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History Beyond the Classroom HSTY 3902

“Forget academic history. Go out there, get alongside an organisation, listen to them, and co-construct a public history with them.”

If I were to synthesise the mantra of this unit of study to a lay person, this is how I’d go about it. In fact, when I shared it with people in my life, I’d usually start with “Screw academic history”. Perhaps this is a crude articulation of a more complex and thoughtful unit of study on engaging with ‘History Beyond the Classroom’. However, I think it aptly depicts the jarring provocation and passion that drove a group of 30-odd history students to shift their frames of reference and stretch their conceptualisation of history.

Through working with Parliament on King this semester, I have learnt that public history is a dynamic process that fluctuates and evolves, as the historian and the organisation seek to authentically collaborate and co-construct a shared history for the public. Through engaging with oral history at Parliament on King, I have learnt that the historian needs to throw away the notion of agenda-driven productivity, and take time to build relationships, listen, ask questions and be present. This project is significant as it complicates a linear and static depiction of history or way of remembering, which can so often dominate historical accounts, as it provides an alternative emphasis on experience, stories and narrative. The hope is that this podcast will provide a small scale, experiential representation of Parliament’s public history, rather than merely a linear depiction of Parliament’s historical timeline.

Parliament on King, myself as the student researcher and oral historian, and the wider community are likely to benefit from this project. Lorina Barker acknowledges that in trying to learn about other people’s ‘connections and disconnections to place’, the historian begins ‘their own journey of rediscovery and reconnection’. This reveals the mutual benefit of oral history and equalises the power dynamics that exist in the collection of oral histories, as both parties are recognised as learning, sharing and discovering. This is my hope for this project.

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Born and raised in Western Sydney, you could say I was a true, proud Westerner. Attending school in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney, I was exposed to complete opposite sides of Sydney, yet was always drawn to the West. My heart. My home. Even attending the University of Sydney, where a large percentage of students come from North Sydney, I had always been identified as the segregated Westerner so when the opportunity came along for me to create, design and direct my own project, it was inevitable I wanted to work within the suburb I love and am so passionate about.

I ran into more than the usual bumps along the journey of finding an organisation. I had little to no luck, with one organisation who originally gave me a positive answer initially pulling out at the 11th hour...I was in tears...literally. I sat in class in week 7 and heard the chitter chatter of my colleagues boasting about their organisation and how "amazing" they were and they were almost done and here I was, back to square one. My search began again. Exhausted, running on no sleep, I contacted as many organisations as I could and, just like that, the Parramatta Heritage Centre waltzed in and saved me from drowning in my own tears...literally.

The Parramatta Heritage Centre, located in the heart of Parramatta, houses thousands of photos, letters, articles, journals, artefacts, memorabilia and writings from convict Parramatta to current times. It allows the public to visit, view and learn about all sources within the centre, 7 days a week. I was quite shocked that a heritage centre was open 7 days a week. It truly shows that it caters to families, including working parents. To me, that's extremely important as centres like this should be accessible to everyone, during weekdays and weekends.

First day seeing all the sources they had and I was thrown into a huge pot of CONFUSION. It was hard enough I had no idea what to do for my project, but I had a plethora of sources to choose from that it made me stress out even more. Being a natural stress head and a perfect perfectionist, I knew right then and there that I was in for a fun ride.

I met with the archivist and curator of the centre, who were both so welcoming of me and my ideas. I wasn't sure who was more excited about our collaboration, me or them! Although I wanted to do something within the centre itself, it already had an established website and presence within the Parramatta community. So, I sent my brain on yet another intense brain storm and a huge light bulb lit up! I wanted to use the sources that the Parramatta Heritage Centre has to present the Western Suburbs of Sydney and all it has to offer. How I'm going to present this info and what i'm going to present is still way up on cloud 9 at the moment but the ladies at the centre have been so helpful in bouncing ideas off me when I'm going off on a ramble. I was, also, thinking of doing a "Then & Now" website that shows the progression of the city and how far it's come. This can also be something that I can add on in the future or pass down and future generations can add to it. Hopeful thinking but never say never!

Despite the challenges involved with working with an organisation that is already established in the city, I look forward to working with people who have extensive knowledge and stories about the city and the sources they look over. Daily visits to the centre will assist me in my project and move further along to completion.


“It’s finished, it’s submitted, now relax” – A few short words from my proud grandmother upon the completion of my final project for the unit, ‘History beyond the Classroom’. It is hard to believe that after more than three months of hard work, my walking tour and the accompanying brochure, website and Facebook page are all finished – at least for now.

The response to the Alison Road Walking Tour has been unfathomable. I announced the official launch of the tour just over a day ago and I have received so much positive feedback that it is almost overwhelming. In just one day, the Facebook page for the walking tour received more than fifty likes and this number continues to grow daily. My status on my own account also received more than one hundred likes and thirty comments. From this, I have received several requests to conduct guided tours of Alison Road, which I have readily agreed to do. Next year, I will be returning to my old high school to take the senior modern history students on the tour myself. I cannot wait to share everything that I have learned throughout the project with those that share my passion.

Beyond this, the tour has already reached a far greater audience than I ever anticipated. The page has been shared several times, including most notably by the Wyong Family History Group, Wyong Photos and Chit Chat and the NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies Inc. I am so honoured and proud to see my work promoted and endorsed by these organisations. It gives me real hope that Alison Road Walking Tour can be developed into something more than just a university project. I have many plans for the tour and I cannot wait to carry them out!

Finally, I have to be honest and admit that it is a bittersweet feeling to be finished. One the one hand, I am proud to see the final result of all the work I have done over the past few months, while on the other hand, I am reluctant to finish such an engaging and ground-breaking unit. ‘History beyond the Classroom’ is like no other unit I have studied at university. It has not only changed my approach to the study of history but also influenced the way in which I will teach the subject to my students as a future teacher!

The last time I read my local paper was… well, I can’t exactly recall. The Parramatta Sun arrives on my doorstep (or somewhere in the general vicinity – usually in a gutter or wedged under a car wheel) on a semi-regular basis, and yet it is only on the rare occasion where I feel like an easy Sudoku ‘challenge’ that I have a flip through its pages. Like most millennials, I get my news online, and in a globalising world, local news appears to be losing relevance. If you were to ask me who any of the contributors to my local paper were, or which section was my preferred read, I would not know what to tell you.

If you were to ask me the same about the Auburn Review, my answers may be a little different. After sifting through every edition of Auburn’s local paper over the past thirty years you’d certainly hope so. As part of my project, which looks into the history of the Auburn Youth Centre, I spent countless hours flicking through the yellowing pages of the Auburn Review in search for anything and everything I could find about the community organisation.

At first, my reading of these papers seemed to conjure more questions than answers.

How does a journalist manage to recycle the same story about footpath improvements over several years?
Is every front page article from 1988 going to be about syringes?
Why is Auburn Baseball Club pleading for ladies to enter their ‘lovely legs competition’? What is a lovely legs competition?
Did the Community Improvement Association realise their acronym would be CIA? Is that why they picked it?

And yet, the real question on my mind was: How did the Auburn Youth Centre feature in the local community - why was it so important for the local youth to have access to this organisation, and how did it benefit their lives?

Although my peripheral questions may forever remain an enigma, the answers I craved were there in the bound editions of the Auburn Review. Looking through the entire issue of the paper really gave an insight into the character of the community. I couldn’t ‘Ctrl+F’ ‘Youth Centre’ like in a digital edition (although my eyes may have developed a sharp radar for locating the words manually), but the lengthy process which resulted was entirely worth it.

The papers revealed so much about the needs of the Community. Certain themes were consistently brought up, and helped to establish context beyond the advertised offer of the centre. I was able to see for myself that Auburn Youth Centre was genuinely needed in the community. Prior to its establishment, there were few affordable activities available for teenagers in the area. Youth surveys and investigations showcased the issues which were at the forefront for Auburn youth: unemployment, substance abuse, boredom, and absence of a platform to voice their needs. The initiatives of the Auburn Youth Centre directly responded to these needs, and it became a valuable asset to the community. Coverage of the operations of the organisation by the local paper, in combination with an outlook over just how well AYC services corresponded to the needs of the community, show that the Auburn Youth Centre consistently provided an indispensable service to local youth.

There is so much to be learnt about the workings and character of a community just by reading the local publications - my research into AYC has shown me that. It has also encouraged me to become more interested in my own local community. The next time I find a soggy copy of the Parramatta Sun resting on my driveway, I will have a read through it to become an expert in my own local history – before it becomes history.

The history of ice rinks and ice skating in Australia is not that long due to Australia’s climate and weather. The first official dates for the start of ice skating in Australia is 1904. In September 1904, the first artificial ice skating rink “the Glaciarium” opened in Adelaide, South Australia. There have been un-supported reports of a Sydney rink on Pitt Street in the late 1870s-early 1880s, which research has not been able to corroborate. The Glaciarium in Adelaide was only open for about a year and today is the home of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Newman Reid was said to be a pioneer of national ice sports and the founder of ice hockey in Australia. Reid was born in 1862 in Rochester, Kent. He was apart of the entrepreneurial syndicate that established the first ice rink in Australia, the Adelaide Glaciarium in 1904. Reid’s syndicates then went on to build the first ice rinks in Melbourne 1906 and Sydney 1907. “His world-class facilities for figure skating, speed skating and ice hockey were built with venture capital over a century ago and produced the first two generations of National ice champions, and many others who represented Australia at Olympic and World Championships”.

Mr. Dunbar Poole, a Scot, arrived in Adelaide around 1903 to find a group of like minded people interested in ice skating. This included future manager Newman Reid. They opened the rink in Adelaide in a building formerly used as cyclorama with the refrigeration being piped many metres from an ice works down the street.


The Sunday times newspaper article from July, 1907 introduces the first Sydney Glaciarium. The article states that ice skating is now not limited to those in “chilly districts”. A Sydney Morning Herald article from later that month also speaks of the Sydney Glacirarium opening. This article describes the rink below;

“Skating on the frozen lake to an Englishman is a pleasant and healthful exercise, but it is a pastime that is not easily obtainable in sunny Now South Wales, especially in the busy thoroughfares of a city like Sydney. Consequently in introducing ice skating to this city the management of the Glaclarium hopes to awaken pleasant memories in the minds of those who have previously skated in the fens of the motherland, and at the same time to raise a keen interest in this pastime in the minds of the people of Sydney who up to the present have known no other method than that of roller skating.”

Sydney Glaciarium

The timeline below shows some of the ice rinks operating in Australia prior to the 1970s. All Ice Rinks opened prior to the 1970s are closed, leaving Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink, the longest running ice rink in Australia. It opened it 1971, and will soon be celebrating its 50 year anniversary.

1904-1908 Adelaide Glaciarium
1906-1923 Melbourne Glaciarium
1907-1955 Sydney Glaciarium
1938-1951 Ice Palais - Sydney Showground
1939-1981 St Moritz Ice Rink - Melbourne
1949-1955 Perth Ice Palais
1959-1996/7 Prince Alfred Park ice skating rink - Sydney
1960-1963 Bondi Junction Ice Rink
1963-late 1970s Hindley Street Ice Skating Rink - Adelaide
1963-1982 Premier Ice Rink - Perth
1964-1969 Burwood Glaciarium


The development and presentation of 'Eryldene', firstly as a home and now as a museum, may be better understood through an examination of the artistic and academic circles in which Professor Waterhouse worked and acted.

The evidence for my research was diverse both geographically and as to type. My focus was on two distinct areas of artistic endeavour, namely the Burdekin House Exhibition in 1929 and Professor Waterhouse’s role as Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. As a result, my initial enquiries sought to uncover material that was directly relevant to these two areas and searched the following:

1. The Caroline Simpson Library of Sydney Living Museums
2. The Art Gallery of New South Wales
3. The archives of the University of Sydney and the Sydney Teachers’ College
4. The Macleay Museum of the University of Sydney
5. The personal records of Janet Waterhouse, now with the State Library of New South Wales, and
6. The archives kept by the Eryldene Trust itself.

Secondary sources include monographs of a number of artists who were part of Professor Waterhouse’s circle of friends, including Lionel Lindsay, Thea Proctor, Hera Roberts, Roy de Maistre and William Dobell as well as colleagues from the University of Sydney, namely Leslie Wilkinson and Arthur Sadler.

My aim in completing this project is to arm volunteer guides with little-known information concerning an area of the life of Professor Waterhouse and thus enable a fresh approach to their expositions. Beyond this initial phase, I intend to continue my research to determine whether an exhibition might be mounted on this theme to encourage a higher level of visitations to the property. From my time spent at open weekends this semester, it appears to me that local history, an interest in gardens and interest in the aesthetic connection with China and Japan are the principal reasons for visits to ‘Eryldene’. The ‘Circle of Friends’ theme would hopefully expand this group.

My review of a number of archives and specifically my research into the Burdekin House Exhibition have had significant results. Professor Waterhouse is chiefly remembered for his work in the cultivation of the species camellia and garden design generally: in this regard his work in fostering ties with China and Japan was of continuing significance. However this work was primarily carried out in his retirement, so that his earlier endeavours in education and his connections to the Sydney art scene in the early years of the twentieth century have largely been ignored. Bringing this aspect of his work to light will provide a more rounded view of his life and achievements for visitors to ‘Eryldene’ and generally.

Secondly, the provenance of a number of objects held within the ‘Eryldene’ collection has been altered. Three paintings held in the collection had been recorded as having been purchased at the Burdekin House Exhibition due to labels on the back of their frames. My research has found that items were not sold from this exhibition; rather that individuals such as Professor Waterhouse lent furniture and objects for display. My further research has found that a number of those items were purchased by Waterhouse at an auction of property owned by William Hardy Wilson in 1922. Proper attribution of objects is critical to understanding heritage and is of particular consequence at ‘Eryldene’ due to the inclusion of furnishings within the state government ‘Statement of Significance’.

The findings which have resulted from my research are a foundation for further work to be done in relation to the early life of Professor Waterhouse. It is my intention to utilize my research as the foundation for comprehensive guides to the history and assessment of the objects and furnishings in each room at ‘Eryldene’ and to work towards the presentation of an exhibition which has as its theme the ‘Circle of Friends’ at the heart of this project.

During the research stage of my project I was confronted with a situation regarding archives which I think would be fairly typical in community history organisations.


Where is the line between community history and community action? And is this distinction ultimately important, or does it create a false dichotomy between academia and community organisations?


As I’m completing my final project, an online collection of images and objects, and looking back on my notes from the beginning of my work with my organisation, I wanted to use this chance to reflect on those initial experiences. I began working with Wesley College, one of the residential colleges at the University of Sydney, offering to do some work digitizing their archives. When suggesting this to the Director of Programs at the college, I was met with a knowing look and an enthusiastic all clear to go ahead. In retrospect, I should have known.

The “archive” I was led to comprised of a spacious and well-lit cupboard in the newly renovated part of the building. So far, so good. Looking inside however, I found it filled from floor to ceiling with boxes, piles of loose papers and photos slipping haphazardly onto the floor out of overflowing crates, with no discernable order or system. It seemed my task had evolved from the simple digitization of an existing archive to trying to establish some sort of organizational system.

This task has truly exemplified the phrase “easier said than done”. The main challenge I have faced is the sheer quantity of material. Wesley was established in 1917 and student enrollment and academic records, yearly ledgers, photographs of every shape and size, student magazines and countless other records have been (albeit sometimes sporadically) kept and now reside in this room. These often include duplicates or more multiples (up to 50 copies in some cases). Furthermore, the continual shifting of these records has led to damage of some of the oldest books, photographs and files. With my complete lack of skill and experience dealing with old objects, all I could do is try to be as gentle as possible.

Despite this, in sifting through the masses, fascinating nuggets of history have fallen into my hands. The initial appeal of being the first to look at these sources in a historical had almost faded (after ten hours) until suddenly, in sorting through a pile of photos, the face of an 18 year old Rob Carlton (who I had seen on TV playing Kerry Packer) in a debating photo, brought back the interest and excitement. So did seeing the eyes of a close friend stare back at me from the face of her grandfather in the Rugby First XV of 1947. Even reading a memo from the matron in 1965 requesting teaspoons be returned to the dining hall, in the same week as current students of Wesley received a Facebook notification asking them to search for and return missing cups taken at mealtimes had the same effect.

Indeed, the stark digitization of the current Wesley experience, and that which I had discovered in the paper trails of earlier years, was one of the significant things I’ve taken from the experience. The relative lack of photos and records since 2000, after the overload of tangible documentation from previous years, is kind of disappointing. I began to question whether I should be digitizing old sources, or ensuring recent years are physically documented in this room. I think I went archive crazy.

Looking back on the process, I couldn’t imagine trying to do my final project without doing the organizational tasks. Instead of trying to find sources for my final project, I was now simply selecting from the abundance of potential sources I had. I have in no way even approached a satisfactory completion of the task of organizing the archives, however in discussion with the college, I hope to continue this work next year.

As I’m completing my final project, an online collection of images and objects, and looking back on my notes from the beginning of my work with my organisation, I wanted to use this chance to reflect on those initial experiences. I began working with Wesley College, one of the residential colleges at the University of Sydney, offering to do some work digitizing their archives. When suggesting this to the Director of Programs at the college, I was met with a knowing look and an enthusiastic all clear to go ahead. In retrospect, I should have known.

The “archive” I was led to comprised of a spacious and well-lit cupboard in the newly renovated part of the building. So far, so good. Looking inside however, I found it filled from floor to ceiling with boxes, piles of loose papers and photos slipping haphazardly onto the floor out of overflowing crates, with no discernable order or system. It seemed my task had evolved from the simple digitization of an existing archive to trying to establish some sort of organizational system.

This task has truly exemplified the phrase “easier said than done”. The main challenge I have faced is the sheer quantity of material. Wesley was established in 1917 and student enrollment and academic records, yearly ledgers, photographs of every shape and size, student magazines and countless other records have been (albeit sometimes sporadically) kept and now reside in this room. These often include duplicates or more multiples (up to 50 copies in some cases). Furthermore, the continual shifting of these records has led to damage of some of the oldest books, photographs and files. With my complete lack of skill and experience dealing with old objects, all I could do is try to be as gentle as possible.

Despite this, in sifting through the masses, fascinating nuggets of history have fallen into my hands. The initial appeal of being the first to look at these sources in a historical had almost faded (after ten hours) until suddenly, in sorting through a pile of photos, the face of an 18 year old Rob Carlton (who I had seen on TV playing Kerry Packer) in a debating photo, brought back the interest and excitement. So did seeing the eyes of a close friend stare back at me from the face of her grandfather in the Rugby First XV of 1947. Even reading a memo from the matron in 1965 requesting teaspoons be returned to the dining hall, in the same week as current students of Wesley received a Facebook notification asking them to search for and return missing cups taken at mealtimes had the same effect.

Indeed, the stark digitization of the current Wesley experience, and that which I had discovered in the paper trails of earlier years, was one of the significant things I’ve taken from the experience. The relative lack of photos and records since 2000, after the overload of tangible documentation from previous years, is kind of disappointing. I began to question whether I should be digitizing old sources, or ensuring recent years are physically documented in this room. I think I went archive crazy.

Looking back on the process, I couldn’t imagine trying to do my final project without doing the organizational tasks. Instead of trying to find sources for my final project, I was now simply selecting from the abundance of potential sources I had. I have in no way even approached a satisfactory completion of the task of organizing the archives, however in discussion with the college, I hope to continue this work next year.

We are all students of history because, assumingly, we each have a passion for learning about the past in order to consider how it can and will impact on the future. In our many and varied history subjects, we have gained insight into historical events and historiographical debates and continuously attempted ‘to develop original insight’ into a given topic. While I am still doubtful as to whether any of my claims regarding World War 2 were ‘original’ given the breadth of academic intrigue on this subject, my professors were always encouraging which further nurtured the passion I have for history. History: Beyond the Classroom, however, has, in the subtlest and cleverest of ways, forced ‘original insight’ because we were to complete a task that has never been completed before for a community group, many of which it seems, have had sporadic attempts at constructing historical narratives. The brilliance of HSTY3902 is that we are given the freedom to entirely develop ‘original insight’ and as such I honestly feel I am a more complete student of history as a result of the work I have completed for my community group, Cooma Little Theatre.

As I discussed with last year’s History: Beyond the Classroom student, Natalie Leung, I went into this subject in the same way I approach any research project: I wanted to find something in the history of my organisation that would lend itself to developing a interesting discussion. I wanted to “re-write the history of my organization”, exposing the features that would make it interesting to the wider community. Regrettably, what I failed to realise at the outset was that it is exactly what my community group has been dedicated to for 60 years that provides the most interesting and compelling argument I could ever hope to develop. Each production of the Cooma Little Theatre’s past 60 years tells a story and when combined together, they create a history.

I therefore chose to digitally archive the posters and programs from the theatre’s sixty thriving, theatrical years. With every hour that I’ve dedicated to finding, scanning, editing, uploading and cataloguing, I’ve increasingly become more and more aware of the many histories this seemingly simplistic task creates. By looking at these visual sources, not only can you appreciate the multitude of productions performed but one can also see how technology has advanced, how advertising has increased, how cast members have change, how productions have varied and how, at a simplistic level, Cooma Little Theatre has continually remained a central entertainment facility for Snowy audiences in spite of changes in the makeup of the town. Indeed the benefit of completing this project is for me, to give back to the place that has given my family so much enjoyment. But more than this, this project will hopefully bring together past, present and future members of the theatre as they will each be able to visually appreciate the magnitude of the theatre’s achievements. The community of the Cooma Little Theatre expands across Australia and throughout the world and so the choice to use the website to display this history is to enable every member of our far-reaching community to access the site, spark a sense of nostalgia and remember ‘the good-times’ fondly.

I admit, I went into this assignment with the wrong attitude because I was blinded by the expectation to ‘develop original insight’. Little did I realise that the original insight I was so desperately looking for could be found in the most celebrated part of the theatre’s history. History: Beyond The Classroom has led me to look at research in a different light, to focus on the task rather than the product and to concentrate on achieving something that is bigger than just a university mark.

As the semester draws to a close and we prepare to submit the final assessment of our degrees, I think it’s important to reflect on what we’ve achieved and feel proud… We’ve looked ‘beyond the classroom’ and into the real world to find local history. And as we step into that real world, we should continue to appreciate the many histories that surround us every day.

Chookas HSTY3902!

On my last post I discussed the importance of an expansive view in regards to Australian history. I will be first to admit that I have, in the past, discarded the significance of Australian history. But now that’s history! In my last post I stressed the importance of accepting every aspect of the past as history, even the most mundane and innocuous details. History should not be viewed as series of dates on a page, rather it is something that people have lived. I think that’s the biggest take away from my community work and this course.

For the past few months I have been working with the Waverley Library and Council in their local studies department. The Waverley library has quite an extensive archive, especially regarding Bondi Beach and its surrounding suburbs, so it was a great experience to work within this format. My task was to document some materials that came from the Bondi Pavilion, and make accession numbers for them. The accession numbers are there so if other people want to locate the materials I archived, they locate the number, and then they can find the appropriate box in the archive room. Filing and documenting material may sound dull, but it was actually a really interactive and fun way to work with history.

One of the biggest things for me when dealing with these materials was that I was one of the first people to view these objects as having a shred of historical significance. Many of the materials were everyday objects that had just been piling up at the Bondi pavilion. Although this was extremely interesting it also made it difficult. As I was the first person to conceptualise these objects as historical artefacts, there was no real framework on how to view them, no past papers, no outlines. I had to personally decide what they meant. This in itself was extremely fun because I could ascribe what I thought was significant about it. This process that I undertook fits into the idea of appreciating everything from the past as important history. The materials I was archiving were posters, stamps and swimsuits from the turn of the century. These objects don’t seem that old but their utility obviously was. What’s more is that as time goes by their historical significance increases. Even now you can tell how dated the swimsuits are. Will they come back into fashion? Who knows.

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Above: This photo was on the tag of one of the swimsuits displaying what it looks like. photo credit Xavier May.

Since the completion of my archive work I have been consolidating the photos I took of the process, and been looking further into the archives to find more information about the contemporary history of Bondi. These archives mainly consist of newspaper clippings and council statements, but they have told me a lot about Bondi’s recent history. Recent redevelopment plans regarding the Bondi pavilion are highly controversial, but I have found this is not an isolated event. Roughly every twenty years the council has made an effort to reinvigorate the Pavilion. A lot of the newspaper clippings also debate the gentrification regarding Bondi. I have always thought that Bondi was a pretty affluent area, however I have discovered that it has a very grungy past. This has been a controversial point in the literature regarding re-development plans and expansive commercial ventures. The debate around gentrification and commercialism is still on going and so it is important to be aware of these problems. These examples show how history is not finite and how problems that were happening a few generations ago are still occurring. That is how public history can be useful, so people can be aware of what happened in their local past so they can better shape the future. I hope that my work in the archives enables others to learn more about Bondi and more importantly, their own history.

Considering that my project centers on a rugby league club, I thought I’d start off with one of the great sporting clichés. It’s almost hard to believe that in under a month our final projects will be revealed. I spent the last blog post giving a little bit of a background on why I undertook work with Wests Archives, so this one will be dedicated to the project itself. A detailed account of my trials and tribulations….

Like many of the students of Beyond the Classroom, I’ve found that my projects had meandered and molded as time has passed. Having now set my sights on producing a short film for the club, preparation work has been under way. Having actually never made a video before, I must admit that I am somewhat anxious. With shooting next Saturday, It’s going to be a really stretched to ensure that everything is organized and that the day runs as smoothly as possible. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed it becoming closer to the people involved throughout the organization. Founder of the club, Scott Morris has been so helpful in helping me organize the material for the project. Late night phone calls and rather rushed Facebook posts have meant that we have been able to gather enough support to get this video off the ground. I’ve included a few of the screenshots from the Facebook page for you guys to see below.

On the 5th of November, Scott has organized a jersey handout to coincide with the interviewing for the video. This should be really helpful in gauging some meaningful responses from members of the Fanatics. I’ll be asking questions about:
- What the club means to them as members of the Western Sydney Community. (Hopefully invoke some responses relating to class and ethnicity here)
- Why exactly it’s important to preserve the culture of the Rugby League Club.
- Why creating public history for the organization is helpful for their growth and sustainability.

I really hope to capture this kind of sentiments on camera. As the script progresses, I feel that it’s important to remember that I am writing history for other people. This is not a video about what this team means to me. But rather, why it plays such a pivotal role in the lives of those who breathe Magpies culture day in and day out. With over 3000 members, I encourage all of you to have a look at the group’s facebook page. I’ve included a link below to if any of you want to have a peek at the kinds of events and activities they get up to.

I think thats about everything I have to update you guys with. So I’ll leave you all with another sporting cliché that maybe everyone can use as life gets a little more stressful as deadlines emerge.

“Keep your eye on the ball..”


You don't always know where you're going, what you're looking for or what you'll end up with, but even more so, it's sometimes hard to stop looking! It's an exhilarating, ironically non linear 'choose your own' adventure where anything could happen, so many tracks to go down. You go on tangents and find things you never expected to, or wild goose chases where nothing turns up. Sometimes records are missing or literally eaten by rats, or a perhaps a paper shortage! But how fabulous is that! The gaps keep you coming back, it's a thirst for the whole picture. You get to know the ‘characters’, imagine their lives, feel a strange connection and a sense of responsibility to finish what you started. I am doing a history of ordinary people, who lived in a ordinary house, but ordinary for me is what makes this type of history so exciting. Anyone can become history and anyone can find it. History is part of family life, the community, the future.

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(Certificate of Title: Henry Wardrope 1910 Vol 2102 Fol 117 )

Mr and Mrs Wardrope are my centre point from which my study spreads. This project spawned from an enquiry from their ancestor, their beautiful sepia portrait and their house between the old Town Hall and Blue Mountains Echo (later ‘Daily ‘paper). I still do not know the end result, but the experience has been invaluable. I feel attached to their story, even if it is not exceptional it serves as an insight to the lives of migrants, the experience of family and work in the early 20th century, the township of Katoomba and the legacy members make serving the community.

It is also an interesting look at the evolving urban environment. Still seen to be as a large Township, Katoomba has grown from a mining town, a touristic centre, a medical escape to a vibrant multicultural hub for all types of people and business still serving some of the functions it once did. A study of this property, the changing size and shape it took over time, the amalgamation, transformation and destruction serves as a larger analysis of the growth of settlements and urban expansion. Further, it is interesting to understand how history meets heritage and how a study of the people and places are key to preserving aspects of the past for our future. And while a car park stands there now and much of Katoomba has been reshaped since its earliest developments, respect of the past lived experience is crucial, even starting from the smallest house squeezed between two key buildings.

As I do not wish to give too much of the story away, I will leave you here, hopefully keen to learn more about the voyage of the Wardropes across the world to the unknown, settling in the inner west before finding their community in the Blue Mountains, about the agricultural to urban evolution from the first land grant to the car park for Civic video which stands there today. Local, small scale history is important as it is relatable, it as an unseen aspect of our past and past community members which have contributed to our lives today.

I remember hearing from other students from last year’s class speaking about how they chose their final project structure at the last minute, or changed their idea just in time to stress out completely. A common theme among them, though, was how proud they were of their final product.
As I heard these recounts, I thought (a little too smugly) that that was nice, but it didn’t apply to me and my organisational genius. I had picked out my organisation, I had organised a position and started volunteering every Friday at the library, and I was gathering research for a walking tour. I was set.

I didn’t account for the role that genuine interest plays in the history making process, or at least in the academic sphere. To be clear, I certainly did not dread my original project idea (which was to create an informative blog around the ‘Crime in Vaucluse’ walking tour that the Woollahra Library will give sometime in December), yet something was bugging me. I remember the multiple encouragements that Mike gave us that were along the lines of: make use of your skills, experiment with different modes of communication, and strangely enough… have fun with it! (I’m sorry, what?)

And for me personally, this is the act of writing. Without going into depths about my hopeful future in this practice, it is what I am drawn to again and again. I mentioned in my last blog about the difficulties I was facing in terms of imagining the human qualities and character behind Sir Henry Hayes (an Irish convict who set up Vaucluse House). I dove further into this interest, and narrowed my research to feature just Sir Henry. It seemed the more that I delved into his past, the more fascinated I was by the character he must have been. To lay out a few facts from the research I have gathered using the Woollahra Library Local History resources:

-Sir Henry Hayes was a Sheriff in Cork, who came from a wealthy manufacturing company. Around 1795, he became a widow with 7 children.

-Hayes abducted Mary Pike, a wealthy heiress. He showed little remorse of this act, and Mary Pike fled to England with her reputation in ruins.

-Hayes eventually turned himself in after two years on the run. Why did he do it? This question has been bugging me an insane amount!

- He paid for the best room money could by on board the Atlas, the convict ship heading for NSW.

- Immediately he showed a distaste for authority, becoming enemies with Governor King, and constantly being sent to other parts of the colony under suspicion of organising uprisings against English rule.

-He tried and failed (and tried again) to set up Australia’s first Freemason House and it is rumoured that he hosted the first legitimate Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at his home, Vaucluse House.

The list goes on, but most importantly I want to portray these facts (that are so often condensed to dates and places) to a wider audience that might be interested in this man through a different mode- that of narrative history.

I plan to create some diary entries with the first-person perspective of Sir Henry Hayes and post them to a blog site of my creation. Crucially, I will be basing all the facts upon historical evidence, and I will have links to the various primary or secondary sources that I have used to create the story. In this way, I plan to bring a different mode of interest to the biography of such an interesting character.

At the end of the day, I want people to possibly stumble across this account of Sir Henry and be intrigued enough to read on, to read the primary sources or visit the Vaucluse House. I have offered Woollahra Library the opportunity to draw attention to the project if they feel that it will increase interest in the historic site, and the historic man.

At the moment I am in the process of writing up the diary entries and putting them on the website. I have learnt so much during this process- from working out how to set out a website, to thinking about the best way to produce content in an original yet educational manner. I am swiftly realising that the balance between entertainment and historical education is a fine one, but I am enjoying having the freedom to choose how I want to present the story of this man.

I certainly didn’t take into account how long the research period would be. Thankfully the Woollahra Local History department had many wonderful, hard-cover books that gave me the majority of my information. This was good news too, as most of the scarce information on Sir Henry Hayes on the internet is either far too vague, or written by historically-minded writers who haven’t shown any evidence for their claims. Then came the time consuming task of writing these quotes up in a Word document, so that eventually I can paste quotes onto the site (with full referencing, obviously). This is all to ensure that I can say that a large portion of my work has been based on historical facts mentioned by previous publications.

Regardless of this work, it has been such an immersive and challenging experience that already is giving me a sense of pride in what has been made so far. I plan to continue this work after I hand in what I have written so far, because I am realising now that I will not be able to write all the diaries entries that sum up the long Convict-Career of Sir Henry Hayes. I suppose I fell into the trap of thinking I could do more than was realistic. Regardless, I still have a week(ish) until I have to hand in my project, so I hope to keep writing up until that point. I hope the end product reflects the time and effort I have put into it. All in all, I have learnt some genuine skills through this project, and it has been a rewarding task to try and create something that both meets the academic interests of my course, but also engages me as a writer and historian.

The semester had come to close and I have turned my focus from researching to presenting. I will be submitting two projects - a website and a video. Originally I intended to submit just the website, but after seeing the end product I decided it wasn't original or creative enough. Don't get me wrong, I think the website looks beautiful and serves the purpose of highlighting the fascinating lives of the old girls whom I researched and I hope the KOGU community will find it useful, but it wasn't enough. So I decided to create a video. A video which isn't really a documentary isn't really a movie and isn't an interview. I am not sure what to classify this video as, but I hope that will be the strength of it. I tried to create something that was a little unusual and different and I hope I have succeeded.

One of the major reasons I wanted to create something different is because I have found through my study of history, ancient and modern than the unusual and more original stories and presentation formats are often the ones most remembered. Today is the 11th of November - Remembrance Day. My knowledge of World War I is not great but there is one story which I love - the Christmas Truce story. The story goes that on Christmas Day 1914 the British and German troops on the Western Front called a cease fire for the day and played football in no-mans land. To be honest, I am not entirely sure that the story is true, but I think it is (or at least hope it is). Now I think the reason this story is so well known is because it is different and unique. In the constant history of war and hatred and opposition this one story of peace and kindness shines through. Throughout history there are many well-known anecdotes or stories that have been remembered and passed down and I think we have to ask ourselves why these stories are remembered and captivating whilst others are not. I think stories like these are especially important in local or community history because they have the ability to infect people's brains and be transmitted and become alive. Stories which are alive and captivating are so important in local history when the historian is always struggling against the tide of people interested in wars or revolutions and not the local swimming pool. I hope that my story and my presentation method can act like this and cut through to the people who will appreciate it the most.

As this session comes to a close, reflecting on what I have learned through this course seems like an appropriate idea to write about. The themes I think of when reflecting on this course are the concepts of public history, local research and community engagement. These three things are completely new to me and highlight just how much there is for me to learn at university and through history. Through learning these things this session, it expanded my outlook of my local and university community.

This learning experience has highlighted indigenous, local and community histories that I otherwise would not have known about. The stories and tales found through local research highlighted the need for public history and community engagement. A story that stands out to me is one of Alexander Berry (one of the founders of the town) who collected and exhibited indigenous skulls, both in Australia and Scotland. Through local research I found this story, through community engagement, I discovered the context of Alexander Berry, and through an analysis of public history, I was able to find a way to mold it into my work.

The recount of Alexander Berry's actions highlighted to me how discovering things through local research it is both interesting and relevant. The context and background that this gives to the history of the David Berry Hospital. I found a small detail can provide a context to the family and community. Through engaging with these themes, I found meaning in all we have learned this session and find I am much better able to negotiate all the information found during community engagement.

Historians are indoctrinated with the importance of dates and names from an early age. I can certainly still regurgitate the dates of significance from WWI and WWII along with names of high profile Nazi party members on demand (thank you very much HSC Modern History). For the majority of my undergraduate degree, most of my historical inquiry for essays and assessments has largely been sourced from secondary sources. So its unsurprising that it is now, when I have very little secondary sources to draw upon (except for the Local Studies gold mine at Dee Why Library) that I’m discovering just how difficult it often is making sense of the past.

My major project will take the form of ten blog posts about lesser known histories of the Northern Beaches. I came across the mention of Forestville Soldier’s Settlement in my early research, immediately intrigued, and jotted it down as a topic for one such blog post. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a very frustrating search for further information.

Inputting this exact name into Trove and Google returned very few results;

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My hopes of finally stumbling across a piece of Northern Beaches history that could be told in a fascinating narrative were slowly withering away. However, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge – so I started thinking and searching laterally. Thankfully, by skimming the similar results that Google provided, I gained my first clue. Forestville and Frenchs Forest appear to be used interchangeably in different excerpts.

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For those unfamiliar with the beautiful bushland suburbs north of The Bridge, Forestville and Frenchs Forest are two adjoining, but different, suburbs. This clearly hasn’t always been the case. James French was the first to settle most of this area and developed a timber industry, explaining ‘Frenchs Forest’. However, the soldiers’ settlement (an Australia-wide government initiative to provide farmland and, subsequently, livelihoods to soldiers’ returning from WWI) was actually within modern Forestville.

Given that I had now determined this particular soldiers’ settlement was located in Forestville, but potentially referred to as Frenchs Forest – I entered this into Trove and Google, crossed my fingers, and hit enter.
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JACKPOT. Not only did this bring up a wealth of sources to work with (even an entire book on the subject written by a local historian!), there was some juicy details involved. The land in this area was largely infertile, and the returned soldier’s felt particularly failed by the scheme – so they launched an inquiry that was bountifully covered by local and national newspapers.

Shakespeare's Romeo so famously asks; 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Well, he has a very valid point - tomayto, tomahto; Forestville Soldier's Settlement, Frenchs Forest Soldier's Settlement - different names for the same thing.

(Side note: the soldiers’ settlement scheme is itself very interesting and deserves an entire blog post or essay itself).

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“Vandalism”. “Disgraceful Condition”. “Apple of Discord”. “Neglected Dead”. “Vaults in Ruins”. “A City’s Disgrace”. These are just some of the phrases used over the decades in news headings to talk about Saint John’s Cemetery in Parramatta. From as early as 1868, newspapers were calling attention to threats on the cemetery, with accusations ranging from vandalism to neglect. For over a century, the call to take action, to remember their heritage and to look after the final resting place of some of Australia’s earliest European settlers has been spoken among Parramatta locals. For this cemetery ‘is an immensely significant site…due to its links to the history of the British Empire and world convict history’ (

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I began looking into the history of Saint John’s Cemetery in the media after receiving a news clipping from a fellow historical student (who now has her own unique, historical blog at titled “Save cemetery for the nation”. Written in August of 1970, this article depicts a pretty sad and beaten picture of the cemetery’s condition. ‘Whisky and rum bottles…lay in a tomb which had been attacked by vandals’ and ‘tangled weeds and blackberries hide some of the graves’. The article speaks of an appeal made by Bishop H. G. Begbie, the Bishop in Parramatta, to restore the cemetery. This appeal was supported by the cemetery Trust as well as members of the Parramatta Trust. The hope was for descendants of the people buried in Saint John’s cemetery to take action in the restoration and to add weight towards an appeal to the Federal and State governments, as well as to the Parramatta City Council, for annual grants for maintenance.

As suggested above, this call was not a new endeavour. The earliest mention of the state of the cemetery presented on the Saint John’s Cemetery website ( speaks of vandalism that had hit a number of churchyards, including Saint John’s Cemetery. This news clipping from 1868 spoke of youths plucking ‘flowers planted by bereaved relatives and friends’ and warned that ‘the perpetrators of such wanton outrages were liable by law to severe punishment’. The aim of this notice was to caution these youths of the consequences of such acts and hoped it would be enough to deter any subsequent vandalism. As the decades passed, Saint John’s Cemetery was described as being ‘in disgraceful condition’ and ‘so unsatisfactory as to give rise to much regret’, as well as being, ‘to a large degree, in all stages of neglect and decay’. Comments such as these continued to be issues worthy of news space up until 2015 (see Clarissa Bye’s article “Historic St John’s Cemetery at Parramatta in state of neglect”).

The site has finally taken a turn in recent months, however, as the Friends of Saint John’s Cemetery work alongside Parramatta locals to restore and preserve what is left of this history. Recent events have worked to spark new interest in the cemetery, especially among the local community. Lots of work has been and continues to be done. And it is paying off; the cemetery is now quite pleasant to visit. Restoration is not enough however, and the need for funding and the proper telling of its history continues to be a prominent issue. The Saint John’s Project is working to give voice to the numerous stories of those buried in the cemetery. New medians such as Facebook, Twitter etc., are used to call for helping hands and funding, but the call remains the same as what was displayed in newspapers all those years ago: “save the cemetery”.

What draws me to the issue of keeping some old cemetery tidy and presentable is the bigger issue that Australia has with its neglected history. A few years ago, I took a trip around Europe. I visited fourteen cities and towns in nine different countries and was overwhelmed by the amount of history that stood, plain as day, in every street. Everything from old buildings to tucked away museums to cobblestone roads, Europe’s vast and rich history is out in the open for anyone to see. While thousands of people travel to Europe every year to see its historical sites, few people realise how much Australia has to offer in this very department. There are more “plain as day” sites in Australia than even I realised until very recently.

Much of this is simply because Australia, and especially its government, is not taking advantage of its historical resources. Sites like Saint John’s Cemetery would easily be popular tourist sites in a place like Europe, yet here in Australia, its often left unknown to tourist and Australians alike. It is a living testament to some of Australia’s earliest European history and can be quite a sight to behold on a sunny spring day. Walking distance from Parramatta’s historic Female Factory (yet another neglected historical site) and the Old Government House, the cemetery ‘is one of the jewels in Parramatta’s heritage crown’ and sits in a rich, historical area ( With the right resources, such as access to walking tours, good historical maps, clear signage and descriptions, etc., this area could achieve a very similar experience to walking through some of the old towns in Europe. The call to “save the cemetery” is not just a call for local Parramattans, but should be a call to Australians everywhere to save the history of this nation.

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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.

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.

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.

Arriving at the Information Desk, I asked the librarian, “I’m doing a ‘history’ on Glenwood. What resources do you have?” I came in with no plan but with an open mind. Before this I began to open random filing cabinets in the library intrigued as to what random things I could find for this project, only to be looked at suspiciously by the librarian as if I was about ransack the place and mess up their archives. Nevertheless with the librarian having a willing heart, she searched the library database finding a sparing amount of news articles and images of a historic house within Glenwood. Initially I began to get concerned as I feared that there was a limited amount of resources available and I would have to widen the scope of the project, to make up for the short fall in information.

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Image 1: Proposed Street Plans of Glenwood (Landcom, 1994)

However there was a treasure trove to be found, opening up the padlocked filing cabinet under the manila folder files of Glenwood and Glenwood Schools. Maps, brochures and newspaper articles highlighted the initial developmental stages and designs of the suburb in the early 1990’s to mid-2000’s. Largely published by the developers of the site, Landcom, they promised that the suburb would become “one of the best locations in the west”, with sites of public reserves, shopping centres and transport connections within or in close vicinity of the area. Although largely utilised as a marketing tool, the brochures highlighted what buyers may be on the outlook for, particularly with its emphasis on a suburb where access to all necessities is a possibility.


Image 2: Landcom brochure advertising the proposed features and characteristics of Glenwood. (Landcom, 1994)

These resources largely gave me the foundational basis for this project, which is to focus upon the developmental progress of Glenwood from the early 1990’s to what it is now. However just after writing the previous sections of this blog, I’ll probably focus more upon from the early 1990’s to the mid 2000’s to limit the scope of the project, but also focus upon a time period where most residential development within Glenwood had occurred. I am hoping that many other resources come about and especially from the residents of Glenwood, who could hopefully open their own ‘filing cabinets’ and be able to share their collections of Glenwood’s developmental past.

My research project involves the history of the David Berry Hospital. I grew up in Shellharbour, a town twenty minutes away from Berry, and my mother worked at the hospital for many years. For this reason, it was an easy decision to investigate the hospital. Through my initial research, I found that the hospital has a rich indigenous history involving the care of women and children affected by the stolen generation. I also discovered that the Bomaderry Children's home (only another ten minutes from the hospital) was where these children were taken. The home was the biggest and first in the state, and if the children fell ill, they would be treated at the hospital.

The Bomaderry Children's home has been described as the "home of the stolen generation." If this is so, why have I never heard of it? I went to school half an hour away from the children’s home and was often at the hospital as my mother worked there for many years. Why was I never taught about the home or the treatment of children at the hospital in school? Or told by people in the town or at the hospital? This hidden history that no one seems to be teaching or talking about in the town is surprising to me. I am astonished that I was not taught this history or told of the indigenous suffering so close to where I live.

In class, we recently discussed the notion of history being a form of activism. Is this lack of history a form of political silence? Is it underlining a forgotten generation and an unwanted Australian history? Or is it simply something that has been overlooked accidently? Is it possible that it could accidently be ignored? While the Indigenous people in the area keep the history alive, many individuals have forgotten, or just do not know.

Similarly, the history wars highlight this issue and their effects are now seen in the education of Australia’s children. However, what is being taught to Australian children during the interim of these debates and the years taken in to organise curriculum and education tools for indigenous history. Should we wait until the debate is over? Will it ever be over? Can the history of the indigenous people who suffered in the Children's Home and were treated at the hospital be forgotten and ignored? Due to this debate is it, therefore, possible to write a balanced history of the home and the area?

From the ages of 8 to 15 I lived on Whale Beach - the second most northern beach in the formally Pittwater Council (now Northern Beaches Council I think?) – and I loved every minute of it. I was a cliché as a kid, jet blonde hair, year round tan and a love for a face full of salt water. The Surf clubs are the centre of these places. For me it was the Cabbage Tree Club down on Palm Beach along with the Packers, the Hewitt’s and Guy Sebastian for a brief period. As much as that is a name drop it brings up the point that everyone and anyone can be found in one of the 36 clubs dotted along Sydney’s coast. However, far and away the largest group among them is Military. There is an affinity between surf clubs and Military that fascinates me, why is it so tied together?

When I went for a visit down to Queenscliff SLSC on the same beach as two other thriving clubs, I was greeted by two former Australian defence force men. they walked me through the typically sandy and slightly damp bottom floor and led me up the stairs where I was greeted with tens of honour boards. The majority were for personal and club achievements and various awards won by the club or given out internally, and yet front and centre on the biggest wall was military service. By no means the longest list in the building with Queenscliff having a lot of success in national competition and yet, it took centre stage.
There is a sense of inevitability that this research will take me down a road of men rehashing their war stories to me and I would love to hear them, but I also want to go deeper as to the why. What is the appeal of a surf club to these men in particular?

I have no idea where this story will end up even as I read more and more I wonder if there is more to be found. I have been introduced to so many characters, from so many backgrounds and yet I keep coming back to military. Is it my favouritism toward military history or is it that Surf Life Saving Clubs have a natural affinity with former military men? all I know at the minute is that I keep meeting people of hero status, not is some Victorian Cross kind of way, but in a way that shows you how life should be and who you should be as a person. That has no historical impact in the grand schemes and yet I am beginning to see it as the fabric of history in community.

I have always enjoyed what I thought of as material culture in history, and through my history units so far have persistently been drawn to the study of objects, art, buildings – tangible things. From the decoding of erotic messages in medieval mirrors as gifts of courtly love, to the subtle political alliances that imbued 18th century court dress, the deciphering and interpreting of the stuff of a particular period, has always floated my academic boat.

This process of investigating and drawing inferences from material objects and tangible items, and using them as primary sources, has been somewhat complicated in my mind in this unit through the distinction between private and public history.
Rosenzweig and Thelen’s examination of people engaging with their private history every day through the use of family photo albums and heirlooms, but not necessarily viewing this process as “history” has intrigued me. In being told the story of my mother’s immigration to Australia, and looking at the “vintage” luggage tags from the three month journey, am I engaging in history or nostalgia? If I viewed luggage tags from the same era in the Immigration Museum of Melbourne, surely that counts as history?

On reflecting upon this question, I realised that to date, my university history studies have always have focused on periods and societies from at least two centuries ago, meaning I have never really had to consider this before. Of course a 16th century tapestry is a historical artifact, but what about the quilt that my mother was given by her aunts, and still sits on our couch at home?

One of our class speakers, Mark Dunn, inspired me with his inclusion of images and material objects (like advertisements) in a public history context, and the idea of curating the material culture of private individuals and establishments and presenting them for public consumption, is something I would love to further explore.

In her book Private Lives, Public History, Anna Clark explores the relationship between Australians and their heirlooms, family photographs and stories. In questioning whether “granny’s embroidery” is really history, and indeed, whether people feel more connected to these tangible familial memories than the history they learn in class, Clark has me wondering if my engagement in the objects themselves, is really the deciding factor. If I want to catalogue and display the luggage tags, to investigate the (somewhat horrid) 70’s style influences of the quilt, surely the question of whether it is an exercise in history, or nostalgia, doesn’t really matter.

‘Eryldene’: A Place for Stillness

The concept of a house museum, of freezing in time the domestic life enjoyed within a specific property, is one which gained traction in Australia in the late twentieth century. Significant homes in New South Wales were preserved and given protection by institutions such as the National Trust and the Historic Houses Trust, now Sydney Living Museums, to enable visitors to gain an enhanced understanding of different modes of domestic living over time. ‘Eryldene’, an historic house and garden at Gordon on Sydney’s North Shore, is an example of this impulse to interrogate history. The property is today owned and managed by the Eryldene Trust and is open to the public throughout the year.

‘Eryldene’ was the home of Professor E.G. Waterhouse and his family from its construction in 1914 until the death of Professor Waterhouse in 1977. The house, designed by William Hardy Wilson, is a fine example of colonial revival architectural style and is little altered from its original design. It retains much of its original furniture and art works and as such allows visitors an insight into the life of a privileged Sydney family in the first part of the twentieth century. The Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Sydney, Waterhouse was part of an educated elite which was central to the intellectual life of Sydney in the mid-twentieth century; as a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for over twenty years he was friendly with many artists, critics and patrons.

Beyond its cultural and architectural importance, it is the manner in which the house is integrated into its garden setting which imbues ‘Eryldene’ with its unique character. The design of the garden was a joint project between Waterhouse, Hardy Wilson and later members of that architect’s practice over a number of years and represents a fusion between the Arts and Craft movement and the Asian aesthetic that was at the heart of much of Hardy Wilson’s work. As a world authority on the propagation and cultivation of camellias, Professor Waterhouse developed the garden as a showcase for this species and today there are over 500 varieties throughout the ‘Eryldene’ garden. This very personal response to site evokes a sense of stillness, of timelessness, that is at the heart of ‘Eryldene’.

The significance of this property was recognized in 1979 through its purchase by the Eryldene Trust, an independent body formed by the local community which has as its aim the protection and preservation of this unique property. The work of the Trust to open ‘Eryldene’ to the public and provide modes of interpretation for visitors represents a cogent example of a community response to its connection with history.

When I found Touching Base, I knew immediately that this was an organisation I wanted to work with. Touching Base recognises physical and sexual needs as human rights. They provide support to both those with disabilities and sex workers, creating a space where the two parties can intersect. The meetings are not necessarily penetrative, the experiences are just as much about touch and affection than they are about sex. Touching Base provide education, support and connection between the two groups and emboldens disabled individuals to take ownership of their sexuality. This to me, is such valuable work.

I grew up with two intellectually disabled aunts: Sharon and Sandra. Growing up I was never uncomfortable with their ‘disabilities’. Their immaturity, spasticity, and epilepsy - in my eyes this was all a part of their identity. On my tenth birthday, Sandra had a seizure in front of me; it was intense but it was understandable, acceptable behaviour. Afterwards, I remember asking my mum the actual diagnosis of their disability but she couldn’t tell me. It turns out no one had thought to ask. In a town of 2000 people, the details weren’t that necessary: it was just who they were and that was ok.

But there was another side to the girls, they were more than just their disabilities. Sharon, the more rambunctious of the two, would attack you with her love, while Sandra stood by shyly, waiting for her turn. They loved Slim Dusty, a cheeky VB and water fights. Those water fights were the terror of my childhood. Sharon would always take it too far, laughing manically as she cornered the children of the family, throwing eggs, flour and anything she could find.

What did make pre-pubescent Donna uncomfortable was the outright desire they expressed when talking about men. In particular, men who played sport. Tony Modra (or Godra as he was known in South Australia) was their idol. Looking back now, I get it. I mean, he was basically an Adonis.

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Modra lined their walls and on every visit they would pull me into their room to admire his chiselled features and short shorts. This overt expression of their sexuality did not fit with my understanding of who they were. I was so challenged by their sexuality and their free expression of it.

Recently when I introduced them to my partner, a tall dark handsome type, I was delighted to see that nothing has changed. I was immediately relegated to the background: Sandra stared and stared while Sharon bombarded him with trivia, holding him close with a possessive hand on his arm. Now in their forties, you can still see their desire to be touched by someone other than a carer, to be touched with love and affection.

I never imagined I could use history to aid a cause so near to my heart. I’m so excited to be working with an organisation that enables those sidelined by mainstream society and acknowledges their basic need for affection. An organisation who can help those like my aunts find an outlet for the needs their carers can’t fill. My work as a historian will help them access grants and hopefully permanent funding which will allow them to help women and men experience what the rest of us take for granted.

There comes a point in one’s academic studies when you begin to wonder why on earth you are doing what you are doing. What are you supposed to do with all this knowledge about theories and concepts, other than become an academic and teach another generation about all the concepts and theories you have learned? What if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life tied to the University? What can you possibly do with all of this study that will impact the world in any way? Where on earth is the practical side to all of this learning? I cannot begin to express the relief I felt after attending a class that showed this very “practical side” of history. I still remember the growing excitement within me as I sat in my very first class for the semester and listened to Michael talk about how historians have taken their university learning out into the “real” world. I remember thinking over and over again, with a mounting passion, that this, this was the answer to the oppressing question of ‘what on earth am I going to do with my life?’.

As the course unfolded, my passion only grew as, week by week, guest speakers spoke of the numerous ways in which they interacted with the world of public history. They talked about the ups and downs of working in both the “professional” academic sphere and the “amateur” local sphere. They described their various works and how they had taken their university learning out into various areas of Australian society and created so many projects of all shapes and sizes. The opportunity to travel to places one would not normally go and to dig in to histories that aren’t widely heard, and then use your own creativity to express and communicate the history you find to a wider, public audience is everything I could hope for in a career. Unfortunately, finding these opportunities with the addition of getting paid is not always easy. But the encouragement I felt in listening, week after week, to how these various historians had done it inspires me to reach forward regardless.

Our semester-long project is one of the most exciting things I’ve done at university and I have thoroughly enjoyed the prospect of going out and “doing history”. As I scrolled through the numerous organisations listed on the History Beyond the Classroom website in my first week of semester (the earliest I have ever started any project in my entire life), Saint John’s Cemetery immediately caught my eye. I have always loved cemeteries. That sounds a bit morbid, I know, but cemeteries hold so many glimpses of stories that we will never fully know. Not just in the words carved into a gravestone, but in the pictures on the stone, the font of the text and the shape and placement of the gravestone itself. Even just the dates given on each stone, the simple statement of one’s age, has always drawn me into the stories of cemeteries.

And so, on the Monday of week 5 (the eagerness I had to start this project only took me so far) I finally pushed through my anxiety of talking to strangers and composed an email to the secretary of the Friends of Saint John’s Cemetery, enquiring as to whether they might be interested in working with me for my project. Only a few hours later, I arrived at class to realise that our guest speaker was none other than Michaela Cameron, a member of the Friends of Saint John’s Cemetery and the driving force behind the Saint John’s Cemetery Project! I listened eagerly as Michaela spoke of her work with the cemetery and with getting biographies of the first fleeters written and made available through the cemetery’s website ( Michaela also talked about building a strong presence in social media, and so inspired me to begin my own history blog (which can be viewed at I very much enjoyed setting up the website and have found great pleasure in researching and writing about small parts of history I find in my day-to-day life.

I have begun work with Michaela and am currently working my way through the burial records of Saint John’s Cemetery to find Female Factory workers who are buried in the cemetery. Though I have not worked out what my final project will be, simply going through these records is as enjoyable and intriguing as walking through a cemetery. Seeing patterns in names or noticing when there is an above average number of deaths suggests so many stories left untold. And there is a great deal of satisfaction in finally deciphering a word written in such cryptic handwriting! The chance to tell the stories of those buried in the cemetery, even if it only through a list made available to any curious web surfer, is a chance I take on with a passion and with much anticipation of what I might find.

The ‘History Beyond The Classroom’ unit allows for individuals to bring awareness to the stories of a community that are often untold, sometimes forgotten or simply are unknown. In undertaking this unit, I want to highlight that history is not just confined to a museum or to the archives of a library, but rather it can be just a few streets away, within our own local communities, where through time and change in industries, houses and the physical landscape, bring about stories and experiences of how it was once was.

For my initial investigations of the suburb of Glenwood, I sort collaboration with the Glenwood Community Association. From me they were seeking some form of ‘history of Glenwood’, which I think would be fantastic, but with additional consultation, we are still yet to clarify on how this would look. However with this occurring in due time, I decided to undertake my own small investigation of Glenwood through walking. In geography, walking is seen as a geographical research method, which aims to make observations of the real world. When working upon the history of Glenwood, I really wanted to capture real examples that existed. And so there was a place that I knew had some form of heritage attached to it, I had often driven past it, but never had the actual opportunity to go there and examine for what it was worth. This area was Glenwood Park Drive which was connected to the streets Thompson Crescent and Diamond Avenue. Within this location it hosts Glenwood Park House and Parklea Public School.
Glenwood Park House was built in 1853. Classified as a Victorian-style home, it was initially utilised as a property for farming where orchards, wheat and hay and a dairy herd had been present (Powell, 2005). Since then the property has served different purposes whether it be for the grazing of cattle, as a medical centre and to what it is now a private property (Powell, 2005). A heritage listed building, it is surrounded by parkland and vegetation which somewhat obscures its full view upon a hill, whilst housing from the early 2000’s surrounds the property.

Just down a few meters is Parklea Public School. Upon face value it looks like a modern school built in the early 2000’s. However on the school sign, it proclaims to be a school established in 1919. What is interesting is that the school retained its name although it was relocated to its current site in 1999 (Sharpe 2000, p.38). I guess no matter how well you know the suburb that you live, there will always be new things to learn and notice, whether it be the minuscule change to the natural landscape or in discovering new facts about a place. Walking can provide further contextual insights into a suburb. Although utilised in geography, walking is a method that makes history that much more tangible, which can give a broader perspective as to how life could have possibly been like in the past. I feel that there is a greater sense of appreciation, when one is able to visibly see with their own eyes, at history being presented in front of them. History was just a few meters away from my own home. I sure that there are plenty of stories to be shared about a place just a few meters away, of the years that have gone by.

Powell, D. (2005). Glenwood Park (Sorrento). Retrieved from

Sharpe, A. (2000). Pictorial History Blacktown and District. Kingsclear Books Pty Ltd.

Throughout my education, from high school to university, I have always discarded Australian history. For me it had always been dull, only punctuated by a few daring expeditions into the outback and two world wars. What I wanted in history was what I wanted in a narrative. I wanted a start and an end date, a protagonist, an enemy, ideological clashes and a sensational turning point that separated nations and brought together its people. I focussed on the macro, and ignored the micro. This course in particular has made me question why this is so. Perhaps it was a simple unawareness of what Australian History has to offer, or a misinterpretation of what history is meant to be. In either case I have learnt to appreciate Australian history, while my understanding of the history discipline has been shaped.

For me now history is not something of the past studied in books, rather it is something lived and carried out through the day to day. I have reached this rational through this course. I have learnt that historians, and the public in particular, still have the ability to shape what history is projected, or even forgotten. The public has a massive role in deciding what type of history is propagated, mainly for its ability or inability to preserve the history. It should be then important for historians and the public to conserve and study anything to do with Australia’s past. What was mundane in the past is now a historical artifact, and so too might be any irrelevant object in my living room.

It is dangerous to punctuate history with end dates and turning points. For example, the civil rights movement is over, but the fight for racial equality is not. A lot of academic historical framework runs this danger of pigeon holing issues into to separate boxes, casting history into black and white. History runs the risk of describing a resolution when it was not achieved. Understanding the continuity of history, helps understand the continuity of society. This is an important point because as Australians we must remember our past, good, bad or mundane. What happened in the past may well continue to happen but we must recognize how society has changed or has not changed. So now when I look at Australia’s history I don’t only see the ANZACs in the trenches, but also throngs of swimmers at Bondi Beach in summer, Italian shopkeepers closing up, An Aboriginal hundreds of years ago eating a salty oyster, a woman reading in a park, and even my life is part of the greater Australian history.

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One of the Oxford Dictionary definitions of ‘community’ is “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”. In the early weeks of History Beyond the Classroom, we had a discussion about communities. Which communities we thought we were apart of, and what communities we would like to work with for our major project. When I heard the word ‘community’ I immediately thought of the ice rink. I’ve chosen Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink as the community group I’ll be working with over the semester.

Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink has been the home to and fostered a community for 45 years. I’ve been a part of this community of six years now. Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink is the home to many sporting clubs from figure, syncro, hockey and speed. In my community work with the ice rink, I will be assisting in archiving the history of the creation of the ice rink and the co-op. The rink has had a dynamic history over the past 45 years, and has only been able to survive due to the community supporting it, and donating their time and efforts to ensuring the rink lives on for the next generation of skaters.

Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink is a not-for-profit organisation that offers a space for training and recreational skating. The idea for the ice rink in Canterbury began at the Malvern Hall Methodist Church Hall in Croydon. John R.E. Brown, who became the first chairman and was one of the three founding members of the co-op, spoke to the ice skating community and proposed a new rink in Canterbury. The Burwood Glaciarium Rink had just closed down, and this was why a co-op had to be formed to ensure the new rink wouldn’t close down privately. Fifty people agreed to join to co-op at $20 per person for the first year.

The challenge then began to find $73,000 to ensure a continued training place for the western Sydney ice skating community. A year later, after many struggles with councils, and funds, the ice rink opened its doors on Friday March 5, 1971. This wouldn’t have been able to happen without the help of countless volunteers who spent so much of their time and energy into building a rink that would serve the community, and be a community for many years to come.

The rink has grown and changed so much over the past 45 years. The original entry price for a public skating session was 80 cents for children and $1.20 for adults. The image shown is an article from the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1971, which documents the opening of the ice rink and the impact volunteers and community members had.

More information:

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For my community engagement I have been working with Auburn Youth Centre (AYC), an organisation which brings together people of all cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic backgrounds to provide support, entertainment and programs for local youth. The centre has been around since 1983, and has, through various initiatives, touched the lives of many and played a dynamic role in fostering community spirit.

This year is their 30th anniversary, and as such the centre is keen to look into its history – in particular the achievements that have been made over 30 years of existence. The centre is certainly interested in exploring its history, but having changed locations several times over the past three decades, most original documents have been lost.

Having heard this, I’d reconciled myself with the fact that I’d be trawling through a range of different sources to find anything I could about the organisation – local libraries, local papers, you name it.

“Actually, we do have a few boxes of stuff somewhere - just some photos, documents – probably useless”, I was told.

The historian in me rejoiced when I was shown two giant boxes, filled with files, filled with promise. I could almost detect a faint halo emanating from the plastic bins.

There, in a little storage room at the back of Auburn Youth centre, with nothing but the glow from the files to guide me (I was so excited it took me an hour to realise there was a light switch), is where I spent the last four hours.

I looked through the first few files with the care and precision of a total amateur. One of the first files I open is about a BBQ purchased in 2009. It contains a tax invoice, warranty, a user manual, correspondence between the supplier in Melbourne and AYC detailing quotes… For someone writing a history on barbecue culture in Australian community organisations, this may have been like striking gold. The hoarder in me thinks: “better preserve this just in case, you never know when barbecue history may become the next big thing”. But my common sense (and timing restriction) says otherwise. Three files and twenty minutes in, all I have to show is my newfound expertise on barbecue installation, which may come in handy someday, but certainly not for this project. Now an expert on how to best maintain and service my Tucker ‘Friar Tuck’ BBQ, I close the file.

I start scanning through the documents more methodically. There are insurance forms, car registration papers, maintenance checklists, OHS procedures, takeout menus for local Chinese and caterers they presumably used. Riveting stuff. But none of which is telling of the many achievements, the wonderful people and the noble character of the organisation. I find myself skimming over the files from the past couple of years, searching for something older.

This gets me thinking. At what point do everyday documents become history? We are told that history is anything in the past, but few of us would consider last week’s phone bill to be of historical importance. In my study of history, I have been exposed to files which may be equally trivial, and did not once question their historic significance, because they were old and rare. If I can depend on an official’s list on a scrap of paper to tell me about censorship in the GDR, then surely these files here are of significance.

I come across a Vodafone phone bill from 2011, glance at it for a few seconds, and move on. Why? Is it not old enough? If this file was from 1986 would I have looked at it differently? Is it because I have a deep-rooted underlying resentment for the Telco? Is it because it’s just plain boring?

I realise, that it is because what I am looking for cannot be found in business transactions and insurance forms. I am looking for something which will tell me about the character, the people, the community story of AYC, and no amount of phone bills will tell me this. The history we look for so deeply influences the history we see. An historian sets upon an investigation with a purpose, albeit a noble one, which will ultimately influence the information they do and don’t see.

As I am looking through the documents, a group of boys play basketball in an adjacent room. They soon call it quits and begin to strum some chords on the guitar. One of them begins to wail something, which I soon recognise to be Justin Bieber’s newest song, and the others join in.

This is the story of AYC that I want to tell. Of the people whose lives have been touched by the organisation. Their stories.

Beside the two plastic boxes are a handful of photo albums. There are pictures of AYC members at discos, at parties, at talent quests and at, would you believe it, backyard barbecues. Photos of smiling faces, of people having fun together, of what would certainly be unforgettable memories, thanks to the work of Auburn Youth Centre. There’s one boy who features in so many photos I begin to think he is the unofficial leader of the group. He may be the life of the party, but I bet he didn’t anticipate some stranger would be looking at his photos decades later wondering how AYC featured in his life. Wondering who were the people he met here? The relationships he made? Did they last?

The answers to these questions cannot be found in reports and statistics. The achievements of an organisation like AYC aren’t quantifiable through numbers and dates. They are measured by stories, by histories, and as I finish trawling through these documents, and look to the other sources I can gather, this is what I hope to find. From a brief look at portrayal of the organisation in local papers, it is so evident that Auburn Youth Centre has had a profound impact on local youth, has featured prominently in the lives of many, and has fostered community engagement and community spirit, which is what I hope to show as I continue my project.

We have all been a little apprehensive, scared even, about what the hell we are meant to be doing here! But we have been assured, by amazing public historians and former students that it will somehow come together, someone will get back to us, somehow we will know what to do and some great history will be produced..... After getting no other responses from other organisations and getting nowhere on this blind journey in the previous weeks. I have been convinced after my visit to the Blue Mountains Historical Society that local history is in everyone’s reach.

What an absolute blast! I must have seemed like an excited little puppy, repetitive in my oo's and ahh's, blown away by the resources, photos, volunteers, the 'technologies', the artefacts, and the guns! I won't deny I was nervous, I drove in to find a few people tending to the grounds, heading inside there were about 10 other people working on their various projects. I felt a little intimated by their age and therefore wisdom, wondering what I could offer, wondering where to start. Many had been in the society for years, and a few members I met had published books, but didn't seem eager to wave them around which was an interesting observation. Everyone was so welcoming, I really learnt so much even if this time around I probably couldn't offer much back.

You don't realise how amazing history can be when it’s close to home, when it’s close to your heart. Growing up in the Blue Mountains I was keen to get back and learn about the history as well as the Historical Society. It’s extraordinary to see parts of your life, your community reflected many decades ago in sepia photos showing the pub you drink at standing alone with horse and carts out front or the swimming hole you still go to the site of a men’s swimming carnival in the 1940's.

I was given a tour, shown how and where to find everything, was passed onto various members to show me what they do. Of particular interest was the Tarrella Cottage Museum which was a holiday house of the McLaughlin family of Sydney, built in 1890, situated on a hill overlooking the Western plains, it holds an extensive range of 19th and 20th century household items. The donated gun collection made a great display and the quirky objects like one of the daughter's winning fancy dress outfit which was a newspaper printed gown made for a fascinating visit.

Of particular interest was the ‘house histories’ they do for a donation which tracks the history of a property and its owners from the earliest council and state records to the present day. This is literally like a historical treasure hunt! Using microfiches of council records, the NSW historic land records ), maps ( ), and cross referencing with Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages ( ) and potentially newspapers for further information ( ). I was shown parts of how they do this and a finished product. This kind of task can take days because sometimes document trails lead you astray or simply disappear. Bruce, who predominately does these, explained to me that there is so much to take into consideration when on this history hunt such as owners who may rent and property merging. I look forward to getting my hands on some more microfiches and seeing what I can or cannot find.

I felt proud of the Historical Society having only been there an hour or so, you could see the years of preservation on the walls and in the files. Decades of hard work and painful documentation have built an extensive collection for all to utilise and enjoy. The society also puts out a bi-monthly newsletter ‘Hobby’s Outreach’, with the last issue covering the hunt for the Cox’s River Aboriginal name, a book review on The Girl Who Stole Stockings by Elsbeth Hardie a ‘well researched and well written story of early life in the colony’, particularly revolving around female convicts. Further, the issue has a Presidents report, news of upcoming meetings, lectures and excursions and a letter of appeal for anything relating to the society's 70 year history.

I was inspired by the work everyone does there and all that has been done before them. I think it’s sad many of us are so disconnected from out local history and disregard public history as amateur or unimportant. The preoccupation with national and international history misses the point that local stories and experiences make up the national narrative and are just as important as dramatic events on a macro scale. I implore all who read this to get out there, see what your community has to offer, get involved and learn from the people restoring, preserving and documenting the past and present for the sake of the future.


Like a long-expired animal carcass, an abandoned four-storey mansion called Morella overlooks Chowder Bay, its insides gutted and bones shattered. In its non-sentient state, Morella feels no shame for the open wounds that it displays to the world. It beckons, like an advertisement for a museum exhibit. What treasures lie inside?

No window panes exist anymore. Instead, mosaics of glass crunch underfoot. The burnt-out kitchen area is a time capsule. Appliances are decades out of date. Part of the third floor folds at a 45 degree angle, almost like a staircase of its own. The rusted skeleton of a grand piano is strewn across the patio. Dirt and weeds invade the open-air basement. Graffiti camouflages the art deco bravado of Roman pillars.

Urban ruins such as this are mysterious and intriguing. At least, to some (more on that later). I remember venturing into this abandoned mansion one morning with a friend, armed with a camera, to discover a man from Queensland similarly exploring the house. Apparently, a friend had told him about the place. Weeks later, during another visit, I was fined by police for trespassing. They complained that they had been called to the house the night before to deal with trespassers. Clearly, Morella had become a tourist attraction of sorts and a social hub for local youths.

In response to a Sydney Morning Herald article last year, Colin Rhodes, the (now resigned) Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) dean, praised the beauty of the SCA’s surroundings at Callan Park. However, he remarked that Callan Park “remains in a state of limbo and it is really hard to develop a world-class art school in a location that only seems to be deteriorating”. At first glance, this comment may appear unremarkable. Alongside the awe-inspiring architecture of the Kirkbride complex and Garry Owen House sits incongruously the brutalist architecture of air-raid shelters, the rustic architecture of stables and coach houses, with rusty tin roofs, and the scorched architecture of Broughton Hall, which suffered fire and vandalism in the 1980s (it is now boarded up).

Without history, abandoned places are curious oddities with only a present and a future, but not so curious as to invite critical examination. They appear a blank canvas for developers. They appear in need of human meaning and improvement to a naïve eye. This is why beer bottles and spray paint cans litter Morella and not the cameras and notebooks of historians, sociologists, journalists or council workers. Abandoned sites attract urban explorers, avid instagrammers, inquisitive passers-by and adrenaline junkies, but ignorance about their histories persist. I remember reading one piece on Morella in the Daily Telegraph, almost one year ago. The reddit thread on the house is sparse. Further information is hard to find. There is tension between interest and ignorance. It is probably the intrigue of not knowing what lies within that entices people. As a history buff, maybe I am different.

Callan Park sits today on 61 hectares of land, situated at Sydney’s heart. With the first permanent structure, Garry Owen House, built around 1840, the park has a rich history. However, beyond the local level, I believe the park has evaded the quantity of historical analysis it deserves. Some literature has been written on Garry Owen House and the Kirkbride buildings. Probably less has been written about Broughton Hall, despite its dilapidated state. Dedicated locals, represented by the Friends of Callan Park, have valiantly fought to preserve the park’s heritage. But with Professor Rhodes their efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

Public ignorance about the histories of abandoned sites can be damaging. Conspiracy theories, regarding the use of the tunnels below the Kirkbride building and a supposed secret passageway leading to the Parramatta River, abound. Sensationalist media reports have long over-emphasised the brutality and austerity of Callan Park’s mental hospitals. One media report described Morella as “haunted”. My own mother warned me that a “crazy man” lived there, but the house has been uninhabited since I was five years old. As Grace Karskens remarks, in The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, “while there are kernels of truth in… foggy tales, places, like stories, need to be taken seriously, they need to be researched as well as visited and experienced; they need history.” Growing up in western Sydney as a child, she witnessed suburbanisation and commercial development consume empty, neglected farmhouses.

Like Karskens, we must write local histories that restore humanity to places. Social history is particularly useful. So is sensorial history, so often ignored in secondary sources. Recently, scholars, such as James Scott, have argued that urban planners reduce human experience to what is visible through maps and models. Instead of seeing blight and an imagined “crazy man”, we must hear the laughter and chatter of the Parer family children that inhabited Morella and of the esteemed dinner guests that frequently dined inside its walls. Instead of propagating fictionalised tales and seeing a blank canvas for redevelopment, we must smell the earthy purity of Callan Park’s lush gardens, where mental patients rehabilitated themselves. We must hear – or not hear – the muffled urban soundscape, overpowered by the squawking of birds. We must feel the blustery winds of Callan Park on our skin. This sensorial history will paint a more vivid, humane picture of patients’ everyday lives and justly depict the park as open and often tranquil. Callan Park Hospital for the Insane and Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic (later amalgamated as the Rozelle Hospital) were progressive institutions, not enclosed, secretive mental asylums. For more of that argument, you will have to see my final project!

The “deteriorating” buildings Professor Rhodes described, relics of a bygone era, nonetheless hold tightly fascinating stories of perseverance, pain, recovery and sadness. (Read Jen Hawksley’s article ‘Histories from the Asylum: “The Unknown Patient”’ for one such story.) We must not invent wild tales with little evidence to support our case or slander their decrepit state. We must approach them gently and carefully. Only then will they reveal their pasts.


This week, David Watts joined us again from the Aboriginal Heritage Office, a unique joint initiative by a group of councils across northern Sydney, including North Sydney, Manly, Warringah, Ku-ring-gai, and Pittwater to protect Aboriginal Heritage in these areas (

David, one of the students’ favourite speakers from last year’s class, is the Aboriginal Heritage Manager, and really developed, planned, and founded the Office back in 2000. He continues to play a key role in the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites, education, and a prize-winning volunteer site monitoring program that empowers community members to take responsibility for our shared heritage and past.

David talked to students about his role in the organisation, the many challenges they faced and continue to face, and his extensive experience in Aboriginal heritage management. He has worked on site surveys and archaeological excavations, conservation management plans and protection works. He has given talks all over the world about Aboriginal site care and managements, as well as cultural tourism advice, and he has developed several Aboriginal Heritage Walks within the northern Sydney region (including some of the walks and resources you can find here:

Like last year, David engaged us all with his honest and realistic approach to public history, and also talked about his own past and the way that shaped his approach to the present, and his responses to continued racism as well. He also shared with us a new publication the AHO has released called “Filling the Void: A History of the Word ‘Guringai’.”

David’s talk helped set the tone for an ensuing discussion on “Decolonizing Methodologies” and especially the struggle over “research” in indigenous communities where there has been a long history of imperial and post-colonial intrusion by researchers. David’s talk, and the readings, helped draw attention to the sensitivities involved in indigenous history and the need to think carefully about our intentions and purposes in doing it (something we need to be mindful with any project, it seems).

But David’s efforts in getting the AHO up and running and maintaining and sustaining it for over sixteen years now, along with his dedicated team of colleagues (who put on almost 200 schools events a year and who monitor thousands of aboriginal heritage sites across northern Sydney), reminded the class that it is not enough to sit around and wait for the “right” thing to happen in heritage management. David, along with other speakers like Judith Dunn, are teaching us the importance of stepping up to make something happen. It is not always easy, but it won’t get done otherwise.

When I ask myself; what is history? The logical answer that comes to mind is ‘people’. Nothing more or nothing less than every single thing that humans have ever done in their lives – the groups they form, the things they make or construct, how they live together or apart, how they love and fight from the microcosm of the family right through to a grand-scale sweeping thematic view of decades and ages of time.

In essence, history is from the people, of the people and I believe; for the people. It should be accessible, understandable, appealing, exciting and engaging – not fusty, musty and locked away, either in distance archives or obfuscated beyond use into the unwieldy language of the academic elite.

In many ways this subject has offered me to most fertile ground for expressing this view of history – as well as doing an excellent job of me undertaking my first journey as (semi)professional historian. Perhaps a good metaphor for this is training wheels – keeping me upright as I fly off joyfully down the occasionally bumpy road of a community history project.

And occasionally bumpy it has been, having had to change community organizations mid-way through, I’m now working for/with the Newtown Neighborhood Center to create a ‘creative historical exhibition’ for their 40th birthday celebrations. I’m really excited for this, which is looking like it will take the form of semi-permanent gallery style exhibition with a series of paste up posters featuring both images and historical information. We’re also discussing some archival work which is really exciting; because as my contact at the center says ‘who knows what’s in there!’

I’ve been really fortunate in my organization in terms of how much our views of what history should be/look like seem very similar – we both place a similar level of importance on all members of the public from university educated people to small children to elders to people who may not have fully completed their schooling to be able to understand and enjoy the information we discover. Doubly fortunately, we both feel that a key factor of this is a creative and visually appealing presentation of this information – something that very neatly intersects with my personal interest and experience with visual arts and mural painting/design.

Despite being off to a bit of a slow start, I’m so excited to see what this project will develop into!


My father was a stonemason. He spent years of his life chipping away at stone. To this day, he still bears the marks of his work on his rough and calloused hands. As a child, I often marvelled at the things he could create from the stone with just a few simple tools like his hammer and chisel. Our family home, built more than twenty years ago by my father and grandfather, lays on a foundation of sandstone; the steps leading up to our front door were carefully smoothed by his hands. Even our letter box, although old and weathered now, was built from sandstone.

I have always had a connection to old buildings. I think it is because they remind me of my father, our family home and my own history. Perhaps, this is also why I am so intrigued by the many historical buildings along Alison Road, in the old town of Wyong. These buildings, which include the Old Court House, Chapman’s Store and the Railway Station, are all enduring remnants of years gone by. Built with aging brick and stone, they are the only remaining markers of the time in which Wyong was first founded over a century ago.

More than just the buildings themselves, it is the stories of the people behind them that captivate me the most. In the past few weeks, I have spent hours trawling through archives, newspapers and books, searching for people with connections to the buildings along Alison Road. Slowly, I am piecing together a narrative about the past lives and ways of the pioneers of Wyong.

So far, I have read stories about William Ponton, a bricklayer by trade who built the Post Office adjoining the Old Police Station, who was famed throughout the town for laying more than 1000 bricks a day. I have also uncovered numerous newspaper reports about the first postmaster of Wyong, Mr. Stafford, who disappeared from his lodgings at the Court House one morning along with a considerable sum of money from the till. It is stories like these, about the buildings of Wyong and the people who built them, lived in them and visited them, that I will endeavour to share in my walking tour of Alison Road.

Erin Blanchfield

I am working alongside Wyong Family History Group to develop a walking tour of the historical buildings along Alison Road in Wyong. For further information about the group, please visit;

For my community project, I decided to go back to my old school (because twelve years at school apparently wasn't long enough). I enjoyed my time at school and hold my teachers and administrative staff in much higher regard, having now witnessed my friends struggling with the demands of a degree in Education.
Kambala introduced the study of history to me. Perhaps it was the moment when we made our own archaeological dig in a shoe box in year 7, or studied the Titanic in year 10 (aka arguing if there was enough space on the door for Jack Dawson *spoiler alert* there was), or even our field trips to the Rocks, and Vaucluse House in primary school. I can't pin point the exact moment in which I became fascinated about the past, but it was undeniably born, cultivated, and matured inside school walls. I studied both ancient history and history extension for the HSC. While I wanted to take modern history too someone-who-shall-not-be-named thought that mathematics was a better idea (it wasn't). However, despite learning about the great history of great men, the school’s history of my school was largely ignored. I graduated with more knowledge about the gymnasiums in Pompeii than Kambala’s buildings.
I therefore decided to work with the Kambala Old Girls Union (KOGU) in order that I might engage deeper with my school’s history and the community which had taught me so much. This year marks the 120th Anniversary of the Kambala Old Girls Union. As part of the celebrations, KOGU is releasing a series of images and biographies on old girls who have led inspirational lives. I myself wrote the biographies for nine deceased old girls.

This was a challenge as it was difficult to obtain information about some of the old girls, given they lived in the 1800s. However, having researched their lives deeply by trawling through 1903 editions of the Sydney Morning Herald I managed to find sufficient information to construct a biography about their lives.
I was fascinated by the challenging and intriguing nature of these old girls’ lives. While some served in the Red Cross during World Wars I and II, another founding the Country Women's Association, to another becoming one of the best artists in Australia, these girls, who walked the same halls as myself for twelve years left a significant mark on the country’s history. In HSC Ancient History we spent months studying powerful women like Hatshepsut, one of the most powerful Pharaohs in New Kingdom Egypt. We studied Livia, Julia, Octavia, the wife, daughter and sister of Augustus. We studied the great female protagonists from the Classical Tragedians (I think at this point I need to confess my true passion for history lies in Ancient Rome, specifically 42BC-14D).

We studied these captivating famous ancient women, women who challenged authority and forged a unique and independent path for themselves in their challenging societies. But, not once did we study the old girl who was the first female junior medical resident officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Not the old girl who raised 95 000 pounds for the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association through her position as Miss Australia.

Not once the old girl who was Australia’s first female diplomat to the United Nations.

Not the girls who walked the same corridors, perhaps sat in the same chairs, wore the same uniform or sang the same school song.

Sometimes it’s not necessary to visit Ancient Rome to find inspirational historical figures as HSC Ancient History would have you believe. Sometimes you can find their fingerprints on the door of M22.*

~ Lizzie Richardson (class of 2012)

*M22 was the history room at Kambala

There really is nothing like seeing strangers and mates alike join to drop their pants to the Eagle Rock, or belt out every lyric to Khe Sanh whilst they drown themselves in beer.

I think most young Australians are drawn to a culture shaped by music entertainment and drinking. Perhaps problematically, drinking and the social activities that accompany it are entrenched historically in the Australian identity. The nationalist character of the Australian imagined community is a topic oft-discussed by academics and public figures alike. At the grass roots however, I think most appreciate and love the role that music and social drinking has had upon their identity, particularly because of the relationships and sense of community they have fostered. After all, don’t you and your mates enjoy the same music?

As I have grown up in between countries and cultures, I felt a great need to deepen my roots to a place and community. Music, particularly music in the Inner West, and the pub culture which supports it has played a crucial role in connecting me to a sense of culture and place here in Sydney. This public history project has provided me the opportunity to marry my historical interests with my social world and community. I have Dan and Matt Rule, community leaders and business owners of Music and Booze Co. to thank for building the space that myself and so many others can enjoy within Sydney’s Inner West. This project will pay homage to that fact.

Music and Booze Co. was only conceived in 2014 to ‘facilitate and curate creative events, involving the countires [sic] most exciting bands, labels, agents & communities’, at festivals, live music and hospitality venues, as well as public spaces such as parks, initially in and around Newtown, NSW, and now all of Australia. Before the conception of the company, the Rule Brothers have worked behind the scene for many years and have arguably helped build some of the most popular bands in Australia, while simultaneously restoring and building the reputation of famous pubs such as the Annandale Hotel and The Lord Gladstone. However, bankruptcy and state restrictions have forced the brothers to start fresh, where they rely on the publicity of their friends (musicians, publicans and other music and non-industry workers) to grow as a public, cultural and business organisation. This is where I have slotted myself in – helping publicise and support their business by attending their events and spreading the word. It isn’t much, and I wish I could pick up a guitar and bring a big audience to them but I lack the talent. But my passion and love for this community and consequently my appreciation for what the Rule brothers have done has motivated me to use my historical skills to highlight the significance of their work. We will see how it goes..

For the past few weeks, I have been assisting the Local History department of the Woollahra Library in collating some research for an upcoming walking tour on crime in Vaucluse. Now I’m not sure Vaucluse is usually thought of as a hotspot for crime, with its sea views and the letterbox-numbers spelled out with words. But just like any area that has been around for a while, and that has had human beings living side by side, there have been some scuffles along the way.

In my research so far, I have started at the start. This, for the Vaucluse area, begins with Sir Henry Browne Hayes, a wealthy Irish convict who was sent over to NSW in 1802 for trying to forcibly marry a wealthy young woman to then claim control of her large inheritance. For some reason she wasn’t too keen on the idea and managed to escape and get the police on his case. After being on the run for two years, he eventually turned himself in and was shipped off to NSW. Hayes was a downright trouble maker. For one, he was an Irish Freemason and was intent on establishing Freemasonry upon his arrival in Sydney, contrary to the wishes of Governor King (who was already dealing with a few potential convict uprisings at the time). A bunch of convicts, banding together in a sort of secret cult? Not what you want. The story continues, and I have to find more information, but Hayes continued to aggravate the powers that were. This included being shipped off to Van Diemens land as a result of rebellious tendencies.

Interestingly though, he was one of a few convicts to be ‘well off’ and as such he suffered all the usual convict hardships: sailing around the bay in his boat, cultivating his garden, and building the beautiful sandstone cottage that he would name Vaucluse. Later the house was sold to W.C. Wentworth, a much more palatable character from what I’ve gathered, and has survived in good condition thanks to being State-Heritage listed.

I loved reading about this story but I can’t help thinking: would I enjoy this story if instead of a convict, this ‘Hayes’ was just another wealthy foreigner who wanted a sea view in Sydney’s East? What if he was a convict who got on just fine with local authority and just lived a quiet, law-abiding life? I think that history, or rather the passing of time, can cull large proportions of the human experience away from the story that I (or anyone) could construct around someone like Hayes. He is in danger of being summed up by a culmination of birth dates and death dates, of signed land agreements, of Gazette reports, and inevitably the ‘humanness’ leaches out of his story. I am not sure that this is unavoidable, but I find it interesting how easy it is to forget the emotional landscape that a person, much less someone deemed a ‘criminal’, can have in his/her life. It is hard to imagine, because obviously I was not there to experience it. And so my point about crime (if there is any), is that maybe part of the allure of crime history is its ability to make those darker parts of ourselves – those angry, rebellious, unfair, criminal parts of ourselves- more palatable as we look at them in the form of another, safely removed from us by time.

This is another reason why I respect the ideas of walking tours, because just like the one we undertook at the Parramatta Female Factory, the spoken word and the physicality of a tour can help to convey some of these stories with a more emotional touch, with more imagination coming into the history-making process.

For now, I continue gathering evidence of those sneaky members of Sydney’s dodgiest neighbourhood: Vaucluse.

The community group I am working with is the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Liverpool NSW. U3A is a non-profit movement that operates nationally and internationally designed for people over the age of 50. Any senior can become a member, whether you live in the local area or not and you do not need to be a pensioner to join. Members of the organisation simply pay a small annual fee to gain access to a whole bunch of educational and leisure activities (most at no extra cost and no assignments or exams).

To provide insight into the extensive range of classes available, listed below is the program of the many classes members of Liverpool U3A had the opportunity to attend during Term 3 of 2016 (the U3A program is divided into 4 terms per year where adjustments may be made for different classes depending on various factors).

~ Art Appreciation ~ China/Porcelain Painting (Beginner/Advanced) ~ Computer (Beginner/Intermediate)
~ Computer: Q and A ~ Computer: Internet ~ Computer: Scanning ~ Creative Writing ~ Enjoy Reading
~ Euchre ~ French (Beginner/Intermediate) ~ Gadgets for Seniors ~ History ~ Meditation
~ Oil and Acrylic Painting ~ Patchwork ~ Walking Group ~ Water Colour: Painting/Drawing/Mixed Media
~ Yogalates

The motivation for choosing Liverpool U3A for my public history project was inspired by my Grandmother. She has been attending the organisation for nearly 15 years, after the loss of my Grandfather in 2001. Her neighbours who already attended encouraged her to go and try out some of the classes. Today she currently attends multiple classes, is the French tutor for the beginner and intermediate classes and is one of the committee members on the Board.

I feel so passionate about this organisation because I have personally seen how much interest and joy it has added to my grandmother’s life (she barely has time to ring her grandchildren!). I want to show others in the community what a fantastic job this organisation does at empowering seniors and providing them with a place to continue to live life to the fullest both educationally and socially.

For more information, you can visit their website:

When I was younger, my parents took my family on a “surprise holiday.” My brothers and I climbed into the car without a clue as to where it would take us. Were we off to the snow? The airport? Embarking on a long road trip to Queensland?

40 minutes later, we’d already arrived at our destination: Liverpool Street. In Sydney.

At first, we thought it was- must have been, a joke. We rolled our luggage into the hotel lobby and scanned our parents’ faces for hints of where we would really be heading.

Twenty minutes later, checked into our room and gazing at a slightly obstructed view of the Sydney Tower, we finally came to terms with the fact that our surprise adventure meant simply travelling from our home in the west to a hotel in the CBD.
My mum gave us a mischievous look. We were certainly surprised, I’ll give her that.
“It’s important to explore your own big backyard,” she insisted.

The holiday turned out to be wonderful; scenic, exciting and full of fascinating traces of history I’d never previously realised existed. I had a great time wandering about the city that was at once familiar and full of secrets.

Since this initial introduction to the idea of “exploring your own backyard,” I’ve seen it splashed everywhere: in travel magazines, on lifestyle websites, blogs, think pieces, you name it. Discovering one’s own city, country, neighbourhood, street… going local continues to be promoted, and rightly so, as an eye-opening and enriching experience.

Taking this history unit this semester has further emphasised the concept for me. As someone who has mostly studied history from an academic perspective, taking most of my previous courses on all that “exciting” stuff- namely European wars and revolutions, learning about local and public history has been a welcome change. I’ve discovered there are over 500 clocks hiding away at Central station, a burial ground underneath Town Hall, a collection of colourful first fleet characters buried in Parramatta and a bunch of exciting and creative ways to bring the past into the present.

As I begin to work with my community organisation- the Blacktown and District Historical Society, I’m excited to be discovering the history that’s right on my doorstep, or more specifically, at my back fence. The house behind mine is heritage listed- once home to the first president of Blacktown Shire. I spent my childhood staring at my neighbours’ gorgeous old chimneys, peering at their Victorian veranda as I swam in the pool in summer and taking in the picturesque line of its roof, long driveway, and jacaranda tree as the sun set in the afternoon. I always felt lucky that my house backed onto theirs and found that it encouraged my imagination to run free and ponder scenarios from “the olden days.”

I now have the opportunity to research this house, among others, through my community engagement, and am very much looking forward to where this exercise of (literally) exploring my backyard will take me.

History sure has its superstars- its famous figures, its celebrity cities. But I’ve been delighted to realise the importance of pulling myself away from the dramas of Bolshevism in order to plant my feet firmly on Australian turf, walk them outside and see what’s waiting for me.

There is no denying that history has an illuminating power; an ability to shine light on aspects of the past that have largely remained in darkness. However, it has become increasing clear this week - especially when reflecting on the works of Louise Prowse - that there exist some histories that have been written with fragmented lights, resulting in a marginalised documentation of the past. Regrettably, this is especially applicable to Aboriginal and indigenous histories.

One would imagine ‘Local History’ would be at the forefront of celebrating and exhibiting evidence of local peoples of the past. Yet what struck me most profoundly about Dr. Prowse’s article was that Local Historical Societies have, in fact, for the most part of the twentieth century darkened any evidence of local Aboriginal existence. While this, of course, changed from the 1960’s when Aboriginal rights were, to a large extent, ‘popularised’, it leads me to ponder whether there are other histories that remain in darkness waiting to be illuminated by future ‘popularity’…


My project for the Addison Road Community Centre seeks to memorialize and honour the women who protested the ‘death ballot’ conscription for the Vietnam war in the late 60’s to early 70’s. These mothers were present at every single intake of soldiers, predecessors to the radicals and students from Sydney Uni who joined the resistance later on in the war when public sentiment was flailing. They held vigils, they wore gloves and reverently upheld signs marked “remember Nuremberg”. Despite being branded as communists - these women, mostly 40 and over, took on the job with unfettered determination.

When speaking with the centre's historian, the scope of the project began to dawn me. Tracking down the descendants or associates of a group of older women who campaigned in Marrickville 50 odd years ago, to create an oral history, would not prove an easy task. Her words sunk in, ‘this is primary research’, ostensibly no one has ever tried to collate these diminishing second-generation accounts and recreate the dynamic political scene. I was left with a barrage of unanswerable questions. Where would i find them? How would i get them to agree to speak with me? (having expressed her own trouble in doing so) What were my hunches? What specifically did i want to find out? Who may know-someone-who-would-know-someone who could refer me? How many of this ‘x-john doe’ lived in the broader area according to the white pages? I was left perplexed and filled with dread. This was an ambitious undertaking.

After all, these protests were within living memory. Why then, was this contemporary history left uninterrogated? Whilst the annals of white, colonial Australian history, as evidenced by our lecture from Judith, remain seared in public memory and actively pursued. These women and their fight to save the nation's sons competes with the carnival-like celebration of Anzacs and all who have served in the military for Australia. Upon further research, peacemaking, at home and internationally, is one of the few public arenas in which women have always had a decisive and initiatory role. These themes simmer above my research, recasting the information i find. This history is important. Not only as a landmark in social justice for Australia, but for the human rights issues we encounter today. No movement ever succeeded with only the anarchists, the radicals, the scholars. Ordinary Australians and older generations imagined outside the parameters of social rebellion need to be included. The women of S.O.S remind me of a group I see rallying today, dismantling the idea of what a protester is. The ‘grandmothers against the detention of refugee children'. They never miss a rally, they come in impressive numbers, they wear matching shirts and they bear witness.

Noreen Hewett, the groups lead organiser in one of her final recorded interviews, when asked as to why she founded Save our sons, said, “I have always had a general interest in the question of peace.” Indeed this is all one should need.

Teresa Singh

I decided to approach Club VeeDub at the recommendation of my Dad. It's really my dad's fault that I'm here. You see my dad has the gift of the gab and a dysfunctional appreciation of cars that don't (or won't) go. So all my life I have been inundated with story after story after story of car after car after car (I never complained though, not once). It's not terribly difficult to imagine that Dad has a network of likeminded people who are also obsessed with cars that don't go. But Dad will tell you that it's actually Grandfather's fault, and Uncle Al and Uncle John would definitely tell you that it's Grandfather's fault (This car thing is genetic).

My Dad has had Citroens for years (Grandfather did too). The collection is mostly the same each year. But about two years ago now, Dad crossed the border. He spent $100 on a Kombi that doesn't go. Dad recently joined Club VeeDub in an attempt to meet some people who knew a few things and had a few parts that might help get the Kombi off the lawn.

It is from this context that I contacted Club VeeDub to see what I could do for them. It turns out they have a lot of history going on. Phil, the editor of the Club's monthly magazine, the Zeitschrift, tries to put an historical piece in each edition. He offered to let me edit the next copy of the magazine. Then Dad started talking, and now I am also writing a piece for the magazine.

I'm not going to be writing anything I thought I might write. I am going to be writing about my history. Grandfather owned a panel shop in Lidcombe that wrecked and fixed up Volkswagens. So thanks to Dad I am going to be trawling through family photos and interviewing my uncles to help inform the article. I think it should be really interesting because I really don't know a lot about the wrecking days of the shop - although I'm sure I've been told on numerous occasions. What I have been told already, is that they used to use a Kombi Ute to bring in parts and that Dad got run over by a Beetle without wheels - but that's a story for another blog.

And thanks to Dad, he is after all, the reason I am here, I have my first source.


This is a picture of Uncle John, Dad and Uncle Al on Schenk & Co's last day of business, on the 18th December, 2014. Dad's caption reads

"Schenk & Co Smash Repairs closed its doors today after 54 years of trade.
In its heyday we used VW Kombi utes as our workhorse. We collected parts In them. We took beetle bodies to Sims metal In them and they did countless trips to the tip.
Today we did our last ever tip run from Schenk & Co.
It was only proper that it be done in a Kombi."

I really have no idea what happened during Schenk & Co's Kombi era other than that. But I think that Dad, Uncle Al and Uncle John will have plenty of stories to tell. The only trouble will be fitting the stories into the article and getting them to stop talking. I think that some of the stories may not make it into the article, but I think they still are important in telling the story. I hope that I'll be able to figure out how to do a blog for it myself, and hopefully I can do them justice there.

I have always been fascinated by history, leading me to choose as much elective history as possible throughout high school, and only naturally resulting in a major at university. This fascination probably stems from the fact that I have always been surrounded by history. My grandparents would tell me enthralling stories, I've long watched my Dad passionately piece together our family tree, and my Mum constructs our immediate family history in scrapbooks. Yet, my interests have always extended far beyond Australian or local history.

While I tell myself I am so interested in WWII and post-war European history because it’s my ‘family’ history (a great-grandfather and grandfather who served in WWI and II respectively, and ancestry from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany), is it really ‘my’ history?

With every session I have with my community organisation, Manly, Pittwater and Warringah History Society (MWPHS), I become more and more aware of just how unknowledgeable I am about the rich local history of the area I have lived my entire life – the Northern Beaches.

The popularity of local history, exactly what MWPHS strive to collect, preserve, and circulate, has exploded in recent years. Graeme Davison puts it clearly and simply - “Local history, which links our aspirations for community to a sense of place, our fragile present to a seemingly more stable past, has a strong claim on the contemporary imagination”.

So, I guess rationalising my attraction to European history is justified, as my family history has very much impacted my life today, linking my “fragile present to a seemingly more stable past”. But how then do I explain my lack of connection to the history right on my doorstep? (This isn’t an exaggeration. A quick walk into the bush near my house, and you’ll stumble across Aboriginal rock carvings). The history with which I should resonate, given my physical relationship, “a sense of place”.

I’ve always assumed my local area lacked an ‘interesting’ history worthy of my attention, but I’m continuously being surprised as I come across documents in MWPHS’ archives (like newspaper advertisements for Manly Ferries from the early 1900s, or photographs of one of the many farms that once existed in my suburb). Why has it taken this long for me to be exposed to this information? If I had been exposed earlier, could I have a stronger sense of belonging to my local community?

History, whether it is public, local, national, Indigenous, female (the list goes on), is very much about identity making. The power of history lies in its ability to educate about the past, in order to make sense of the present, and inform or progress the future. This happens at all levels (community/local, nations, transnational), but most basically for individuals. HSTY3902 students – who knows what little known information you’ll uncover and publicise? Whose identity may your work help shape in the future? You have the power, use it wisely.

This week we took a bit of time out to talk to previous students of History Beyond the Classroom and to find out more about the community work that students have already started this year. It reminded me of just why I enjoy teaching this course so much.

We were fortunate to have Sarah Simic and Ryan Cropp join us from last year to talk about their experiences last year, the highs and lows, the challenges and rewards, to give us practical tips on working with organisations, and to reveal some important updates about the work they did.

Ryan Cropp, who is now doing his Honours degree in history, was one of the first students last year to make contact with a group – the Hurlstone Park Wanderers Football Club. And he was one of the first students who posted a blog about his experiences. See Ryan helped inspire many students from last year to get started and see where they landed up.

Ryan spoke about his realisation that history was incredibly fragile, and relied on the often unpaid work of so many dedicated enthusiasts who care about their communities and their clubs. While at first frustrated with how few records there seemed to be about the club, that frustration and search for new records became the most interesting part of the project.

Ryan also spoke of his need to manage expectations – his own and others – about what he could realistically achieve in the course of one semester, but also the (on-going) friendships he made while doing his major project. He helped re-write part of their website, and interviewed one of the older club members and made a great video about the Canterbury Cup played at the Blick Oval in Hurlstone Park from 1949-1963 (see Ryan hopes his work has and will continue to stir up more memories and archives relating to the club.

Sarah Simic also joined us, and talked about her false starts with a community group, followed by her major task – finding the origin dates 27 suburbs for the city of Fairfield. She thought this was going to be easy, but it turned in to a labour of love. She wrote one of the best blogposts of the year. I urge everyone to read the full blog at, but here is an excerpt:

Historians love dates. They are our little comfort pillows; they slip complex situations into simple time frames. Ah, how lovely! How sweet! How romantic!

But I never imagined it would be so hard to find a single date.

I have spent hours wading through newspaper clippings, council records, advertisements, maps. You name it, I've looked. And yet, it has taken me hours to find one little piece of information.

I feel like the gods of history have been toying with me. I feel like a mouse being cruelly chucked around by a cat: lulled into a false sense of security, only to be once again snapped up in its deceiving paws.

Sarah urged students this year to be creative and roll with the unconventional nature of the unit, to trust their historical instincts, and to enjoy themselves. Sarah also reminded us of the practical outcome of the work many students did. Though Sarah’s report wasn’t made “public,” Fairfield has used her work to make new banners dating the various suburbs. The fruits of her work can now be seen all over the city of Fairfield. You can view her work at:

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The fruits of Sarah's labour

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Plan of town made by founder John Brenan in 1838. Present day Smithfield still follows this plan.

Sarah was also able to stay and talk to students informally about their community work and the projects that might emerge. We divided up the students into groups based around the kind of work their organisations did, which included historical societies and historic sites, community and sports groups, libraries and schools, and health and welfare and government groups.

This year, we have twenty-seven students in total, working with twenty-seven different organisations, listed below. Once again, they range in scope and size and purpose, but so far all the students seem keen to get on with their work with them and open-minded about what might emerge. Students also talked about how enthusiastic many of their contacts were in their organisations, and why they got interested and involved with them in the first place.

I have been cheered again by how willing students are to think beyond the classroom and to engage with such a wonderfully diverse group of organisations. And I am very grateful for the support of our community partners in taking on the students. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more about the work students are doing, and the projects that evolve from this.

Community Groups and Centres

Addison Road Community Centre
Auburn Youth Centre
Newtown Neighbourhood Centre
Balmain Association
Friends of Callan Park
Glenwood Community Association

Historical Societies and Historic Sites

Blacktown and District Historical Society
La Perouse Museum
Manly, Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society
Blue Mountains Historical Society
Wyong Family History Group
Eryldene Historic House and Garden
St John’s Cemetery Project

Schools, Colleges, and Education

University of the Third Age – U3A (Liverpool)
Wesley College
Kambala Old Girls Union

Libraries, Health and Government

Touching Base
Woollahra Municipal Council (Double Bay Library)
Waverly Library
The David Berry Hospital

Sports and Leisure

Queenscliff Life Saving Club
Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink/Ice Skating Club of NSW
Western Suburbs Rugby League Club Archives
Club VeeDub
Music & Booze Co.
Cooma Little Theatre

“Sport is for those who are smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

Rugby League has always played an important part of my life. Some of the earliest memories I have with my Dad were chucking the footy around in the backyard or going to games with him. For me, sport had always been an escape from the challenges that life threw at me. It was a way to make new mates when school wasn’t going so great. It was a healthy distraction from the pressures of Year 12. In many ways, I had always kept footy separate from my academic work. If I’m being perfectly honest, I never thought it would be possible to combine my love of Rugby League with that of history. Surely histories of sport and leisure would make classical empiricists like Von Ranke turn in their grave! Over the years I had read plenty of autobiographies and histories of the game, not once thinking that I could perhaps add to the body of work.

I mean what kind of Professor seriously wants to read about footy?

I was lucky enough for that to change last semester. Whilst taking a course that centered on the history of Sydney, I decided to write an essay on the ways in which Rugby League contributed to Western Sydney Identity. Enter the Western Sydney Fibros and Northern Beaches Silvertails. This rivalry produced what can only be described as the most violent period of Rugby League history. Spawned through a unique form of territorial class warfare. If you have a spare hour on your hands I seriously recommend watching the documentary below:

Wests Archives was an obvious choice of organization for my beyond the classroom project. Over the last few weeks I have been lucky enough to spend time with some of the stalwarts of the club. Club Director Rick Wayde has been especially helpful in gauging an idea for what I could do. Every ex player I seem to bump into at the League’s club reminds me that Rick is probably the expert on Wests history. Club archivist Neil Bennett has been an absolute champion. Over a coffee (or two….) he’s managed to show me the whole of their collection. I’m talking Jerseys, newspaper articles, stubbie holders, trophies….The list goes on.

During the mid 1990’s, media Mogul Rupert Murdoch took it upon himself to create a completely new Rugby League competition. Murdoch’s “Super League” began to rival the Australian Rugby League Competition that had been around since 1908. Players, teams and coaches swapped codes. Rivalries spawned. Court battles were won and lost. By 1997, both leagues signed a peace deal and the National Rugby League competition was born. Unfortunately for Wests, the financial constrains caused by the chaos of the years before meant that they could not enter the new competition alone. The first grade Wests side perished and merged with Balmain. Wests Magpies still compete as a sole entity at lower competition grades. Wests fans can be found at Ron Massey Cup and SC Ball Games. It is my understanding that the supporter group, aptly named “the Wests Fanatics” emerged through this tumultuous period. Rick and Neil would like me to write a history of the Wests Supporters Group after the mid 1990s.

In all honesty, I’m really excited to see where this project takes me. At the end of the day, I hope to be writing working class stories. From preliminary research and talks with Wests fans, it is apparent that the club holds a pretty special place in their hearts. We have read a lot about public history this semester. In saying that I have become even more aware of its limitations and restrictions. Oral histories that I find myself collecting will have to be reinforced with other primary evidence. I will need to understand that the project is going to take time. The club has made it clear what they want to do with my work, so I need to ensure it’s factually correct. Guest Lecturers like Louise and Michaela have showed that community groups have an uncanny ability to produce environments of inclusiveness and happiness. If I can capture that kind of sentiment, I will consider my project a success.


One my early Club Presentations


Me at the 2004 NRL Grand Final


The Boots and Jersey I wore in my Final Year at School


Dr. Tanya Evans, Macquarie University

In week 7 in History Beyond the Classroom, we got yet another perspective on community engaged pubic history. Fresh from winning a prestigious NSW Premier’s History Award on Friday night, we were lucky to get Tanya Evans. Tanya was also busy this week, since she is current President of the History Council of NSW (, and had a packed schedule of events for History Week (

Tanya, who now teaches at Macquarie University, started her career by doing her Honours in History at Edinburgh University, followed by an MA in Women’s History at the University of London, followed by a PhD, also at London. Though an academic historian, Tanya told us that when she moved to Macquarie from the UK she began to describe herself as a public historian who also happens to specialise in the history of family, motherhood, poverty, and sexuality. For Tanya, the line between academic and public history is too blurred to make a distinction, which arguably should not have to be made at all.

Tanya is passionate about researching ordinary people and places in the past and, more importantly, incorporating ordinary people and places in the process of her research and the construction of historical knowledge. She also loves teaching and producing public history and working in teams. In fact, Tanya helped me think through some of the challenges of teaching this unit because she also teaches a capstone community history unit at Macquarie (which has a requirement that all students complete a community engaged unit of study before they graduate), but one that is focused on collaboration between students, too.

Tanya has also curated an exhibition, writes for general as well as academic readers, politicians and social policy makers and she makes radio and television programs based on her scholarship. Tanya is a regular contributor to the popular show “Who Do You Think You Are?” both here and in the UK. She consciously tries to pitch her work at a variety of audiences because her research is targeted at disrupting people's assumptions about the history of the family. It questions supposedly 'authoritative' or 'commonsensical' knowledge about family life in the past.

Her three books so far have been about the history of 'illegitimacy', poverty and philanthropy. And, as noted above, as testimony to Tanya’s commitment to community history, her last book, Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales, won the NSW Premier’s History Prize for Community and Regional History ( The book was a history of Australia's oldest surviving charity, The Benevolent Society, and she wrote this in collaboration with family historians while relying on the support of the charity over several years in order to do so. Tanya was as interested in the lives of the family historians she met while doing research for this, and wanted to track how their own research has changed the way they think and live, too.

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Tanya is dedicated to the democratization of historical knowledge, and her commitment showed in her talk to the class, as well as the essay we read based on her most recent venture: an edited collection called Swimming with the Spit published by New South, which is a community history of the Spit Swimming Club at Balmoral Beach (, and has just hit the newsstands everywhere….( Tanya shared some of the stories she accumulated while interviewing various prominent female swimmers in the club’s history, and discussed how they wanted to shape their own stories. In doing so, Tanya reminded us that though local history is often disparaged, in fact, just about all history is local history in some way, and the real questions revolve around the meaning(s) we make of those stories.

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Finally, Tanya talked a little about her interest in presenting in different media, noting that she wrote drafts of her latest work as blog posts, which allowed for an exchange of ideas and community input. This led nicely into our class discussion of the community work that students are doing, and the major projects they are starting to think about. In the meantime, Tanya is also already starting to write a history of motherhood in Australia from prehistory to the present (!) while continuing to research the different ways in which family history is practiced. We’ll look forward to more innovative approaches, and award-winning research.


Judith Dunn, OAM

Last week our class finally moved beyond the classroom in a literal sense, and journeyed to Parramatta for a field trip. Spurred on by Michaela Cameron, who has helped bring the history of Parramatta alive in her recent work (see:, we travelled west instead of east (as we did last year, see:, and discovered the heart of early European history in Australia.

Our tour guides for the afternoon could not have been better. In addition to Michaela, Judith Dunn, OAM, also offered her services and gave us a tour of the extraordinary site of the Parramatta Female Factory and worked in tandem with Michaela at the St John’s Cemetery to give us a sense of the amazing connectedness of the early history of Parramatta, Sydney, NSW, and beyond.


Judith Dunn with HSTY 3902 Students on-site at the Parramatta Female Factory

Judith has led an exemplary life as a practicing public historian and historian-activist. She is a migrant with a passion for Australian history, and currently holds a Fellowship in Colonial History. She is also Past President and served on the Society Council of Parramatta & District Historical Society for 23 years. Judith continues to develop and guide coach and walking tours (see, for example:

Judith initiated the Historic Graves Committee thirty years ago, is still their convenor and is author of the Parramatta Cemetery Series, a set of five books about all of Parramatta’s cemeteries: ( Her most recent publication, Colonial Ladies, Lovely Lively and Lamentably Loose (, attracted an individual grant from the Heritage Branch of the NSW Department for Planning.

Judith is the recipient of a number of awards including a gold medal in Women of Australia Awards, the Australian Bi-Centenary Medal and NSW State Government Award for Services to History and Heritage and in her capacity as a TAFE Teacher won a NSW Quality Teaching Award and membership of the College of Educators. In 2011 she was awarded an OAM for services to History and Heritage. On top of all that, the indomitable Judith likes to water ski in her spare time…!

While on tour with Judith at the Parramatta Female Factory site, we learned not just about the varied and diverse history of the women who were incarcerated in the oldest dedicated women’s prison in Australia, but also the many challenges in preserving these kinds of extraordinary historic sites and their history. We walked in the imprint of the convict site and learned of the development plans to build 30-storey buildings on top of this heritage site. We also learned of the many alterations to the site over time, and the sometimes serendipitous discoveries of new developments that have been spotted and stopped only by the vigilance of people like Judith who have cared for the site for so long. Judith reminded us that while it might seem hopeless at times, heritage preservation and the stories in the sandstone will only be achieved through individual and collective action.

We then navigated our way through the growing throngs for the nearby Monday night football game (who were using parts of the PFF as a car parking lot) and Michaela Cameron pointed out some of her favourite historic sites along the main street, including Roseneath Cottage on O’Connell St. near the Leagues Club, the George St Tudor Gatehouse on O’Connell and George Streets, Bennett’s Bakery on O’Connell St., and finally St John’s Cemetery. We marveled at the juxtaposition between old and new, and alas, at the lack of interpretive signs at most of these amazing historic sites. While it seems only a matter of time before they will be overrun by new developments, the work of people like Judith and Michaela are helping to ensure that the stories behind the buildings and gravestones are not lost.


Michaela Cameron pointing out Bennett's Bakery on O'Connell Street

As the sun set, Michaela and Judith kept us enthralled with stories from the tombs, including many woven from Michaela’s own family history in the area. The St John’s Cemetery is the oldest surviving European graveyard in Australia, and is the resting place for no fewer than 63 “First Fleeters.” Thanks to Michaela’s work documenting some of these stories, more and more people will be able to enjoy the interconnected stories of the very early European development of the Parramatta area (, and see:, and ) and the role it played in the early history of Sydney and NSW. We also, I think, came away with a renewed appreciation that all history starts locally, and it is up to us not only to help preserve that history, but also tell it to a broader audience to ensure its importance is not forgotten, and lost.

I should also mention that at least two students from our class last year, Katya Pesce and Michael Rees, worked with organisations involved in saving the built heritage of Parramatta, the Friends of the Parramatta Female Factory ( and the North Parrramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG). You can read about their experiences here:;; and

To help with these preservation efforts, see, and

And to sign the petition against developing the PFF site:


Tales from the tombstones with Judith Dunn


Michaela Cameron talks of her own ancestors and their stories

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This week we had a great discussion with Michaela Cameron. Michaela is currently completing a PhD thesis at the University of Sydney that is a “sound-centred history of early seventeenth-century New France.” She studies the contrasting auditory cultures of French Catholic missionaries and Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking peoples to better understand the experience of first contact. Essentially, she argues that different ways of sounding and hearing the world was often at the core of cultural conflict. Michaela is an amazing student who is pushing at the boundaries of academic knowledge and ways of knowing.

But a funny thing happened to Michaela along the way to completing her PhD. Unsure of the value of the PhD, and the job market, Michaela took a little time out and qualified as a secondary school English teacher and worked casually in a number of schools for approximately two years. At the time, she even had some training in marketing as well.

Then, she ventured into public history about two years ago and became very involved with the convict history, heritage sites, and community organisations in her own backyard: Parramatta. Starting out by writing reviews of historic sites for Yelp, she created a Sydney history twitter account (, an instagram account for promoting Parramatta history and especially the Female Factory in particular ( and and, and has also done work for the Dictionary of Sydney, including creating a terrific walking tour app of Convict Parramatta

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Michaela is now juggling both the completion of her American history PhD thesis (which she hopes to complete by the end of this year or soon after) with being the project manager of the Parramatta-based public history website The St. John’s Cemetery Project:

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The scope of Michaela’s recent public history efforts is breathtaking, and her development as a public historian has been inspirational. Many students who took this course last year recalled that Michaela’s talk to them was a real turning point in how they thought about history and public history, and what they could do in terms of major projects. This year, I was taken aback by how much more Michaela has been doing in the last twelve months. She again showed many of us what an “outsider” and a trained historian could bring to the public history table, particular if one listens, learns, and collaborates with local experts and the vast knowledge they often bring to the subjects.

Michaela offered practical tips about having clear aims, and knowing what purpose any engagement and its public outcome might serve, including thinking about the audience for any public history project.

Michaela also stressed the need to go multi-modal, and think about bringing in text, visual, and audio material. She also showed us some fabulous examples of using primary sources and social media to “sell history” – and noted that while some organisations are already very good about using social media, it is often something we can help with if we are on top of it. So, too, can we try to draw attention to great resources such as Trove (

Primary sources in particular can entertain as well as inform, but they can also draw attention to some important causes (see for example: and and and and Michaela also notes that we should use a wide range of sources, and look for the ‘gaps’ – the silences, or the history that is not being done, or communicated particularly well.

Finally, Michaela also showed that history students could collaborate with each other to strengthen their efforts, and also help local/community organisations make connections between themselves and others, and with other organisations in particular that might help. Putting a grassroots campaign in touch with the Mitchell library, or the Dictionary of Sydney, for example, can pay dividends. And of course, we can use social media for activist purposes.

Following this stimulating talk, we only had a brief time to discuss the kinds of organisations students were working with, or hoping to work with. Once again, there is a great range of interests and different kinds of organisations, ranging from historical societies and historic sites, museums and libraries, to sports and community clubs, health and welfare groups, and activist/political groups. Some of the students shared experiences and challenges, and with Michaela’s talk as inspiration, began to think about how that work might translate into a public history project.


Dr Louise Prowse on "What is Local/Community History?

There could be few people better placed to talk to us about “what is local/community history than our guest this week, Louise Prowse. Louise has not only studied and analysed the growth of local historical societies in the second half of the twentieth century, but in doing so she has spent a great deal of time with all kinds of people who have dedicated their lives to recording, preserving and disseminating the histories of their communities. Her PhD, completed at Sydney University in 2015, was entitled “A Poplar Past? Historical Identity and the Rural Ideal in Australian Country Towns, 1945-2000,” so Louise had plenty to draw from not just in terms of helping us understand the ‘place’ of local history in the lives of many, but also in giving us many practical tips about how to build relationships of trust and respect with those who open their doors to us.


More generally, Louise is an Australian cultural historian who specialises in place identity, tourism, heritage and the intersections between local and national history-making. Louise has taught nineteenth and twentieth century Australian cultural and political history, American political history and the histories of media and of tourism at New York University (Sydney), the University of Sydney and at Charles Sturt University. She has worked on a number of research projects, and has just begun a new job with the Office of Environment and Heritage, with a focus on regional heritage in NSW.

Louise’s talk ranged widely, historicising the role and functions of local historical societies, and thinking about the role of belonging and the custodial role many people feel about the past of their community. She also noted the often unexpected discoveries – sources that she realised no one had really looked at or done anything with. A sense of discovery resonated with one of the readings we had from Louise’s work, entitled “Parallels on the Periphery: The Exploration of Aboriginal History by Local Historical Societies in New South Wales, 1960s-1970s,” in History Australia 12, no. 3 (2015), 55-75. In her research, Louise had found that country town historical societies had a genuine interest in Aboriginal history in the 1960s and 1970s, some years before the historical profession took aboriginal history more seriously, and even while academic historians often disparaged the work of local historical societies.


Discussion ranged across a number of issues, including the relationship between the local and the national, the kinds of sources that might be important, and relationships between local authorities, the community, and the professional historian as well as the "hierarchies" of local knowledge and authority too – important issues that students also noted came out in our readings of Graeme Davison on “Community” and Martha Sears work on “History in Communities.” I think students were amazed not just at the importance of the work done by local historical societies and other community groups, but also the sheer range of historical activities in any one place.

We also talked about the tension inherent in working with local groups and writing analytical history, which again raised questions about who our histories are for, and what are they for? Do we need a sense of personal connection, or a common point of interest to work well together? Where do we feel a sense of belonging? What do we feel connected to? How comfortable would we feel with an “outsider” writing the history of our own communities? Do we need to connect with communities/localities that we study? Can we "own" a history that is not ours? Or is written by someone else? What can we bring to the table as "insiders" and as "outsiders"?

Last year, we heard from Mark McKenna that history should be about confronting myths, rather than reassuring stories. But Frank Bongiorno and Erik Ekland have written in their article "The Problem of Belonging: Contested Country in Australian Local History," that instead of confronting myths, we should think about excavating the "historical meanings of social memory." What role do myths play in our historical consciousness?

Building on all of this, and like last year, I think one of the most important questions that arose from the readings and discussion this week is whether we can/should think of our histories as acts of reconciliation?

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PHA-NSW & ACT Chair, Dr. Mark Dunn on Public History

It was a great pleasure to welcome Mark Dunn as our first guest speaker in History Beyond the Classroom in 2017. Currently the Chair of the Professional Historians Association of NSW (PHA-NSW;, Mark’s career as a professional historian embodies the challenges and opportunities of public history.

After studying history at UNSW, Mark did some volunteer work on an archaeological site in Sydney, which led to a paid job as a historian for a heritage and archaeology firm in Sydney, where he worked until 2010. During that time he was involved in major conservation, archaeology (including digging), oral history, significance and interpretation projects Australia wide. Some of these include doing Oral History for the Cockatoo Island Navy Dockyard, the moving of Prince of Wales Destitute Childrens Asylum Cemetery, The Big Dig in The Rocks and numerous smaller histories. Mark has been a member of the Professional Historians Association since c1997 and is currently the Chair. He has also been a committee member and President of the History Council NSW and is currently Deputy Chair of the NSW Heritage Council. Mark now works as a consultant historian in heritage and research, as well as leading city tours for an American tour company Context Travel. He is also the current CH Currey Fellow at State Library of NSW, and recently completed his PhD at UNSW.

Mark talked to students about the crucial role played by the PHA-NSW, and also the challenges of doing public history, which included negotiating any conflicts of interest, managing expectations, juggling tight budgets and deadlines, and the disappointments resulting from not having control over the final product, sometimes with the result that your work gets buried (sometimes literally).

An unexpected find at the Mick Simmons site at George Street 2013. After excavating and archiving this early colonial pub, the site was completely removed. Recording and archiving such sites before they are completely obliterated is just one of the many kinds of projects Mark Dunn has worked on.

Drawing from his extensive experience, Mark also reflected on why he enjoys being a professional historian, which included the opportunity to work on many and varied history projects, bringing history to a wide range of audiences who often have a real connection with the past that is being presented, and seeing your work on public display, whether it be on television, radio, the side of a building, the wall of a pub, or the web.

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Mark Dunn on site with a crew from the popular television show, Who Do You Think You Are?

Mark also noted his most recent public history project for Sydney Trains Heritage NSW (, the beautifully produced pamphlet called “Running on Time: Clocks and Time-Keeping in the NSW Railways” (you can download a copy at: There is also an accompanying short film featuring interviews with railway workers and heritage experts involved in the project ( Mark revealed that he completed his report in about four weeks of full-time work, giving students something to aspire to….

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Some of the many clocks in the collection of Sydney Trains at Central Station

Also check out Mark’s blogsite, with Laila Ellmoos, “Scratching Sydney’s Surface” at:

Mark was an engaging speaker, and the students (and I) were clearly amazed at the breadth and depth of his work. There were lots of questions about ethical dilemmas, disappointments, and missed opportunities in the Q&A, and the interest followed over into our discussion after Mark left. We were excited and amazed that public history could be and was being done in such a variety of contexts, and ways. One student was quite taken aback (and pleased to hear) at the fact that you didn't have to have a PhD to be an "historian." So, I think it was empowering for us, too.

Many students also made connections between Mark’s talk and work and the readings, too. These included Paul Ashton’s essay on "Public History" in Clark and Ashton, eds., Australian History Now (2013), in which he reflected on his experiences as a public historian and the growth of the field in general (we also noted that Mark Dunn was one of the first graduates of the Applied History degree at UTS that Ashton mentions that he helped establish).

As I noted last year, Ashton concluded by noting his working definition of public history as "the practice of historical work in a wide range of forums and sites which involves the negotiation of different understandings about the nature of the past and its meaning and uses in the present" (179). Such a definition draws on Raphael Samuel's idea that "history is a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands," and also points forward to Martha Sears' ecological view of different forms of history-making as "part of a dynamic system where every diverse and distinctive element contributes to the vigour and health of the whole" (Sears, "History in Communities," in Clark and Ashton, Australian History Now (2013), 212-213).

Mark’s talk and Paul Ashton’s work helped students reflect on the practice of history in the University and classroom, which often (though not always) precludes these kinds of negotiations about different kinds of understandings about the past, and present uses (though students were also quick to point out that there is a growing group of academic historians willing to engage with different public audiences, and indeed, there always has been). Our reading this week about the Enola Gay controversy in the United States in the early 1990s reinforced the dangers of not doing so, but also how difficult it might be to do so. Once again, and with the help of Anna Clark’s great interviews, our discussions invariably shifted to the History Wars in Australia and both the indifference of many to the history wars, but also the more subtle ways in which many non-professional historians understand “contest” in history. Discussion also ranged across questions about whether there is a historical middle ground between commemoration and historical analysis? Could the Enola Gay Exhibition controversy have been avoided?

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Week two in History Beyond the Classroom got off to a good start with almost near-perfect attendance and a good introductory session. Such a diverse range of students with a wide array of backgrounds and interests promises much for the semester ahead. We even have a social media expert in our ranks. That bodes well…

After introductions, we talked about some key questions, including “what is history?” and “What, or who, is our history for?” A spirited discussion ensured that we only scratched the surface of these questions, but I think we did a good job of interrogating what we have been doing so far in history units at the University. Key phrases that came up included “analysing,” “interpreting,” “questioning,” and “criticism.” Students noted they have been pushed to think about alternative perspectives, the richness of historiographical debate, the nature and absence of sources, new narratives, multiple narratives, and to define their own narrative, and also to see the contemporary relevance of what they study in the past to the present. Much of what we seem to do at University is to “subvert,” “undermine,” or “question,” what we thought we already knew, even while we still look for some kind of “lessons from the past” or “truth.”

Though EH Carr’s classic essay “What is History” is somewhat dated now, our sense of history at University is not too far off his idea that history is about a conversation between an historian and his/her facts, and between past and present. Some of this discussion pointed us toward the purpose of history, and while that remained an unfinished conversation, at first glance the “professional” historians’ goals seemed quite different from those surveyed in Roy Rosensweig and David Thelen's landmark study The Presence of the Past, and the individuals and groups Anna Clark spoke with in Private Lives, Public History, both of which compel us to consider about how non-historians think about the past and do history in their everyday lives, and the deeply personal nature of that engagement with the past. Ultimately though, I think N. Scott Momaday's preface to The Way to Rainy Mountain reminds us that all history is going to be a “turning and re-turning of myth, history, and memoir.” And Momaday's definition resonates with the American survey respondents who wanted to explore the past to understand “why I am like I am.” While this might jar with politicians’ desire for citizens to understand “why are we like we are” with the “we” somewhat arbitrarily defined sometimes as the “nation,” I think the main task of students in History Beyond the Classroom will be about acknowledging these different approaches and aims, and trying to find some common ground between them.

One student also brought up the musical “Hamilton” as an example of a public history project that is stimulating all kinds of discussion in the US. A link to one great rap from that production can be found here: and more info about the musical can be found here: Some discussion of its reception among historians can be found here: We’ll be talking more about public history next week.

And for those in the class who want to continue the discussion on “what is history?” and “who/what is history for?,” see our new Blackboard Discussion Group on extended conversations and make a contribution.

We finished the seminar with a very brief discussion of just how to get started on a community-engaged project, emphasising that the engagement should come first, with the historical questions arising from it.

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HSTY 3902 - History Beyond the Classroom is now underway again in 2016. Thanks to those who made it to the first class yesterday. The sites that I referred to in the introduction are as follows:

For the blog from last year that has student reflections on the course, as well as evaluations from community partners and lecturer and tutors, see the blog posts below.

You can also view the class website that showcases some of the student projects from last year at:

You can also view a summary of the course in the first issue of SOPHI magazine, which can be accessed here:

And please feel free to join me on twitter at: @HstyMattersSyd and also our new facebook site:

If you are an enrolled student, you can find a tape of the introductory meeting here, which contains some important information about the unit:

I look forward to seeing you all next Monday.

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Welcome to another year of History Beyond the Classroom - the second year we have taught it. With the benefit of the pioneering work of the students, lecturers, and community organisations from last year, hopefully we can make it even better than last year.

As mentioned in a previous blog, feedback from last year was overwhelmingly positive. Please see my summary and the results of the feedback at:

As I mention there, in response to feedback, this year I have set earlier due dates and staged deadlines for choosing and working with community organisations, and Michaela Cameron will come in earlier to speak to students, along with some of the students from last year, and we are also requiring weekly posts of diary entries so we can keep a closer eye on everyone’s progress and development (including some mandatory blogging!).

I will also be sure to include much clearer guidelines on expectations about the community work and the projects in the initial discussions and throughout. I will also provide clearer guidelines to our community partners as well and keep in touch with them from an earlier date. Hopefully, clearer guidelines will also help students navigate the time commitment that a few students felt was onerous.

This year, we now have a number of examples to draw from in terms of engagement, and also more links with organisations who are familiar with what we are doing. These will remain options for students, but students will still be allowed – and encouraged - to choose their own organization.

Some students struggled in their initial dealings with community or local organisations. We will certainly try and smooth the way this time, but it is also worth noting that many students in their reflective diaries and their feedback have said that these initial starts and false starts were one of the most important parts of the learning experience in this class – that it wasn’t always easy to “negotiate” a project, but they felt a tremendous sense of achievement when they pulled it off.

I have also put the readings together in a course reader this year, and we will try and divide our time in tutorials a little more effectively between the lecture readings, and projects.

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We are pleased to announce that thanks to the great work of Michaela Cameron, we now have a beautiful website up and running where you can view the brilliant community-engaged public history work of the students from HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom, in 2015. Well done to all, and thanks Michaela.

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I recently reported on student feedback for the unit HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom (see: The feedback we have collected from the community and local organisations that students have worked with over the semester have been overwhelmingly positive, too. While survey results are still coming in, we have heard from fourteen of our thirty-three partner organisations, or just over 40%.

Over 90% said they were satisfied with the way in which our history students engaged with the organization, with one neutral on the subject, and one unsatisfied. Over 70% were happy with the amount of information they received about the course, and why students were engaging with the organization. One was neutral, and two others said they would have liked to have known more about the course. Gratifyingly, all of the organisations who have responded so far said they would be interested in working with history students from the University of Sydney again next year.

For most students, the community engagement was the best part of the course. See their comments here:

Some of the qualitative comments from partner-organisations are listed below, but highlights included a note from Gay Hendrickson, from the Parramatta Female Factory Friends, who said that student Michael Rees was making a "real difference" to the organisation and "his approach was exceptional in the way he related to the individuals involved." "I would also like to commend you and the University of Sydney for providing a subject with practical experience of history in action as well as making a real difference to communities such as the Parramatta Female Factory Friends."

Mary Oakenfull of the Marrickville Heritage Society wrote that they appreciated the "deep interest and assistance" and “genuine enthusiasm” of student Margaret Bester, and "hope to have an ongoing relationship" with the History Department and the University of Sydney. And the North Parramatta Residents Action Group reported that Katya Pesce was delightful to have on board, her enthusiasm and dedication was a joy to be around….It is great to know that Katya has become so engrossed in our campaign that she has asked to stay on and help outside the course."

And Sharon Laura of the West Connex Action Group, Haberfield/Ashfield, wrote about Lucy Hodgkinson-Fisher that: "I was delighted and surprised by her thoughtfulness and integrity, by her pursuit of information from many others, as well as from me/us. I have been blown away by what she has produced - it is insightful and timely. Her project really has connected a past community struggle to a present day battle by residents. Good on you all at Sydney Uni and good on Lucy. Thanks."


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As the dust settles on the academic year, feedback for our History Beyond the Classroom unit of study has continued to come in (HSTY 3902). We’ve been a little overwhelmed by the positive responses from students, guest lecturers, and our community and local partner organisations. We’ve now got back our Unit of Study Survey (USS) results, and we are in the midst of surveying our community partners. In an effort to be transparent, I’ve written a brief summary of the salient points from this feedback below, followed by a full report of the results, and comments (note, I've now separated out our community partner feedback into a different blog post, that can be found here:

Thirty of thirty-eight enrolled students responded to the USS survey, or roughly 80% of the class. Of these, 97% reported that they were satisfied with the quality of the teaching, with only one person “neutral” on the question. Significantly, 100% of students strongly agreed or agreed that the content of the unit “encouraged/stimulated their thinking and helped to develop an enhanced diversity of ideas, attitudes and approached to an beyond the subject matter.”

The positive qualitative comments to the question “What have been the best aspects of this unit of study?,” noted below, speak for themselves. I’ll only say here that students’ enthusiasm for the course was reflected in the results of their work, which was outstanding. In over twenty years of teaching, I have never seen such overwhelmingly impressive work. Students have inspired and energized me throughout the semester, as much as they have obviously enjoyed the course too. While many students noted it has been the best course they have ever taken at Uni, which is lovely to hear, I should also point out that it has been one of the most enjoyable courses I have ever taught! It has been such a treat and privilege for me to see students’ enthusiasm and intellectual development, and to watch these projects grow to fruition.


The Public History Prize is an annual award offered by the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT (PHA NSW & ACT). The prize is open to NSW & ACT students engaged with the field and practice of public history. The winner will receive a certificate and a prize of $500, presented at the PHA NSW & ACT’s Public History Prize awards night on the 1st of March, 2016.

2015 Public History Prize entries close on 4 December 2015.


Come and join 'History Beyond the Classroom' students who will be presenting their work on Sydney's Quarantine Station on site on Sunday 22 November

Scratching the surface: life after the first quarantine
Molly Clarke

What's in a headstone? A look into the shipping networks of the early Quarantine Station
Jacob Mark

Qantas and the Q Station: a shelter from the storm
Miguel Alzona

Operation Babylift: Vietnamese refugees at the Quarantine Station
Stephanie Barahona


In a very literal sense, the name of this subject – ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ – has proven to be platform on which my project has been both conceptualised around, and oriented upon. My community engagement over this semester has been with Cammeraygal High School, a comprehensive, co-educational government high school established on Sydney’s Lower North Shore in 2015.

What is History? Who, and what, is history for?’ were the questions which opened our discussions in Week 1 of this semester, and it is, somewhat fittingly, the change in my responses to these questions which reveal the significant learning this unit has forced me to undertake.

Indeed, thirteen weeks ago, I was debating several questions: What could be ‘historical’ about a school currently filled with 100 12 year-olds? Can a place that has only been in existence for ten months construct a ‘valid’ or ‘meaningful’ history? Would placing labels of ‘heritage’ and ‘legacy’ at this point of its story be artificial, forced, even contrived? What sorts of stories from its opening year could – or would – be worth telling and memorialising?

These questions have, in a sense, been dispelled as I’ve gone throughout the semester: firstly, as a result of the process of engaging with the school, its community, and its story; and secondly, because this unit has taught me to re-imagine the ‘boundaries’ I had put onto the historical discipline. My project has shaped into an examination of how the concepts of place, history, and community collide in the construction, access, use, and redefinition of public spaces. It seeks to situate this very early – and constantly developing – history of Cammeraygal High School within a broader reflection on the centrality of physical space in the construction of historical identities. It will, moreover, make the argument that a sense of history (or what might academically be referred to as a ‘historical consciousness’) has been present in the very conception of this school, and underscores and motivates the development of its vision and imagination.

As we near the conclusion of this semester, above all, I have been forced to realise the dynamic, multiplicitous, and meaningful place from which history originates. If anything, my initial concerns about whether my project could unearth a ‘valid’ or ‘meaningful’ history revealed a prejudiced view of what constituted a ‘significant’ account of the past. And as I’ve realised through the people and stories I have had the privilege of encountering, the telling of history originates from a place of generosity and a desire to have stories and memories preserved. That is not to say that history isn’t conflicting and contested – because it often is – but the spirit in which history has been offered and shared with me this semester has showed me its importance and its life beyond both the university and high-school classrooms.

HSTY3902 comrades!

Home stretch is here and I can almost see the finish line! As I scramble to put together my final research project, I thought I would give a rather honest opinion of my experiences so far...

I keep having these really frustrating dreams about my project. I wake up with heart palpitations and sweat beads down my face (okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but still).

I have been working with the Whitlam Library in Cabramatta. They have a fabulous team of heritage officers who do all sorts of great local historical research, such writing books for local clubs, conducting oral interviews, much of which is in collaboration with the Fairfield Museum.

My project is to find the OFFICIAL date of establishment of each of the 27 suburbs under Fairfield Council (south-west Sydney). There are banners in each of the suburbs which state the "date of establishment", but unfortunately, some of these dates are wrong. I have to go find primary sources showing the “real” dates and give the the info to the Fairfield Council (which is also my final project).

Historians love dates. They are our little comfort pillows; they slip complex situations into simple time frames. Ah, how lovely! How sweet! How romantic!

But I never imagined it would be so hard to find a single date.

I have spent hours wading through newspaper clippings, council records, advertisements, maps. You name it, I've looked. And yet, it has taken me hours to find one little piece of information.

I feel like the gods of history have been toying with me. I feel like a mouse being cruelly chucked around by a cat: lulled into a false sense of security, only to be once again snapped up in its deceiving paws.

Take the suburb of Edensor Park. There is heaps of information available through newspaper archives and private letters. Edensor Park was mostly isolated farmland up until the 1950s. But, it did have post office and telephone line (predicament #1: does that mean it’s "officially" established?"). However, it didn't reach its suburban peak until the 1970s when a huge land release occurred, and much of the area became residential (predicament #2: is this the time of "official" establishment?). And on top of this, I can't find a single document which explicitly states the date of proclamation. So many documents, but so little information. And Edensor Park is one of the least of my worries.

It's times like these when my inner historian is really put to the test. I have learnt that you need creativity and you REALLY need to think for yourself. There are no history books to tell you what to think (so that's what lecturers meant when they kept saying "critically and independently" analyse! Who would've thought?). At the end of the day, if I can’t find a date IN a source, I have to come to some conclusion, given the sources I do have. Maybe Edensor Park was established in the 1920s and maybe it was “reborn” in the 1950s? Perhaps I will give the Council both dates instead of just one.

Nevertheless, I have also had some breakthroughs (cue triumphant orchestral music). When I found a newspaper clipping which explicitly stated that Wakeley was established in 1979, I almost cried with joy. I felt like I was looking at my first child. So many emotions after such a long labour.

So, my comrades, BE BRAVE!

I used to think love was a battlefield, but you know what? History research is a battlefield, especially if you’re dating it (pun absolutely intended).

If there is one thing I have learnt, it’s that history isn’t a beautifully bound book written by some famous historian. History is the many tedious hours of research, scouring through barely legible newspapers, maps and photographs, only to find yourself exactly where you started. And when you do find that one magical piece of information, it’s about knowing what to do with it.

The end of semester is nigh at Sydney University. Our jacaranda is in full bloom, finding a free desk in Fisher is near impossible, and no doubt the students’ (and perhaps the staff’s) collective caffeine intake has skyrocketed. In the frantic rush to finish off assessments it can be difficult to recall our naïve enthusiasm of the beginning of semester, let alone the ghosts of semesters past. Yet as I was doing some final research for my project yesterday I was vividly reminded of one of readings from the 3000-level unit I took last semester: 'Crying in the archives' by Curthoys and McGrath. It provided helpful guidance on doing archival research as well as reflecting on its pleasures and challenges (hence the title). Even more than being reminded of this article, I found myself living it.

My project chronicles the history of writers at Callan Park – from poets who were patients there when it was a mental asylum, to the present activities of the New South Wales Writers' Centre. One of my subjects is Frank Webb, a renowned Australian poet who spent several years at the asylum as well as at other psychiatric institutions. While I'd thought my research was complete, I stumbled across a catalogue listing for a package of papers donated to the State Library by a friend of Webb's after his death. Based on the dates listed, I didn't think it would be very relevant for my project and it got pushed to the bottom of my research list. Yesterday, motivated by my need to see another source, I finally made the trip. And what a goldmine it was! After a lengthy process that made me feel like a true scholar – obtaining the fancy gold Special Collections library card, requesting the item from a wizened librarian who recommended various others sources for me to look into, and finding a free desk in the impressive Mitchell Library, I finally opened up the file.


Among letters written from other institutions, there were two from Webb's time at Callan Park – one photocopied but the other an original letter addressed to a friend. I knew I’d hit the jackpot with that one letter alone, but it wasn't until I read through them all that I realised the significance of what I'd found. Biographers have described Webb's stay at Callan Park as particularly bleak, with him composing no poetry at all in that four years. I don't know if they’ve read these letters, but the truth of their assessment bleeds out of those pages. He writes of the Communists that supposedly surrounded him, and seems worried to the point of paranoia about rumours that were apparently spreading about him outside the asylum walls. Webb claims that his friend’s previous letter was withheld from him by a nurse, and seems to trust only one person to faithfully deliver notes to him.

In other letters he is frank (ha!) about his unhappiness, but weaves this in among relatively cheerful responses to his friend's recent trip overseas and tales of mutual acquaintances. It is only in the Callan Park letters that you get a sense of his overwhelming despair: “I have been unable to think of writing a poem, nor ever be able again to write whilst in this Hospital.” His utter despondency brought me to tears in the middle of the library. To be fair I cried last week because I saw a happy dog, so I'm not sure I can be trusted to accurately gauge emotional impact. But holding the very pages he wrote on, seeing the shape and slant of his handwriting, and reading his words to “Dear David” was a visceral and moving experience. Curthoys and McGrath were certainly right when they described the “joy and exhilaration” of encountering personal documents in the archive.

And don't worry – I made sure those priceless documents were safely out of the path of my tears!

Hello friends of HSTY3902,

The organisation I am conducting research for is the Q-Station Sydney Harbour National Park. It is located at the historic site of the former North Head Quarantine Station, near Manly. As early as 1832, the site was used to quarantine new arrivals to the colony via ships that had or might have been exposed to infectious diseases, such as small pox, whooping cough, the Spanish influenza, etc. By 1975, the station was turned into a temporary migrant centre. The site housed victims from Cyclone Tracy of 1974, to Vietnamese orphans from the Vietnam War in 1975 (which I’ll explain a little further down). The site continued to operate until its closure in 1984. Nowadays, the site is used for conference and accommodation purposes. It is also home to one of the most famous paranormal tours in Australia and forms part of Sydney Harbour National Parks.

My major project will be based on Australia’s version of ‘Operation Babylift’, both seen in Canada and the US. This year marks its 40th anniversary in Australia. Operation Babylift was primarily an American initiative which saw around 2,000-2,500 Vietnamese children airlifted towards the end of the war right after the fall of Saigon in 1975. According to Dr Peter Hobbins (whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our excursion to the Q-station), this ‘operation’ has a unique historical link with the site. However, this has not been thoroughly explored and documented.

Between April-May of 1975, as mentioned, the station was temporarily turned into a migrant centre. According to one nurse on the site at the time:

“On arrival in Sydney, 100 children were admitted to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and the rest were taken to the Quarantine Station at North Head, Manly.”

If you are interested in reading this very interesting and unique account, see:

Interestingly, Operation Babylift fell on the cusp of Australia’s first major refugee mission/response, per se. Hence, this saw the Whitlam government initially hesitant to take in refugees. Despite this fact, the government and the embassy in Vietnam were “pressured on these three issues: refugees, the evacuation of Australian embassy staff and the evacuations of orphans.” Inter-country adoption became one of the major facets of this operation right here in Australia, as seen in the US and Canada (source: Fronek, Patricia. "Operation Babylift: advancing intercountry adoption into Australia." Journal of Australian Studies 36, no. 4 (2012): 445-458).

As stated on the Quarantine Station website, the Q-Station is an ‘ideal place to examine the changes & evolution of a site over time. The history of the Quarantine Station parallels and reflects Australian & world history”. This is very true for a site which is home to a variety of stories situated within Australia’s colonial and post-colonial past. However, as mentioned, one of these stories has been relatively untold. Nonetheless, considering the importance of this unique piece of Australia’s immigration history, I really do hope I can do it justice.

More to come soon.

I would just like to mention an unrelated thing: This unit has by far been one of the most challenging classes I have ever encountered. Regardless, it has allowed a student of history like me to witness and analyse this discipline from a different and exciting angle; an angle to which I thought I’d never have the opportunity to look through. Essentially we have been told to get up from our seats, walk through the classroom door to discover what lies beyond us (hence history ‘beyond the classroom’). For history is all around us, waiting to be discovered and one day be a part of the larger picture of our ‘fabric of society’, of the world.

So thank you to Michael, Peter and peers! I hope we can all finish strong in what has been just as rewarding as well!

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The view from Fort Michilimackinac, now Mackinaw City, Michigan. Or a view of Anishinaabewaki? Whose lands? Whose Perspective? Whose History? (Photo by author)

Our last formal meeting in HSTY 3902 History Beyond the Classroom took place on Monday, October 26. Students presented on their community work and major projects, reflected on their experiences, and we had a fun end-of-year party to cap it all off. In their presentations and reflections, the students once again impressed each other, me, as well as visiting colleagues from the History Department at Sydney University. Many thanks to all who came along to hear about their work.

Hannah Forsyth also joined us from ACU, where she has been coordinating a similar course. Hannah and I dreamed up this unit of study together several years ago while working on our Social Inclusion program. Teachers at the disadvantaged schools we worked with asked us to help get their students out of the local ‘bubble’ that they were in. Hannah and I also came to realise that our own Uni students (along with us) often seldom left the ‘bubble’ they were in. We were keen to think of a way to push students out of the comforts of the classroom and engage with communities and groups with whom they might not normally interact and to think of the challenges and opportunities of history from a different perspective than the traditional essay allows.

The origins of the class in our social inclusion efforts has meant, I think, that engagement has been central to what the students have been doing which, in turn, has meant the students are all doing local or community-engaged history as much as they are doing public history. The two do not necessarily always go together, but the students have convinced me that in combination, community-engaged public history makes for a more grounded, meaningful, and accountable approach to the past, one that challenges the hierarchies of academic history in many different ways - and often in ways that I did not foresee happening.

The blog posts written by students throughout this semester testify to the meaningfulness and transformative effect of doing community-engaged public history. This was only reinforced when Hannah asked students how their work this semester has enriched their sense of history, or made them think differently about the place of history in the world.

Students immediately noted that working with “real people” demonstrated how personal history could be, and how important it is to so many different kinds of people. They could also see how many different ways people use history, and just how different those ways could be from “academic history.” Indeed, many students said they understood now in a more tangible way the different roles of history and how it works in practice (and one or two noted that they could now see history as a career – they could finally answer that question “what will you do with a history degree!).

Some of the students working with organisations that didn’t have a specific historical focus also said they felt they were doing important work documenting these organisations and their activities, and that history could be about this history in the making, not just preserving sources or telling stories about the past. One noted how important it was to do this, because she felt that no one else would do so, and it could be lost. And even while it was frustrating at times, and not always historical in nature, students could see how our historical skills could be useful in non-historical settings, and with non-historical organisations.

The students’ work with different kinds of organisations also seemed to democratise their view of history. “History is everywhere,” they declared, and not just where historians (or archivists) say it is. One student noted that his work made him realise that this was a great opportunity to reclassify what constitutes history – to query what we normally value. Working with community groups helps us “decentralise historical importance and what we should consider important.” Additionally, “local history shows us what is important to generations of residents and how important their history is as well.”

Significantly, some students noted that they realised for different individuals and groups, history could be “therapeutic,” and they could see how people used history to “reshape themselves and their world.” One student said her community-engaged work made her feel like the course was helping her to help other people.

In the end, because they saw how seriously others took history, the students said they learned to take it seriously too. Indeed, many noted they had spent far more time on their work for this class than any others they had ever taken, that they “got involved more,” because they saw just how important their work was to other people – that it “mattered.” This was only reinforced as students realised that other students and non-students were interested in what they were doing, both inside and outside the University, and that unusually, they were also keen to talk about what they were doing in their history class! Suddenly, their work was not just about getting a good mark, “going through the motions” of writing an essay, or even developing skills. There was much more at stake, and several students noted that they came to realise that the history they were doing was about much more than themselves.

You can see why I’m more than a little sad about the course coming to an end. The students in HSTY 3902 have impressed, inspired and energised me from the start. I’m sure that many thought I was a little mad when I explained what we would be doing way back in Week One. Likely some still think so! But this group has persevered, thrown themselves into their work, and pioneered a way forward for future classes.

Along the way, they have not been the only ones learning. This course and the students’ work has made me think very differently about my own work, made me question my relevance as an academic historian, and forced me to acknowledge that we have much more work to do to make our work accessible, to think about our responsibilities as historians, and to be more accountable for the histories that we write.

The class might have ended, but I’m very much looking forward now to reading students’ reflective diaries, and seeing their major projects come to fruition. Stay-tuned…

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Home of the Wildcats: The picture above shows the Wildcats' logo side by side with the Auburn City Council's slogan: "Many cultures, one community."

As a kid growing up, I had three great loves - history, photography and basketball.

Storytelling comes in as close second.

Not many people know this but it was through my exposure to the works of Andrew Bernstein and Nathaniel S. Butler - both renowned sports photographers who had covered games for the National Basketball Association (NBA) -that I developed my love for photography.

In terms of basketball history, I am a walking encyclopaedia.

I can talk about basketball all day long given the opportunity. In fact, I once spoke about it so much that someone suggested, sarcastically, that maybe I should write a book about it.

So I did. Or at least I am trying to.

I’m not a good basketball player but I love this game and I’ve learnt over the years that when you love something, you will always find away to utilise any resource at your disposal to improve it.

Dr. McDonnell’s "History Beyond The Classroom” program gave me the platform to achieve just that.

With the academic freedom he had given us, I decided to use my passions to craft a historical book, filled with stories, images and statistics, about basketball in Sydney, a city I have grown to love in my nine years living here. It is also a city in need of more literature to be written about its rich local basketball history.

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Early years: Photographs of the PBA operating out of the Auburn Basketball Centre during the 1970-80's with players playing on concrete floors.

Enter the Parramatta Basketball Association (PBA), the brains behind the Ultimate Basketball League (UBL).

I first came across the UBL in 2013, I remember quite a few of my friends played in their league. It was their inaugural season and it attracted a lot of former and aspiring National Basketball League (NBL) players such as Luke Martin, Ben Knight, Graeme Dann and Luke Kendall. The UBL’s full games were live streamed. They were even sponsored by Spalding - the official sponsor of the NBA. In other words, the UBL was a huge hit in the local basketball scene in Sydney.


Photo by Tracey Trompf from

One week behind, I'm afraid....Last week we were very fortunate to have as our guest speaker Catherine Freyne. Catherine Freyne is a historian and media producer now working at the City of Sydney. She previously produced the groundbreaking Hindsight documentaries at ABC Radio National ( Other projects she has worked on include the Dictionary of Sydney (, 80 Days that Changed Our Lives ( and Against The Tide: A Highway West ( Catherine studied Australian history at UNSW. For her work in radio she has received two NSW Premier’s History Awards – a remarkable achievement.

Catherine talked about the many projects she has been involved with, and why she is so passionate about public history. She also talked about her new role at the City of Sydney which has allowed her to explore so many more new ways of thinking about history and its collection and presentation.

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 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 quoted her former colleague Dr Shirley Fitzgerald who said when accepting the 2014 Annual History Citation that in her work as City Historian (1987-2009), she had been primarily motivated by this question: who gets access to precious urban public spaces, and why? History allows us to think about how that allocation has changed and evolved over time. 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. 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 (

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. I’ve never enjoyed marking as much as I did this time around, a sentiment echoed by Michaela Cameron who also helped me assess them – and we have never given out such high marks! The work students have been doing with their community-partners has 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. One unexpected side effect of situating ourselves “outside the classroom,” I reckon, was the clarity of the prose of students. Not having to shoehorn or situate their work amid other scholars’ frameworks seemed to liberate students to write clearly, directly, and thoughtfully. The proposals were simply a joy to read. Really looking forward to their reflective diaries and their major projects now, due in November.

I remember from one of the early readings that a concept I had never truly thought about properly was proposed to me. It offered the idea that there is much more to history than simply what historians deem to be "important". The example used was Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC. It highlighted that Caesar's crossing was marked as an incredibly important event in the history of not only the Roman Republic but also the world. However, it also posed a difficult question for historians; what about the million other people who cross it the same year as Caesar?

What of these people? Who were they? Who did they love? What were their interests? Who were these people who took the same journey that Caesar took? But more importantly, what impact did these crossings, let alone these people, have on history? I would argue just as much as Caesar himself in many ways.

I guess I always knew of this concept, I just never really thought of it in an academic sense, nor on a personal level. Having done three years of academic, "dead people" history already, I found this very hard to comprehend on a formal level.

My current project working with Holy Cross College, Ryde, pertains to old boy ANZACs. Now, I'm not one to perpetuate the mythos of the formulaic nation building that current "pop-politickers" love perpetuate on both sides the argument. I find that both sides of the argument, pro-ANZAC and seemingly more anti-ANZAC, tend to homogenise all ANZAC men as one giant group or "idea" rather than the actual men themselves. My interest however, is similar to the idea of the many Romans who crossed the Rubicon. How these men lived beforehand, how their schooling shaped them, how they travelled halfway round the world never to see their Gladesville, Redfern or Ryde again.

This class has opened my eyes to all these concepts and ideas. Now it is up to us as historians to use these ideas of public, personal history to help the community to grieve, celebrate, acknowledge, love and hate people and events that may not fit the "Great History" like Caesar, but mean things to individual people. I feel as if these ideas of atomising individuals, rather than homogenising, is important when looking at the histories of the public.


Ashfield Polish Club update: My documentary is slowly taking shape! It has been an incredibly rewarding experience but I still have a lot to do. This unit as a whole has completely reshaped my approaches to history and personalized the experience of history immensely. Hearing everybody speak yesterday was so incredible and thanks to everyone who shared where they are at with their projects!! Inspiring me to work harder! The Polish community in Sydney and the wider area has been incredibly accommodating and this project has been a LOT of fun. As I said in an earlier post, check out the Polish Club's website and Facebook! website: Facebook: Looking forward to seeing what everybody finishes up with at the end of the semester and to hear about ongoing work!

Throughout my entire schooling I have only written useless histories. In my junior high school years I would write essays on topics I can't even recall, using Wikipedia as my key source. In later high school I would aim for objectivity, using primary sources as infallible evidence for claims. When university came around I continued writing essays. I continued to use Wikipedia - admittedly far less. I still valued my primary sources as ultimate forms of evidence, though used them more critically, more hesitantly. And throughout these nine years the only things I ever produced were useless histories. They were read by my teacher, my lecturer, and occasionally my parents or girlfriend. My volunteer editors feigned interest in the obscure topics that they had no attachment to or care for. My teachers would reward me for my use of sources, but in the end there were curriculum points to mark by, and that's all they ever looked for. University is different, right? I've heard my lecturers are only paid for fifteen minutes of marking per essay. I have only ever produced useless histories.

Now here one might argue that these essays weren't entirely useless. Without these essays - and the skills I put to practice in them - how else could I have developed my proficiency as a historian? I owe my critical knowledge of history to these essays. This argument is sound. I agree with it even. However, the point remains: the histories I produced – the histories I laboured over for hours and hours of my schooling years – were useless as histories.

Another argument arises here. One could say I was not ready to produce histories that would make an impact. My history writing was not developed enough to be ‘accurate’, let-alone useful.

I have my hesitations with this argument.

History is currently structured around a hierarchy of worth. Students across this country sit on the lowest rung, writing worthless histories full of spelling errors and Wikipedia quotes still in the original Arial 10.5 font. Slightly above them are the ‘unqualified’ or ‘underqualified’ local historians, who write histories without referencing (sometimes) and without a rigorous process of academic review. Above these local historians is the undergraduate History student who shows promise, but still writes histories for one person: the marker. Then comes the Honours students, and consequently, the PhD students. It is only at the postgraduate level that a historian begins to be recognised – and even then, only by a select few. It is only after years and years of producing useless history that historians begin to make an impact, however small that impact may be.

Wait a second. Doesn’t every profession require you to go through these same motions? This process of producing useless works with the aim of honing your skills is seen in mathematics, where you answer endless questions until one day you start to ask you own. It is seen in science, where you perform experiment after experiment, despite the fact they have been done before, all for the purposes of developing your knowledge and your skills. It is seen in law, where you tackle theoretical and historical case studies, preparing you for what you will face beyond the university’s sandstone walls. Why should history be any different? Why should history value work by historians ‘in training’?

Because history is a social process as much as it is a profession. All people are agents in the construction and interpretation of history. Yes, some are more qualified than others to construct critical and reliable histories. That I do not contest. There is a place for academic history. But there is also a place for history by the people.

The hierarchy of history that determines the worthy from the unworthy is counter-productive. What is needed is an acknowledgement of different forms of history, not different worth. A local history display in a country town theatre has a far greater impact on that community of 7000 people than, say, a thesis on the Decentralisation of Colonial Power in Algeria could ever have on its audience of highly specialised and bickering academics. Sure, academic history can shape the world. Yet it does so very rarely. If we are to measure worth by academic proficiency, then academic history is the only history worth writing. If, however, we are to measure worth by social impact, then we need to re-evaluate the hierarchy that currently shapes our approach to history.

Now for a good-old ahistorical quote to wrap up this rant. Abraham Lincoln famously called for a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It’s interesting to consider the link between history and politics. A good government will hear the voice of the people and be shaped by this voice. A bad government will ignore the voice of the people, view it as useless, and blaze its own destructive path. History needs to listen to the people, not just classify them as useless and unworthy. More than this, it needs to be shaped by the voices of the people. Lincoln shaped a nation when he called for a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” I wonder what he would think about a history of the people, by the people, for the people.

This class, and the community work I’ve done for this class, has raised an issue that I believe is implicit within the very structure of our projects. To engage with “History Beyond the Classroom” I believe belies a problem with the way that history within the academic world is being done, namely; that historians have become too isolated within their ivory towers, too structured in their intellectual pursuits and too disengaged with a public who would otherwise exist as very receptive audience as it comes to historical works. This is not to say that the work done by historians is not important, otherwise in writing this I somewhat shoot myself in the foot. Nor is it to suggest that academic historians do not produce publically influential work, Tony Judt’s 'Postwar' was a NY times bestseller, Foucault’s work remains a penguin classic and Howard Zinn’s 'A People’s History of the United States' is a quotable moment in Good Will Hunting (itself a brilliant film). But it is to suggest that in the absence of professionally trained historians presenting to the public a history that is cogent, engaging, accessible and well written, it is left to others to fill the gap.

Far be it from falling prey to elitism in this regard, as perhaps university students and professors are prone to do. But Peter FitzSimmon’s 'Gallipoli,' Rebecca Scoot’s 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' and the ever entertaining Bill O’ Reilly’s book 'Killing Reagan,' to name but a few, can be said to exist as reaction to the absence of accessible and engaging works of history written by practicing historians. Again, this is not to say that these works are not valid, or valuable – in O’Reilly’s case I’m sure there exists some comedic value – but that these writers perhaps fall prey to some of the theoretical assumptions that are made by those who have not been professionally trained. FitzSimmon's belief that he can tell “what happened,” and let people draw their conclusions from what he writes, may ring alarm bells in a historian’s head, and for good reason. It is not for nought that we may be wary of those who claim objectivity, especially if we can very easily see otherwise.

Not to sell short popular histories either. They themselves have a long history and are undeniably important, no question. In fact historical fiction has long existed as an engaging way of both teaching and learning history, Tolstoy’s War and Peace is perhaps the most brilliant in this regard. And, speaking personally, the Horrible History series is what engaged an 8 year old me in history. But I wonder if there something to be said in attempting to reengage with the public, as academics and as writers. To “sit in Ivory towers” and write academic pieces almost solely for an audience of academics and students, remains, in my mind, an exercise in elitism. I believe that what individuals like Bruce Baskerville, and Peter Hobbins do is not public history in actuality but just history. Public history has become a name we, perhaps condescendingly in many cases, must give their work because the academia has long ignored the very subject it’s studying; the public sphere. In my opinion, this is not the role of history. Historians must be engaged, not simply for political reasons, for history has always been a political weapon – Prime Minister Netanyahu this week past stating that it was the Grand Mufti of Israel, Amin al-Husseini who ‘put the idea of the holocaust in the head of Hitler’ is a good example of this. But because historians risk becoming irrelevant to the public should we abscond into obscurity.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

As part of my community engagement, I recently visited the Quarantine Station to explore the grounds with Peter Hobbins, an historian working on the Stories from the sandstone: archaeology and history of quarantine project. The Quarantine Station was used from the 1830’s to isolate ships and their passenger suspected of carrying contagious diseases, and has also been found to be of great significance to the Indigenous population of the area. I have chosen a quarantined ship, The Canton, which arrived in 1835, for my research, in part due to the existence of a relatively legible journal, written by 15-year-old passenger Thomas Dawson, relaying the perils of passage and of the quarantine period. As part of my volunteer work, I have been transcribing the journal, a task that is slightly harder, though much more detailed, than anticipated!

A well preserved page of Dawson's journal.

Viewing the various inscriptions on my visit made it clear just how important the work of Peter and his colleagues is. While the inscriptions made by quarantined individuals offer such a rich source of interest and information regarding early emigration and quarantine procedures, they are at mercy of the environment and weather, and many have already become illegible over time. The appropriate recording and research into the inscriptions will ensure that over time, they are still accessible for use and research.

Examining some of the inscriptions

Not only is the Quarantine Station an incredible place in the history world, it is undeniably one of the most beautiful places in Sydney. I would highly recommend a visit for one of their many tours, or just a walk around the grounds, where the inscriptions and original buildings remaining will give you a great insight into the experiences of the original passengers held in isolation.

For my project I’ve been working with the No West Connex action group, which is campaigning to stop the proposed West Connex road which, at 33km long, is the largest road project in Australia. West Connex will start as an extension of the M4 in Parramatta and end on the M5 in Beverly Hills. Stage 3 of the road, known as the M4 M5 link, will be built between Haberfield and St Peters and involve the demolition of hundreds of homes. My own house in Newtown will be affected due to projected increased traffic congestion and fumes from pollution stacks.

Worried about my local area, I first attended a community meeting on West Connex in Leichhardt Town Hall held be concerned residents and action groups in 2013. Despite being impressed by the knowledge and spirit of the campaigners, I quietly thought; “but what hope do we, residents, have in stopping this road?”. I left feeling despondent. According to No West Connex campaigners, my pessimistic sentiment is widely shared amongst the community.


However, historically, there have been many examples of community action groups stopping roads being built that the community are probably largely unaware of. Namely, in 2005 residents and action groups such as EcoTransit were able to stop an extension to the F6, called the Johnston’s Creek Extension, which would have run from the Anzac Bridge, through Newtown, and into Randwick. Like West Connex, the four lane highway would have involved the demolition of hundreds of houses and businesses. Furthermore, a road reservation had existed along the corridor since 1945 and the RTA had discretely been buying properties along the route for decades. Despite this, the public had still not been informed that the road was even being built. Luckily, town planner Michelle Zeibots realised the government’s plans and launched a campaign to stop the road. 

100 000 newsleafs were produced and distributed in both Newtown and Randwick, campaigners door-knocked and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon called for papers in parliament regarding the road. All the while, Labor denied plans for the Johnston’s Creek Extension even existed. Labor minister Carmel Tebbutt, the then local member for Marrickville, threatened to sue the Greens and Eco Transit for fear mongering and defamation.

A break-through occurred when one campaigner, Mary Jane Gleeson, spent an entire week sorting through the documents that had been released to the Greens. Amongst the “mountain of papers” she located one e-mail exchange between members of the RTA that referred to the road’s construction. This email was then presented to Carmel Tebbutt who was visibly shocked. Fearing the backlash from her electorate, Tebbutt was skilfully able to not only scrap the plans for the road, but lift the road reservation altogether, preventing governments from building there in the future.

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I want to spread awareness about the Johnston’s Creek Extension campaign mainly to reignite hope in residents that, yes, community groups can take on governments and, through tireless campaigning, can stop their homes and neighbourhoods being demolished. I know personally through doing this project that my faith has been restored that roads like West Connex are not inevitable.

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Redfern Legal Centre, Annual Report: July 1991 – June 1992 (Redfern: Redfern Legal Centre, 1992).

The Hon. Gough Whitlam, Clare Petre and Valent Santalab cut the cake at RLC’s 15th birthday in March 1992

For the past semester, I’ve been working with the Redfern Legal Centre to assist them in creating a Historical Achievements page for their website. I’ve mainly been going through their annual reports from the last 38 years but I’ve also had a look through trove and Hansard for some newspaper articles and parliamentary comments. I’ve really enjoyed reading about all the amazing work the Centre has done.

Just a few examples of their achievements include:
- Publishing numerous helpful legal guides for the community on a wide variety of different issues from debt to share housing
- Raising over $16,000 in fundraising for the Legal Aid Centre in Aceh following the 2005 tsunami
- Assisting and representing international students, postgraduate students and TAFE students in countless casework wins
- Presenting hundreds of community legal sessions
- Establishing programs such as the Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Assistance Scheme

These are truly just an extremely tiny sample of RLC’s accomplishments. So far I’ve selected roughly 34 achievements to display on the webpage and I’ve found photos, graphs, case studies and articles from the annual reports to make the page entertaining and engaging.

I chose to work with Redfern Legal Centre because it has a rich history which deserves to be heard now more than ever. With recent government cutbacks to community legal centres, including RLC, this is the perfect time for the centre to remind the community and the government of its incredible impact throughout its almost 40 year history. I hope that the webpage I create will inspire readers to donate to the centre in order to ensure it can continue to do this amazing work long into the future.

If anyone is interested in knowing more about the centre or in donating to help them in providing legal services to the most disadvantaged in our community, please follow this link:

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Proposals came in from students last week detailing the extraordinary and fascinating work they have been doing with their chosen local/community organisation for HSTY 3092 History Beyond the Classroom. The proposals also outlined the major projects that have grown out of that work and which students will be working on over the next month. We were amazed at the work they have been doing and the ideas they have come up with for their major projects. Some of these I have blogged about already at: Students themselves have also blogged about their work, and I have urged them all to tell us more about their partnerships and projects. Check back regularly for more updates.

For now, it is worth noting that our thirty-eight students are working with a total of thirty-four organisations around Sydney and regional NSW. The organisations vary enormously in purpose, scope and activities, and are listed below. Web links to the organisations can be found on our blogroll.

Historical Societies

Marrickville Heritage Society
Campbelltown-Airds Historical Society Inc.
The Glebe Society
Hills District Historical Society
Canada Bay Heritage Society
Lennox Head Heritage Society
Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW BRANCH)
The Haberfield Association
Blue Mountains Historical Society

Historic Sites

Quarantine Station
Civic Theatre, Scone
Rockdale Market Gardeners

Sports/Community Groups

Ashfield Polish Club
The Temple Society
Hurlstone Park Wanderers Football Club
Parramatta Basketball Association
Rotary Club of Waitara
Powerhouse Youth Theatre


Trading Circle
St Mark's National Memorial Library
Redfern Legal Centre
Hope Worldwide and the Gumine Community of PNG
The Whitlam Library
New South Wales Writers Centre

Activist/Political Groups

No West Connex Action Group
North Parramatta Residents' Action Group
Parramatta Female Factory Friends
Pride History Group Oral History Project

Schools and Indigenous Histories

Aboriginal Heritge Office
O'Connell Public School
Cammeraygal High School
Holy Cross College, Ryde
Willoughby Old Girls

When I arrived for the Pride History Group’s general meeting in August I had no clue what to expect. Having never worked or been in contact with a historical society before, I turned up without expectations of any particular activity or process. The group of members present, who are dedicating their free time to their passion for history and LGBTI NSW were truly inspirational. The atmosphere seemed to be that of an open platform for the ideas of members, where projects such as a lesbian walking tour in Newtown and ‘Queer History in the Pub’, which brings historical topics to the public in a fun social way were discussed. What struck me the most was the interest and creativity the members had in engaging with history, which should in hindsight perhaps not be so shocking in a historical society!

The Pride History Group (PHG), works as a database for researchers as well as conduct their own projects such as published books and pamphlets. One of their major projects at the time which I have ended up volunteering for is the ‘100 voices project’. It collects oral history interviews about ‘the queering of Sydney back from around the 1950’s to the present date, of which part of the content is being made available on their website and where the access of full interviews can be requested. The work that I am doing is, transcribing and logging two interviews from the ‘100 voices’ project. The aim is to create a table of venues, names, movements etc. being discussed that are of relevance to LGBTI Sydney and to indicate at what time in the interview they are discussed as well as what is said about them. The purpose of this is to facilitate researchers to search for key words and thereby easily find the information about them in interviews from the project. It takes a lot of time and careful listening but the stories are really exciting!

The PHG is an open membership group, furthermore a great archive for anyone looking to find out more about LGBTI history! You can find more information on their website:

For the past few months I have been working with local football (soccer) club Hurlstone Park Wanderers. We have been trying to recover records of a metropolitan-wide football tournament that ran through the 1950s called the Canterbury Cup. Hurlstone Park won the tournament numerous times and calls this period its ‘golden era’.

An issue that I have come across in my research is access to archival material. Local sporting organizations are invariably run by a handful of dedicated individuals who have precious little time for preserving and maintaining archives. There is also a high turnover in these administrative roles, making it very easy for records to go missing. A more general problem is that these materials are almost always held in private collections (i.e. in a box in someone’s garage). A huge chunk of my work has been making phone calls to many very willing but mostly bewildered former players and administrators.

This week I met with the President of the Canterbury Football Association, Ian Holmes. Ian is typical of many people working in local sport. He spends countless unpaid hours dealing with complaints, negotiating with uncooperative councils and, interestingly for me, tracking down lost archives. Ian explained that although the association is nearly 100 years old, it has very little record of that history. Most of the archives were destroyed in a fire many years ago. Recovering records from personal collections has become a matter of great urgency as many older players pass away. Ian’s work is as much genealogical as it is historical. It is quite literally a race against the clock to recover these records.

The history of local sporting organizations should not be forgotten (or lost). The place of sports in local communities can reflect wider cultural phenomena (e.g. race, class, gender). Often, sport can be a vehicle for social change, as was the case with the influx of non-British migrants into the Canterbury area in the 1950s. It is to history’s great benefit that in sporting organizations around the country there are likely to be hundreds of people like Ian, doggedly salvaging what remains of the past.

It's hard to say where the inspiration for my project came from. As a resident of the Northern Beaches, I have lived my whole life in close proximity to sites of incredible natural beauty, many of which are of spiritual and cultural significance to Aboriginal people. However, ever since I chose Modern History as an elective in Year 11 I've had a huge love of European history (which was only furthered by a school trip there that same year, and through study at uni).

I don't think that these were conscious influences on my project. It's only by typing this that I've really come to realise it. Forefront in my mind as I developed my idea was our class field trip to the Quarantine Station, which I was fascinated to learn was a site devoted to healing in pre-European times. I found it incredible that both Aboriginal people and European settlers viewed the site as a place for the ill, and that really got me thinking - this is a place that two almost incompatible cultures have come to consider significant. How unlikely! I wondered if there were other places in the region that might also have a significance that transcends cultures.

My mind was all but made up when David Watts came to speak to us about his work at the Aboriginal Heritage Office, which sounded like a match made in Heaven as far as my project was concerned. I contacted David in the hopes that I could volunteer with the AHO as an Aboriginal site monitor, a proposition to which he agreed!

The first Monday of the mid-semester break was spent with Viki Gordon and other volunteers at Manly Dam, learning how to locate and protect Aboriginal sites in addition to discovering more about the varied projects the AHO participates in. This was a truly fascinating day, and I learned just how steeped in indigenous culture my local area is!

I have high hopes that my work with the AHO will help me uncover more sites of significance to Aboriginal people, and then research the reasons why Europeans may also find these sites to be worthy of preservation or if they are significant in a different way. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to share the location of the sites that I'll be monitoring, but I strongly suggest coming up this way and wandering around the national parks or along the coastal walks, you never know what you might find!

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Our class reconvened this week after the AVCC break and public holiday last week. While difficult to get restarted after the break, and with only three weeks left in the semester (hard to believe), I’ve been inspired anew by some of the amazing projects that students are developing. Proposals were due on Friday, and a first glance over them revealed some thoughtful and exciting initiatives. This was only confirmed in class, where we discussed projects in small groups then heard short presentations from individuals brave enough to talk about their work to the class.

Up first was Steph Beck, who has already blogged about her project here: We learned about her amazing journey to Melbourne to visit the rarely-used archives of the Temple Society (, her horror at discovering the damage to some of the documents there by a fire (pictured above), and some of the marvellous discoveries she made in some of the files. She has documented a little of her physical and metaphorical journey into the foodways of the fascinating Temple Society on her instagram account at: But recognizing that some of the older members of the society may not have easy access to the internet, Steph has also been thinking about how she can make her major project - an annotated collection of historical community recipes that span three countries and over one hundred and fifty years - more accessible to all of the community. A book publication awaits…

We also heard from Mitchell Davies, who has also just blogged about his work with the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society ( at: Mitchell, a lifelong resident of Campbelltown, is keen to bring together his love of local history with his teacher-training work to inspire a new generation of high school students to learn more about the interesting past all around them. Mitchell regaled us with some of these tales, including the story of Fisher’s Ghost, which animates much of Campbelltown’s community history, and has inspired an annual Festival Mitchell is keen to use the social media platform Tumblr to bring these stories alive for students, but also to showcase the thoughts and work of those who work at the Historical Society.

Michael Rees also spoke about his work with the Female Factory Friends Michael, who also blogged about this recently at, recounted his first meeting with the Friends at a rally at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney as they presented a petition to save the Heritage Precinct in Parramatta (pictured below). He spoke about his steep learning curve about Parramatta history, and the various political and cultural interests at play in the controversy, and how that raises interesting challenges for presenting particular versions of the past at this critical juncture in the campaign to save the Heritage Precinct.

Finally, we also heard from Erin Gielis, who is working with the Rotary Club of Waitara ( Erin spoke of her engagement with the Club and how influential it was in shaping her own experience of community and the broader world to which the Club gave her access. She also brought to light the different kinds of challenges – and opportunities - students faced when working with non-historical organisations. The Waitara Club is relatively young, formed about thirty years ago. Though interested in the past, they have not had the chance to do much with their history and few of the members feel qualified to write it, and so the field is wide open for Erin to help them fill that gap. She has been interviewing members, past and present, and thinking about different ways of presenting this history via their website especially. Erin also raised important issues about the kinds of purposes such a project serves in not just documenting the activities of such an important community organisation, but also in drumming up interest and support for its survival in the future.

I hope I got everyone. Needless to say, these were inspiring stories of adventures in community history that could be of lasting impact. Students have certainly inspired me. After holding out for years, I’ve finally joined the twittersphere in order to get the word out about these great projects. Join me at for updates about these great projects.

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As a lifelong Campbelltown resident I have been only too willing to make Campbelltown, my home, the subject of a major project. I feel fortunate that Campbelltown is not only an area of historical importance (especially in the early days of the colony), but is also a place where much of the heritage has for the most part been well-preserved.

On my journey thus far, I have discovered that Campbelltown has many stories to tell many of which I had little to no knowledge about. Thus far it has been an enriching experience. For my major project I aim to establish a Tumblr blog entitled Campbelltown Beyond The Classroom, which shares some of these interesting stories. These stories will be targeted towards high school students studying history elective in years 9-10. I feel that local history is often a neglected part of school history, despite being one of the more accessible components of it. I believe that local history has a great deal to offer students, and is often a kaleidoscope of fascinating stories, places and personalities – something for everyone.

Prior to creating my Tumblr blog, I was fortunate enough to meet with members of the Campbelltown Airds Historical Society stationed at Glenalvon House – and am forever grateful for members consenting to participate in some sit-down interviews and sharing their experiences and passion for Campbelltown’s local history and heritage. The society also graciously provided many resources which have thus far have proved extremely useful. A piece on the society and Glenalvon House (in addition with interview excepts) will form a prominent piece of the blog.

Although this still very much a work in progress, my preliminary sketch of the blog looks a little like this –

A. Introduction page – purpose of the blog – history elective
B. My volunteer work – Campbelltown-Airds Historical Society & Glenavlon House
C. My volunteer work – Oral Histories excerpts – local and community histories
D. Local history – Personal connections/recollections
E. Campbelltown – Birthplace ~ The Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie
F. Campbelltown Stories –
1. Tale #1 – Early Industry: James Ruse
2. Tale #2 – Contact History – Bull Cave
3. Tale #3 – The Appin Massacre
4. Tale #4 – St Peters Anglican Church
5. Tale #5 – St John’s Catholic Church
6. Tale #6 – William Bradbury
7. Tale #7 – Military Past: Bardia Barracks
8. Tale #8 – Campbelltown’s Communist Past
9. Tale #9 – Campbelltown’s Notorious Claim to Fame – Fishers Ghost

Strangely enough, during my first contact with the Parramatta Female Factory Friends I was witness to history in the making.

Having filled out the contact form on the Factory Friends’ website in early August, I received an E-mail from the organisation’s President Gay Hendriksen asking me if I could be at NSW Parliament at 10:30am on Thursday the 19th of August to sign a petition.

I arrived to find a large group of people assembled outside the Parliament, many of whom were wearing ‘Parramatta Female Factory Friends’ badges. Other attendees appeared to be from Unions (the CFMEU and USU), and the North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group. Gay informed me that today the Female Factory Friends, and other groups concerned about residential development in the Parramatta area, were presenting a petition to the Parliament with over 10,000 signatures. This petition aimed to put a stop to proposed developments in the Parramatta historic precinct (where the Female Factory is located) including a 30-storey high-rise apartment building. To achieve this aim, the petition sought recognition for the Female Factory and surrounding area as a National Heritage site.

I was able to sign the petition and talk to some of the people who had been involved in the incredibly arduous process of collecting (with pen and paper, as per NSW legislation) all of the signatures. This was a great opportunity to hear about people’s diverse motivations for involvement in the campaign and the Factory Friends group. Some people were the descendants of factory workers who wanted the site preserved to honour their family members; others believed that the Parramatta precinct was an invaluable insight into Australian colonial heritage, and some people simply wanted the area protected against overdevelopment. These conversations gave me an insight into just how much hard work is required for groups interested in public histories to preserve historical sites and generate interest in their significance. Unlike academic historians who usually have a devoted audience (small as it may be), groups interested in public histories must engage the community before they can convey more detailed histories. Thus, they must not only convince an audience, but create one.

Later, we were received at the Parliament by Greens MPs Jamie Parker and David Shoebridge, as well as Labor MP Penny Sharpe. All three of these parliamentarians spoke of the significance of the Female Factory as a historical site, and the importance of its preservation. They also compared the factory to other similar early-colonial sites in Australia, such as Tasmania’s Port Arthur, which has already received National Heritage listing. I found it interesting that David Shoebridge reflected on 1827 riot at the Female Factory (which was caused by poor conditions and rations for factory-workers) as one of Australia’s earliest industrial actions. This aspect of the Female Factory’s history seemed to resonate with many members of the crowd (and particularly the Union-affiliated attendees) and demonstrated the way in which particular narratives can make historical sites and events resonate in the present.

Following the MPs speeches, we entered NSW Parliament House where the petition was formally tabled. In one of the Parliament reading rooms, we then assembled as a group and people who had been involved in the campaign (including Gay herself) spoke about its importance. Many speakers highlighted the significance of the factory as a historical site which commemorated women’s involvement (and exploitation) in the early Australian colony. One speaker, who had migrated from Greece to Australia in the 1970s, said that he failed to understand how Australians could be so oblivious to the historical importance of the site. “No one would ever be allowed to build an apartment on the Acropolis,” he said. Another speaker also recognised the role of the Female Factory as a point for early contact between British colonists and indigenous Australians on the Parramatta River.

Suffice to say, my first meeting with the Factory Friends was pretty exciting. I witnessed a grassroots movement of people interested in a historical site petitioning democratic representatives for its preservation, and heard many stories about the significance of the site to the group’s members.

For more information about how the petition was compiled and presented to the NSW Parliament, and photos from the day, see:


Dear friends of HSTY3902,
I am writing my first blog post as part diary entry, part promotional piece, on my work with North Parramatta Residents Action Group (‘NPRAG’). I met with Suzette Meade, President of NPRAG, on Tuesday. Although we have been in contact over the phone and via email for the past couple of months, this was the first time we have met in person. Suzette showed me the grounds of the Parramatta Female Factory site and its surrounds, located at 5 Fleet Street in Parramatta. I was truly taken by the beauty and quiet majesty of the buildings, which although incredibly old (dating back to the early 1800s) remain in mostly good condition. Walking through the old buildings you can still see (and touch) the intricate markings left by individual convicts on the sandstone blocks which form the structures—apparently common practice which identifies which convict cut which stone and was thus entitled to wages for it. This site contains some of the oldest buildings in Australia's history, and perhaps even more than the few which remain in the Sydney CBD today. It was a remarkable experience to walk through such an old and historically significant site, and particularly poignant that this was my first visit in the 21 years I have lived just a 10-minute drive away.

What is even more poignant is the fact that this wonderful experience—of walking through two-hundred-year-old cottages, of touching convict-carved sandstone, of smelling the sweet perfume of overhanging wisteria vines and of witnessing a colony of endangered bat species make themselves at home in the trees above—could come to an end all to soon. Suzette has been at the vanguard of NPRAG’s protests against current proposals, put forward by developer UrbanGrowth NSW, to develop the site into a residential precinct consisting of between 4000—6000 apartments. When I had spoken to Suzette earlier and had learned of the proposal, my understanding was that it threatened the site because the apartments would sit near the current site, across the road, imposing not just a twenty-plus-storey shadow but various other infrastructural strains that come with housing thousands of new residents. But when I walked through the site and Suzette showed me a sky-view artist’s impression of exactly where the new apartments would sit, and pointed out the proposed plots as we stood amongst the buildings, I was shocked to realise that the proposal includes the placement of apartment blocks within the site itself—some right next to the original convict structures. It is hard to understand why anyone would think it a good idea to place modern apartment blocks in amongst such a quiet and beautiful historical site, and the sprawling green grounds that surround it, but this is precisely what Suzette and NPRAG have been campaigning against since January this year.

But enough lament. It was wonderful to meet Suzette and see her passion and determination to fight this proposal, as well as to nut out exactly how I can help NPRAG in the historical work I do for them over the next few weeks. A lot of my work will be focused on the upcoming symposium that NPRAG is organising as a day for the public, organisations, members of parliament, and other interested groups to have an open discussion about the proposal and how it will compromise a site of so much national historical importance.

Suzette is keen to get more university students and members of the educations sector on board with this discussion, and would like to extend an invitation to you, the class of HSTY3902 (as well as any other interested academics from the university) to attend the symposium. It will be held on Monday 12th October, which does fall on our class day however will run from 9am—4.30pm so might allow those who are interested to come for even just a couple of hours in the morning. Tickets for the general public are $20 each but Suzette has generously given us a discount code to receive 50% off on the price (so it’ll just be $10 a ticket = bargain!). Just enter HISTORYMATTERS at the registration to receive this. The symposium will be held at the Parramatta Leagues Club. To buy tickets and view more details about the symposium visit:

I know Parramatta is not really near uni but I do encourage you to come along if you’ve got the morning off and are able to make the trip. It’s a short walk from the Leagues Club to the site, where you can have a look at the buildings for yourself and really appreciate how special it is that so much history lies in a relatively little-known and under-appreciated location.

The recent visit by students from the ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ unit of study to the former Quarantine Station on North Head, provided a great opportunity for dynamic discussion surrounding topics of representation, interpretation and the roles played by museums and heritage sites in shaping public perceptions of history.

The group’s visit was hosted by myself and Peter Hobbins from the University of Sydney’s Quarantine Project, a three year collaborative research initiative focused on the rock carvings and other markings made at the site during its period of operation between 1835 and 1984. The students were very interested in the site and had lots of great questions about its history, the historic buildings and our collection of five thousand movable heritage objects. The site’s adaptive reuse by the Mawland Group - a special interest tourism company who work within the fields of nature tourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism and heritage tourism - was also a topic of conversation along with the site’s management as a hotel, conference and events facility.

The Quarantine Station is a diverse and dynamic site which lends itself to an immense variety of projects. Peter and I encourage students to take on research projects that relate to the Quarantine Station or its surrounding heritage sites as part of either this unit’s major assessment or projects developed in the future. Peter provided some great ideas for projects in his recent blog post, though students are welcome to propose other ideas. Feel free to contact Peter or myself with any questions you may have (E:

It was a pleasure to host the group and we hope to see the University’s history students on site again in the future.

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Rebecca Anderson, the Quarantine Station's Curator, speaks to HSTY3902 students 7 September 2015
Image courtesy Peter Hobbins


A wonderful story emerges!

I first came into contact with the Willoughby Girl's 50 year school reunion when I saw an advert in my local newspaper. My initial idea for the community project was to create a podcast with interviews from the women at the reunion on their favourite school memories. In my mind, this project would be a quaint little audio collection of women reminiscing on happy days at school.

However, after a few weeks the Willoughby Old Girls, very sweetly, approached me with some subjects for enquiry that they had always been curious about but had been too shy to investigate, and wanted to take this perfect opportunity (how often does a willing historian come a knocking?) to get to the bottom of. Dipping my figurative research fishing line into local libraries and internet sites, I did some initial research into each suggested avenue with varying levels of success. But finally the hook snagged on something so substantial that my whole project trajectory has been subsequently completely re-orientated.
As is true of most stubborn curiosities and long-lasting concerns, this area of interest revolved around the people we once knew. One of the Willoughby Old Girls was very interested in Pallister Girls Home, the local corrective institution that housed some Willoughby students, and more importantly, the stories of the girls who once lived there.

The great snag that caught my research line was an unassuming office in the city called the Anglican Deaconess Ministries Office. I presented myself, unannounced and unbooked, to the office and was warmly met by the lovely staff at ADM, Ken and Sarah. Here I was shown files upon files of archived primary sources referring to Pallister Girls Home. I was given access to original photos, girl's case study evaluations before and after they went through the home, daily routine schedules, admittance criteria, sheets of rules, incidences of 'moral danger', the matron's handbooks and donor lists.

With so much untouched information on Pallister, I intend to change the main thrust of the podcast to be about the stories of the 'Pallister Girls' that these women went to school with.

The Willoughby Girls 50 year reunion last Monday was a wonderful opportunity to compliment my archive research with oral descriptions of eye witness memories of the girls from Pallister. But more than that, being with the women themselves (my ‘clients’), raised a question in my own mind; why are school reunions significant? Why do people attend them? And what is the nature of the conversation at such events? Whilst my community project will compile into a podcast my findings (supplemented by the women’s memories) on the Pallister Girl’s Home, my major work will additionally present my findings on these latter questions too.

Here’s to a twisting plot and surprising turns, and a special thank you to the ADM office for letting me into their archives, and the Willoughby Old Girls for letting me into their memories.

(Photo courtesy of ADM archives. One of the girls in the photo was recognised and named by the Old Girls at the Willoughby School reunion)


This blog entry sounds a lot like a project proposal but, to be frank, in essence, that's precisely what it is ; )

I took the above photo (plus many more) of Australian Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White's residence in Castle Hill. White and his partner Manoly Lascaris named the house "Dogwoods" and it was from here White wrote his Nobel prize winning novel, Voss. The residence is privately owned now and is used as office space for a family law firm. Luckily for me, however, the owners are aware of the heritage-listed building's historical significance and were happy for me to tour the inside and take photos, which I provided as archive material to my historical society.

For my major project I am creating a webpage for Hills District Historical Society's website on the literary connection of Patrick White to the area and how literary representations of place can help us to shape history. I managed to get hold of some really interesting census information for the Hills District during White's residence in the area, and have purchased a copy of White's application on Lascaris' behalf supporting his naturalisation (which I will donate to the HDHS as further archive material).

I am going to link the anxieties of "otherness" in White's texts (and society at the time) to Castle Hill. As a place of increasing acceptance of "otherness", demonstrated through the census and White's texts, I thought it would be a nice way to "wave the flag", if you will, for the local history of Castle Hill. The census information, application for Lascaris' naturalisation, and White's autobiography about their relationship also helps to link White (through time) to the current environment of immigration through asylum, LGBT rights and marriage equality, etc that I thought would be a proud connection to the area.

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Associate Professor Julia Horne (pictured above) joined us this week in History Beyond the Classroom and drew from her extensive public history experience to talk about sources, selection, and ethical dilemmas. Before Julia became an academic (and did her PhD) she worked as a social history curator at the Powerhouse Museum; as the manager of the Local History Coordination project, a Bicentennial-funded history project at UNSW to liaise with community and public history organisations throughout NSW; and as the co-ordinator of the Oral History Program in the UNSW Archives. She is currently a councillor of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), and chairs the ANMM Audience, Programs, Outreach and Education Committee. From 2007 to 2013 she was a councillor of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Australia’s oldest scholarly historical society, and at the University of Sydney, she is a member of the Art Advisory Committee and the Heritage Advisory Group, both established to advise on matters of museum and heritage policies. Julia has also worked on a number of consultancies including the Blue Mountains World Heritage Nomination (as historical respondent for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Domicelj Consultants), UNSW WomenResearch21, and various historical surveys on overseas students, women and engineers for UNSW.

Julia is also now the University Historian at the University of Sydney and an associate professor in the Department of History, where part of her position involves the management of the university’s oral history collection, working with the University’s heritage environment, and contributing historical advice to university policy development. Her major current public history project is Beyond 1914 (video below; see Her publications are in the field of the history of travel and the history of universities, education and women and include: The Pursuit of Wonder: How Australia’s Landscape was Explore, nature discovered and tourism unleashed (MUP: Miegunyah Press 2005) and Sydney the Making of a Public University (co-authored with Geoffrey Sherington, MUP: Miegunyah Press 2012).

Julia talked to the class about her early experiences with public history at the Powerhouse Museum, and the need to weigh up aesthetic and historic value and the need to draw in the public. The selection of sources to engage a wide audience, to tell stories, and to critique the past was a key component to a successful public history project. She presented the class with some entertaining examples drawn from her own experiences. Julia also exhorted students to experience place as much as possible when thinking about public history, and also to think about public history as something that should influence the present. She also talked about privacy issues, which sparked an interesting discussion in our ensuing tutorial - about our responsibilities as professional historians both toward the past, and our subjects. Finally, Julia mused about the idea of turning to historical fiction to tell stories that are difficult to piece together in more traditional formats. Several students in this class, I know, are keen to follow up on this and experiment with that format themselves. I'm keen to see where that might take us...

In the ensuing discussion, we also viewed some short public history presentations created by other students, including the fabulous ones done at Monash University with Alistair Thomson (see:, and noted the many different kinds of primary sources students were using in their community projects. We ended by conducting oral interviews on each other, experiencing some of the uncomfortableness of being both the interviewer and interviewee that Lorina Barker noted in her wonderful essay that we read this week: ‘“Hangin’ Out” and “Yarnin’”: Reflecting on the experience of collecting Oral Histories’ History Australia, Vol. 5. No. 1 (April 2008) .


In opening up the Quarantine Project to scholars from ‘History Beyond the Classroom’, the response has been impressive!

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Both I and the Q Station’s curator, Rebecca Anderson, were delighted that so many students made their way out to North Head for a brief tour and discussion of the site’s many layers of history. If we had known the turn-out would be so strong, we would readily have suggested a longer tour, plus time for individual roaming. However, everyone is welcome to visit again as individuals or groups – for more information, click here.

North Head also offers a vast range of opportunities for projects connecting the past with the community. We’ve had conversations and emails with a number of students since the visit, so don’t be shy if you still want to explore ideas! We can help connect you with groups and the resources to plan your own small-scale research projects such as:

• moments of disease at sea and in Sydney, from personal experiences of suffering to the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic of 1919
• histories of detention for quarantine, for processing of people and goods, or for ‘illegal immigrants’ held onsite from the 1950s to the 1970s
• humanitarian stories of the ‘Operation Babylift’ evacuation from Vietnam in 1975, or the temporary rehousing of Darwin residents after Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day, 1974
• individual or family lives linked to the historic inscriptions and gravestones spread across the site
• social histories of living and working in the isolated Quarantine Station community
• narratives of voyages to Sydney, whether crew, immigrants, travellers or returning soldiers
• the military history of North Head, including its system of bunkers, coastal artillery and occupation by the army in WWI and WWII
• contemporary histories of local and environmental politics after North Head was handed back to NSW in 1984
• the challenges of public history and interpretation across a large, historically rich site now being adaptively re-used for leisure and commerce.

Do feel free to get in touch to explore some of your ideas; we’ll help if we can!

Peter Hobbins

The History Council of NSW just announced that Meg Foster, a former University of Sydney History student, has won the 2015 Deen De Bortoli Award in Applied History for her essay "Online and Plugged In?: Public History and Historians in the Digital Age." The judges said that this essay ‘provides important insights into how digital technologies are democratising not only access to research materials but also the dissemination of history. It reflects on what this means for history professionals who can no longer dominate discussion of the past and suggests that ways forward lie in more collaborative approaches’. Meg Foster is currently doing her PhD at the University of New South Wales.

The Deen De Bortoli Award was first awarded in 2015. Generously funded by the De Bortoli family it is named in memory of Deen De Bortoli (1936-2003). The purpose of the Award is to encourage historians writing Australian political, social, cultural and environmental history to approach their subjects in ways that use the past to inform contemporary concerns and issues. The winner will receive a citation and a prize of $5,000 at the Annual History Lecture during History Week.

For 2016 the subject for the Deen De Bortoli Award will be for works in applied and public history that have the potential to inform good public policy. The winning entry will demonstrate a sound, critical knowledge of the relevant historiography, a high level of competence in the use of primary sources, and the capacity to develop complex arguments linking the past to contemporary, contentious issues currently impacting on Australia. Nominations for work undertaken between 1 October 2014 to 31 March 2016 for the 2016 Award close 31 March 2016. See:

Students of HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom may want to think about entering their projects in this competition, as well as PHA NSW &ACT Public History Prize. The Public History Prize is an annual award offered by the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT (PHA NSW&ACT).

The PHA NSW & ACT is now calling for entries for the 2015 Public History Prize for students. Slight changes in the condition of entries have been made for this year’s prize to enable more students to submit their work. The 2015 Public History Prize is open to any students (undergraduate, graduate diploma, master studies) in NSW and ACT whose work engages with the field and practice of professional and public history (both Australian and international).

Entries are now open for the 2015 PHA NSW & ACT Public History Prize, which comes with a $500 prize.
More information, including submission guidelines and deadline can be found here:

Entries close on 4 December 2015.

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See the little hut there on the left of this watercolour image?* It is one of the convict huts that, from 1790, lined both sides of High Street, Rose Hill, better known today as George Street, Parramatta. And on Saturday morning, I saw that convict hut with my very own eyes! This is because I was one of a few very lucky Parra locals who scooped up tickets to one of five free tours the Parramatta Park Trust offered the local community. The purpose of these tours was to inform the community about the Park’s multilayered history and showcase the archaeological work currently being carried out for the Trust by GML Heritage. You can see images and read all about the tour and Parramatta's convict huts here on my blog "The Old Parramattan":

Free community tours like this one have become a regular occurrence at Parramatta Park since the inclusion of Old Government House and Domain on the World Heritage list of Australian Convict sites in 2010, which has enabled a lot of important heritage projects to be undertaken. The Park’s gatehouses, for example, are being restored one by one; the Macquarie Street Gatehouse, The George Street “Tudor” Gatehouse, and Mays Hill Gatehouse have all already been transformed through incredible conservation works and prepared for adaptive reuse. The Dairy Cottage that once housed emancipist George Salter is also about to receive some tender loving care and, with the aid of modern technology, will soon completely immerse visitors in the old convict world. But the Trust hasn’t just set its sights on restoring the historic buildings located within the Governor’s once private domain...

Historic landscapes are also on the Trust’s agenda. A bush regeneration program restoring a remnant of the now-rare Sydney Coastal River-Flat Forest has led to the removal of introduced exotic trees and plants to allow native species to regenerate. Subsequently, visitors can experience part of the landscape as it was for the Darug people for at least 20,000 years on the “Aboriginal Landscape” trail. And, as the Trust’s Principal Program Officer (Cultural Heritage) Stephen Thompson informed us on Saturday, “The Gardens” precinct surrounding the George Street Gatehouse—where the convict hut remains were revealed—is also undergoing its own $2 million-metamorphosis into an “outdoor museum.” In the coming months, the Trust will be restoring and, where necessary, reconstructing features of this section of the park’s historic landscape; namely the early nineteenth-century Macquarie Convict Bridge and pond. Great care is being taken to ensure this work is completed using stonemason techniques and materials authentic to the convict era. Essentially, Thompson noted during our tour, visitors to this area of the park in the near future will be able to look at the colonial watercolour images and see some of those old features of the convict world in reality. Great Scott! It's like time travel! (Hopefully, dear reader, you are not too young to recognise that Back to the Future reference!)

Broadly speaking, the “outdoor museum” has many benefits. It is, quite literally, “public history” insofar as it is presented in public open spaces; for professional historians, this means it is, along with social media platforms, ebooks, and apps, another option we have available for publishing or presenting our histories to the widest possible audience. After all, as Emeritus Professor John Hirst has told many a History Postgrad in his seminars at USYD, “If you’re going to the trouble of writing history, don’t you want people to READ it?” Some members of the community might be, for a variety of reasons, disinclined to read a history book or visit a museum in the form of an imposing architectural edifice, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to reach them! We just need to tell our histories in a variety of ways.

Successful outdoor museums, such as Parramatta Park or the new Heritage Courtyard at the Parramatta Justice Precinct,** subtly blend in with both natural and public urban environments and, thus, have a greater capacity to gently engage diverse—even the most reluctant—members of the community in stories of the past. This is important work, if only because it can improve an individual’s sense of connection to the place in which they live. Moreover, we all learn better when we are stimulated by a different environment and kinaesthetic learning situations that force us to be outside breathing fresh air and moving around. Outdoor museums take the typically sedentary activity of studying History not just beyond a classroom, but beyond walls entirely.

* View of Governor’s House, Rosehill, Parramatta c1798. A convict hut is on the left. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales [a928407 / DG SSV1B/3] (Dixson Galleries) via Dictionary of Sydney.

** See my blog post “Parramatta’s Convict Huts” on my blog “The Old Parramattan” to read about and view images of the Heritage Courtyard at the Parramatta Justice Precinct.

Some social media accounts you may wish to follow:

Parramatta Park Trust: @ParraPark on Twitter and Facebook:

GML Heritage: @gmlheritage on Instagram and their website:

The Old Parramattan: @oldparramatta on Instagram and Facebook:

Photos below by Michaela Ann Cameron:

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For my major project I hope to work with the Ashfield Polish Club in order to produce a small documentary exploring what the club means for both Polish and Australian people in a contemporary setting. I would love to explore the origins of the club and how it has transformed over the years and document this history. I have met some incredibly colourful and vibrant characters during my visits so far, and I am currently waiting on a response from the Board of Directors regarding whether or not my project will go ahead. On my last visit I spent several hours speaking to an old member in the depths of the on-site library. There are hundreds of books in there and I would have uploaded pictures but I am unfortunately not technologically savvy enough for such ventures. I will leave you to imagine the rows of books cramped into an old building behind the club officially dubbed the 'Polish House'. Hopefully the members will be willing to be interviewed because there is so much history there. If you are ever passing through Ashfield on Sundays then I highly recommend dropping in for a drink and some pierogi in the afternoons!!


This week we had David Watts (pictured above) come in from the Aboriginal Heritage Office, a unique joint initiative by a group of councils across northern Sydney, including North Sydney, Manly, Warringah, Ku-ring-gai, and Pittwater to protect Aboriginal Heritage in these areas ( David Watts, the Aboriginal Heritage Manager, was one of the key founders of the Office back in 2000, and continues to play a leading role in the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites, education, and a prize-winning volunteer site monitoring program that empowers community members to take responsibility for our shared heritage and past.

David talked to students about his role in the organisation, the many challenges they faced and continue to face, and his extensive experience in Aboriginal heritage management. He has worked on site surveys and archaeological excavations, conservation management plans and protection works. He has given talks all over the world about Aboriginal site care and managements, as well as cultural tourism advice, and he has developed several Aboriginal Heritage Walks within the northern Sydney region (including some of the walks and resources you can find here: David engaged us all with his honest and realistic approach to public history, and also talked about his own past and the way that shaped his approach to the present, and his responses to continued racism as well.

David’s talk helped set the tone for an ensuing discussion on “Decolonizing Methodologies” and especially the struggle over “research” in indigenous communities where there has been a long history of imperial and post-colonial intrusion by researchers. David’s talk, and the readings, helped draw attention to the sensitivities involved in indigenous history and the need to think carefully about our intentions and purposes in doing it (something we need to be mindful with any project, it seems). We talked about respect for indigenous knowledges and methodologies, and also talked a little more about public history being a route to “purify” the past, in Peter Read’s terms – a place where, if done properly, we can come together to reconcile and start to heal the trauma of the past.

As the mid-semester break approaches, I’m getting ready to buckle down and make a good start on my major project. I’m working with the New South Wales Writers' Centre, whose headquarters can be found in the picturesque and historically significant Callan Park in Rozelle. This site was once occupied by the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, where several prominent writers and poets were patients over the course of its history. How might strolling through the extensive grounds be changed by the knowledge that the likes of Louisa Lawson and Francis Webb may have done just the same decades ago? In consultation with the director of the Centre, my current plan is to write a page for their website exploring the history of writers on the site. I’m hoping, along the way, to gain a better understanding of how the history of a place can influence the way it is used in the present.

So far, much of my work on this project has been done among the shelves of the State Library. I’ve been researching the writers who were residents of the Hospital at one time or another, looking for any scraps of evidence about their lives there. Over the break I hope to be able to do more hands-on research: exploring what remains of the historic buildings in Callan Park, taking photographs, and really getting a sense of what the site used to be like.

I’m also going to be helping out at the Writers' Centre, and will hopefully be able to chat to some of the members about their knowledge and perceptions of the park’s history. On previous visits to the Centre, over afternoon tea, multiple people have remarked on different aspects of the history, so it’s clearly of an interest to some members. As my project moves along I may expand on my web page idea to include something more interactive that allows visitors to explore the history themselves – perhaps a walking tour? I’m excited to see where this partnership takes me!

For my community project I am working with the Temple Society, a German society who lived in Palestine for nearly a century after leaving the Lutheran church when "The Holy Land Called" (as is the name of Dr Sauer's book on the subject). They were keen for me to make them a cookbook; collecting together not only a tonne of recipes, but also documenting the origin of the recipes and the ways in which their food evolved as they moved from Germany to Palestine and then to Australia.

As a basis I was given copies of the 1990 Playgroup cookbook and 1991 Templer Cookbook, both which contain several typed up recipes yet do not make mention of their origin, significance and the stories behind the food. I will be using my volunteer time to gather new recipes, hear the stories of a number of community elders and members, explore the archives and hopefully put together a book which captures their food history.

The working title of the book is Jaffa Orange, an orange variety the Templers were said to have cultivated.

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I've never written a blog post before (so what I'm lacking in blogging ability I can hopefully make up in pretty pictures).

On Monday we went on a field trip to the Quarantine Station on North Head. It was hard not to be completed distracted by the stunning view of the harbour, visible from almost every location on the site. At the same time I was completely taken aback by the inscriptions in the stones, the lovely old buildings and the waste which remained from a time when nothing could leave the site.

There existed a strange balance between old and new as we walked from the landing site lined with red leaved trees (where boats would have docked when they were declared to be carrying ill passengers) to the hospital buildings up a steep hill. The site was overgrown, being part of a national park, yet these buildings were in immaculate condition, and now house guests and host weddings. There was a hospital room we visited which is primary used for school education, and had been restored to resemble a 1800's ward complete with metal bed frames and Florence Nightingale style uniforms on display. Yet as we continued further along the path, towards the isolation area (in which people who were not yet sick but had been in close contact with those who were stayed), there was an restored shed which had a brand new timber deck, deck chairs and a new sign which read "Isolation Guest Lounge".

The Quarantine Station is not only an archaeological site, a historic site and a site for educational purposes, but is also a four star hotel with a conference centre, function rooms, restaurants and a museum. It's wonderful that with the support of a private company the Q Station can be sustained and enjoyed presently whilst maintaining its connection to the past and without compromising its historic value.

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This week we paused to think more about our work with local and community organisations, and our major projects. To help us think through what we might do, we heard from Michaela Cameron, a PhD student in the Department of History who specialises in early Native-European relations, and particularly the “soundscapes” of early North America (see: .

On the side, Michaela has also been exploring the local history of her own neighbourhood in Sydney, and over the past few years has developed quite a wide and interesting public history presence. She has written numerous reviews of historic sites for Yelp, for example, created a Sydney history twitter account (, an instagram account for promoting Parramatta history and especially the Female Factory in particular ( and and and has also done work for the Dictionary of Sydney, including creating a walking tour app of Convict Parramatta which should be out shortly ( .

Michaela showed many of us what an “outsider” and a trained historian could bring to the public history table, particular if one listens, learns, and collaborates with local experts and the vast knowledge they often bring to the subjects. Michaela offered practical tips about having clear aims, and knowing what purpose any engagement and its public outcome might serve, including thinking about the audience for any public history project.

Michaela also stressed the need to go multi-modal, and think about bringing in text, visual, and audio material. She also showed us some fabulous examples of using primary sources and social media to “sell history” – and noted that while some organisations are already very good about using social media, it is often something we can help with if we are on top of it. So, too, can we try to draw attention to great resources such as Trove (

Primary sources in particular can entertain as well as inform, but they can also draw attention to some important causes (see for example: and and and and ). Michaela also notes that we should use a wide range of sources, and look for the ‘gaps’ – the silences, or the history that is not being done, or communicated particularly well.

Finally, Michaela also showed that history students could collaborate with each other to strengthen their efforts, and also help local/community organisations make connections between themselves and others, and with other organisations in particular that might help. Putting a grassroots campaign in touch with the Mitchell library, or the Dictionary of Sydney, for example, can pay dividends. And of course, we can use social media for activist purposes. See the petition to save the Female Factory here:

Following this stimulating talk, we divided the class into small groups according to the kinds of organisations they were working with, or hoping to work with. There is a great range of interests and different kinds of organisations, ranging from historical societies and historic sites, museums and libraries, to sports and community clubs, health and welfare groups, and activist/political groups. Students shared experiences and challenges, and with Michaela’s talk as inspiration, began to think about how that work might translate into a public history project. The possibilities are endless…

This week we had both Louise Prowse and Mark McKenna in as guests to talk about local history. Both have "done" local history, as well as engaged with their communities and with local historical societies. They spoke about the theoretical/conceptual challenges of doing local history, as well as some of the practical issues that might arise. Of course, there is a strong relationship between the two, especially when raising questions that don't always resonate with those who you are raising them with, as Louise pointed out. This can at least help push us to change the questions or think differently about our approaches.

Discussion ranged across a number of issues, including the relationship between the local and the national, the kinds of sources that might be important, and relationships between local authorities, the community, and the professional historian as well as the "hierarchies" of local knowledge and authority too.

We also talked about the tension inherent in working with local groups and writing analytical history, which again raised questions about who our histories are for, and what are they for? Do we need a sense of personal connection, or a common point of interest to work well together? Where do we feel a sense of belonging? What do we feel connected to? Do we need to connect with communities/localities that we study? Can we "own" a history that is not ours? Or is written by someone else? What can we bring to the table as "insiders" and as "outsiders"?

And the key question again, what is our role as historians? Mark McKenna has written that history should be about confronting myths, rather than reassuring stories. But Frank Bongiorno and Erik Ekland have written in their article "The Problem of Belonging: Contested Country in Australian Local History," that instead of confronting myths, we should think about excavating the "historical meanings of social memory." What role do myths play in our historical consciousness?

Building on all of this, I think one of the most important questions that arose from the readings and discussion this week is whether we can/should think of our histories as acts of reconciliation?

This week Annette Cairnduff, the University of Sydney’s Social Inclusion Director, came to talk to the class about the issue of inclusion, especially at Universities, and the University of Sydney in particular. She told us of her own background, the work done at the University of Sydney over the past six years, the collaborative projects encompassed in the Bridges to Higher Education Project, and why she is a passionate believer in the goal of inclusion. Both Annette and Hannah Forsyth, whose work we read in tandem (A History of the Modern Australian University [2014]), noted that while Universities have become more inclusive over the past one hundred years or so, they have also continued to be sites of exclusion, too. And Sydney University still has some way to go to fulfil a more expansive vision of an inclusive University. For some of the efforts of Annette and the social inclusion unit, including Compass, see

Annette’s talk echoed the readings on community history, too, or perhaps histories in communities. As noted last week, Martha Sears has urged us to think about history in ecological terms, as a dynamic and organic system where diverse and different parts contribute to the health of the whole. A more diverse and inclusive University will be a healthier and more dynamic place, too. Genuine engagement with a broader community is also a route toward a healthier University and is of course part of the University’s strategic plan.

Based on some of the exciting proposals for community work that have emerged so far in this unit, and which we discussed a bit this week in our tutorials, I am hopeful that students can play an important part in both connecting and engaging with diverse constituencies, and thinking more inclusively about history and history-making. It is clear from the readings and discussion this week that that would involve a recognition of the limits of our own knowledge; an openness and attentiveness to new forms of expressing knowledge; and a valuing of other ways of thinking about history and knowledge.

As Michael Frisch has written, an engaged history is about sharing authority, and letting go of some of our preoccupations and interests and what we know (like our traditional idea of research, writing a history essay, and playing it safe with something that we already know we do well). Doing so does and has raised anxiety levels a bit. This is understandable. Students are doing something new here - something so new that we don’t actually know what will result exactly. As Martha Sears notes, if we take this seriously, let go of our “authority” (as a history student) and engage, listen, and learn, history and history-making can be something more alive – organic, dynamic, etc. But not knowing what will result is scary, maybe even terrifying at times (and part of the “letting go”), but it is also the point at which we’ll all hopefully learn most.

In an essay entitled "Public History" in Clark and Ashton, eds., Australian History Now (2013), Paul Ashton reflected on his experiences as a public historian and the growth of the field in general. He concluded by noting his working definition of public history as "the practice of historical work in a wide range of forums and sites which involves the negotiation of different understandings about the nature of the past and its meaning and uses in the present" (179). Such a definition draws on Raphael Samuel's idea (discussed last week) that "history is a social form of knowledge; the work, in any given instance, of a thousand different hands," and also points forward to Martha Sears' ecological view of different forms of history-making as "part of a dynamic system where every diverse and distinctive element contributes to the vigour and health of the whole" (Sears, "History in Communities," in Clark and Ashton, Australian History Now (2013), 212-213).

For me, this is a useful way of thinking about public history, and immediately encourages us to reflect on the practice of history in the University and classroom, which often (though not always) precludes these kinds of negotiations about different kinds of understandings about the past, and present uses. Our reading this week about the Enola Gay controversy in the United States in the early 1990s reinforced the dangers of not doing so, but also how difficult it might be to do so. Our discussions invariably shifted to the History Wars in Australia, but particularly the commemoration of Gallipoli and the ANZAC tradition. Is there a historical middle ground between commemoration and historical analysis? What role should the historian play in negotiating a kind of common ground that might move the debate forward, too? Opinions varied... Of course the Enola Gay controversy has resurfaced once again, especially in the USA and Japan, where the seventieth anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has just passed. History News Network, a useful clearing house for history-related news has been alive with discussion of this event (see, for example,

We were also fortunate to have Bruce Baskerville join us to share his story of how he became a professional historian and the many challenges and opportunities he has faced. We were impressed with just how hard he has had to work at this and yet how many interesting projects he has been involved with. Students were keen to know how he got started, and also his hints on practical issues such as how to approach local and community organisations. Questions about ethics and responsibilities of the historian doing public history again came up in the discussion. Bruce, who is the current chair of the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT, talked about some of this and also noted that the Professional Historians Association of Australia has some guidelines that might be useful in their "Code of Ethics" (see But Bruce also recognised that there are many grey areas that need more fulsome discussion. No doubt we'll be coming back to some of these questions throughout the unit.

This week we kicked off discussion by watching Lin-Manuel Miranda's Performance of "Alexander Hamilton" at the White House in 2009 (click the link above for it). Since then, the musical Alexander Hamilton has been hugely popular in New York and now become a Broadway hit. See:

The clip was an appropriate starting point for a discussion about "What is History?," "What is History for?", "Who Does History?", and "What is the role and responsibility of the historian in public history?."

Our readings ranged from EH Carr's classic essay "What is History" to M. Scott Momaday's Way to Rainy Mountain, the former seemingly caught between the positivists of the 19th century and the postmodernists of the 20th, and the latter making an argument for history as a "turning and re-turning of myth, history, and memoir." Momaday's definition was arguably given some extra weight by an excerpt from Raphael Samuel's 1994 book, Theatres of Memory, called "Unofficial Knowledge" in which Samuel pointed out the myriad ways we learn, and do, history (and in the process outlining an agenda for a new generation of cultural historians). We finished off with a discussion of an excerpt from Roy Rosensweig and David Thelen's landmark study The Presence of the Past, with students pointing out that even since 1998, when they published this work, we seem to know a lot more about how non-historians think about the past and do history in their everyday lives.

We finished our seminar with a short discussion of just how to get started on a community-engaged project, emphasising that the engagement should come first, and let the historical questions arise from it. Several students shared their ideas about the kind of local/community organisation they might like to work with, and there were some terrific ideas. Very promising...

While we only managed to scratch the surface of the questions raised this week, they will of course be at the heart of this unit throughout the semester.

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(Photo by Michael McDonnell, Broken Hill Railway Museum)

After several years in the planning, HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom is finally under way this semester. I'm looking forward to teaching this, and to learning a great deal from each other. The main aim of this unit is as follows:

In this unit you will produce an independently framed and original researched project drawn from an engagement with communities and organisations outside the University. Students will explore history in action in a variety of contexts and think about different ways of creating and disseminating
history other than the traditional research essay that might appeal to a public audience. Lectures and field trips will help students frame relevant community-based questions, adopt appropriate methodologies, and explore new ways of presenting arguments or narratives. In tutorials we will workshop every stage of your project.

Part of the aim of this unit is to introduce students to history as a lived and lifelong practice and to appreciate history as a vital individual, community, and organizational practice. Together, we will explore a variety of histories in action via time spent working with or alongside community organizations outside the University and discuss the challenges and opportunities of history beyond the classroom. In keeping with this idea, we will also explore different formats for presenting our histories that might reach a wider and more public audience. In doing so, we will also discuss the vital questions around the issue of whether reaching for a wider audience means changing or diminishing academic standards. Can history beyond the classroom co-exist with and inform and enrich history practiced in the classroom?

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