Category Archives: AHA Conference 2016

AHA Conference 8 July 2016

When I woke at 4.30 a.m. this morning, I decided that I may as well get up, leave even earlier and catch the first paper for Session 1, as I’d arrived late the other days. So, for the 99.9% of the world who are not likely to catch the 5.20 a.m. train from Macleod to Southern Cross, I can tell you that, unlike the 6.33 Macleod train which has many slightly sleep-befuddled office workers, the 5.20 carries a healthy contingent of construction workers in high-viz jackets. I just thought you might like to know.

Many of the sessions and morning teas/lunch were held at the Mechanics’ Institute.

The inside of the hall has been recently renovated. I can only assume that the paintwork is using original colours because it’s -um- an ‘unusual’ colour selection:

 Environmental histories (things that swim, scurry and fly)

There has been a strong environmental history stream running throughout the conference and so I decided to room-hop between adjacent rooms where presentations dealt with different creatures and their environments.

First, David Harris gave his paper “At a Brisk Simmer: Commercial Fishing in Nineteenth Century Victoria 1860s-90s.” As he pointed out in his introduction, this is only a sliver of time within the longer history of the Gippsland Lakes area, which had long been a fishing site for the Gunaikurnai people (albeit a relatively recently formed area, given that Bass Strait did not exist until 8000 years ago). Within the long term, the decline in fish numbers post-settlement could be seen as a slow catastrophe, or as historians have described the collapse of the Newfoundland fisheries “managed annihilation”. However, focussing on this small time period of 30 years provides a context for political decisions, enlarges the scope for considering individuals, and reveals complexities in what might seem a relatively benign period during the nineteenth century. During this time, there was the influence of the acclimatization movement, the rise of commercial fishing and the development of the fresh fish trade. But it was also a time in which fishing became less diverse as indigenous and Chinese fishers were excluded and the market shifted from dried fish- as happened elsewhere in the world at this time. He reminded us that even the ‘old timers’ amongst white settlers and fishers had only been there for thirty years. The cyclical appearance of the pilchard shoals was not yet understood, leading to anxieties about shortages and abundance. These anxieties prompted a political response as the government introduced commissions and regulations, thus privileging political approaches over scientific ones.  Reminding us of the influence of individual people within this political context, he  gave the example of William Carstairs, a Scots immigrant who had shifted to the Gippsland Lakes and often served as a spokesman for the fisher in government inquiries before he died, fittingly enough, in a fishing accident.


At this stage I went next door, into a room that seemed to be serving up its own environmental context with a heating system that delivered warmth but only at the cost of a noisy, escalating whirlwind. I arrived to hear the end of Andrea Gaynor’s presentation “Taking Locust Country” where she noted the use of military metaphors in the “war on locusts”, including defensive action against a hostile invader, coordinated surveillance and mobile strikes, and in a 2010 outbreak, adopting the language of the war on terror and exhortations to be ‘alert’ (and although they didn’t say it) alarmed.

Katie Holmes’ presentation on “Mallee Mice” had many in the audience squirming, which verified her contention that mice, despite their size and furriness, often evoke a strong emotional response  and unsettle the human psyche. She focussed on the 1917 plague in the Mallee, where mice thrived in the well-drained soil, the cleared land and the rainfall after a period of drought. Mice were fierce competitors for the much-celebrated bumper wheat harvest that year, but they have a material presence: not only do they yield underfoot (shudder) but they disrupt the human order as they collapsed wheat stacks and invaded houses. She noted the gendered response to the plague as men in Mallee towns competed over the size of the piles of dead mice, and as women despaired of the domestic invasion.

She shared this vision of the 1993 mouse plague with us. During this plague the density was five times the official definition of plague- i.e. 2500 mice per hectare, when the plague definition is 500 per hectare.

It was interesting to note the response amongst the audience to her descriptions, pictures and videos of swarms of mice which, although they spread disease and attacked livestock, are a short-lived plague that does not have the same health consequences as malarial mosquitoes, which were discussed in Emily O’Gorman’s paper “Irrigation, Insects, Infection: Mosquitoes and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, NSW in the Twentieth Century”. During the period 1916-1945 there were five inquiries into mosquitoes in irrigation areas, three of which she described in this paper. Malaria is a medical phenomenon that challenges many binaries: it requires both humans as host and non-human mosquitoes as vectors for the disease to spread; it challenges the border between temperate and tropical climates, and it pushes the boundary between agriculture and nature as the dangers of the wetland came into the home. There was particular anxiety about soldiers, who were slated for settlement in the Murrumbidgee area, bringing malaria with them as they returned from overseas service; and the 1916 study looked at whether the area itself was malarial. It concluded that the danger of malaria from returning soldiers could be averted by careful screening.  Another study in 1919 found eggs of the anopheles mosquito in pools, and particularly noted the danger of small collections in water in hoofprints from cattle.  Although concluding that the prospect of a malaria epidemic was unlikely, the study recommended the elimination of small pools and their incorporation into flowing water instead. After ricegrowing was introduced, anxiety was again raised over such large bodies of water, especially with the return of the WWII soldiers onto soldier settlement blocks in the Murrumbidgee region. This time the study recommended the use of DDT.


PLENARY: JOSEPH BRISTOW “Homosexual Blackmail in the 1890s”.

This plenary was auspiced by the Australian Victorian Studies Association, and was very well attended. Joseph Bristow from UCLA (Los Angeles) is a prolific scholar, who has written and continues to work on Oscar Wilde, and is currently working on a reconstruction of the two trials that led to Wilde’s imprisonment. In his fascinating, witty paper, he described a police raid on a party hosted by John Watson Preston in his rooms at 46 Fitzroy Square, London, where twenty men were arrested, including two, Arthur Marling and John Severs, dressed in women’s clothes.It was not so much a party as a commercial enterprise  which extended over two days, to which tickets were sold.  Marling, along with two other attendees at the party, Charles Parker and Alfred Taylor, were later to play a role in later episodes which drew attention to the prevalence of homosexual blackmail, which was often concocted between groups of men against wealthy victims. At the Old Bailey in April 1895 thirty-three year old Taylor was charged with Oscar Wilde for conspiring to commit, and committing, acts of gross indecency, while Parker served as a witness to the Crown Prosecutor’s case against Wilde. A case belonging to Taylor contained incriminating letters that were used as evidence against Wilde, and during the trial Wilde was questioned about the Fitzroy Street arrests (even though he was not there himself). Although, as we know, Wilde paid heavily for his ‘crime’ neither Parker nor any of the other male sex workers were charged after admitting to committing the crimes of which Wilde was accused. Bristow drew on newspaper reports of the time, and noted that the provincial newspapers provided much fuller coverage than the London press.

A library interlude….

What a fantastic nineteenth century reading room there is in the Mechanics’ Institute! Although the institute opened in 1860, this reading room was apparently part of the trading floor of the Mining Exchange.

My last session

I had hoped to attend the ‘Negotiating Aboriginal Histories’ session, but it had been cancelled. I was starting to flag after my very early start, so I decided that this would be my last session for the conference. I again skipped between two sessions.

Tamson Pietsch spoke on “Bodies at Sea during the Migration Boom 1850s-1870s”, which was based on an article which she has had published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Global History (Journal of Global History / Volume 11 / Issue 02 / July 2016, pp 209-228). Picking up on Braudel’s observation that ‘the sea’ is not one monolithic entity but that different seas have geographies of their own, she also notes that there is a chronology of the sea as well, most particularly the shift from sail to steam and the attendant changes in labour and ship design. Using Foucauld’s work on disciplining and rendering docile the body, she draws on shipboard diaries written by eight passengers en route to Australia to argue that oceanic journeys disrupted and upended the land-based bodily practices that passengers embarked with.  There was the management of time, which passed slowly on board ship (at least for cabin and saloon passengers; steerage passengers had to work much harder just keeping body and soul together).  Indolence, especially in the tropical zones, evoked fears of idleness, and so ‘useful’ activities, including diary writing itself, were devised.  Then there were the bodily boundaries that were violated by the very close proximity with strangers and the noise and smells of human life, and the intrusion of lice and rats.  Finally, passengers on these journeys became conscious of the fragility of authority once the boat had left shore. Power was embodied in the Captain, who had the authority to punish in public, and to a lesser extent in the Cook, who could make life difficult if he so chose. She finished by asking what effect this disruptive experience of bodily chaos and breakdown of boundaries had on passengers once they landed – especially when considered against those they had left behind at ‘home’.

The final paper was not delivered by the author. “Revisiting Clunes: Race Riot or Fight for the Eight Hour Day” was written by Lynn Beaton, and delivered posthumously by a friend after Lynne died suddenly in June 2016.  The Clunes riot of 1873 has often been described as an anti-Chinese riot, but her paper argued that it was instead part of a campaign against scab labour.  The owners of the Lothair mine wanted their miners to work Saturday afternoons but the miners, who were contractors rather than wage employees, refused to do so (thus hurting their own hip-pockets, rather than the mine-owner’s). Ballarat, along with the rest of Victoria, was proud of the achievement of the Eight Hour Day, and working on Saturdays would have compromised that.  When the mineowners brought in Chinese to work on Saturdays, riots broke out and five miners were arrested.  She argued that anti-Chinese feeling was a component of the riot, but the issue was about protecting the Eight Hour Day.  Lynn’s paper was read by a friend, and her family was in attendance. You could not help but sense the sadness. It reminded me, as so many of the papers at the conference did, that history is- as Katie Holmes said in launching Tom Griffiths’ book- a collaborative, interlocking process. It’s what historians do, and why we love it.

So, with that, I headed for home.  And- hah!- as I headed for the station, the sun came out.

AHA Conference 7 July 2016

Another early start on a morning that seemed to promise warmer temperatures but by Ballan the fog had closed in, presaging yet another gloomy, cold day.

 Australia at War

What’s happening to me? After railing all through 2015 at the Gallipoli Centenary Extravaganza, I’ve found myself drawn to several sessions looking at WWI. Once again, I arrived too late to catch the first paper. In this case, Ian Willis spoke on “The Red Cross and ANZACs at Home”. I wish I’d caught more of it, alert as I am now to the industriousness and civic pride engendered through middle-class suburban Red Cross branches, as a result of writing my Hundred Years Ago column for the Heidelberg Historian. Unfortunately, though, I just caught the end of the paper.

The second speaker, who was to give a paper on the Australian Nursing Corps and Conscription, did not appear, which was disappointing.

The final paper for the session was Effie Karageorgos who spoke on “War in a ‘White Man’s Country’: Australian Perceptions of Blackness on the South African Battlefield 1899-1902”. Australian men volunteered to fight in the Boer War when it commenced in 1899, fired up by press columns syndicated from England which characterized the Boers as “dirty Dutch” and “uncivilized”. In Karageorgos’ study of 126 letters and diaries of Australian Boer War soldiers, she notes that soldiers often replicated such comments when they first arrived, but over time began identifying more with the enemy than the British. Meanwhile, the British Army began using (black) Africans as manservants, support workers and even soldiers, roles that the Africans embraced because they had no great love for the Boer settlers and they needed the money and supplies that accompanied military service. This threw up an interesting situation for Australian soldiers who were imbued with the Social Darwinist and Protectionist views towards race relations with indigeous people at home.   Yet here they were, fighting a ‘white’ enemy, alongside African soldiers and assistants.  She notes that many of the Australian volunteers were rural workers, who may well have worked alongside Aboriginal stockmen, but in their letters and diaries,  where the African workers were mentioned at all, it was often (but not always) in a rather infantalizing mode, reflective of the particular Protectionist model in play in Australia at the time.

PLENARY: Robert Anderson “The Changing Nature of Museums: Booming, Busting or what?”

This plenary was rather a surprise. Robert Anderson has worked in National Museums in UK for the past 32 years, the last ten years of which was spent as director of the British Museum. Many of his observations, taken singly, I agree with: the emphasis on blockbusters and getting numbers through the door and the resultant triumphalism of attendance statistics; the dominance of publicity and fundraising and the incorporation of museums into the mass tourism circuit; the discordant architectural design of museum extensions and annexes; the brevity and simplicity of labels (both in language and conceptually) and the increasing governmental managerialism of museum administration.  These are all things that I have thought about at various times, but not all together. It was when he began defending the British Museum’s inflexibility over repatriation that I became uncomfortable, and his observations cohered into very much a ‘in the good old days’ lament.  Should a curator be in charge of a particular collection for thirty years? I wondered when he praised the work of such a person. Does his assertion that, legally, objects belong to the British Museum and his attitude that therefore no correspondence can be entered into, still stand in a post-colonial world? Is the ‘best’ place for an artefact only in London, Paris, Berlin or New York?  When questions were raised, for example, about the Gweagal shield that I saw in the temporary exhibition in Canberra recently, his answers were forthright, obviously well rehearsed and completely immovable.  It’s an attitude that could only come from a position of plenty. All of a sudden the world didn’t seem quite so post-colonial after all.


There’s been a couple of book launches while I’ve been here.  The first one, at morning tea on Tuesday, was for Kate Auty and Lynette Russell’s monograph ‘Hunt Them , Hang Them ‘ about Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener, the two ‘Van Diemens Land Blacks’ sentenced to death by Judge Willis. Naturally, I bought the book and no doubt sometime soon I’ll review it.  The second launch, today after lunch, was of Tom Griffiths’ ‘The Art of Time Travel’, a book about Australian historians which sits on my bookshelf. Katie Holmes gave a beautiful speech in launching the book, which I know will be written with Griffiths’ usual grace and perspicacity. I’m looking forward to it.

 Marginal Living and Dying

And so, to the final session of the day for me, because I needed to leave early. This conference is being held in conjunction with the Australian Victorian Studies Association, and this was the first of their streams.

Caitlin Mahar’s paper “On Life’s Margins: Procuring a Good Death in Nineteenth Century Britain looked at the medical management of the dying in Britain. Until about the middle of the nineteenth century, suffering was seen as an emulation of Christ, and a spiritual as much as physical phenomenon. The clergy were at the heart of the death scene, and it was felt that pain relief might numb the expression of faith that characterized the “good”death. However, during the nineteenth century the doctor became a more prominent figure at the death bed, and the family became more important. For some time doctors had caused more suffering amongst ill people with their ‘cures’ (cupping, bleeding, amputation), but with the rising use of pain relief, it was thought that instead of distracting the dying patient from the faith element of death, analgesics could make them more able to concentrate on it and facilitate, rather than hinder, a ‘good’ death. Almost immediately the problem of hastening death through overuse of analgesia was raised, and definitively rejected, but today doctors are actively encouraged to relieve suffering even if it shortens life. As for enabling the patient to make this decision…well, as we know, it’s an argument that still rages

The second paper “Outcasts of Melbourne: Representations of the ‘Underclass’ in Late 19th Century Melbourne” was delivered by Jenny Sinclair, who has published two books related to this topic and Melbourne generally. She looked at three authors: Marcus Clarke, J. S. James and ‘John Freeman’ who published sensational accounts of the less salubrious inhabitants of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. All three authors focussed on the city rather than the suburbs; they conflated poverty and crime, and they maintained the point of view of the respectable reader.  They were often highly judgmental, although sometimes they turned their judgment back onto their readers. Yet, Sinclair argues, each of the writers had an agenda of social reform that can be traced back to their own origins.  Marcus Clarke had been sent as an impecunious orphan to the colonies by his family; James was an activist who worked in church organizations and institutions, writing in what we’d call ‘gonzo’ journalism today; and ‘John Freeman’ was in fact Edward Oxford, who had been incarcerated in asylums after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Queen Victoria no less.

In the final paper, Shale Preston took up an analysis of ‘John Freeman’ (Edward Oxford) in a beautifully written paper called “Bedlam and Beyond: John Freeman’s Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life.” Starting with the assassination attempt, she traced through Oxford’s twenty-seven years in Bethlem (Bedlam) and Broadmoor lunatic asylums, where he learned languages, became the in-house painter and generally kept himself aloof from his fellow inmates. He was released in 1867 on condition that he come to Australia and never return, and was given money by a philanthropist in order to do so. His book ‘Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life’ was not received well, with critics complaining that his sketches of the underclass could have been written in London rather than Melbourne. There is a remarkable lack of empathy or fellow-feeling in his writing, especially given his background. But, Preston suggests, perhaps it is symptomatic of his egotistical and jaundiced world-view that may have shaped his whole life. What a fascinating story- I’m going to follow this up!

And so ends Thursday- and what good timing, as the train is just drawing in to Southern Cross station!

AHA Conference 6th July 2016

Left bright and early for the second day at the AHA conference in Ballarat. Strictly speaking, I left in the drizzly dark at 6.30 a.m.  I don’t think that I’ve ever caught a train quite that early in the morning. The carriage was much quieter than it is later in the morning or in the evening, and there is an odd intimacy when you looking at your fellow passengers, knowing that just an hour before they were all asleep in bed, lying curled up and vulnerable.

The rain set in at about Bacchus Marsh and so the train drew into a Ballarat that was just as dismal as the preceding day.

 Remembering ANZAC

Over recent months I’ve taken over writing a column in the Heidelberg Historical Society’s newsletter which makes a summary of Heidelberg events one hundred years ago. Of course 1916 was in the midst of WWI and so I’ve developed an interest in the WWI homefront that I didn’t know that I had before. I missed the first paper in this session because I just couldn’t face the idea of a 5.30 a.m train but very much enjoyed the next two papers, especially as they intersected with my interested in the warfront at a very local level.

The first paper by Claire Greer was titled ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Exploring Homefront Hardship Through the Lens of the Great War’. In a work in progress, she is taking the Perth suburb of Subiaco and mapping out the enlistment and casualty information at a community, street by street and individual level. In particular she focusses on married men who enlisted at Subiaco at a higher level (32%) than elsewhere in Australia. Part of her work has involved identifying where and how often individual soldiers were memorialized on honour boards and through other acts of commemoration. How and why did a community claim particular soldiers as ‘theirs’? What were the networks that made that soldier part of the community? Moving down to street level, she mapped the enlistments in a particular street (Olive Street) and from there focussed on a particular family- that of John Monson. (????I’m having trouble reading my own writing!) In tracing through his story, the high level of married enlistment perhaps becomes clearer as we see the Monson family thriving in the goldrush town of Kookynie only to lose everything as the gold boom subsides.  The marriage founders, so when John enlists he puts down his son as next-of-kin rather than his wife.  I really liked this fine-grained use of the deluge of data generated by the ANZAC centenary to investigate the homefront rather than the warfront.

The next paper of the session was Bryce Abraham’s “An Affront to British Chivalry: Colonial Thought and the Cultural Clash at Surafend 1918”. I had heard of the Wasser Riots in the red light district of Cairo in 1915, but I had not heard of Surafend at all. On December 1918, after the war had finished, a detachment of the ANZAC Mounted Division converged at the then-Palestinian village of Surafend where, in order to avenge the death of a New Zealand soldier, they separated the women and children and massacred the men (there are no firm figures of the number of deaths) and torched the village. They then moved on to a nearby Bedouin village.  The Commander-in-Chief of the ANZACS, Edmund Allenby was furious and cancelled end of the war recommendations for the whole group. At investigations into the incident, the soldiers were uncooperative, finding themselves mysteriously unable to identify anyone who was responsible (although the NZ soldiers intimated that the Australians were responsible while the Australians suggested the opposite). The massacre took place beyond the war arena, in the transition to peace, to people they were supposed to be protecting.  Abraham notes that there had been incidents before, but that this was the pinnacle of racial conflict between the Palestinians and the ANZACS and was another manifestation of the racialized White Australia mindset that dominated turn of the century Australian political life.

Boom and bust in Australian and New Zealand History

As it happened, the WWI theme continued into the next session as well in what seems a bit of a grab-bag title. The third speakers didn’t turn up, and the two papers that were given fitted together quite well

Martin Crotty spoke on the poorly planned pilgrimage to WWI sites organized by the RSL in his paper ‘The RSL’s 1965 Gallipoli Pilgrimage: Botching it Up Again’. This was not the first pilgrimage back to the Peninsular organized by the RSL: there had been others in 1955 and 1960. But those pilgrimages were small, exclusive and expensive excursions, often involving people who had not even made the landing. This 1965 pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary was larger, shorter at 3 weeks, and with the injection of some funding from the government, cheaper (although it was still a sizeable 4000 pounds per head). The pilgrimage had two aims: first, to provide these Gallipoli diggers with a positive pilgrimage experience and second, to provide good publicity for the RSL which at the time feared that the ANZAC story would be forgotten. The historian Ken Inglis accompanied the pilgrimage, and Crotty has consulted Inglis’ exhaustive (if often illegible) archives which include the documentation on the pilgrimage. It was a debacle. The three hundred elderly men were flown over to the Middle East, put on a sparsely equipped Turkish ship, and rushed from one celebration to another when all they wanted was to be able to walk around the places they’d been and pay their respects to their fallen comrades. Three men died; others were sick for months afterwards.  But even if they didn’t achieve a positive pilgrimage experience, the RSL did get its good publicity, with many newspaper articles that said little of the dissatisfaction of the pilgrims. And, as we know, the RSL’s fears about ANZAC being forgotten were well and truly misplaced.

This paper was followed by Joanna Leahy’s paper “‘Knitting with a Will, Knitting for their Empire’: the World War One Knitting Boom.”  One of the things that I’ve noticed in compiling my Hundred Years Ago column for the newsletter is the mountains and mountains of socks that are being knitted by the good women and girls of Fairfield, Alphington, Ivanhoe and Heidelberg. As part of her study of domestic knitting and crochet in Australia 1840-1940, Leahy has examined these World War I  socks – all 1.3 million (at least) pairs of them.  There’s one in the Australian War Memorial, abandoned half-way through and still on the needles when Nellie Blain heard of the death of her older brother, for whom she was knitting.  The patterns for these socks were readily available in the newspapers and special pamphlets.  While acknowledging this huge effort, however, she notes that is it part of a longer tradition of domestic and charitable knitting.


This was the first plenary session that I have attended at this conference, having arrived too late for yesterday’s one. Each of the speakers adopted a different stance toward the topic. “Centering the City: Spaces of Practice in Australian Urban and Regional History. Louise Prowse’s paper wasn’t about the city at all- instead she looked at regional towns at how they have framed their identities. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they positioned themselves as separate settlements, in the fresh air far from the city, with their own local families and industries. This changed from the middle of the 20th century when, instead, regional towns prided themselves on their replication of city leisure facilities- the swimming pools, parks, shops etc. In this way, regional towns became more generic.  However, from the 1960s there was an explosion in the number of historical societies (in the city, but even more in country areas) which began marking and memorializing their own local and  particular history. Towns began reconfiguring their streetscapes to enhance their heritage features- although which particular era did they privilege?  She pointed to the recent phenomenon of local food-based regional tourism which, unlike the 1960s tourism, does not draw a distinction between visitors and locals.

Andrew May started his contribution quoting from a travel diary written by a Welsh tourist who visited North America, Australia and New Zealand (I can’t quite remember when- I assume late 19th/early 20th century). She was dismissive of Melbourne and its sanitation problems, but warmed immediately to Ballarat. A visitor to a city assesses a new place in terms of their storehouse expectations and experience, and this differs for us all.  Yet, he noted, the major national histories of Australia tend to disregard urban histories despite the oft-repeated claim that Australia is the most urbanized country in the world and not withstanding Graeme Davison’s hugely influential article ‘Sydney and the Bush: An Urban Context for the Australian Legend’ which highlighted the urban origin of the ‘bush’ stories and poets in the Bulletin.  He emphasized the international dimensions of the municipal movement of the 1840s which saw the Incorporation of both Melbourne and Sydney (pipped by Adelaide) and noted the significance and longevity of Town Clerks.

Lisa Murray is the young, very enthusiastic (and active!) City Historian employed by the City of Sydney. In a rather corporate presentation, she outlined the objectives of the City Historian position, the projects it had been involved in and its relationship with other individuals and groups in Sydney who might want to adopt a ‘history’ approach in their production of civic, artistic and planning endeavours. The program makes use of digital and multimedia platforms, and is not so much into marking memorials through plaques as in making  memories through oral histories and drawing on shared public memories. An interesting conundrum though- a mural in a park created in the 1980s had spawned a popular history of carnivals, elephants and balloons supposedly found on the site in the past, but the carnival was only there for six months and there was no elephant, and no balloon. A piece of artwork had in effect implanted false memories for the local residents.

Finally, Simon Sleight started his presentation with a picture of the Burke and Wills statue in Collins Street, before it started its peregrinations around different Melbourne sites until ending up in its present location on the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets. His interest was not so much the statue as the people loitering around it, which led to a discussion of walking and loitering around Melbourne during its years as a ‘walking city’ between 1860-1920 when people walked by choice, not necessity. There was walking The Block for respectable people; meeting under the clocks at Flinders Street, and the increasing perception of danger on Princes Bridge.  He noted parallels with other cities- the Monkey Parades in UK or New York’s Bowery.

Transnational Celebrity in the Twentieth Century: Australia, New Zealand, North America and Britain.

My final session for the day was a panel discussion of four celebrity women who visited Australia during the twentieth century.

Desley Deacon started with her paper “Celebrity, Empire and American Morals in 1927: Australia Rejects the Young Judith Anderson.” Judith Anderson (originally Francie Anderson) returned to Australia in December 1926, eight years after she had left Australia as a 21 year old. While in America, she had had great success on Broadway, and when she first arrived back in Australia, the press greeted her enthusiastically. However,  her performance in ‘The Green Hat’ was absolutely slated in reviews, so viciously that her eight-month tour ended in a physical and mental breakdown. She was hospitalized for six weeks, and left Australia quietly.  But perhaps it was not her, or her performance that caused the offence: instead, there was a strong rejection at the time of the Americanization of film and a suspicion of American culture as usurping British and Australian culture- and The Green Hat, with its ‘sordid’ plotline fed right into that hostility.

There was no hostility, however, for Guide Rangi (more properly, Rangitiaria Dennan), a 57 year old Maori guide from Rotorua, who arrived in Australia in 1954, just after she had shown Queen Elizabeth around the thermal area of New Zealand.  She was a household name in New Zealand, and exemplified the Maori guide in the public imagination. The guide was now the celebrity, and the press followed her visits to the Shrine of Remembrance, photographed her hugging a koala, and conducted meet-and-greets at the Tourism Agency. The press continued to lionize her, even when she made critical comments about the treatment of aborigines, at a time when few indigenous people in Australia had the same public recognition.

Finally, Cecilia Morgan spoke about ‘The Theatrical Tours of Two Canadian Margarets: Transnational Celebrity in Early Twentieth-Century Australia and New Zealand’. The two Margarets were Margaret Anglin, who visited beteen 1908-9 and Margaret Bannerman who followed her twenty years later.  Both women were Canadian, even though Margaret Anglin performed on the American stage, and Margaret Bannerman had a successful career in London’s West End.  Where Judith Anderson suffered from the hostility towards Americanization of stage and screen twenty years later, Margaret Anglin did not.  Both women were publicized for their stylish clothes; both were described as friendly and approachable, and unlike Judith Anderson, they both starred in plays and displayed a celebrity identity which emphasized cultural dominion affinities.

And by now, I had a bus to catch so I had to leave….


Several of today’s sessions were held at Federation Uni’s School of Mines campus. I’d seen it from the outside, but didn’t realize how lovely it is inside.  Actually, Federation Uni has a real presence right in the centre of town which it didn’t some years ago.


AHA Conference 5 July 2016

It’s July, so that means AHA conference time and this year it’s some 100 kms away in chilly Ballarat- ye Gods, could there possibly be a more dismal place than Ballarat on a wet, rainy Tuesday in July?  The theme of the conference is “From Boom to Bust” – a fitting theme for a gold-rush town- and some papers have taken it up in their titles.

Medical histories

Now that the thesis no longer looms over me, I have the luxury of just going to whatever takes my fancy. As it happens, for the first session for the day it was ‘Medical Histories’. The first paper, by Kate Irving was titled “American ‘Schools for Idiotic Children’: Eugenic Asylums and the Limits of ‘Boom to Bust’ Narratives. The ‘Boom to Bust’ narrative arc is often used by medical disability historians to describe the trajectory of institutionalization. Up until the mid 19th century, there was a view that the catch-all term  ‘idiocy’ was a permanent condition, manifested through physical appearance with an emphasis on speech. There was a change mid-century, particularly through the work of Seguin, who saw such children as educable, their condition caused by “arrested development of the will”, amenable to physiological education and carefully structured instruction. However, by the end of the century, separate schools were used for predominantly custodial purposes of keeping ‘dangerous’ young people locked away from society, with the smaller education-based schools taken over by large, more segregated institutions with more of an emphasis on science.  While  not rejecting this ‘boom-to-bust’ characterization completely, Irving noted that there is no neat dichotomy between the three phases, and argued that local, social and personal  factors also played a part in the construction of medical categories over time. Her work looked at the clinical notes about the children written by staff at Elm Hill Private Institution for Feeble Minded Youth in Massachusetts, a private institution patronized by wealthy families. Her presentation was illustrated by the studio photographs taken of the children in Elm Hill’s care, which were not at all the custodial-type pictures you might have expected to see.

Next up was ‘The World May See your Trade in your Faces: Labour and the Face in Early Modern Medicine’ by Emily Cock as part of her postdoc work funded by the Wellcome Trust called ‘Effaced from History: The Disfigured and their Stories from Antiquity to the Present Day’. Her paper looked at a publication by Bernardo Ramazzini published in 1700 that classified the diseases and injuries common amongst particular trades e.g. the bleary features of the sweaty blacksmith; the disfigured mercury miner suffering from the fumes; the weedy academic reading too much!  The book was organized by trade, with men’s and women’s work intermingled.  She noted the facial slashes meted out to prostitutes and adulterers as punishment, and the role of facial injuries as evidence of military service and the ‘safety’ denoted by the smallpocked nursemaid who could no longer transmit the disease to children.  An amazingly early example of what would become occupational health and safety consciousness in the early 18th century!

Finally, Yorick Smaal spoke on ‘Boys and Institutional Sexual Abuse’- a topic that is being aired by the current Royal Commission. His paper drew on four cases studies from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom from the early 1900s. His paper started with the Stoke Industrial School Inquiry in New Zealand in the 1890s where the Marist Brothers were investigated. Although the Inquiry found that there was no case to answer, criminal charges were laid against the brothers the following year. Although they were all acquitted, it showed that the state could (however rarely) intervene, and in fact there were 15000 cases over 50 years where parents took up the complaints of their children. For institutionalized children without adult advocates however, there was less opportunity for redress.  Often the internal inquiries set up by the institutions themselves were more concerned with protecting the reputation of the organization (sounds familiar?)

Frontier Encounters

After lunch I returned to  more familiar ground of frontier encounters.  In a room too small for the numbers Mark Dunn started with ‘Civilised or Savage: the Colonial Legacy of Robert and Helenus Scott.’ These two brothers, who arrived in NSW in 1823, were left fatherless when their father died on the voyage but their family’s networks ensured that they soon met with the Governor, befriended John Macarthur and were the recipients of adjacent land grants on the Hunter River that they combined to establish Glendon, which still stands today.  Robert Scott (who seems to have been the more dominant of the pair) engaged aboriginal guides to locate their grant, assist in collecting artefacts for dispatch to patrons and friends overseas, and to work on their station.  Yet Robert Scott also led a posse of settlers to search for indigenous groups accused of attacking stations, and was highly visible in defending the settlers in the Myall Creek massacre- so visible that he was dropped as a magistrate afterwards. Working with the extensive archive of Scott family correspondence, Dunn is hoping to explore the complexity of the Scott families relationship with indigenous people.

Next was Leonie Stevens with her fascinating work on the Flinders Island Chronicle,a handwritten newspaper created by two Van Diemen’s Land indigenous youths, Thomas Brune and Walter George Arthur during the exile on Flinders Island between 1836-7.  The Chronicle has been dismissed as being of little interest or merely a Christianizing propaganda tool under the control of George Augustus Robinson. However, in her paper ‘The Contaminated Gaze: Misrepresenting and Re-Presenting the Flinders Island Chronicle’,  Stevens returns to the source document and, in Greg Dening’s words, gives the past back its present tense. She points out that Christianity is only part of what was written about and that the Chronicle also wrote about present events, people and what people were doing. Instead of a passive, ‘weeping in silence’, the Chronicle was a cacophony of action, part of a longer campaign of writing amongst the Van Diemens Land people.

The final paper for this session was Imogen Wegman, who gave a lively presentation about surveyors in Tasmania – surely a documentary program will soon snap up such an engaging young historian?  The first surveys were conducted in Tasmania in 1803 by Harris, who was accused of corruption and incompetence, especially when the land was re-surveyed some years later by professional surveyors.  The anomalies, however, were not rectified.  Her methodology uses big data and the Historical Geographic Information Systems  to give a spatial reference- a different type of analysis to the close-up use of land grant documents previously used.  It interested me that, in spite of the wealth of information and ‘grunt’ that such methodologies offer, she is still not absolutely sure how the surveying was done: did the settler go with them when they surveyed? Did the settler use a sketch and say ‘I want that land’?  Yet another example where often the sources are silent on processes that were self-evident at the time and completely opaque today.

Panel: ‘The Fortunes of women?’: life, death and loss in reproduction in Australia 1850-1970

The final session for the day ran chronologically, tracing through women, childbirth and loss in three papers.

Madonna Grehan’s paper was “‘A piteous tale of human suffering: having a baby at home in nineteenth century Australia 1850-1880”. As became clear in the questions after her presentation, the parallels she draws between 19th century maternal deaths and the current push for ‘physiological’ home-births are quite deliberately politically targeted. She is a historian, nurse and midwife and the issue is of more than academic interest to her. Drawing on 300 maternal death investigations, the poignant reports of women  ‘In articulo mortis’ (in the jaws of death) or ‘Angor Animi’ ( convinced that they are about to die) was starkly illustrated by the testimony of husbands, families and others, unable to help these women who died giving birth at home. Sixty-one percent of the women she studied died from haemorrhage either during or after birth.  There’s an interesting article in Provenance that picks up on many of the themes in her presentation and I also very much enjoyed her A.G.L. Shaw lecture on birth and death statistics that you can hear as a podcast.

Next, Dot Wickham examined the local Ballarat Female Refuge in her paper ‘Fallen Doves: Single Women and Their Babies 1891-1921′. As with Grehan’s paper before her, she started with a story- in this case, that of Rhoda Shute who knocked on the door of the Ballarat Female Refuge, had her child, and remained there for two years suffering most probably from what we would now called PND,  before being committed to the lunatic asylum, with her child taken from her. The refuge was established in 1867 by a group of 26 women, located 5 km from the lying-in hospital at the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum- a journey that the women had to walk themselves in labour when cab trips were curtailed. Her work is an analysis of the admissions registers and doctor’s books over 30 years from 1890 to 1920. The doctors’ notes are sometimes terse and judgmental, but there are other entries that are sympathetic and overwhelming concerned with the welfare of the child. She finished her paper by returning to Rhoda Shute, who returned to live with her brothers and never married.

The final paper for the session, and for the day, was Judith Godden’s paper “Boom to Bust in Adoption: The Case of Crown Street Women’s Hospital” which looked at forced adoptions at Crown Street (Sydney) between 1950s and 1970s.  The hospital was founded in 1893 with a strong social conscience, but soon became known as an overcrowded baby factory.  Her statistical work on the records note a slippage between the wide definition of ‘single mother’ which included widows, women who had a child through adultery or women from asylums, and a narrow definition of a ‘single mother’ as a never-married, unsupported woman. She highlighted the significance of the Supporting Mothers Benefit in 1971 which led in a decrease of  children ‘given up’ from 48% in 1971 to 7% in 1980.  Her presentation highlighted the cruelty of forced adoption: the pillow held up to obscure the view, the belief that if a mother did not hold her child then she would not grieve it, and the heavy drug schedule given to mothers (although she pointed out that all women received drugs during and after birth). And at that point, I had to leave to come home…….

[These summaries are written from my scribbled notes and the abstracts in the conference handbook.  If I’ve misrepresented your presentation, please let me know. [residentjudge at gmail]