On Saturday I am going to be part of a panel discussion at the National Archives of Australia, in Canberra, about the meaning of an apology.
The forum will be chaired by Professor Nahum Mushin, who will lead former Senator Sue Boyce, Professor Mick Dodson, my Find & Connect colleague Dr Cate O’Neill, Dr Trevor Jordon and myself in a discussion about the notion of an apology, and how and why people respond in different ways. I’ll be talking about the Find & Connect web resource, about my PhD studies, which were conducted before the 2008 apology to the stolen generations or the 2009 apology to Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants. I wrote about the 2009 apology, for New Matilda, long before I knew I would end up working as a state-based historian on the Find & Connect web resource, and long before the final part of the trilogy, Julia Gillard’s apology to those affected by Forced Adoptions. I’ll also have something to say about the responses of people, and those directly affected.
The event is associated with a new exhibition, Without Consent: Australia’s past adoption practices, which opens on Friday 20 March at the Archives. The event is at 2pm, but seems to be booked out. Apparently there’ll be podcasts of it on the website, which is somehow even more nerve-wracking. Still, I’m looking forward to it, and especially to catching up with my mate Cate. It’s like getting the band back together! Except we are digital history and data nerds, not musos …
I’ve been working and thinking on the life of Musquito since 2004, when I wrote an entry on him for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. At the height of the History Wars I had stoushes in print with Keith Windschuttle over this man, and have written one full-length scholarly article, for Aboriginal History, called ‘”Hanging no good for blackfellow”: looking into the life of Musquito’. However, since 2007 life got in the way of me writing a full-length biography, and Musquito has been sitting on my back-burner for a good long while, despite my passion for his story.
Things shifted a little last year. Kristyn Harman featured Musquito in her 2012 book Aboriginal Convicts, which got some well-deserved attention, including from Radio National’s late-lamented Hindsight. I was honoured to be included in that programme, which aired last year. I made a commitment to myself to get rolling on writing about him, once I’ve completed my current (wonderful) paid jobs.
So, it’s very exciting to start 2015 with news that I have been awarded the State Library of NSW National and State Libraries Australasia Honorary Fellowship for 2015, for a project I’ve called ‘Musquito: a life from the archives’. I am also delighted to say that I have been shortlisted for the 2015 Writers’ Victoria Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship, which will be announced in Adelaide on 4 March. It’s a fine shortlist to be on, as you can see here. Although I’ve written all my life, I see myself very much as a beginner, and it’s quite scary to take the plunge into writing full-time. The National and State Libraries Australasia Honorary Fellowship and the shortlisting for the Hazel Rowley Fellowship provide very necessary encouragement, and I am honoured, chuffed and inspired.
Most importantly, the interest shown by the judges is validation of the project. Musquito was a remarkable man, who experienced all the worst that convict and colonial society had to offer, and there is much to reflect on in his life, his milieu, and the ways he chose to live.
Tomorrow I start a new job at Sydney Uni as the Project Coordinator of the NSW Centenary of Anzac Book Project. To say that I am excited about spending the next year or so rummaging around in the photo collections of the State Library of NSW, State Records, the NSW War Memorial and a range of other institutions to find images of life in NSW during World War I would be a serious understatement. Squee!
Thursday was a milestone for me, as it was my last official day with the Find & Connect web resource. I was distracted from this sad moment by the Canberra launch of Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the institutionalisation of women and children, edited by Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z Wilson and published just days ago by Australian Scholarly Publishing. I’m proud to say it contains an article by me, called ‘Tracing the Past: the Find & Connect web resource’, which sits amongst work by Shurlee Swain and Nell Musgrove, Lily Hibberd, Wilson and Ashton, Dolly McKinnon, Tracy Ireland, Denis Byrne, Maria Tumarkin and many other luminaries. The book explores women’s incarceration, sites of conscience, and memory.
As I’ve noted previously on this blog, Silent System came about after a conference last September, that engaged with the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct and the women and children who lived at the site, under government supervision, from 1820 until the last decade of the 20th century. The site has, in stages, contained the Parramatta Female Factory, the Male Orphan School, the Roman Catholic Orphan School and, under various names, the Girls Industrial School. It contains ancient buildings and a lot of hard-lived history, and has been the focus of a ten-year campaign by Bonney Djuric, founder of Parragirls, for public recognition of the critical heritage values of the site and its value as a Site of Conscience.
As it turned out, on the day of the launch the NSW Premier announced that the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct [North Parramatta Heritage Precinct] will be sensitively redeveloped as a cultural heritage precinct. This is a huge achievement for Bonney, and for a number of key groups in the area.
One of the best things about working on the Find & Connect web resource was engaging with committed stakeholders and advocates like Bonney. I’m very much hoping to maintain my involvement, into the future.
This is the first official post of this blog, so welcome and hello. I thought I would start with some news, so here ’tis.
This week I am heading to Canberra for the launch of Silent System: Forgotten Australians and the Institutionalisation of Women and Children, which is edited by Paul Ashton and Jacqueline Z Wilson and is being published by Australian Scholarly Publishing this month. It features an article I wrote called ‘Tracing the Past: the Find & Connect web resource’.
The book is the result of a symposium held last year at the University of Technology, Sydney, which was hosted by Transforming Cultures and the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project, an offshoot of the remarkable work of Parragirls, and of Bonny Djuric. Over two days, a diverse group of scholars and artists talked about memory, museums and history, while exploring the Parramatta Female Factory site and the stories of the convict women and Forgotten Australians who lived there, under the strictest of government controls.
I began my involvement with Parragirls when I joined the Find & Connect web resource in 2011, but I had learned about the Parramatta Girls Home in the 1990s, when I was beginning my studies into child welfare history for my PhD. The institution began in 1887, when girls under sentence for petty crimes or being ‘neglected’ were moved from the Biloela Industrial School to the buildings formerly occupied by the Roman Catholic Orphan School. The new institution, Parramatta Girls’ Industrial School, survived in various forms on the same site until 1983, and more than 10,000 girls passed through its doors. The Parragirls website is a powerful guide to this place, that brings together all the usages of the site from the 1820s until after 2000, and you should read it at once.
It’s been a great honour and privilege to meet Bonnie Djuric and Parragirls, and to become acquainted with the work of the Parramatta Female Factory Memory Project, and that of artist Lily Hibberd. It’s fabulous that so many fine scholars have engaged with this site to produce the articles that feature in this book and although I have a mad week of busy ahead, I’m looking forward to this launch immensely. It will be bittersweet, as it takes place on the last day of my contract with the Australian Catholic University, and marks a pause in my work with the Find & Connect web resource. But it’s a good way to go out, celebrating the work of recovery and recognition, and the movement of these formerly hidden and private stories into the scholarly domain.