How illuminating!

Some time ago, I wrote a post wondering what was meant by the ‘illuminations’ described at Anniversary Day celebrations during the nineteenth century.  I was delighted to find an illumination at the museum at Hobart.  It was created to celebrate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868.

Illuminations were painted onto glazed linen and then lit from behind by lamps and candles.

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As the panel beside it shows, existing transparencies seem to be relatively rare. It’s the only remaining one of  three that were exhibited from the Survey Office that was then in Davey Street Hobart.

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The Mercury newspaper of 18 January 1868 had a long article describing the illuminations.  Fortunately the weather cleared sufficiently on the eve of Prince Albert’s departure to the illuminations to proceed, after being postponed on the previous nights.

THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH IN TASMANIA.

THE GENERAL ILLUMINATION.  

After two postponements the general illumination of the city in honor of the arrival of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh took place last night, on the very eve of the illustrious visitor’s departure from our shores. ‘The display, though not such a success as   could have been wished on the one hand, was on the other by no means a failure. The weather was neither perfectly propitious, nor positively unfavorable, but it was at all events a great improvement upon any we have been fortunate enough to enjoy since the day succeeding that of the Royal Duke’s landing. During the early part of the day apprehensions were generally entertained that a continuous full of rain was about to set in, but those fears were removed long before dusk. Nevertheless up to the time of the actual commencement of the illumination, a fresh and very cold wind blew from the south-west, and rendered the watching of the display a matter of some discomfort…

Then followed some criticism of the gas supply, which was obviously insufficient.  Putting carping aside, the article then went on to describe the crowd:

The concourse of people in the streets was quite as large, if not larger, than could have reasonably been expected. The leading streets were in all parts and during the entire time of the continuance of the festivities well filled with curious spectators of all ages and conditions, and at certain points of special attractiveness they were occasionally thronged to inconvenience. Nevertheless there was nowhere any formidable crush, and the demeanor of the crowd was throughout conspicuous for good humor and unselfishness.

Finally, a lengthy description of the illuminations, including those at the Survey Office:

The Survey Office exhibited three large transparencies. That on the right wing was a portrait 8 feet by 6 of Prince Alfred in naval uniform leaning on a ship’s capstan. At the base a ribbon was gracefully entwined, and on it was inscribed the motto ” Welcome to Tasmania “. The entire was encircled in a wreath of laurel On the left wing was a full length portrait of Her Majesty the Queen in Royal robes, surrounded   with a wreath of laurel. This picture was of the same dimensions as that previously described. In the centre of the building was placed a transparency 8 feet by 12, the subject being Tasmania welcoming M R.H Prince Alfred. Her Majesty was represented standing in the centre of the picture on a raised dais in the act of introducing the Prince to a female figure symbolical of Tasmania, and Tasmania as  receiving with extended hand the Royal guest, who in his turn was greeting her with a like display of courtesy. Immediately behind the Prince was seen a sketch of the Galatea in the distance, and lower down were grouped cannons, mortars, cables and other appurtenances of a   ship of war. Behind Tasmania are barrels of oil, bales of wool, and other specimens of the products of the island, and underneath them a cornucopia. A ribbon supported by winged figures above the heads of the central group was inscribed with the words “Tasmania’s Reception,” and a corresponding ribbon at the foot of the picture bore the continuing words ” To tho Royal Duke.” The painting was executed by Mr Frank Dunnett of the Survey Department

Personally, I don’t think that Mr Dunnett should give up his day job- oops, painting and sketch-making was his day job.  The Design and Art Australian Online database provides a biographical sketch, describing  him as

 a painter, lithographer and surveyor. As a chronic asthmatic he was advised to leave Britain and so in about 1856 he migrated to Australia. Dunnett moved to Tasmania and found employment with the Hobart Town Survey Office. In 1866 he exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition and was awarded a highly commended certificate for a sketch.

Good old Hobart.  They gave Prince Albert a far better reception than he was to receive in Clontarf a few months later….

 

 

 

John Walpole Willis in cyberspace

RHSVweb

Tomorrow night, my judge will be launched  into cyberspace!  Too late to ‘join us’, though.

I’ll give you the link after it’s made available.

‘Connecting’ at the masterclass

Well, now I can tell you what happens at a masterclass!  There were about eighteen or so participants, drawn from universities across Australia, but the majority were from the University of Tasmania. The masterclass was hosted by Penny Edmonds from the University of Tasmania,  and several Uni of Tasmania academics attended including Anna Johnston (who wrote The Paper Wars which I reviewed here), Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Kristyn Harman, whose book Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles recently won the Kay Daniels award.

But the major drawcard, for me at least, was the presence of  Dr. Zoe Laidlaw, Reader in British Imperial and Colonial History at Royal Holloway, University of London. Continue reading

Oooh goody!

I’m really looking forward to the Masterclass on “Networks of Empire & Transnational History’ that is being conducted down at the University of Tasmania tomorrow.  It’s being conducted by Zoe Laidlaw, one of my capital letter Historians I Admire Very Much.  It was her book ‘Colonial Connections’, along with Kirsten McKenzie’s ‘Scandal in the Colonies’ that spurred me to write about ‘my’ judge in the way I’m doing.   So I’m down in Hobart, one of my very favourite cities, having had an indulgent day off looking through the newly renovated Museum of Tasmania  and Narryna, a historic home in Battery Point.  The Jetstar God actually smiled on me and the plane left on time, and I was upgraded in my accommodation fromthe rather poky cheapest room to something rather more salubrious.  But I’m using my tablet and only just managed to get the bluetooth keyboard to work, and I’ve discovered that I have absolutely no idea how to make a new paragraph.  I probably sound very very excited, but it’s just my technological ignorance!

 

 

‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ by Bill Gammage

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Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia

384 p. 2011

I was aware, while reading this book, that I was reading what could turn out to be one of the really big books in Australian history: a book that changes the received understanding of Australian settlement,eventually rippling out beyond historians to politicians and the media to finally become part of the way we see ourselves and our country.  Maybe.

Gammage’s argument is that, instead of being marginal hunter-gatherers, ‘people’- for that is the terminology he has chosen to distinguish aborigines from ‘newcomers’- farmed prior to 1788.  They were not farmers, which is a lifestyle; but they did farm – the activity of tending and shaping landscape.  They developed what he calls a ‘template’ of landscape, a mosaic comprising open pasture with few trees,  strips of scrub and stubby trees, other plains, then clearly delineated forest.  It was a landscape ideally suited to the growing of tubers and providing both shelter and feed to encourage the presence of kangaroos and animals suitable for hunting. Instead of being forced to keep moving because they were on the verge of starvation,  people were well-supplied with food through this manipulation of their environment.  They moved across country as part of tending it, shifting and imposing the  template, created through careful burning, onto new land at will. They were well aware of species that tolerated or encouraged fire.

It is an argument that forces us to change our view of the landscape around us.  The bushland that we prize as ‘native’ landscape is often not that at all- instead it is product of neglect as the custodians of the country could no longer farm it.   The plains of green ‘pick’ were engulfed by scrub, and forests left unburned exploded into huge conflagrations that were not seen under the care of ‘the people’.

He mounts his argument through repetition, almost to the point of overload.  He draws on the writings of early settlers and explorers who again, again and again, observed and documented the same thing:

The country consisted of open forest, which, growing gradually thinner, at length left intervals of open-plain…Penetrating next through a narrow strip of casuarinae scrub, we found the remains of native huts; and beyond this scrub, we crossed a beautiful plain, covered with shining verdure, and ornamented with trees, which, although ‘dropt in nature’s careless haste’, gave the country the appearance of an extensive park.  We next entered a brush of the acacia pendula, which grew higher and more abundant than I had seen it elsewhere  (Major Mitchell, NSW, cited on p. 219)

And Gammage repeats their descriptions too- twenty, thirty, fifty, more-  explorers and settlers, repeating ‘parkland’ and ‘plains’ again and again.  He is at pains to emphasize that this occurred across the breadth of Australia as he draws together descriptions from each state, identified in brackets. The open spaces were covered in kangaroo grass, a summer-flowering grass that turned tan-coloured in summer, and their horses sank into the soft, flour-like soil.

Gammage reinforces these descriptions with photographs and paintings.  I had always assumed that the similarity of early paintings reflected a shared English sensibility that superimposed an English aesthetic of parkland onto an Australian landscape.  But when you couple these paintings which again and again depicted open grassland fringed with forest, with written testimony that again and again described exactly the same thing,  the supposition that they were blinded by European sensibility becomes shaky.  The blindness is ours.

If you’re not convinced by the descriptions and the paintings, he then moves from one capital city to another, drawing on the same descriptions  that sprang from their earliest newcomer settlers, reinforcing that he is not just talking about one corner of Australia, but the continent as a whole.

I had been anticipating reading this book for some time.  Many people speak of Gammage’s book The Broken Years in glowing terms, and his contribution to documentaries (e.g. The War that Changed Us that is screening on ABC1 now) and public discourse more generally has always been sensitive, articulate and insightful.  This book was awarded the Prime Ministers Literary Prize for Australian History in 2012, and Victorian, ACT, and Queensland awards. Yet I found myself disconcerted by the abrupt and utilitarian tone of the opening chapters.  Chapter 2, ‘Canvas of a Continent’ is replete with colour photographs and landscapes and paintings, but the text reads like a series of separate, lengthy captions. Chapter 3 ‘The nature of Australia’  is divided up into a number of subheadings, enumerating 5 changes, followed by 8 notes.  It felt a bit like reading a speaker’s notes.

Yet these two chapters are followed in Chapter 4 ‘Heaven on Earth’ and Chapter 5 ‘Country’ by one of the clearest explications of the Dreamtime and its connection with action in relation to land that I have ever read. He made intelligible to me the connection between spiritual and ecological activity on the land, highlighting even more starkly the insult on so many levels that settler activity inflicted on  Aboriginal reality.

Gammage’s beautiful, clear writing seemed to be ribboned with utilitarian, ‘hard’ writing, not unlike the ecological template that he was describing!  I think that I only really grasped what he was doing in the writing of this book when I read Appendix 1.  There he explained that he had been invited by the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies of the University of Tasmania to speak on 1788 land management.  As it transpired, the invitation lapsed.  This book seems to be to be the response he would have given to the scientists with whom he hoped to speak.   In many ways, I feel as if he is not writing for historians, but for scientists.  His footnotes- so beloved by historians- are stripped back and unwieldy, as they give author and page only, requiring a further search within the biography. Sometimes the original date of the quote – an important detail in this case- is obscured in the publication date of recent editions .  The footnotes corroborate, rather than carry on a conversation. The dotpoints and headings are part of constructing an argument on scientific terms, and a perusal of his truly extensive bibliography shows his immersion in not only historical, but also scientific, archaelogical and ecological literature.

I read this book after reading Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, and I wondered when reading that book how it compared with Gammage’s.   Although there is some cross-over between the two books, Pascoe’s describes people much more, and their economic practices across a range of activities- fishing, , food storage, shelter, etc.   Gammage’s book, I think, focusses more on manipulation of the landscape.  Pascoe’s has the emotion of political action: Gammage’s is more dispassionate.  Gammage has the academic clout of a long and distinguished career in academe: Pascoe speaks as a Bunurong/Tasmanian indigenous man.  Pascoe reports on the academic debates from the side: Gammage is there, (especially in the Appendix) right in the midst of that academic skirmishing.

Taken together, the two books challenge our conceptions of ‘hunter/gatherer’ and what ‘native bushland’ looks like.  This in turn has implications for our responses to fire and how to act ecologically.  Most importantly, it throws up a direct challenge to the idea of ‘terra nullius,’ not in a legal sense this time, but in a practical and environmental one, by completely reshaping our idea of pre-1788.  It doesn’t fit neatly into a “defining moments” view of history at all  and it should give the lie completely to our Prime Minister’s view that Australia was “um, scarcely settled” prior to white settlement.  That’s what a big history can do.

 

 

 

 

‘The Kayles of Bushy Lodge’ by Vera G. Dwyer

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1922, 286 p.

I had never heard of this book, and probably would never have, without a review by Debbie Robson as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.  I was intrigued: an Australian book about the home front written by a woman in the years immediately following the war.  I wasn’t aware- and please correct me if I’m wrong- of many other books that fit into this category.

In the RHSV conference I attended recently, Bart Ziino spoke of the deep anxiety that pervaded the home front during the war.  It’s here in this book as well, underneath a chirpy little domestic story about a family of adolescents  negotiating the drudgery of housework in a motherless home when domestic servants are hard to find.   One of the sisters takes on too much and has, in effect, a nervous breakdown until the rest of her siblings step up and take up their responsibilities.  Not much about war,  you might say, but it’s there in the surrounding characters: the melodramatic schoolgirls who are certain that a young man of their acquaintance has enlisted as a form of nationalistic suicide because of a broken heart; a young wife aching with loneliness with her husband on the front; the teenaged boy too young to enlist and keenly aware of ‘manning up’ in a community where men are largely absent;  the creation of ‘comforts’ for the men overseas; the injured men coming home.   In a sudden jolt of setting and speed near the end of the book, it does shift to the trenches of Europe, before returning ‘home’ again.

Reading it ninety years later, it has certainly dated.  It reminded me a little of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (where you’ll remember that the father was absent at the Civil War) and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians- although without the emotional fidelity of either of these books.  However, I’m sure that any attempt to replicate the time and setting by a modern-day author would over-emphasize the small home-front details that arise almost unconsciously in this contemporaneous book.

I was interested to see how it was received at the time.  It was marketed as a children’s or young-adult book, and published- as was customary at the time- in England, and attracted English reviews.  The Christmas edition of the Bookman of December 1922 described it in a rather vague review as:

a story of Australian girls in the suburbs of an Australian town, is of very general interest because, to a great extent, it is a story that might have happened anywhere.  At the same time its surroundings and its outlook give it a freshness for English readers which adds to its charm.  It is a book for a child-girl, or for a girl in her teens, or for one in her twenties- and a pretty love story threads its way through.

The Sydney paper, The World’s News reviewed it on 5 January 1924

In Vera Dwyer’s latest Australian book, “The Kayles of Bushy Lodge,” the author has presented a suburban family, every member of which, in some way, finds a place in the reader’s heart. The book is alive with incident, and the characters, evidently drawn from life, as is the habit of this author, pass through varied scenes to which they are drawn in the effort to realise their aspirations. Shirley, the young violinist, upon whom tremendous responsibility is thrown in a motherless family, is a beautiful human study. There is a good deal of romance in the story, as well as humor, and a tinge of pathos, and the interest is not engrossed by the chief characters entirely. There is a shy bush boy in the book, a real boy, who takes upon himself the responsibility of guarding and protecting the wife of a soldier who is at the war. No one but the boy himself knows that he has taken this work on, and his efforts are highly entertaining. The two little girls who construct the romance round the life of Adam Deering are intensely amusing.

The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express of 23 November 1923 described it as:

 a picture of domestic life in Sydney during the war. Mr. Kayle is a dentist who, as a result of his own improvidence and lack of foresight, sees his practice growing less and less, and his motherless children are hard put to make ends meet. The Kayles are delightful young people, especially Shirley the heroine, who takes her responsibilities very seriously. In spite of their troubles, the whole family have a sense of humour that enables them to get the best out of life, and carries them through triumphantly to a happy conclusion.

Vera Dwyer seems to have written several books, which seem to focus on girls, and certainly the Kayles of Bushy Lodge offers an insight into early twentieth century girl-life.  The girls in the family are seen to rally around the ailing Shirley (after she work her fingers to the bone), with varying futures beckoning them within a still-circumscribed domestic sphere: romance and marriage; a successful but thoroughly respectable boarding house; an art-school career and overall resilience.    Miss Dwyer, who married the rather splendidly named Captain Warwick Coldham-Fussell,  died in 1967 and deposited her papers with the Mitchell library, where there is still a sealed box of restricted letters!

The Kayles of Bushy Lodge is the only one of her books freely available online,

awwbadge_2014  This review posted to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

 

 

Terrific article about Clare Wright’s ‘Forgotten Rebels’

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There’s an excellent article by Zora Simic on The Conversation website that locates Clare Wright’s much acclaimed book Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (see my review here) within other feminist Australian histories over the past forty years.  She refers specifically to three other books that sit here on the shelf beside me.

The first, Damned Whores and God’s Police by Anne Summers was published in 1975 (while she was still a doctoral student!) with the subtitle “The Colonization of  Women in Australia”.  This subtitle was dropped from the 1994 and 2002 revised editions.  Its republication decades apart is significant.  The 1994 version included a new introduction and a controversial epilogue “Letter to the Next Generation”.  The 2002 edition included all the material from the first and second editions and a timeline of achievements by Australian women 1788-2001.

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1976 edition

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1999 edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second is Miriam Dixson’s The Real Matilda: Women and Identity in Australia 1788-1975.  It, too, has gone through several editions.  It was published in 1976, revised in 1984 with a third edition in 1994 and a fourth in 1999. By the 1999 edition it had grown by two chapters, along with a new introduction.  When Ann Curthoys wrote a twenty-year retrospective review of four foundational feminist Australian histories for Australian Historical Review (Vol 27, No 106 pp 1-13) she noted that the the book had an open engagement with international theoriests, with a heavy emphasis on the early colonial period.  However, she was struck, twenty years after its publication, by the emphasis on women’s passivity.

Curthoy’s review also examined Damned Whores and God’s Police,  Beverley Kingston’s My Wife, My Daughter and Poor Mary Ann which examined the unrecognized work of women in the home, and a book I had not heard of- Gentle Invaders which focussed on the regulation of women’s wages.  Curthoy’s article is a good one, and worth looking up if you have access to it (bring out your State Library of Victoria card, people, and read it online).  Zora Simic’s article here is not unlike it yet another twenty years further on.

1994 edition

1994 edition

2006 edition

2006 edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, Simic locates Clare Wright’s book alongside the 1994 book Creating a Nation, co-written by Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake, Ann McGrath and Marian Quartly and republished in a second edition with an additional chapter in 2006..   In Ann Curthoy’s survey article she had been particularly surprised by the absence of discussion of race in the four texts she reviewed, and this book directly challenges this by the integration of Aboriginal experience into their analysis, with three chapters devoted to this often-dismissed aspect.  It certainly starts dramatically, with an Aboriginal woman going into labour on the beach in 1791. This  imagery is carried throughout the book, giving a new meaning to “the birth of a nation”.

 was prompted by Simic’s review to read Curthoy’s article  just after reading that the gender pay gap in Australia has soared to 18%, the highest in 30 years and since data was collected.  I noted with interest that Curthoy’s survey article made much of the context that the four books she examined were written i.e. in the early 1970s, during the Whitlam government and at a time of rapid increase in female enrolment at universities.  She wrote of the limitations of Gentle Invaders, written by two authors who had met in the heady days of the Womens Electoral Lobby, preparing the case for a minimum wage for women in the 1974 National Wage Case.  On a day when I also read about the threat to the Renewable Energy Target and the further relaxation of 457 visas, all that seems such a very long time ago.

References:

Zora Simic ” Noted Works: The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka” http://theconversation.com/noted-works-the-forgotten-rebels-of-eureka-26584

Ann Curthoys  “Visions, Nightmares, Dreams: Women’s History 1975″ Australian Historical Studies  Vol 27, Issue 106  pp 1-13.