A home away from home: SICCA’s wantok system

In the Solomon Islands we have something called a ‘wantok system.’ In essence, it means that you take care of your family and community and in turn they take care of you. It creates a sense of belonging, reciprocity and, at its best, a loving community. 

The Solomon Islands Canberra Community Association (SICCA) is a great example of the wantok system in motion. Having grown up across the Pacific and spent some time in Canberra myself as a part of this loving community, I have chosen to work with its members this semester as a way to give back to a family who helped raise me. 

SICCA is a volunteer and ethnicity based community group that works actively to connect Solomon Islanders living in Canberra, as well as with other Solomon Island communities across Australia. Its formal origins can be traced to 2002 when Solomon Islanders living in Canberra decided to create an association. Being a small community made up of  mostly non-native English speakers, the organisation’s history and achievements have essentially gone undocumented in an academic or formal sense. They remain alive however, in oral histories and the stories we tell each other when reminiscing. I’d like to bring these events back to life and document our histories for all to see. 

Currently, I am scanning and selecting relevant primary documents that show the organisation’s history and consulting with community members to create a shared timeline. Some examples of achievements I hope to record include: multicultural festival performances, fundraising for natural disaster relief and sporting organisations across the Pacific, radio talk show features, intercultural sporting events and hosting visits for Prime Ministers from the Solomon Islands.

Through archival work, I have been fortunate so far to access the organisations’ ‘founding document’ which outlines its values and goals. These include six points: to connect children of the diaspora to their culture; celebrate significant national events; welcome Solomon Islanders visiting Canberra; support the Canberra-based Solomon Islands High Commission; promote Solomon Islands in Canberra; and bring cultural performers from the Solomon Islands to Australia. Written in 2002 it is the first formal articulation of the community’s existence.

This document inspired a discussion between myself and community members about the history and development of the organisation, considering that next year (2022) marks its twentieth anniversary. We discussed how much the organisation has achieved and yet, how little has been documented. Therefore they suggested creating a website for the community that outlines its values, history and contact details. This would be a significant achievement and mark the first time a detailed account of its history has been made available. 

A website could formalise the organisation’s online presence, celebrate its peoples’ achievements, record its history and possibly be used to attract funding. It is a wonderful opportunity to commemorate the achievements of a community whose origins and histories often go unrecognised. It will provide appropriate contact information for relevant organisations, businesses and government departments seeking to work and engage with the community and travel to Solomon Islands, and importantly help people to connect with family away from home. I am so excited to see where this project takes me and am grateful for the chance to give back to people I consider family and my home away from home.

Mount Colah Cricket Club: A Historian’s Pitch

On any given Saturday in the summers of my childhood, you could be sure that the house would be empty, and the family would be camped out at some cricket ground in the area. We were not alone; for many in Mount Colah, whether watching or playing, cricket has always been an essential part of the summer months.

Club logo for Mount Colah Cricket Club

In service of this passion, the local group of volunteers at Mount Colah Cricket Club organises teams and games for all in the community who wish to play. Mount Colah Cricket Club is registered with the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai & Hills District Cricket Association (HK&HDCA) in both junior and senior competitions, annually entering teams in competitions with other local clubs.

The Early Stages

When I was prompted to consider valuable community organisations in my area, Mount Colah Cricket Club was my first thought. I approached club president, Paul McSweeney, in September this year with the question of whether the club had use for a history student hoping to complete a public history project. In dialogue with committee members, I have since formed a rough plan to outline a history of the club for its new website, consolidating local knowledge currently scattered across paper scorebooks, digital records, and the memories of members and players (past and present).

Working in lockdown conditions for the first weeks of this project, I was quickly discouraged by the dearth of information about the club’s history online. In search for sources, I reached out to local historian, councilman and cricket enthusiast, Nathan Tilbury, for advice. In a response which far exceeded my expectations, this conversation ended with Nathan Tilbury lending me a virtual treasure trove of hard-copy research materials.

The highlights within this collection include Alf James’ book, Summer Saturdays, which documents a history of the association until 2000, and box of HK&HDCA Annual Reports dating back to its foundation in 1926. These sources will be invaluable when used in conjunction with the club’s collection of old scorebooks, paving the way towards constructing a timeline of Mount Colah competition records and star players.

The front cover of a 1977-78 B Grade MCCC Scorebook, annotated by the team with their own names and doodles (cover image originally taken 1960, Australia vs West Indies 1st Test, the Gabba, Brisbane).
Moving Forward

In consultation with these sources, it has become clear that Mount Colah Cricket Club has a long, and largely untold, history of endurance and rebirth. The club first formed in 1933, entering one C-grade team for that season before dissolving in 1934. Many of this inaugural team’s players continued to play for Asquith and achieve great things in local competitions. Mount Colah Cricket Club would rise from the ashes after WWII to play three more seasons, entering teams into the newly developed junior competition for the first time in its history. After once more disappearing through the 1950s, the club would again pick itself back up in the 1960s, then barreling into a hugely successful period in the 1970s and 1980s. Staunchly weathering years of growth and decline in the decades since, the club has fought to give opportunities for Mount Colah locals to get outside in the summer, to strive for greatness, or to just enjoy the sport.

I intend to flesh out my picture of Mount Colah Cricket Club and its history in the weeks to come, as a history worthy of recording and publicising within the community. I hope to do this by extrapolating from the data in a backlog of scorebooks and annual reports, and (most importantly) by working in conversation with club committee members and past players.

Chinese Australians and Indonesian Independence: Stories I Want to Tell

Located in Darling Harbour, Sydney, right next to the sea, the Australian National Maritime Museum – or the Sea Museum, as it’s more colloquially known – tells the history of our nation.

For people who are unfamiliar with the Sea Museum – such as myself at the beginning of this project – they will be surprised to find out about the complexity of knowledge that is on offer at the Sea Museum. As counterintuitive as it may sound, the Sea Museum is much, much more about ships and boats. Ranging from maritime archaeology, historic vessels, to ocean science, Indigenous culture, and migration, the Sea Museum has it all.

Among these vastly diverse topics, my project, in collaboration with the Sea Museum, particularly focuses on migration. How does migration and the Sea Museum link together? You may ask. Well, as a nation that’s mostly made up of migrants, it is important for us to know how did the early migrants come to Australia, and the stories happened along the way and afterwards. And the sea of course plays an important role here. Therefore, as one of the only six museums operated by the federal government, the Sea Museum bears the responsibility of educating the public the stories about the nation and the people who made up our nation.

Anthony at the Black Armada exhibition in 2015. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

The stories I want to tell in my project are of Anthony Liem, and Fred Wong and Arthur Chang. Anthony is a Chinese Indonesian. Although he was barely three years old at the time, he remembers Indonesian people’s fight for independence vividly. Because of the anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia, he migrated to Australia and later married Helen Wong, an Australian-Chinese woman. But it wasn’t until somewhat three decades after they married, in 2005, did he discover the shared history between Helen and him.

Both Helen’s father, Fred Wong, and his friend Arthur Chang, were active members of the Chinese Youth League and the Sydney branch of the Chinese Seaman’s Union (disbanded in the late 1940s). Both organisations were made up of patriotic Chinese Australians who supported China’s fight against Japan’s colonial power, and were sympathised with, and actively supported the Indonesian independence movement.

Arthur addressing the crowds. A clip from “Indonesian Calling”. National Film and Sound Archive

Arthur, as a representation of Chinese seamen, spoke to a packed audience and appealed for the public’s support, which was captured in the documentary Indonesian Calling. Quoting the “national father” Dr Sun Yat-sen that China would support all oppressed nations to gain independence, Arthur chanted, “Long live the independence movement,” and in Cantonese, “Long live the national liberation movement (民族自由解放运动万岁)”.

Despite being awarded the Centenary Medal of Australia for services to the Chinese community by the Australian government, and presented with the “70th Anniversary of The Victory of The Anti-Japanese War Commemoration Medal” by the Chinese government, Arthur’s story – and Fred’s – was totally unknown to me and many others.

Arthur was presented the Commemoration Medal by China’s Consul General to Sydney in 2015, aged 96 at the time. Photo: Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Sydney

So, for my project, I will speak to Anthony to get to know these stories better. We will talk about his memory of the Indonesian independence movement, living in a “White Australia”, and his thoughts on Fred’s and Arthur’s activism. A research paper will be developed based on the interview and my research, the end product might be published on the Sea Museum’s quarterly magazine Signals.

When I was doing research for the project, and typed in the words “Chinese Australian” and “Indonesian independence”, I was surprised to see how few relevant results I got. Among the limited information I got, the ones that matched my interest – most of them, if not all – come from the Sea Museum. Let’s say, even if I had uncertainties about this project at the beginning – not saying that I had any – this discovery only made me more firmly believe in it. As historians, it is our responsibility to tell the stories of our predecessors.

Old soldiers may die, but they should not fade away.

Change is coming, and they’re dressed in glitter: The transformation of queer and marginalised spaces in the Central Coast

The Central Coast: a safe haven with beautiful beaches and a tight-knit community. But what happens when that tight-knit community is faced with change as spaces are made for queer and marginalised communities? Who will guide them through the difficult dialogue and education?

Ettalong Beach on the Central Coast

Historically, the Central Coast hasn’t been the most welcoming of hosts to members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalised groups, as it seems that the progressive streak NSW has been on begins and ends with Sydney. Like a party everyone is invited to, but only a select few know the location… and the rest are left with a party-less night, drinking wine on the couch, and wondering what they should have said or done to get an actual invite.

This is where Naughty Noodle Fun Haus comes in; a progressive charitable organisation that strives for equality, inclusivity, and the free expression of personhood. Their party has invitations extended to absolutely everyone, with the address printed in large, glittery letters and the doors thrown open to passers-by who might be interested in a fun night. Naughty Noodle entered the stage in 2018 and has been trailblazing ever since up and down the Central Coast hosting a range of events including drag, performance art, cabaret, burlesque and comedy.

Naughty Noodle HQ in Ettalong Beach

This is how they called to me; beckoning me in and inviting me to their party to celebrate differences and diversify the representation of life on the Central Coast. To come in and soak in the multi arts representation and engage in meaningful discourse with community members. Of course, this is only the sense I got from their website and social media due to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to work with this organisation.

Naughty Noodle really do host parties, festivals, and shows, showcasing local and national talent. They bring in tourism through their famously lively and colourful events whilst also engaging with the needs of the community and encouraging growth, transformation, and conversation.

So, the party continues, with rooms upon rooms of events and showcases. The Coastal Twist Festival, Clambake, Words on the Waves, and plenty more to come. Glitta Supernova, performer, co-founder of Coastal Twist and creative director of Naughty Noodle spoke to the Newcastle Herald and describes the organisation as “a registered charity, an arts and culture organisation meeting the need for visible world-class fringe and counterculture activations.” I couldn’t have phrased it better; this organisation appeals so much to me because it fills a gap in Central Coast culture, a gap that is missing the colour and power of queer and marginalised communities. Naughty Noodle also works with schools, creating educational workshops and clubs for curious, questioning, or artistic youth. As a preservice teacher this is exactly the kind of involvement I’d like to see in my community; adequate care and attention given to the education of young people.

Glitta Supernova before one of her world famous burlesque performances

Since I am new to the area, it’s reassuring to see a mostly positive reception for this organisation, and I’m delighted to have received an invitation to the party, and of course, you’ve got one too. My work with them will hopefully create an even bigger party and amplify the voices of those that have been, until now, drowned out by the sounds of others. The shape this project will take is the recording of oral histories.

Naughty Noodle has continued to open its doors to a nationwide party, and you’re invited. Let the party begin!

Making tracks: Beauty Point Walking Tour Informative Guide

Eight kilometres north east of Sydney’s central business district, Mosman’s natural and built environment has a rich history. Growing up in Mosman, as my father and my grandfather did also, I have seen significant changes throughout the suburb in my lifetime. Being in a family that actively enjoys informal discussion about local developments and transformations greatly sparked my own personal enjoyment for history.

Given my fondness for my local area, I have organised to work with the Mosman Historical Society for my project. The Society was founded in 1953 as ‘an incorporate community organisation [to] promote the history and heritage of Mosman’ (1). It is staffed by a group of passionate volunteers who coordinate the documentation and sharing of Mosman public history. Many of them have an academic historical background and invite the community to join them as members of the society. Members are invited to annual lectures, social events, excursions, walks, and to contribute articles to newsletters. While joining the society as a member is encouraged, all activities the society organises are published on the website to ensure they are accessible to the public and visitors can join the activity at the time for a cost of $5. As they do not have a physical headquarters, the society hosts most of its events at the Mosman Library.

Whilst exploring the Mosman Historical Society’s website, I saw on their events page that they often organised walking tours as a society activity, and on their resources page they had published historical guides to local areas of Mosman. However, I noticed that their previous walking tours and historical guides did not extend to include Beauty Point and The Spit, which is the area of Mosman I live in. Thus, for my project, I will be creating an informative walking tour guide for Beauty Point. This area entails several locales, including the Spit, Chinamans Beach, and Pearl Bay. This part of Mosman was known to the Borogegal people of the Eora nation as Parriwi and Warringa (2). They inhabited and maintained by the Borogegal people until the area was discovered by European settlers in 1788 (3).

The Spit sand peninsular in 1885 (pre major land reclamation works in the 20th century) (4)

With my project, I wish to fill this gap but also to publicise the beauty and history of this area, which is not as well-known beyond local knowledge as other, larger Mosman areas, such as Balmoral. In my tour guide, I plan to include a variety of primary and secondary sources to complement the information that individuals will access as they walk around and to ensure it is aligned with the other, historically-oriented, walking tours the Mosman Historical Society currently possesses.

Map from 1889 of Beauty Point (5)

My “History beyond the Classroom” project is an opportunity for me to delve deeply into the history of the area I call home, and that my other members of my family have also called home for over fifty years, and to build a connection with my local history society. I hope that my project will be a valuable resource for the Mosman Historical Society to publish on their website to complement their current walking tour guides, and will be used and enjoyed by Mosman locals and visitors alike.

Reference List

  1. Mosman Historical Society. “Welcome.” Accessed October 5, 2021. https://mosmanhistoricalsociety.org.au/.

2. Souter, G. Mosman, A History. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994 (p. 10)

3. Souter, G. Mosman, A History. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994 (p. 10)

4. Sand spit peninsula with Grant’s Wharf, 1885. Retrieved Mosman Municipal Library, http://www.mosma.nsw.gov.au/library/trace

5. Extent of the Park Gate Estate, 1889. Retrieved Mosman Municipal Library, http://www.mosma.nsw.gov.au/library/trace

Women support Women: A History Project with the Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre

WAGEC protesting on International Women’s Day in 1993

Since the 1970s, women have been at the forefront of supporting other women, in particular in cases of domestic violence. In 1974, the NSW Women’s Refuge Organisation was founded with the establishment of Elsie’s Refuge in Glebe, NSW – the first women’s refuge in Sydney. 

WAGEC’s Logo

The Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre (also called WAGEC) inherited the aspiration for social change from the Women’s Liberation Movement in Sydney. Anchored in the atmosphere of violence and homelessness, WAGEC was founded by Jeanne Devine, a woman who experienced homelessness firsthand after an accident that left her in the hospital for a year. Jeanne joined the Samaritan House, one of the few shelters, like Elsie’s refuge, that had been growing around Sydney since the 1970s. From this moment, Jeanne started talking to other women and realised that most were escaping domestic violence. Noticing this pattern, Jeanne founded WAGEC 44 years ago to ensure both the material and psychological support of women and children who suffered the consequences of violence and trauma at home. 

Although WAGEC has grown over the years, the non-for-profit remains grassroot and feminist in essence. WAGEC supports women and children impacted by domestic violence while advocating for social change in the community. The organisation ensures the material support by providing families with crisis and transitional accommodations. Simultaneously, they facilitate women and children’s psychological care through three holistic programs. SEED identifies the Social, Emotional, Educational and Development of children and includes activities such as tutoring and playgroups. ACCESS is a program focusing on women’s wellbeing helping them with economic safety, health and self-esteem. Finally, WAGEC provides in-house counselling in each of its crisis and transitional accommodation to ensure a continuing support of women.   

As I researched organisations focusing on women and domestic violence, WAGEC appeared to be a local, grassroot, feminist non-for-profit prioritising women as the primary source of truth. As a feminist since my youngest age, my source of inspiration has always been my grandmother, who, as a young gynaecologist, was at the forefront of Second Wave Feminism in France, helping women with illegal abortions and protesting for birth control. Reading about WAGEC made me want to be part of their history, participating in showcasing their feminist roots to the community. Hence, the history project that I am undertaking with WAGEC is two-folded. On the one hand, I will be creating a small exhibition, inspired by the exhibition Know My Name: Australia Women Artists from 1900 to Now currently showing at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The other part of the project is a written one. I will be transcribing some of the research I have done for the exhibition, analysing how WAGEC stemmed from the feminist movement in the 1970s. 

WAGEC is currently based in Redfern, NSW. You can support WAGEC via https://www.wagec.org.au

Food for Thought: An Investigation into Food as a Historical Device

“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”

Chinese Proverb

I believe that for many, there exists an innate human desire to know our own histories. It is not only where we come from, but more interestingly, the question of who we come from. The ancestors we have are much like us – we share inseparable hereditary links to them through our blood, DNA, and very existence.

But who were they as people? What were their personalities like? Would life in such a distant time within history have shaped them to hold vastly different values to ours? Would we have liked them if we had met them? Would we have enjoyed their company? The questions presented here are difficult to find answers to, and some are almost impossible to answer, especially without submitting oneself to a deep historical inquiry of someone’s entire lifetime. These questions have always compelled me to find answers, though the comparisons I can make between myself and my distant historical relatives only extends to our blood. This is of course, except for the food.

The Revelation that Food is History

A tin of fried dace.

My dad found tins of ‘fried dace’ – a small fish preserved in oil and salted black beans – when he was shopping for dinner. The origin story begins in the late 1800s where there was widespread immigration for new opportunities in foreign lands. As the differences in food were a significant culture shock to the newly arrived immigrants, it was difficult to become accustomed to the food of their new countries. The dace from Guangzhou, China, were fried, preserved in salted black beans and oil, and taken to foreign countries for immigrants, such as the U.S. and Australia. It was a popular food for early gold rush settlers for its affordability and how its strong flavour allowed it to become a meal when combined with plain white rice. My dad described how it was a food that had been eaten for generations in our family and how the ingredients had not changed throughout time. For this seemingly mundane meal to the outside eye, it allowed me the opportunity for a profound experience running parallel to those of my distant historical relatives. It is through the oral histories and experiences told by my dad, from my grandfather, and from his father, and so on, that I found myself feeling my experiences were more intertwined with my ancestors than ever before.

Project Cookbook

The revelation that food is a fantastic way to have myself and others engaging with history and our immigrant ancestors, only came through while I was in talks with the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia (CHAA), a fantastic organisation that delves mostly into oral histories to tell the stories of the Chinese community in Australia. The search for a major project idea led to talks about making changes for the CHAA’s website. This helped us envision a general update (modernisation and revitalisation) to the website as well as the inclusion of a new webpage, featuring an interactive, digitised cookbook made in tandem with the community, that includes recipes of dishes and snacks that have either cultural and historical significance to Chinese-Australians.

A potential redesign for the upcoming revitalised CHAA website.

The Story The Garden Tells

Randwick Community Organic Garden. Photo: Sofian Irsheid

Your garden might not speak to you, but that doesn’t mean it can’t tell a story. When strawberries pop up on the first of October, your garden lets you in on its story of secret conversations the sun. And when weeds come up? It tells the age-old epic story of survival in the face of a murderous invading army.

Gardens are the main characters in countless stories of community, friendship, activism, and change. And what’s the setting of Adam and Eve’s ill-fated bite?

Gardens have stories, and make stories — and not just horticultural ones. Their stories go back as long as history, and I’m pleased to say that not much has changed today!

The Randwick Community Organic Garden (RCOG) is a not-for-profit, incorporated community garden in Sydney’s southeast, that provides local members with the opportunity to take part in their own stories of sustainability, community, and growth.

They have been planting together since the garden’s foundation in 1993. They have moved locations and members have come and gone, but the heart of the garden has not changed. The garden is made up of individual and community plots which ensures everyone has access to gardens to plant herbs, vegetables and flowers.

In addition to the planter plots themselves, RCOG features regular working bees, talks and other educational workshops on environmentally-sustainable growing, and other social activities for locals. As such, it’s not hard to see the crucial role the garden plays in developing strong senses of community and cohesion in the local Randwick area.

So what story is the garden telling? And has it changed over time? Working in partnership with the committee at RCOG, that’s what I want to find out.

I have proposed an oral history project that speaks to current and former members of the Randwick Community Organic Garden (at any point during its near three-decade history) to better understand the stories that made it tick, drove change, and supported the community.

We already know that it does a lot in the community — from working with school-aged students and the elderly and more. We also know that knowing a community’s history, and being proud of it, plays a key role in developing a sense of belonging and connection for members within it.

A lot is still uncertain — the form, for instance — but it is my hope that, by speaking to people whose lives have been touched, in big or small ways, by the garden in Randwick, we’ll be able to develop a story of the garden afresh, to see how it’s changed, and support the garden in sustaining its community.

And maybe uncovering its story will help us see our own more clearly.