Category Archives: Writing

Louise Mack, World War One war correspondent

Mitchell Library, August 1897, P1/1090, DON a4220090. The inscription reads "AG Stephens with friendship from 'Louise Mack'". AG Stephens worked at The Bulletin with Mack, and was a great mentor to writers.
Mitchell Library, August 1897, P1/1090, DON a4220090. The inscription reads “A. G. Stephens with friendship from ‘Louise Mack”. AG Stephens worked at The Bulletin with Mack, and was a great mentor to writers of a leftist persuasion.

Well before CEW Bean and Keith Murdoch slugged it out to become Australia’s Official War Correspondent and Bean got on the boat with the first AIF, this journalist was sheltering in Antwerp while the Germans overran it. Meet Louise Mack (Mrs Creed), who was paid by the London Evening News and wired stories of the Siege of Antwerp and German atrocities to Australian papers. Born in Hobart and raised in Sydney she was stationed in Europe at the time, living in England and Italy before heading to Belgium to write for the Evening News and The Daily Mail. She also wrote romance novels.

In 1915 she published a book about her experiences, called A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War and she had a mighty lively tone. Here she is, describing arriving in Belgium and meeting a fellow correspondent mansplainer.

from A Woman's Experiences in the Great War, 1915 via Internet Archive
from A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, 1915 via Internet Archive

“My orders are,” Mr. Frank Fox told me as we chatted away, “to stick it out. Whatever happens, I’ve got to see it through for the Morning Post.”
“And I’m going to see it through, too,” I said.
“Oh no!” said Mr. Fox. “You’ll have to go as soon as trouble threatens!”
“Shall I?” I thought.
But as he was a man and an Australian, I did not think it was worth while arguing the matter with him. Instead, we talked of Sydney, and old friends across the seas, the Blue mountains, and the Bush, and our poets and writers and painters and politicians, friends of long ago, forgetting for the moment that we were chatting as it were on the edge of a crater.”

From A Woman's Experiences in the Great War, 1915  via Internet Archive
From A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, 1915 via Internet Archive

Some things never change

State Records NSW Government Printing Office glass plate negatives, NRS4481_MS2856
In State Records NSW Government Printing Office glass plate negatives, NRS4481_MS2856

In 1914, when medical professionals and public servants were consumed with questions about the fitness of youth to fight on future battlefields, this photograph was taken. It is intended to illustrate the debilitating effects of schooling and (especially) reading on the growing body. Quite clearly such activities were inimical to the development of a manly posture.

I enjoy showing this picture to teenage boys, who often sit exactly like this, but with devices on their laps instead of books. My middle-aged neck and shoulders tell me that posture really does matter, but this 100 year old photograph shows that kids never have listened, and are never likely to. I’m grateful, however, that no teen boys I know will be going overseas to fight any time soon, unlike these ones, whose posture no doubt improved in time for them to join the AIF.

New Dictionary of Sydney articles on government children’s homes

DoS logoI’ve got three new pieces at the Dictionary of Sydney, on the children’s homes Bidura, Royleston, and Yarra Bay House.

These were supported by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage’s Aboriginal Heritage projects, for which I am very grateful.

Barack Obama and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma

Nick O’Malley reports in The Sydney Morning Herald today that Barack Obama has visited Selma. I recommend the article, which neatly outlines the contemporary context of racial oppression and violence in America, and points to the power of the symbolism of a presidential cavalcade crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

I’m extremely keen to see the movie Selma, because the stories of the horrors that were perpetrated there have been stuck in my mind, for a long time. It’s a place of incredible stories of suffering and courage – fire bombs and lynchings, preaching and marches, Klansmen and civil rights activists. In 1999, on a road trip through the Deep South, my then boyfriend and I went to Selma. He’d picked the route – I knew almost nothing of this story – but I learned a lot on that particular leg of the journey.

Selma was a pretty, low-rise river town, in that empty way of so many southern towns. My clearest memory, aside from memorials to the violence of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights struggles, was of signs for bail bondsmen/bounty hunters. We crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, thinking of the murders and beatings, and entered the Freedom Trail, heading to Montgomery. The road is lined with signs of bravery and protest but it’s edged with fear. At a service station on the Trail an old African-American woman on a walking frame left her place at the counter as I walked in, and refused to be served before me. I was upset, but could see from the faces of everyone in the shop (all black) that this was what was expected in this part of Alabama – whites were served first, no matter what, even on the Freedom Trail. I apologised, sounding as broadly Australian as I could, and fled.

When we arrived in Montgomery, the sterile state seat, with its Confederate White House standing proud next to the official government house, we looked in vain for the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Martin Luther King Memorial. Caught cooling our feet in a hotel fountain, we asked the white security guard who came to move us on where the memorial was. He said “I haven’t seen it, but if you go down that aways, there’s the Hank Williams memorial and that’s real purty.” Later that night, getting fuel and beer, the African-American service station attendant told us, from behind his shot up security screen, that we had better not hang around there. We believed him.

The next day, after my first ever bowl of grits, we went to the tourist centre and found out the Martin Luther King Memorial had been 20 metres from the hotel fountain. When we got there we ran our hands through the cool water that flows over the black marble tablet of the memorial, and thought about how brave the people of Selma and Montgomery were, and how audacious Martin Luther King was. I could not have imagined then that we might see a black president’s cavalcade on that road, but I know he must drive gently, though with determination, in a part of the country that still smells of strange fruit.

On editing, and how I hope it helps my writing

The Seattle Daily Times Editorial Department

Even though I have always fussed over the way words look on a page, and their spelling, and think quite a lot about matters of grammar and punctuation, I know I am too green at this editing gig to claim any particular insight. It’s a scary role because readers notice editors most when they don’t do their job, as recently happened in a fine Australian novel I just devoured, where the phrase ‘slither of moon’ got past the keeper.

I do like editing though. Because I write, I know how hard it is to find the word that says what you want it to say, so I like taking someone else’s paragraph and thinking very hard about what the author has said but yet might want to say, and about what the subject might need said about it. I like homing in on the author’s insights, and gently moving words about, and changing and adding a few, until the piece says more about what the writer wanted to say, and what the subject needed said.

I like big movements too, shifting sentences and paragraphs about, to change the weight in the story and shift the pace. Then, when you feel it all runs properly, you get to smooth it down, apply grammar rules and the house style, check the spelling and send it, nicely polished, into the world. Your own hand is invisible, but you hope your author shines, free from any typo that might make a reader think less of them, or the publication you’ve worked on.

I hope this process also helps me, not just as an editor, but as a writer. When I say that I’m not talking about producing more perfectly punctuated essays. I mean that, while I trim someone else’s qualifiers and adjectives, I hope I will be confident enough to write without their protective padding. While I flip someone else’s sentences around to change the voice from passive to active, I hope I will myself be brave enough to write boldly and clearly. When I shift the weight of someone else’s paragraphs, I hope I will know where the weight should sit in my own stories, and how to pace them.

Being an editor also makes me hope for a good editor for myself – that, should I fail to do those things when I write, a careful eye will make sure my stories are well-weighted and flow, that my voice is brave, and my moons are in slivers.

A new job

"War Chest" Sock Appeal, May 1917 : 3 photos of workers handling goods by G. A. Hills, State Library of New South Wales, digital order number a6136003
“War Chest” Sock Appeal, May 1917 : 3 photos of workers handling goods by G. A. Hills, State Library of New South Wales, digital order number a6136003

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!

Hot off the press

Silent System, available from Australian Scholarly Press
Silent System, available from Australian Scholarly Publishing

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.

A launch

Visit by Mrs May to Girls’ Institution, Parramatta, 1939 [Hood Collection, NCY43/265, State Library of NSW]
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.

This photo dates from the early-mid 1970s. It appeared in Esther Han’s Herald Sun article of 4 November 2012, ‘Female Factory Tales to be Told.’ It was captioned ‘”Inmates” of the Parramatta Girls Home. Photo: Jeffrey Smith’, but was most probably taken by a Government Printing Office photographer, to promote Kamballa, the institution that succeeded Parramatta Girls’ Home. I assume the girls’ eyes were blacked out by Mr Smith.