Tag Archives: history

Some lovely news

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.


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!

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.