AHA Conference Day 2: 1 December 2021

For the 9.00 -10. 15 session, I attended the ‘Language, Identity and Class’ stream. Amanda Laugeson started the session with her presentation ‘Finding an ‘Australian Voice’? Constructing Australian English 1940-1960′. It always strikes me when I listen to a newsreel from the 1950s and 1960s how different the narrator sounds from today. The shift to an Australian rather than British accent has generally been seen as a mark of burgeoning nationalism. Amanda’s paper looks at the role of A. G. Mitchell whose 1941 book The Pronunciation of English in Australia distinguished between ‘educated’ and ‘broad’ Australian English (and during the 1960s he added ‘general’ Australian English’). He saw accent as a unifying feature. Unlike those who deplored the ‘lazy’ and ‘nasal’ Australian accent, Mitchell claimed that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that it reflected education rather than class (a rather circular argument). Mitchell was a member of the ABC board during the 1950s and held up Robert Menzies (!!) as the ideal. Caitlyn Adams’ paper ‘What happened to class? The language of social hierarchy’ went back nearly 200 years to look at the language that was used in petitions for clemency generated by prisoners in both England and New South Wales in 1810 and 1825. She distinguished between ‘Elite and middling’ and ‘plebian’ petitioners in both settings. Both groups used the language of status (‘respectability’, ‘poor’, ‘humble’,) but colonial society was more likely to see the colony as a place to regain their respectability where petitioners from the metropole referred more to referees who could attest to their respectability (probably because prisoners sent to NSW had lost all of the contacts who could have spoken for them ‘back home’.) She is using NVivo to create both a qualitative and quantitative analysis. Finally in ‘The Unfinished Nation: Contesting Symbols of Australia’ Richard White (who struggled with low bandwidth) spoke about his 2010 book Symbols of Australia which is currently undergoing revision for a new edition. In a largely visual presentation, he pointed out that both the first and last Holdens are now museum items; that the Southern Cross used to be the most popular tattoo and now it is the most commonly lasered-off tattoo; that the wattle and the waratah vie as floral symbols (and the meaning changed after the Bali bombings); that the place of Uluru has changed with the ban on climbing the rock and the Uluru Statement, and that our Prime Minister wears baseball caps instead of Akubras. Even things that we view as being fixed symbols are subject to change: the flag and the coat of arms have changed subtly over the years, and the red ensign has been taken up as ‘the people’s flag’ in the anti-vax protests.

And then I stopped for a Pilates class. Life does go on.

Between 11.00 and 12.15, I attended the ‘Colonial Violence’ stream. In Naomi Parry’s paper ‘Looking into Shadows: Musquito and Black Jack and a Death Mask made of country’, she talked about the way that her biographical project of writing about the life of Musquito, the indigenous bushranger, has changed over time. Musquito was born in Port Jackson, was exiled to Norfolk Island and then moved to Van Diemen’s Land in 1814 as a tracker. In 1823 he was arrested for killing stock-keepers on the east coast, and hanged in 1825. Six white bushrangers, and another indigenous young man Black Jack, were executed together. Her attention had been totally on Musquito, and the different ways that he has been conceptualized – murderer or warrior – but on seeing the death mask of Black Jack, she realized that there was another, broader story to be told too. Ryan Stewart‘s paper ‘Henry Kendall- An Outsider Reporting Violence and Massacre on the Australian Frontier’ picks up on Lyndall Ryan’s observation that it took about 40-50 years before local people would start talking about a massacre. The poet Henry Kendall came to Darkinjung country (near Wyong and Terrigal) in 1873 in a state of despair. He heard talk of massacres that occurred in the 1830s, (thus fitting into Lyndall Ryans 40-50 year timeline) and wrote about them in 1875 and 1879 drawing on the stories of settlers and their descendants. As an ‘outsider’, Kendall was able to write about things that locals could not. Finally, in ‘Revisiting the Bathurst War 1822-24’ Stephen Gapps highlights the war around Bathurst (Gudyarra) that has generally been overshadowed by the Sydney War. Martial law was declared because cattle-killing and the abandonment of convict stations, but unlike the Sydney War, it was not the military who “quelled” the resistance, but settlers themselves who later reassured themselves that the Aboriginal people had “disappeared”. Once again, there was a long gap between events (in this case in 1822-4) and ‘old timers’ talking and writing in the 1880s – and Stephen is still hoping to find more information amongst family letters and through historical societies.

After lunch, I attended another Australian Womens History Network stream, this time on ‘The Business of Women’s Bodies II’. Jane Carey‘s ‘Population, Reproduction and British Settler Colonialism in the Early Twentieth Century’ started off with an image from a 1915 textbook that represented UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand on a scale according to their white population (i.e. UK with its white population of 45 millions was much bigger than Australia with 4.5 million). There was alarm across the empire that the white population in the settler colonies was not increasing quickly enough, and reflecting Foucault’s conceptualization of population as an economic and political problem, there was an emphasis on birthrate, age at marriage, precocity and frequency of sexual relations- things that could be counted. Alison Downham Moore spoke of her work as part of an interdisciplinary project on the history of medicine with her paper ‘The Unfinished Business of the Dark Side of Gynaecology’. In particular she looked at non-consenting experimental surgery with the targetting of disadvantaged, rural, older (i.e. late 40s and 50s) women for hysterectomies between 1830 and 1898. In particular, she looked at Jule Peán from St Louis Hospital in Paris, who conducted surgeries for public viewing. Reproductive surgery was very popular because the organs could be removed without compromising the health of the individual (if they survived the surgery, which was certainly not guaranteed). It was a surgery that was rarely carried out on wealthier women, or the wives of colleagues. And for something completely different, Kirra Minton presented on Dolly Doctor, in her paper ‘With frankness, with knowledge, but most of all, with sincerity’. Dolly magazine, Australia’s first Australian exclusively teen girl magazine, had a ‘Dolly Doctor’ segment, right from its first edition in November 1970. Initially it was written by a male doctor, but later doctors were all women, with Melissa Kang fulfilling the role for 23 years . Dolly took sex education seriously, engaged its readers and outsourced the provision of information to professionals, leading to a 100% accuracy rating when studied in 2016, compared with 26% accuracy in Women’s Health magazine. Yet, for it’s first decade, the messages that were being conveyed in Dolly Doctor were completely at odds with the emphasis on whiteness, thinness and heteronormative sexuality being promoted in the rest of the magazine.

It’s December. I’m allowed to have a mince pie for afternoon tea.

My final session for the day was the ‘Trajectories of the Right in Australia after 1968: When the personal became reactionary’. Just an observation, but this session had more male participants in it than any other session I had attended. Tim Jones spoke about his work on the new Christian Right and its expression through Creation Science and the Anti-Gay Movement. These movements were interdenominational, and even interfaith. Creation Science has its origins in Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s Queensland, but it is now an international movement, based in U.S. The Anti-Gay religious movement started in the 1970s when psychiatry stopped treating homosexuality as pathological, and local Australian groups became subsumed under Exodus Asia Pacific. It has now formally disappeared because there is Australian legislation against it. This was followed by Clare Monagle‘s paper ‘B. A. Santamaria as Culture Warrior’. B.A. Santamaria was for many years synonymous with Catholicism, but when the sectarian division was abandoned (largely over the shared concern for government funding of independent schools), different denominations came together to lobby against the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. Santamaria’s National Civic Council changed its emphasis on placing conservatives inside the unions and Labor Party to look instead to the ‘alienated avant guard’ in universities and other institutions. Santamaria, a political operator, explicitly moved to culture – and we can see the fruits of his labour today.

And thus Day 2 ends. Other commitments call me tomorrow, so I don’t know how much of Day 3 I will be able to attend.

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