Category Archives: AHA Conference 2022

AHA Conference 2022 Day 3

National Wool Museum, Geelong. Flickr: Andrea Williams

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a focus of NSW Tourist Bureau Advertising, drew on 19th century ideas of the ‘sublime’ which had been largely superseded by then, leavened with scientific information.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.

DespuĂ©s 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.

AHA Conference 2022 Day 2

Geelong Waterfront 2011, Dtfman,

I started off the day early (8.30 a.m.) with a session on Jimmy Blacksmith/Jimmy Governor. Grace Brooks started off with a paper on Indigenous Labour History on Film which focused on Schepisi’s ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’ (1978) and Warwick Thornton’s ‘Sweet Country’ (2017). This is part of her PhD research into depictions of labour relations more generally in Australian film. She argues that while not expecting film as a genre to be strictly historically correct, both films were successful in depicting indigenous labour history, rupturing the myth of Australian egalitarianism promulgated by blokey films like ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ or ‘Waterfront’. She notes that ‘Jimmy Blacksmith’ challenged the myth of indigenous indolence, and she suggested that the schoolteacher McCready acted as a mouthpiece for Schepisi’s own political views. She sees Thornton’s film, set in 1929 Northern Territory as a subversive form of the western, but without a musical score until the final credits. It utilizes non-linear storytelling, reflecting a First Nations approach and historically, it captures well the pastoralist and domestic service settings of Indigenous employment. Interestingly, both Schepesi and Thornton’s film depicted featured fence-building as the labour undertaken by their protagonists- a particularly resonant task given the appropriation of indigenous land. She suggests that Thornton’s film is more nuanced- that we are all angels and bastards. It seemed to me that Brooks was largely unaware of Keneally’s book (as distinct from the film) and his present-day discomfort with its telling of the story of Jimmie Blacksmith from the black perspective.

The second paper by Richard Evans was titled Jimmy Governor: Revisiting a Story of Murder and Consequences. As a criminologist and historian, he looked at Jimmy Governor as a historical/legal case, and focussed on Jimmy Governor rather than the fictionalized Jimmy Blacksmith. Like the earlier speaker, he does not expect film to live up to historical accuracy either, but he noted that Jimmy Blacksmith (both in film and book) did not feature the murder of the heavily pregnant Elizabeth O’Brien and her son, and the fairly credible allegations of rape that were not tested in court. He suggested that the victims of Governor’s crime tend to be pushed to the background, and that there is perhaps a degree of “what-about-ism” that arises when you are talking about violence within a colonial-violence environment. He noted the particular grudges that Governor held, and suggested that the shootings fit into the American “spree shooting” phenomenon that we speak of today. Rather refreshingly, he commented that he had hoped to mount an academic study of Governor but then found that it had already been done by Laurie Moore and Stephen Wilkins in their The True Story of Jimmy Governor (2001) some twenty years ago. At this point, I remembered that I have read this book (which is quite difficult to find today although can be print-on-demand) so I headed back to my own Reading Journal from 2003 to see what I thought of it.

I read this more for its connections with Keneally’s Jimmy Blacksmith than anything else. Written by a family descendent who lived in Jimmy Governor’s neighbourhood- in fact, a family ancestor actually arrested him- I think that this in some way compromises the authors. They are certainly restricted to white documentary sources but they are, to their credit, aware of this.

Main differences in the accounts of Jimmy Blacksmith vs. Jimmy Governor:

1. There is no spiritual dimension in the Governor story at all- no mission, no Rev. Neville, no ‘womb’, no initiation

2. The relationship with Governor’s wife Edith was far sounder than Keneally suggests, and the child was his son

3. There was no school teacher, kidnapping etc. as depicted in the Blacksmith story- was this just a vehicle for Keneally to give a potted white/black history?

4. The murders were, if anything, worse- and there was a rape.

I found the lack of footnotes disconcerting, but it was a readable and interesting account in its own right, with good maps, and the book acknowledged the lack of indigenous input

My reading Journal March 2003.

Evans remarked on this latter point too, but noted that (white) researchers have encountered a real and understandable reluctance by indigenous groups to engage in the question of Jimmy Governor/Jimmy Blacksmith- and this, he suggests, is perhaps a research area for another person at another time.

I was able to follow this early-morning session with the next session titled ‘Pandemics and Vaccines’. Gabrielle Wolf started with a paper ‘From Black Death to COVID-19: Infectious Diseases and Legal Challenges‘. She noted that neither epidemiologists or legal historians were surprised by COVID and the legal responses it spurred, as we had seen this story before. The Black Death in the 1350s saw the legally-enforced introduction of trentina, and then quarantina (30 days and 40 days respectively) of isolation. In the wake of the labour shortages caused by so much death, the Statute of Labourers was introduced in 1351 which limited wages and worker mobility, fixed prices and created the crime of vagrancy. During the smallpox epidemics of the 18th century, vaccine mandates were introduced, leading to anti-vaccination resistance. [At this point my new washing machine arrived, and so I missed the part on legislative responses to the 1918-9 Influenza epidemic.] During the HIV epidemic, stigmatization led to anti-discrimination laws on the one hand, and the criminalization of behaviour likely to spread HIV on the other. In 1951 the United Nations introduced International Sanitary Regulations, renamed the International Health Regulations in 1969, a revised edition of which operates today. Pandemics and epidemics are seen at the time as seismic events with which the law must wrestle, but the laws produced are often challenged because of their effects on individual rights, social cohesion and scapegoating.

Chi Chi Huang gave the next presentation ‘Preventing Smallpox in Australia’s North: the politics of who to vaccinate’. Smallpox was seen as a disease that came from ‘over-seas’, and as a result there was concentrated surveillance of coastal areas with interaction with shipping, fishing and pearling. The various states of Australia had differing smallpox vaccination programs, but these programs were all largely ineffective and ended by the early 1920s. There was a state-based reluctance to implement mandates, and they may not have been necessary anyway as NSW had a similar rate of vaccination to the other states, even though it was not compulsory there. Two compulsory smallpox vaccination programs in the early 20th century took place in the Northern Territory, where the Federal Government did not have to engage with state politics (shades of 2020). The first was conducted by John Elkington in the Torres Strait Islands in 1912, where he vaccinated the Thursday Islanders on the mission. The second was on Bathurst Island and in Darwin in 1933 where Dr Cecil Cook, the Chief Protector of Aborigines and Quarantine Officer for North Australia, and Dr. J. H. L Cumpston, the Director-General of the Department of Health vaccinated 212 Aboriginal people out of concern that smallpox would be passed on by ‘alien’ pearl shell workers- but they did not vaccinate the pearl fishers themselves, largely through a lack of jurisdiction.

The third paper was titled Bacterial Vaccines during the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic and it was given by David Roth. I was interested in this, because while writing my ‘Hundred Years Ago’ column for the Heidelberg Historical Society newsletter, I had noticed a council-administered vaccine program during 1919, and I wondered what was in the vaccine. Everything that I had read (written both at the time and later) had suggested that the vaccines were largely ineffective, but this appraisal is challenged by David Roth who argues that the doctors of the time recognized the role of secondary infection and that there were vaccines that reduced morality significantly. Using the studies at the time, Roth argues that these vaccines had an efficacy/efficiency rate of about 30%, which is similar to the influenza vaccines sometimes administered today against particular strains of influenza.

And by this time, we had connected up the new washing machine and I wanted to see how it worked! Besides, another grandchild had arrived and we spent the afternoon playing in the box that the washing machine had arrived in. So that was the end of my Day 2.