This blog post is a week late, the AHA conference having wound up a week ago. Nonetheless, better late than never.
So, I was up and at it again by 8.30, tuning into the ENVIRONMENTS AND INSTITUTIONS stream. Rachel Goldlust started off with a presentation on A History of Australian Housing: A view of and from the environment. After tracing through early approaches to developing an Australian vernacular of housing through the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1890s, the Garden City movement of the 1920s, and the development of the Queenslander, she then turned to the Small Homes Service and Robin Boyd. One of the architects that Boyd featured was Alistair Knox who championed earth housing. At first, this was largely a response to the shortage of building materials after WWII, but Knox was increasingly drawn to the artistic community at Montsalvat, who provided the labour force for mud brick construction (always the most expensive aspect). Eventually, Knox came to see mud brick as a challenge to the modernism promoted by Robin Boyd, and it is still at the core of sustainable housing today.
Josh Woodward following with Making a Modern Marketing Machine: NSW Government Tourist Bureau 1905-1915, starting off with a meeting at the Australia Hotel in Sydney between former and current Premiers and ministers of the NSW Government, and Hunter, the Head of the NSW Tourist Bureau and (former?) editor of the Daily Telegraph. Since Hunter’s employment in 1906, the NSW Tourist Bureau had shifted to a central location, and had the biggest plate glass window in Sydney. In his advertising, Hunter challenged the stereotypes of poisonous snakes and ‘savage Aborigines’ in Sydney, announcing that there were absolutely no hostile ‘blacks’ and that the danger of snakes had been exaggerated- thereby placing indigenous people in the ‘fauna’ category. Photography of the Blue Mountains, a focus of NSW Tourist Bureau Advertising, drew on 19th century ideas of the ‘sublime’ which had been largely superseded by then, leavened with scientific information.
There was another presentation after that one, but I had to leave for a Spanish Conversation Class.
Después de mi clase, I missed the start of the COMMUNITY AND BELONGING stream, but I was able to catch it up later on-demand (a wonderful advantage of an online/hybrid conference). Alex Roginski spoke on Charismatic Careering in Spiritual and Religious Movements: Leadership and Rupture in Melbourne’s Free Christian Assembly, starting her presentation with an image of the anti-vaccine protests seen on our streets recently. She noted that the feeling of ‘persecution’ acts as a binding force on protestors acting from a variety of impulses, and that ‘persecution’ has long been a part of Christianity as well. She illustrated this through the case of the charismatic preacher John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907). He emigrated to Australia as a child, but returned to Edinburgh for his theological training. He was ordained into the Congregational Church, but left it in 1878 to become a street preacher. He was employed as a relieving minister at the Collingwood Baptist Church in 1881, but turned on the church over its attitudes towards alcohol, and started his own Free Christian Church in Fitzroy. By 1888 he was in Chicago where he started the Zion Tabernacle, which offered divine healing, with its own protection guard in paramilitary uniform with bibles in their holsters. By 1901 he established a city in Illinois called ‘Zion’ , attracting 7000-8000 followers where he declared himself to be the prophet Elijah. However, by 1904 Zion City (which was on pretty dubious financial foundations) was mired in abject misery, and he died in 1907. Fascinating.
Amanda Burritt’s presentation LGBTQI+ Christians: Mainstream Churches and welcoming Christian Communities in 1970s and 1980s Melbourne took us back fifty years to the decriminalization of homosexuality (South Australia in 1975, Victoria in 1980 and 1984 in NSW). Just because it was no longer a criminal offence did not mean that attitudes had changed, and she took us through the varying responses of the Anglican, Uniting and Catholic Churches. Homosexuality was a contentious topic, with attitudes varying from a literal Biblical declaration that it was sinful; to a view that because of The Fall it was an inferior type of relationship, through to the idea that homosexual Christians were capable of reflecting the nature of God in a different way. Some churches banned all involvement in the sacraments, while others recommended acceptance and love. Even before this theological tussling, the ‘Acceptance’ group had started in Melbourne in 1973 to discuss change in the Catholic church, and the L.A.-based Metropolitan Community Church started a branch in Melbourne in 1973. Many attendees at Metropolitan CC maintained their affiliations with other churches, but also formed relationships with many Uniting Churches. In 1979 the Gay Christian Collective started at St Mark’s in Fitzroy as an activist group, and at the same time the Christian Lesbian Collective started at the Fitzroy Uniting Church. Today, 50 years later, things are better, but LGBTIQ+ Christians are still not free from condemnation.
Lunch time – and no little grand-people this afternoon, so I could indulge myself in history all day! The ROUNDTABLE: URGENT HISTORIES OF AUSTRALIAN CAPITALISM featured contributors to a special issue of Labour History released in 2021. Hannah Forsyth spoke about ‘Industriousness’, particularly as it applies to schooling, which was seen as a way of being more productive (most apposite, given the recent free childcare during COVID as a stimulus mechanism, and the prospect of a funded year’s play-based learning preschool). Julie McIntyre spoke about the need to include nature in histories of capitalism, noting that agriculture is dependent on soils – an observation made by Marx who noted that under capitalism there was co-exploitation of the soil and the worker- leading to the question of why labour history and environmental history do not progress in tandem. Adonis Piperoglou gave a personal view of ethnic entrepreneurship through his family history, with his father growing up in a series of milk bars and fish and chip shops, leading to the purchase of a double-garage home in North Balwyn. He noted the role of chain migration, the ‘hard worker’ image and the scope for exploitation. The discussant of the session Sophie Loy-Wilson noted that the AHA conference at Deakin is being held in a repurposed wool-shed, which is very fitting. Wool depends on grass grown on soil, with the labour of Australian workers through the supply-chain, and is destined for overseas consumption.
My final session for the day and for the conference (unless the recordings remain available after the conference) was the HEARING AUSTRALIAN HISTORIES roundtable, with seven (!!) participants, who focused on the methodology of hearing history. Andrew Hurley spoke about his study of silence, which is often seen as a metaphor, or a paradox through descriptions of ‘noisy silence’. Often historians need to look for information about sound in written texts, and in particular he has looked at Robyn Davidson’s Tracks. Henry Reese‘s work has focused on sound recordings that no longer exist, but are shown in photographs. In particular he looked at Douglas Archibald, one of several promoters who travelled the theatrical circuits, demonstrating new sound technologies. Julia Russoniella used the printed arrangements and pencilled annotations of violinist Cyril Moss in order to recreate his performances in Sydney in 1900-1940s- literally, on her violin during the presentation. Amanda Harris spoke about listening to colonial songs through the printed music published in the 1830s and 1840s that claimed to be tribal songs. She looked at a concert held in 1826, at which, it was claimed Bungaree was banned from entering. Jakelin Troy spoke about reclaiming these early printed songs when local indigenous groups stripped out the ‘improvements’ imposed by these early European song-transcribers. Chris Coady spoke about Dean Dixon, an African-American musical director, who was tapped to lead the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 1963. There were differing responses to his appointment both in Australia and internationally: some saw it as a celebration of dismantling the White Australia Policy; others thought that nothing would change; others were surprised, and many Australians framed him as the ‘ideal migrant’. Finally, Toby Martin described song-writing collaborations, as a way of history-telling in itself. He spoke about two projects, one in 2018 that created ‘Toi La Ai’ (Who Am I?),and the second Black Tears Tracks with Uncle Roger Knox, who recorded in song his mother’s experience as part of the Stolen Generations.
And that was the end of AHA conference for me. It’s not the same, of course, as being there but I probably wouldn’t have been involved at all had the Zoom option not been available. In a way, having a limited number of options available was almost a relief, as when you attend in person there are always competing sessions that require you to make a choice. Even though I might not have chosen the session that was available, each time I found that there was something of value and new knowledge. So perhaps there really is something that we can thank COVID for, after all.