AHA Conference Day 3: 2 December 2021

A bit of a disrupted day today, because I had a Spanish conversation class at 9.30, then a book group lunch. So I just caught what I could.

I started with the ‘Lets Talk about things: Sydney region Aboriginal objects in overseas museums, for instance’ session. This seemed to be in a panel format, with the presentations referencing each other, and delivered one after the other with questions (I assume) at the end. Maria Nugent started off by talking about the Gweagal shield, which came to Australians’ awareness with the NMA ‘Encounters’ exhibition in 2016. Maria explained, in keeping with her argument in her Australian Historical Studies article of 2018 ‘A Shield Loaded with History: Encounters, Objects and Exhibitions’, there is doubt about whether the shield really was associated with Cook at all. But it has given rise to a project to find and return cultural material from museums across the world. Eleanor Foster then took over, talking about her project to locate and contextualize objects found in the Hunter Valley between 1826-1839. Regionally-focused object-directed research places importance on the context and relationships behind objects, rather than the qualities of the object or the collector. She spoke about metal fish-hooks which had previously been thought to come from Tahiti, but which documentary evidence suggested had been part of the exchange on Threlkeld’s mission (where they were swapped in exchange for information) or Dawson’s mission at Port Stephens (where they were swapped in exchange for other types of fish hooks). Then there were the fishing spears that Lady Perry wrote about in letters – she had real trouble in tracking any down to send ‘home’, perhaps because there were fewer produced, or were more tightly held by their indigenous makers. Then Paul Irish, who coined the term ‘affiliated coastal zone’ to describe the Hunter Valley region, spoke about the importance of the work being done by Gaye Sculthorpe and Danny Simpson in tracking down objects in different museums internationally. Objects often have no documentary links at all, and often the museum itself wants to know about the object as well. Finding similar objects in different repositories (often on different continents) means that they can be compared.

Entonces era la hora de mi clase de español

Spanish class over, I returned to catch the 11.00- 12.15 session ‘Defending White Australia’. I knew that I would have to leave this early too, as I was due to leave for lunch at 11.45. But the two papers I heard were excellent. Deirdre O’Connell (who has recently published Harlem Nights) spoke about Billy Hughes’ years on the backbench, after resigning as Prime Minister in February 1923 in her paper ‘This Bit of the World Belongs to Us: Billy Hughes, vigilante enforcement and the White Australia Policy’. In 1924 he embarked on an American tour, at the invitation of the English Speaking Union, arriving just as the U.S. government hammered out the Johnson Reed Act (also known as the Immigration Act) of 1924 which banned non-Nordic immigration. In March he was in Dallas, where the Ku Klux Klan hosted its Kolossal Karnival. While it is impossible that he would have been oblivious to the KKK’s presence, there is no evidence that he met with them. On his return, after a period of quietude, he hooked on to the arrival of Italians, and the deportation of Sonny Clay’s Negro Minstrels (hence Deirdre’s interest) and made a fiery speech at the National Party’s conference, advocating vigilantism. Joseph Parro‘s paper ‘Unfinished revolutions: unfinished examination: Australian fascism after the Second World War’ saw 1945 as a turning point, with the execution of Mussolini and with the Third Reich in its death throes. He focused on Tom Graham, who had arrived in Australia from Britain in 1936. He was jailed for pamphlets he had written, then interned. For him, the revolution was unfinished and called for nuclear weapons to wipe out ‘the Rabble’. Although he has been dismissed as a ‘crank’, we need to look at the heterogenous, adaptable, network-focussed, international nature of fascism, especially in view of the contemporary extreme right.

Lunchtime at the pub!

Finally, I caught the roundtable on ‘Unsettled Domesticities’. The chair, Victoria Haskins, reminded us that we were zooming in from our homes, but we were all living on unceded aboriginal lands, and the implications of that for an indigenous sense of ‘home’. Penny Russell gave a personal reflection on the exhumation in 2019 and recent reburial of the bones of her great-great-great (I lost count of the greats) grandfather, whose remains were exposed by rail works. The large plate on his coffin indicated who he was, but the family history that Penny has uncovered reveals him as an insular, authoritative man who emigrated to Australia in his 50’s, bringing with him his middle class, evangelical, entrepreneurial domesticity which he planted on the other side of the world. Katrina Dernelly‘s paper ‘Mrs Morland and Isabella Murrell: a husband’s cruelty on the Victorian goldfields’ told of the murder of Isabella Murrell by her husband William who literally beat her to death. He argued that he was trying to ‘reform’ her and that it was a crime of ‘passion’ (still a defence in UK) so that the charges could be reduced to manslaughter. Here, home was no refuge. Andrew Gorman-Murray who is a cultural geographer spoke of domesticity as a spatial concept. The ‘home’ is imagined as a heteronormative space, which has implications for queer home-making. He pointed out that for many homosexual men, privacy could only be found in public, and suggested that domesticity was a privilege. Perhaps ‘anti-domesticity’ is when an imagined home cannot be put into practice. Finally, Karen Agutter looked at displaced persons arriving in Australia post WWII and their accommodation in reception centres. Men were expected to work as labourers and women as domestics, no matter what their career had been previously. Families were often separated, and meals were held communally (although the ‘family meal’ was rather an English concept). It was difficult for families to get out of the reception centres because of high rents both for the hostel accommodation itself and ‘outside’ in the open rental market.

And so that was the end of the AHA Conference 2021. I’m looking forward to catching up on some of the sessions that I missed, because they will be available for a short time afterwards for attendees. That’s always one of the bugbears of a conference- wanting to be in two places at once. So, perhaps Zoom is not all bad. In fact, it’s not even half bad – think how hard things would have been over the last two years without it. But I still crave the morning tea muffin, and a club sandwich and a nametag. I’ll just have to make sure I get them in 2022 at some conference somewhere.

3 responses to “AHA Conference Day 3: 2 December 2021

  1. Just wondering: did Karen Agutter reference the extreme shortage of men and materials for home building in the immediate postwar period? My own house in the ‘middle ring’, built in the early fifties is an example of that: when the carpenter who put up the frame never came back to continue the work, it was the young couple who built it, weatherboard by weatherboard. (See the story here:” https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/10/24/a-hundred-small-lessons-by-ashley-hay/)
    My point is, that just as Britain is criticised for the housing difficulties of postwar migrants, when its housing stock had been catastrophically reduced by the Blitz, so too in Australia, when an influx of migrants arrived into a situation that had not factored in the difficulties of housing the existing population.

    • From memory, she did mention that there was a housing shortage generally, and may have mentioned a materials shortage as well. They only had 10 minutes per paper, so there was a lot to fit in! My bookgroup ladies (much older than I!) were talking about how there was a control on the number of bedrooms a house could have- only 2 bedrooms unless there were brothers and sisters amongst the siblings. Hence all those 2 bedroom houses with the sleepout.

      • That’s correct, yes, ours (bought in 1975) was two bedrooms with a sleepout.
        IMO it’s not racism or discrimination, it’s a case of governments being caught between a rock and a hard place, and it’s the same situation now. We have a homelessness crisis, and we have a housing affordability crisis, and we’re still bringing in migrants because we have skills shortages and we’re still bringing in refugees because we should. I suppose there are policy solutions to prevent this problem in the future, but for now, there’s a problem that has occurred before and will again unless we have better planning.

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