It has been difficult to try and argue that Sydney’s Inner west music and pub culture is historically relevant to an audience that does not necessarily recognise that attending pub gigs is culturally powerful. Perhaps it was arrogant of me to think that the community I socialise within is as captivating as I believe it to be, historical or otherwise. Everyone sort of already knows that music is an important aspect of life – the number of people walking around with headphones in attests to this. Though is it really worth historically investigating? I doubt my contact seems to think so either… he loves what he does and thrives on it, but that satisfaction does not seem to encourage greater investigative curiosity. One thing is for sure, a study on music and booze does not par with some of the more noble community causes that my peers are engaging with. It is stressful that this is what I am thinking at this stage of the project.

I blame the inextricability of music for my project’s current limbo state. Music is so connected to the experience of being human, played whenever people gather. Its accessibility means that people likely don’t think about its cultural role beyond entertainment. It operates or ‘plays’ in a free space, autonomous from politics or other rules, but is reflexively influenced by them as well. It has also been expressed that music has influenced the course of history through mobilising people power. Rodriguez, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Midnight Oil immediately come to mind. So yes, music is arguably historically relevant, but Australian pubs and drinking culture? I'm yet to articulate how.

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At first look, the archives I have accessed seem to further trivialise music and booze to only have entertainment and business value. The drum ads collated by a colleague of the Rule Brothers in tribute to their work at the Annandale Hotel undoubtedly holds sentimental value, but they require a historical perspective – mine – to apply the advertisements to a broader cultural context and argue that they evidence Australia’s cultural development. While myself and the Rule Brothers confidently argue that pubs are communal spaces where 'people power' can be unleashed, it is difficult to find clear evidence. I can only think of Keep Sydney Open as an obvious example of this.

The fact that I could spot some familiar musical names amongst the drum ad collection ensured me that this project was personally significant: I want to prove to my audience that the two very separate worlds of history and music and booze can collide. This project presents an opportunity for me to defend my interest in history to those who perhaps are distracted by the performance factor of music.

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Parramatta students handling artefacts from the Nicholson Museum

Just as they were submitting their subject preferences for years eleven and twelve, Year 10 students from Parramatta High School visited the University of Sydney in September to learn more about studying History. Associate Professor Michael McDonnell, along with Dr Elly Cowan and Professor Chris Hilliard, greeted the students and introduced them to the expansive range of topics that fall under a history degree, and the potential career options opened up by studying history at university.

A hands-on artefact session with the Nicholson Museum followed, and as the class examined a range of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, it soon became clear that we had an expert among us. Turns out one of the students could remember precise details about Ancient Egyptian funerary artefacts from a school project she had completed in Year 4. With a memory like that, she is well-placed for a career in archaeology.

Afterwards, the students were introduced to the main exhibit of Nicholson Museum by Dr Jelle Stoop of the Classics and Ancient History Department. This was followed by a campus tour led by USYD volunteers Emma Cleary, Anastasia Pavlovic, and Minerva Inwald. As they learned about and saw more of the campus, many of the students opened up a stream of questions on university life – about studying anything between journalism and music, about making friends and getting involved in social justice on campus. Others expressed uncertainty at making decisions about their futures – which, of course, is pretty normal, and there are few places better than university to embrace and explore that uncertainty.

In all of their literature, Touching Base repeatedly accredit their success, as both an organisation and an advocate, to the decriminalisation of the NSW’s sex industry. It allows them to operate and to campaign openly freely the rights of both those with disabilities and sex workers. With that in mind, I thought I’d look into the laws of our state and the history of how we came to be so damn progressive.

Sex work is regulated by state government and as such the laws differ from state to state. NSW decriminalised the sex industry in 1995, an incredibly progressive move for any state. Decriminalisation allows the best options for sex workers in terms of their own health, safety, and personal agency. However, decriminalisation was not designed with their best interests in mind. The laws were based on the Wood Royal Commission of 1994-1997, or as I previously knew it to be – Underbelly: The Golden Mile.

Australia has a long history of police corruption in prostitution; one I imagine is not specific to our country alone. Sandra Egger’s research into the early days of the colony has found a history of payments to police to keep brothels operating. This I’m sure is not surprising, the two seem to go hand in hand. Egger highlights the early 1960s to 79 as the ‘high point for police corruption.’ Coincidentally from 1968 to 1979, NSW’s laws were the most restrictive they had or have ever been. Payments to the police were seen as an operating cost for sex workers and brothel owners. This ‘mentality’ (read corruption) naturally carried over into the 1980s and 90s and what better area for it to flourish than Kings Cross. The Wood Royal Commission was instigated after claims of a paedophile network making payments to police to avoid arrest. These stories dominated the press and even looking back now they are hard to read. The Wood Commission would go on to acknowledged a widespread endemic of corruption throughout jurisdictions, but in no precinct was it as concentrated and as prolific as in Sydney’s notorious Kings Cross. A day in the Kings Cross precinct was described in SMH by a former officer:

The hours of duty for a detective on the day shift were between 8.30am and 5pm…Morning coffee commenced about 9am and continued until about 11.30am, whereupon there was a discussion about a suitable luncheon venue, which lasted until about 12.15, then lunch commenced and usually concluded about 3.30pm. It was followed by an ale or dozen at the infamous Macleay Street drinking establishment, the Bourbon and Beefsteak.

Honestly, why wouldn’t you want to be a cop? You just get to hang out with your mates and drink all day! In order to avoid jail time however one of these cops, Trevor Haken, ‘rolled over’ as they say, which was a pretty big get for the Commission. Haken’s car was fitted out with surveillance in which he captured evidence of senior detectives accepting bribes. Haken’s evidence was crucial in spurring the Commission on, a Commission which attacked all sides of the force in an attempt to break down the code of silence which prevailed. The Wood Commission found evidence of:

process corruption; gratuities and improper associations; substance abuse; fraudulent practices; assaults and abuse of police powers; prosecution— compromise or favourable treatment; theft and extortion; protection of the drug trade; protection of club and vice operators; protection of gaming and betting interests; drug trafficking; interference with internal investigations, and the code of silence; and other circumstances suggestive of corruption.

This is summed up in the catchphrase of the report: a ‘state of systemic and entrenched corruption’. Why is this interesting in relation to sex worker laws? When I first started reading about sex laws in NSW I looked at gender studies and sexual citizenship, I assumed it was something couched in the shifting political scene and second wave feminism and indeed there is an argument to this. But essentially the progressive laws that sex workers are so proud of here in NSW were not made with their best interests in mind. They were made to limit further possibilities of corruption within the police force. If prostitution is legal then it reduces the opportunity for officers to accept and enforce a ‘taxing’ system.

In 2015, the state government flirted with the idea of a new licensing system for the sex industry. The system would have appointed the police as regulators of the industry, a scary proposal for those who can remember the 90s and/or what happened on Underbelly. Touching Base, The Scarlet Alliance and Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP) fought this hard. They argued that the threat of regulation would result in brothels and workers heading underground, making health and education services harder to access. It would also jeopardise the safety of workers by shifting the nature of their relationship to the police, they would no longer feel safe to seek police assistance in times of need. And it would, of course, increase the opportunity for corruption. In May 2016 the government elected against the licensing system in NSW, reasoning that the proposal would incentivise non-compliance and would be of high cost to the government themselves.

NB: I have the utmost respect for the police and sex workers alike. I think they’re both great! And this is in no way an extensive review of the Wood Royal Commission which is in and of itself fascinating. This post could have gone on for days. I recommend having a google of it if you’re that way inclined.


Photo by Tracey Trompf from

This past week we were again very fortunate to have Catherine Freyne (pictured) as our guest speaker to talk about ways of presenting the past. We couldn’t have got a better speaker on this topic. Catherine is an award-winning historian and media producer who specialises in 20th century urban, social and oral history. She has developed multimedia history content for the City of Sydney, ABC Radio National, ABC Innovation, Think+DO Tank and the Dictionary of Sydney.

Catherine is particularly well known for her work on the ground-breaking Hindsight documentaries at ABC Radio National ( But she has also worked on 80 Days that Changed Our Lives ( and Against The Tide: A Highway West ( For her work in radio, Catherine has received two NSW Premier’s History Awards – a remarkable achievement by any standard.

Since we spoke with her last year, Catherine has started a creative practice PhD in history and journalism at UTS, where she also holds a prestigious Chancellor’s Research Scholarship. Like the poet Muriel Rukeyser, Catherine believes “the universe is made of stories, not atoms” and has a particular penchant for the true ones.

Catherine’s work exemplifies the power of stories. She talked to us about the many projects she has been involved with, and why she is so passionate about public history. She particularly engaged students with her explanation of how her team at the ABC recreated history on Pitt Street and in Hyde Park when making the Hindsight program, Good Sex: The Confessions and Campaigns of W.J. Chidley (, and also raised the bar on thinking of good public history apps when talking about the Against the Tide project which is still in development and which Catherine contributed to in 2014. The app allows users travelling along the Parramatta River on the Rivercat to make choices about what kinds of histories they are interested in, and hear of the experiences of different groups of people in different voices.

Catherine responded engagingly to students’ questions about how to get the balance right between “important” history and “interesting” history, and told us of her sense of history as political both in giving voice to the marginal and marginalized, but also as giving us a richer sense of the present, emphasising history as a process of sharing. She also talked about the need to think about different formats for showcasing different kinds of sources, and how the digital age allows us to add yet another layer to the landscape of places like the City, noting the importance of thinking about the depth of history in any one place. Catherine talked about the archives of the ABC, and the City of Sydney and great examples of public history.

Though she lamented the end of Hindsight, she also noted that students should tune in to Earshot, Radio National's new general documentary slot which still broadcasts history features each week ( Catherine also told students that if they had a good ideas that might fit the program, to contact her and she might be able to help develop and pitch the idea to Radio National.

Following on from Catherine’s talk, we had a workshop on the problems and challenges that students were facing in getting their project designs off the ground. These ranged from the need for some technical advice, to dealing with creative differences and emphases between themselves and the organisations with whom they were working. While we couldn’t always come up with clear and easy answers, students learned to appreciate that there might be ways to work around some of these problems.

We also returned project proposals. Students were asked to outline their work with their chosen organisations and sketch out their ideas for their major project that has grown from that work. These proposals were a treat to read and mark. Like last year, the work students have been doing with their community-partners has been diverse, and in most cases been extremely important, fascinating, and often heart-warming (you can glean some of this through the blogposts by students on this site).
Their reflections on this work and how they plan to approach the major project were also thoughtful, creative, and provoking, and reflected a real engagement with the work they were doing, and the groups with whom they were working.

Congratulations go out to Keith Stael, who received his PhD in September, 2016.

Keith worked with Professor Chris Hilliard. His thesis was on the early intellectual development of Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman from 1930-1960. Looking at Martin’s education and work in the 1920s especially, the thesis sets out to understand the political and social context in which Martin began his career, and the experiences and circumstances that undergirded his later influential role. The examiners praised the thesis for its analysis and “deep contextualization of an important intellectual during a mostly overlooked period in his life.” “The scholarship is careful, the writing is clear, and Mr. Stael writes authoritatively and convincingly.”

Congratulations to Dr. Stael for this great achievement!

By Teresa Singh

This week I followed a lead for my exhibition to the Trades Hall labor museum in Haymarket. As I was walking there through the fringes of China town, past retail stores and office buildings I almost missed the entry twice. Shouldered between a Glue store and a high rise sits a historic building, once a bustling unionist headquarters, a place where the ‘8 hour day’ was literally won, where the first industry guilds hung their banners… and now?

I walked around the empty museum mystified. My guides voice drifting in and out, the picture of trade unionism himself; I envisioned the room as it initially was in the 1800’s. Long tables filled with intellectuals, anarchists, disgruntled workers…the ‘buzzing proletariat’ for whom, someone as fond of Russian history as I am, has an irrevocable affection for.

Their collection on anti-conscription was kept in a corner swarmed by the banners they had assembled “don’t conscript our daddies”, “no more conscripts” and the moniker which brought me here “Save our sons”. When I asked my guide how it was they came by these signs, some of which were over 100 years old, having been used in the petitions against conscription in WW1, he said many were found in junk stores – on their way to the tip. I was visibly shocked, it was to be the theme of the day.

We began to move off topic from anti-conscription efforts, to the nature of the institution itself. Its own history providing hours of conversation. Neale and his colleague sighed, the funding of this precious site was virtually non-existent, and developers had already bought out a significant part of the building, which had survived since the early 1870’s. They conceded they had taken to buying certain items together, in order to spare them from disposal. The same tragedy almost befell their library. This library was a small room lined floor to ceiling with glass cases full of 19th century books, truly unbelievable relics. This collection was the work of the original Trades hall occupants, determined to create a body of literature which would educate the working class they devoted their lives to. I climbed up ladders to classical anthropological texts I myself recognised from my studies at Uni. A sea of worn and tattered time capsules stacked the cases…Darwin’s social theories, totemism, the American Revolution, poetry, ancient encyclopedias. The collection was a testament to the pioneers of the institute. I drank in their century-old literary choices; confident it did educate, confident it did now. I had never seen books this old in mere shelves, not displayed in glass boxes or guarded with airport level security such as those at the state library.

The idea that a room filled with classic texts this precious was threatened with dismantling seemed impossible. But indeed they had only just succeeded in saving it. ‘State and Federal significance’ is the way he phrased it, with many other beautiful Trade Halls Australia-wide having their libraries dismantled and contents disappearing, it was one of a few of its kind left.

Who did OWN these? Does anyone come here and help in the preservation of this important, priceless collection? No, he replied, they do what they can with the display and have a paper restorer on staff that volunteers her services but funding has not made its way to the trades Hall yet, they seemed doubtful it ever would.

When leaving the museum with copies of the material from the display and banners etc. I was again struck by their incredible willingness to share, their eagerness to lend me original items and their obvious joy in sharing union history. Stewardship over the past was entirely absent. Union history was, all at once, theirs to protect, share and impart. It was mine to take and repurpose in a peacemaking exhibition as I pleased. It dawned on me as I walked out, the building may be changed or come under attack, but as long as men with as great a passion for what it represents, remain, this history can never truly be endangered.

A thinly veiled Simpsons reference to kick off my blog, but the question stands; who is thinking of the children? The Surf Clubs are and have been since they were formed. The system before nippers became a part of SLS NSW, was that local kids would be scouted from the Queenscliff Ocean pool swim team (Dannie being one of them) at the age of 14.

The current system at most surf clubs and Queenscliff is the nippers that has children from as young as 5 or 6 running up and down the beaches on a Saturday or Sunday morning. As a more senior member Dannie states in a very relaxed interview I held with him on a sunny morning down at the clubhouse, “God the kids have it easy these days, but they still complain. It’s hard and they don’t have the energy to get themselves into trouble on the weekend… that’s how we had it and it kept me out of trouble. It works.”

In the same discussion with both Dannie and Dave (old hands at the club) the theme that it was harder in their day was brilliant. The message they really wanted to get across to me however was that the club is good for the kids. It kept them out of trouble, it kept Dannie’s kids out of trouble (*he hopes) and they think it keeps kids good. Why wouldn’t it. Training throughout the week, then up early on the weekends patrolling or competing. It is this community engagement element that has drawn my attention recently and is what I plan to focus on.

Expanding on the military connection I have found out from talking to club members, that emergency services is in many cases an obvious career path that follows growing up around the club. Dannie himself became a Police Officer and he reels off a list of other men that went from teenagers in the club to various emergency services positions. This is not to say that they all do, but the regime and training of lifesaving lends its self to a more formal career path.

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