ANMM Audience, Programs, Outreach and Education Committee. From 2007 to 2013 she was a councillor of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Australia’s oldest scholarly historical society, and at the University of Sydney, she is a member of the Art Advisory Committee and the Heritage Advisory Group, both established to advise on matters of museum and heritage policies. Julia has also worked on a number of consultancies including the Blue Mountains World Heritage Nomination (as historical respondent for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Domicelj Consultants), UNSW WomenResearch21, and various historical surveys on overseas students, women and engineers for UNSW.
Julia is also now the University Historian at the University of Sydney and an associate professor in the Department of History, where part of her position involves the management of the university’s oral history collection, working with the University’s heritage environment, and contributing historical advice to university policy development. Her major current public history project is Beyond 1914 (video below; see http://beyond1914.sydney.edu.au/) Her publications are in the field of the history of travel and the history of universities, education and women and include: The Pursuit of Wonder: How Australia’s Landscape was Explore, nature discovered and tourism unleashed (MUP: Miegunyah Press 2005) and Sydney the Making of a Public University (co-authored with Geoffrey Sherington, MUP: Miegunyah Press 2012).
Julia talked to the class about her early experiences with public history at the Powerhouse Museum, and the need to weigh up aesthetic and historic value and the need to draw in the public. The selection of sources to engage a wide audience, to tell stories, and to critique the past was a key component to a successful public history project. She presented the class with some entertaining examples drawn from her own experiences. Julia also exhorted students to experience place as much as possible when thinking about public history, and also to think about public history as something that should influence the present. She also talked about privacy issues, which sparked an interesting discussion in our ensuing tutorial – about our responsibilities as professional historians both toward the past, and our subjects. Finally, Julia mused about the idea of turning to historical fiction to tell stories that are difficult to piece together in more traditional formats. Several students in this class, I know, are keen to follow up on this and experiment with that format themselves. I’m keen to see where that might take us…
In the ensuing discussion, we also viewed some short public history presentations created by other students, including the fabulous ones done at Monash University with Alistair Thomson (see: https://vimeo.com/groups/makinghistory/albums/10825, and noted the many different kinds of primary sources students were using in their community projects. We ended by conducting oral interviews on each other, experiencing some of the uncomfortableness of being both the interviewer and interviewee that Lorina Barker noted in her wonderful essay that we read this week: ‘“Hangin’ Out” and “Yarnin’”: Reflecting on the experience of collecting Oral Histories’ History Australia, Vol. 5. No. 1 (April 2008) .

Captured by history

In opening up the Quarantine Project to scholars from ‘History Beyond the Classroom’, the response has been impressive!
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Both I and the Q Station’s curator, Rebecca Anderson, were delighted that so many students made their way out to North Head for a brief tour and discussion of the site’s many layers of history. If we had known the turn-out would be so strong, we would readily have suggested a longer tour, plus time for individual roaming. However, everyone is welcome to visit again as individuals or groups – for more information, click here.
North Head also offers a vast range of opportunities for projects connecting the past with the community. We’ve had conversations and emails with a number of students since the visit, so don’t be shy if you still want to explore ideas! We can help connect you with groups and the resources to plan your own small-scale research projects such as:
• moments of disease at sea and in Sydney, from personal experiences of suffering to the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic of 1919
• histories of detention for quarantine, for processing of people and goods, or for ‘illegal immigrants’ held onsite from the 1950s to the 1970s
• humanitarian stories of the ‘Operation Babylift’ evacuation from Vietnam in 1975, or the temporary rehousing of Darwin residents after Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day, 1974
• individual or family lives linked to the historic inscriptions and gravestones spread across the site
• social histories of living and working in the isolated Quarantine Station community
• narratives of voyages to Sydney, whether crew, immigrants, travellers or returning soldiers
• the military history of North Head, including its system of bunkers, coastal artillery and occupation by the army in WWI and WWII
• contemporary histories of local and environmental politics after North Head was handed back to NSW in 1984
• the challenges of public history and interpretation across a large, historically rich site now being adaptively re-used for leisure and commerce.
Do feel free to get in touch to explore some of your ideas; we’ll help if we can!
Peter Hobbins