This morning I had the pleasure of doing breakfast radio in Canberra with the wonderfully clever Dan Bourchier, to talk about my work here as writer-in-residence on The Level and Endeavour House, where I am hosted by the Australia Institute. It was a great interview and if you care to listen, it’s about 1:45 into this segment.
I’m really pleased to announce that I’m starting my new year in Canberra, where I’m the inaugural writer-in-residence for the Australia Institute at The Level, in Endeavour House. It’s a funky co-working space in Manuka, and I’m very happy to be here.
I’m working on my long-cherished project about Musquito, and I can’t begin to tell you how encouraging it is to receive this support from the Australia Institute, which is an organisation devoted to progressive ideas and social change. Great people, and as well as that the food in Manuka is to die for! It’s quite strange to be entirely alone and have no one to look after, but also wonderful.
A writer who taught me that there is so much more to exploring history and the self than what is in the academy. I have never felt so giddy as I did when I got to hold her hands when she won the Premier’s Literary Awards for Dancing with Strangers. That book, which I return to again and again, I loved for showing me new sides to material I already thought I knew. Here is Text’s obituary. https://www.textpublishing.com.au/blog/vale-inga-clendinnen
Dear Minister Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,
I am a historian who has spent nearly two decades studying the history of child welfare in this country. My PhD ‘“Such a longing”: the treatment of black and white children in welfare in NSW and Tasmania 1880-1940’ (UNSW History, 2007) was written while the previous Liberal government asserted that the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were separated from their families was in accordance with the welfare standards of the time. In 2008 the Parliament of Australia, with the support of Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the opposition, reversed that position and apologised to the Stolen Generations for what had been done to them. Since then, the Parliament has apologised to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants and to those affected by Forced Adoptions. In each of the three apologies the stakeholders have felt they were supported by Malcolm Turnbull – I know this, because I spent three years working with those stakeholders as part of the team which put together the Australian Government’s Find & Connect web resource.
As the conditions for detained asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus Island deteriorate I am moved to remind you both that the damage being done in your names will have a high cost. The adults you have detained there are suffering and so are their children. Small children and babies. Our own very recent history shows us that this sort of ill-treatment wreaks havoc on the current generation and their descendants, leaving very real scars on the people affected. The shame for our own community is incalculable and you should not be doing this in my name.
I would like you both to answer the following questions to ensure immediate improvement in the lives of people on Nauru and Manus Island:
1. What will you do to ensure that medical attention, to Australian standards, is available at Nauru and Manus Island (or that speedy evacuation systems are in place)?
2. What will you do to ensure women and babies receive Australian-standard prenatal, post-natal and infant welfare care?
3. What will you do to ensure Australian-standards of child protection are in place on both Nauru and Manus Island and when will you do it?
4. How and when will you improve security for asylum-seekers on both Nauru and Manus Island?
Finally, when will you resettle people found to be refugees from both Nauru and Manus Island?
I would appreciate a prompt answer to these questions. Please do not write back saying that this is the responsibility of the PNG or Nauru governments. You are party to contracts with these governments and you remain responsible for this situation.
Sincerely, Dr Naomi Parry
Working class pastimes are always complicated, aren’t they? Gambling, in all its forms, is destructive, whether it’s cards or betting. Ancient “sports” like cockfighting, dog-fighting, bull-baiting and bare-knuckle fighting have all been so brutal they have been banned in English-speaking countries. Then again, “sports” favoured by the upper-classes, such as horse-racing and the betting associated with it, have been heavily regulated to standards of what some consider to be safety.
Greyhound racing in Australia arose from the ancient practice of coursing, which involved setting fast hounds in pursuit of small prey. Scratching Sydney’s Surface has a great piece about the origins of coursing, which I drew on when I wrote about Lithgow Greyhound Racing Track for Lithgow History Avenue. The electrified greyhound racing track (the tin hare), which we now know as part of the sport now, was introduced in the late 1920s and both reduced the (public) cruelty of the activity and increased its popular appeal. Greyhound racing was accessible, low-cost (compared to horses) and became part of the fabric of many working class communities. There was many a working class household with a racing dog in its backyard.
And now, with Mike Baird announcing the banning of greyhound racing, it’s all gone. On the one hand, too many dogs live intolerable lives, too many small furry creatures are sacrificed and too many beautiful greyhounds die horribly. But it’s another element of working class life that is biting the dust, taking much that is positive with it.
And what will become of those hounds? They won’t all be converted to pets or rehomed. It’s a big change. Necessary, but big.
This year’s Speaker Connect programme for History Week has the theme of Neighbours and I am trying to think of something I have worked on that might make a substantial presentation but I am stumped. In the meantime, as it’s election time, my current-day neighbourhood is always good for a laugh. The defacing of my Liberal-voting neighbour’s corflutes with some very silly symbols has led to media interest!
This weekend I’ve been at home, in Hobart, and at something new(ish), which is MONA. The annual MONA Foma festival (MoFo) is entirely located at the site of the gallery this year, which means some of the transformative power of its former location in the middle of Hobart city is lost. Overall, mMoFo is low-key, quiet, attenuated because it now sprawls over the whole site and because the lineup this year is a tad obtuse. What I’ve seen has been good but you do get considerably bigger bang for your buck at mainland festivals like our very own Blue Mountains Music Festival. The MoFo App is dreadful (no cross-referencing) and I’ll be writing to suggest they copy the Sydney Film Festival’s app, which is a delight, as well as their ticketing system. I enjoyed the SA Theatre Co’s Beckett mightily though – if enjoy is the right word.
Still, I’m home and with my dearest friends. Had a great stay down south that culminated in finding the author of a Great War diary my dear girlfriend Sue, collector extraordinaire, had scavenged from the South Hobart tip. Via Facebook she was alerted to a picture of the author and what a cheeky cove he was. It’s never long enough here.
And while at MONA, a chance to think about art versus archaeology, and art versus history. Gilbert and George, cheeky critics of social mores, old, new and future. A giant installation of books formed by lead leaves and glass bindings – which makes me think I’d much rather read the archaeology and built heritage of, say, the Pasminco Zinc Refinery than a constructed piece. Then a piece on Hiroshima that recollected archive boxes and got me, but of course you couldn’t touch it and what use are archives you can’t touch? When boxes evoke things lost, as they did in the show today, I can get it, but tell a historian to keep their hands off it and you’ll get a very erudite tantrum. Then again, perhaps my son is right to say, if you let everyone touch archives they will be destroyed. Oh yes, but I am not anyone.
This is also the week David Bowie died. An archivist (of himself), a songster, a historian (of himself), a storyteller magician, a Black Star. Vale and RIP.
I’m really looking forward to the New Year. This last one, 2015, was hard, although it had its riches. Too many changes, brutish and unexpected, although not all of them were bad. Friends filled up and warmed what might have been a cold space, my house and Katoomba became my home again, and my son and I grew even closer. Most of the time I felt as precariously balanced as the stones at the top of this pylon, but I made it. And I did some cool things – I saw whales, watched Sylvie Guillem dance her last performance in Sydney and Lucinda Williams rock out at the Enmore, danced with my kid at the 40th anniversary of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and went to a disco, bought funky furniture and enjoyed being social again. Although the bad bits were very bad, it wasn’t all like that. Onward.
It is Remembrance Day so I shall be thinking about the men and women who have, for complicated and varied reasons, served this country in overseas conflicts over the last 116 years. I will also be thinking of the wars that continue around this world, for reasons only the powerful know, and the people displaced by them, including those who have tried to stagger to our shores. I will remember.
And it’s a day to reflect on the titanic struggles of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser. Gough was a WWII RAAF veteran who brought our conscripts home from Vietnam. Fraser was a child of wartime who threw our country’s borders open to refugees from that conflict. I’ll remember that too.