Daily Archives: June 28, 2022

AHA Conference 2022 Day 1.5

Geelong Foreshore 2015 Source: Flick Russell Charters https://www.flickr.com/photos/russellcharters/23366900146

Am I in Geelong for the AHA (Australian Historical Association) conference? Why no, I’m right at home here in Macleod. During lockdown I was craving the whole conference experience: the plenaries, the decision about which session to attend, the regret at not attending the other session instead, craving stewed coffee, muffins, sandwiches. But somehow when the AHA conference rolled around again this year, I just didn’t think that I could be bothered going down to Geelong- it’s too close but it’s also too far. So I opted for the online ticket instead, and am squeezing it in between lunch with friends, online exercise classes, grandchildren and Spanish conversations. I don’t know that I’m going to be able to carve out much time, but I’ll catch what I can.

And what’s the .5 day, you ask? Well, it’s the Presidential Address given on the first evening of the conference, after a day of sessions for Early Career Researchers etc. This year the address was given by outgoing AHA President Melanie Oppenheimer, who after talking about the achievements of the AHA in a suitably presidential style, then went on to talk about volunteerism which has been a long-term research interest of hers. She mentioned that she had written a book about volunteerism years ago, where she had posited that there was an Australian way of volunteering, drawing on our British origins (where there was a tradition of voluntarism) and informed by Indigenous concepts of obligation and reciprocity. She pointed out that many in the audience were volunteers and that despite the ageist, gendered view of ‘volunteers’ being little grey-headed ladies (like me) or Lady Bountiful or Mrs Jellyby-like women, the largest group of volunteers are in the 39-45 age group. However, when she started her research, many historians saw volunteerism as a ‘light-weight’ topic, and the third-sector is still under theorized and at times seen as in conflict with feminism, or seen as unproductive. She recalled her early research into volunteer organizations in WWII, and it was only when she stumbled on the term ‘patriotic funds’ that the wealth of resources opened up before her. She finished by talking about the changes to concepts and locations of work (especially casualisation), and speculating about how that will change volunteering especially when people are less willing to make a regular volunteering commitment, oting instead for episodic volunteering.

Then this morning (my Day 1) I started off with the Keynote address on Historicizing Domestic Violence given by Zora Simic. She is part of a team working on an ARC grant on domestic violence, with her area of interest in the 1970s onwards, with an emphasis on the 1980s and 1990s. She noted the opening of the Elsie Women’s Shelter in 1974 and the Royal Commission on Human Relationships between 1974 and 1977. She identified important books like Tor Roxburgh’s ‘Taking Control’ in 1989 which was written for women escaping violence or to protect their children; O’Donnell and Saville’s survey on Family Violence in Australia which emphasized the relationship between financial dependence and violence, and Jocelynne Scutt’s ‘Even in the Best of Homes’ in 1983 which pointed out that domestic violence was not only physical. A survey by the Office of Women in 1988 found that 22% of respondents saw domestic violence as justified in a range of situations, and the Personal Survey has illustrated the intractability of domestic violence. (And then a grand-child arrived, so that was the end of that for me).

The grandchild left with his grandfather to go to Bunnings, so I was able to catch Rebe Taylor talking on ‘Extinction, survival and resurgence: European Imperial and Indigenous Histories‘. She started by talking about cultural diversity loss, especially through languages, which is even more stark than species diversity loss. However, as language reclamation projects have shown, languages can be recovered, and the reported ‘extinction’ of cultural groups is instead a history of resurgence and resilience. She went on to talk about four ‘last women at the end of the world’ – none of whom really were last women: Fanny Smith in Tasmania, Santu Toney in Newfoundland, Dolly Penreath in Mousehole, Cornwall, and Christina Calderon in Patagonia. She noted the role of gender and geography in these cases. She finished by talking about the way that ‘extinction’ on account of climate change is now being framed as something that faces us all (however ‘us’ is defined).

The next paper in the session was Annemarie McLaren talking on ‘Indigenous Intellectual History? Black People, White People and the Process of Racial Estrangement in early Brisbane‘. Unfortunately it was really hard to hear her, but I did understand that she drew on the diaries of German missionaries who were working in the Brisbane area. These missionaries, who spoke a heavily accented English, noted beliefs about skin colour – i.e. the belief that when Indigenous people died, they would go to England and become white- and the bestowal of ‘brother’ relationships between blacks and whites. However, when strychnine-laced flour was distributed in the Kilcoy Massacre, this led to a hardening of indigenous attitudes towards the profound differences between those with white skin and those with black. But it was really hard to hear what she was saying – wouldn’t you think after two years of Zoom, that sound would be better (I often think that when listening to podcast interviews conducted over Zoom too.) Then it was time to go meet a friend for lunch, and the grandchild had been joined by his sister, and a Spanish Conversation session beckoned…so that was it for me!