New Horizons in Public History

By Dr Katharine Blake, PHA Blog Editor

Public history — history for the general public — is a ‘broad church.’ Diagrammatically it looks like a tree: with its roots in academic history, growing and branching out in many directions. It encompasses various styles; it caters to different audiences; and it’s created by different practitioners in a variety of workplaces. One of the strengths of public history is this cadence of possibilities.

We are all trained as consulting historians ‘inside the lab,’ which is, metaphorically speaking, academic history. But we are the scientists who leave the lab, who use our training to create historical products in real-world conditions — books, novels, exhibitions, photographs, paintings, movies, and seminars, for consumers who expect returns on their time and money.

As a practice, professional history has a range of demands, and it requires skills which are never raised or addressed in the course of academic training. The original discipline of history as it is taught doesn’t imagine history being practised anywhere other than inside a university. With commissioned histories, so much is about client management, but the idea of a client is completely absent from what we teach historians at university.

Two of the biggest assumptions that historians make in real-world conditions are to assume that if a client commissions a history, they have history in their sights as a goal, or, that they understand what a history project is likely to involve. Those two presumptions are easy to make. Immersed in a love for historical things, sometimes we don’t even realise that they are not naturally connected.

In my experience, an understanding or a liking for history isn’t a prerequisite for a client commissioning a history. There are many reasons that clients enjoy engaging with history, and ‘History with a capital H’ is infrequently one of them. In a fee-for-service arrangement, such disjunction in intent between consulting historian and client can be difficult to navigate.

Consulting historians have the sometimes-perplexing task of retaining the best of what we have been trained to do, whilst being flexible enough to let go those aspects of our training which do not fit the commercial or public environment. And what’s more, what parts of our training that do not fit will change from client to client, and from context to context. That’s why flexibility, creativity, and innovation, are all developed as part of a consulting historian’s kit-bag, and why client management can be a key to our ability to do our work successfully.

In client management, for example, it helps to be aware that the client’s aim in undertaking a project may not be the one that they state in their first meeting with you. Despite their claims to a particular view, it may take weeks or even months of interactions with you for the real motivations for a project to emerge. This is the hidden, sometimes unconscious, agenda. This delayed reveal can be confronting, or more seriously, disruptive to your methodology, but it’s part of what happens when you’re working in the field.

It can help to see your initial engagements with a client as the basis for cultivating a fuller awareness in them about what you do and what a history project run by you will look like. You’re building a rapport in this early stages not to get the job, but to establish a basis upon which to advise the client later. The more thorough you can be in these early stages, the more likely you will have a legitimate basis upon which to advise or even challenge them later, if necessary.

Why see your role, partly, as about making demands on the client? The answer is to compare the way that other specialists work with their clients. If you take a client’s relationship with a barrister, for example, the client will often approach a barrister (through a solicitor) not with a single legal problem but rather with a cluster of interrelated concerns. It is frequently the barrister’s job, as part of advising, to understand those concerns and offer specialist remedies, while also influencing the client to open themselves up to certain realities and to choose accordingly.

Blindspots and assumptions can happen on both sides throughout a project, and its best to understand that a consulting role includes identifying and adjusting expectations for both. The ability to do this comes from a delicate mix of authority, rapport, and trust, which is created consciously by the specialist from the first meeting. This is not about ego as a specialist but about getting a better outcome for the client.

We had a demonstration of this point recently raised by the case of a biography commissioned from academic, Nichola Garvey, by mining magnate, Twiggy Forrest. Twiggy had been aware that biographer Garvey, a PhD candidate in ANU’s School of History, was writing a history of the Fortescue Metals Group. He had the idea in 2011 to commission his biography—then approaching Nichola for a recommendation for a possible ‘famous’ author.

Garvey would eventually get the job, recounting some of her experience in the Australian Journal of Biography and History (No.3, 2020). It’s an article worth reading for its candid assessment of what Garvey describes as the challenges of working with living subjects and maintaining the “distance required for objective analysis.” She says that, in hindsight, she got the job for the wrong reason, and this would continue to hamper the project until it eventually fell over:

I knew him, I could write, I wrote biography, but above all (and with the benefit of hindsight), I think I ended up with the job because I was a person Forrest thought he could control.

This casts light on the difference between the normal approach to history ‘in the lab,’ and what happens to the academic approach once the practitioner is in the field. Consulting historians will frequently ask themselves what it means to have a live client who is directing, to varying extents, their research and its outcomes.

It is a delicate balance between building an affinity or accord on the one hand, and on the other hand, being ready and able to push the client to the edges of their comfort zone, or if needed, beyond it. A lot can be done in the early stages of a project to set the boundaries for such interaction, but if that is avoided, whether through lack of awareness or because the client pushes for a close relationship that feels more like ownership, the consulting historian will pay for it for the duration of the project. It is not a lesson learned once but over and again with each new client.

This question of control arises in any funded exercise. It would be fanciful to suggest, for example, that academic history itself can be purist about money—once history is funded, what follows are the wishes of those who offer the money.

Funding will always reflect the desires of the funding body or bodies. The most topical example is the current conditions of a growing national debt in a global pandemic, with the government stating an intention to strengthen a preference for STEM subjects over humanities topics. We have also, unrelatedly, seen in Australian television a loosening of regulations about a minimum amount of local content, which raises the danger that locally-made and themed content may cease to be economically viable.

We are enriched by sharing with each other how Australians have each taken the paths to be where we are today as a collection of people. Now, more than ever, you might say that the privately-funded demand for history, or the demand from the general public for history, will play a crucial role in ensuring that history gets made in Australia and local stories get told. Consulting historians are always learning about what stories are valued by the public. But we can also have a role to play in opening others’ eyes to what stories might yet be valued and shared.

Some Deserved ‘Phanfare’ for Francesca

By Dr Katharine Blake

In my first post as the new Blog Editor, I pay tribute to its former Editor, Francesca Beddie.

Many of you know Francesca from her years in PHA NSW or because she’s now a member of the Committee. You may also have seen her at PHA gatherings, discovering a prospective guest blogger. This was how we first met, when she asked me to turn my conference paper into a blogpost.

Also an editor in her day job, Francesca has made an impressively large contribution to PHA NSW’s online fora.

When the current blog began in 2013, it took over from the hardcopy newsletter-come-forum of Phanfare. The newsletter was first published in 1985 and ran continuously until 2012. Francesca made contributions to Phanfare as a writer and as a gatherer of others’ material for publishing in the newsletter. One of the early blog posts in December 2012 had Francesca commenting that “Some of you may recall me nagging you for contributions for the September 2012 edition of Phanfare. Your efforts were not in vain. I’m storing them up to publish on this blog in 2013.”

The PHA NSW Blog began officially in January 2013, publishing 189 items over nearly 7 years. Many of the Blog posts were from its Editor, and were interspersed with guest bloggers.

Blog topics have included local and national history, oral history, family history, heritage, issues for consulting historians, the role of historians in government, reflections on PHA conferences, and the “Five Minutes With” series that featured new members with a Q&A.

The PHA NSW Blog is a valuable place for members to discuss practising public history. And it sits on firm foundations after so many years of great service from its Editor.

Brava Francesca!

Francesca Beddie recently stepped down as PHA Blog Editor after 7 years of great service.

Challenging histories

…by Francesca Beddie

Whatever comes the way of the professional historian it’s important to stick to your principles. This was a recurring message during a forum, Challenging Histories, organised by PHA Victoria and Tasmania and held on 27 July at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart.

The event was made particularly special by Julie Gough, the renowned Tasmanian artist who showed conference goers through her exhibition, Tense Past, after having introduced the forum with a welcome to country and staying to listen to all the presentations.

I found myself kicking off the proceedings with a pared-back presentation I’d made in New Zealand about the need for multicultural histories to enter the official narrative. I encouraged professional historians to use their links to communities to make more visible the diversity of Australian histories being uncovered. I cited as an example the Chinese Anzacs project, which has identified 213 Chinese-Australian serviceman who served in WWI, and aimed to encourage Chinese Australians to discuss the stories of their forbears.

For Rebecca Carland (PHA Vic and Tas) the job of bringing to light a 1929 collection of photographs, cultural objects and detailed notes on the Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego has required confronting political, institutional and environmental challenges to restore their heritage to an isolated and marginalised community. (If you are in Melbourne on 21 August, you can hear more about this important initiative:

In the case Helen Munt (PHA WA) discussed, the challenge was to disentangle the facts from long-held community beliefs in Albany. This entailed a painstaking examination not only of written records but also maps and paintings. Having established where Major Lockyer actually raised the Union Jack on January 1827, thus claiming Albany for Britain, the next challenge will be to design a bicentenary that recognises the full import of the arrival of the colonists in Western Australia.

Michelle Richmond, PHA (NSW & ACT) showed us what meticulous work was required to undertake a heritage assessment on the first official Aboriginal land grant in Australia. She took us to the original Blacktown settlement on the Richmond Road, revealing the language used to describe Aboriginal people in the documents (blacks, hence Blacktown; natives) and the ways in which Governor Macquarie and others attempted to educate and ‘civilise’ Aboriginal children. Another Michelle, Michelle Blake who loves land title searches (and has recently moved from Hobart to Sydney), also addressed the challenges of archival work when a subject lived outside the date range of available sources.

Historians must stand up to the marketers. Helen Penrose, PHA (Vic & Tas) discussed the ways in which this can be done: by establishing the historian’s remit and sticking to it; making clear the differences of a historical account and promotional document; sometimes through negotiation; and in the worst of cases by walking away.   

Alan Davis, PHA (NT), gave an account of the life of a reference librarian in the Northern Territory, having to respond to vaguely posed queries about the Territory’s history, which remains scantly documented. He pointed to the resources that were available: the NT Dictionary of Biography and now reliable access to online sources, saying these had improved the chances of being able to uncover answers to visitors’ questions. Lucy Bracey, PHA (Vic & Tas), also talked about how technology is changing the way historians who do not live in cities can operate, for example by using better scanning apps such as Camscanner when they are in the archives and communicating with colleagues and clients with ever-improving video conferencing tools like Zoom.

The last speaker, Sue Graham-Taylor PHA (WA), offered thoughtful and funny reflections on her career (see her profile in Historia). When the audience was not laughing hard at her anecdotes, they were getting very useful advice about the importance of both connecting with community as well as incorporating historical perspectives into policymaking, being principled and tactful; keeping a sense of humour; and sometimes saying enough is enough.

Then came the tour de force. Julie Gough’s Tense Past is a masterpiece of combining the historical record (or lack thereof) and artefacts with exquisite artistic practice to revive the voices and culture of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and to make us mourn all the missing children. 

With many thanks to Jill Barnard for all the work involved in organising the event.

Caption: Julie Gough at the start of our tour

Local Communities, Global Networks, AHA 2019 Conference, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba

by Patricia Curthoys…

Your experience of large, multi-stream conferences can only ever be partial and peculiar to you. What follows was my experience of the 2019 AHA Conference, which  began with the Green Stream (Australian and New Zealand Environment History Network) Keynote, #CoalMustFall: Revisiting Newcastle’s Coal Monument in the Anthropocene, given by Nancy Cushing, of the University of Newcastle. Nancy raised the issues of both the active role of history and of historians in the world, particularly in the light of the current climate emergency. She eloquently argued that history is ‘the story (the stories) that the present needs’.

The second session of the Conference was one of two NAIDOC Week Celebrations within the programme. John Maynard, also of the University of Newcastle, gave a keynote address on ‘Yuraki – 65,000 years of place and memory’. In it, Maynard spoke about the deep time history of the Australian continent in the context of local Aboriginal stories of place and memory in the Newcastle area. Later that Tuesday afternoon came the second NAIDOC Week celebration, a plenary on ‘Voice, Treaty, Truth: Australia’s Unfinished Business’, featuring three younger indigenous Australians – unionists, lawyers, activists – who had the entire conference considering the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the possible next steps to fulfil its call to non-indigenous Australians.

PHA NSW & ACT members attended the conference, and at least four presented papers or participated in panels. Ian Willis spoke about his work on Shirley Dunk’s archive of the year she spent travelling to and throughout the United Kingdom and Europe in 1954, while Jo Kijas gave a paper in the Green Stream on a history of the Tuckean Swamp, on the far north coast of New South Wales. Paul Irish participated in the ‘Aboriginal Cities Panel’, speaking with other historians from across Australia. I heard Rose Cullen, another of our members, give a very interesting paper on how care (restoration, repair, renovation) of old houses in Australia reflects historical consciousness. She argued that the ways old houses and their furnishings were related to national history legitimised caring for them.

I spent Wednesday attending roundtables and panels. The roundtable on ‘Digital Histories of Crime: what they are, what they tell us, and what they promise’ examined not only digital accession and analysis of data arising from crime events but also the very interesting issue of the digital curation of records. I was also interested to hear Margaret Allen, Fiona Paisley and Jane Haggis on their project, ‘Faith-Based Cosmopolitan Networks and the Ends of Empire, 1920s and 1930s’, having first heard them talk about the project two years ago at the AHA in Newcastle. In the ‘Democracy and Dispossession: where to now’ panel Ann Curthoys and Marilyn Lake each spoke about their significant recent publications:  Ann Curthoys on her co-authored book with Jessie Mitchell, Taking Liberty: Indigenous Rights and Settler Self-Government in Colonial Australia, 1830-1890, Cambridge University Press, 2018 and Marilyn Lake on Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform, Harvard University Press, 2019.

And on Thursday morning I did what you often do at conferences – attend a session to support a friend who was giving a paper. Then it was time for me to leave Toowoomba and the conference, after a couple of stimulating days of historical conversation.

‘Christmas Food and Feasting, A History’

…by Minna Muhlen-Schulte

In the Antipodes Christmas in July has become a mid-year winter tradition to indulge the food and booze we normally enjoy at the end of the year. What is the historical lineage behind turkeys, puddings, mince pies and mulled wine? In her new book Christmas Food and Feasting PHA NSW member Dr Madeline Shanahan has traced how Christmas is a palimpsest for millennia-long traditions. It’s a story brimming with social and political change.

The book highlights how, despite the Christian veneer of Christmas, the festival has far deeper pagan roots that have continued to challenge the religious orthodoxy because of its traditions of excess and inverting the social order of the day. This played out in the more performative aspects of the festival as early as the Roman festival of Saturnalia where slaves would become the master for the day, or in medieval times when elite households would play host over a 12-day feast, allowing the lower members of society respite from the feudal system. It was only later in the Victorian era, when a politicised working class threatened the elite, that the festival retreated indoors to the family home. Children and the domestic space became the focus of Christmas, which was no longer a public, hedonistic festival reminding those with the most of their social responsibility to those with the least.

From an Australian perspective the curious story of the pudding is fascinating. More than dried fruit was bound up in the dessert that became a symbol of nationalism, trade and empire.  Despite the summer heat, serving Christmas pudding during the colonial era was a reminder of our British heritage. Roast beef and plum pudding was dished out by Governor Macquarie to Aboriginal people in Parramatta on the feast day of 28 December 1818, the beginning of attempts to institutionalise the First Australians. Later, incensed Australian producers invoked the importance of maintaining the ‘empire pudding’ with Commonwealth fruit as opposed to that grown in the new fruit and vine industries of California.

Madeline’s book brings to life the sights, smells, taste and even sound of Christmas over centuries: from the whimsy of trumpets announcing the arrival of the boar’s head at Henry II’s court, to hundreds of thousands of turkeys marched on foot to market and even the antipodean counter to the boiled pudding – the fresh Pavlova.

Madeline will be launching her book on Wednesday 31st July at GML Heritage in Surry Hills with a glass of Wassail. RSVP here to join in:

Image: James Gilroy ‘The plumb-pudding in danger; or, State epicures taking un petit souper’ 1805

Who do you think you are?

… by Michael Bennett

I really should have had a haircut!

After being asked half way through last year to appear on the Casey Donovan episode of SBS’s Who Do You Think You Are, I naturally began thinking about how TV shows are made.

I imagined rocking up to the set to be greeted by a team of hairdressers and makeup artists who would transform my scruffy self into something more palatable for the TV viewing audience.

Nothing was further from the truth.  The crew consisted of a cameraman, director and assistant, and they were happy to take me as I came, wild hair and all.  It was simple and I liked it.

Of course, the purpose of my being there was not to look stunning, but to convey the depth of Casey’s Aboriginal connection to the north coast of NSW.

A renowned performer and winner of Australian Idol in 2004, Casey is a Gumbaynggirr woman from Bowraville and Nambucca Heads.

Part of the show was dedicated to tracing the Aboriginal heritage of her father, from whom she is estranged.

Drawing on 20 years of native title research conducted by me and a long list of colleagues, I was able to fill in some of the genealogical gaps, showing how Casey was connected to the Ballangarry family who were first recorded in the mid-19th century.

Following research into several Federal Court determinations, I was able tell Casey that she was a native title holder.

What struck me on viewing the episode was not so much Casey’s response to the information that I provided to her, but her reaction on meeting the Elders of her north coast family.

You could see a visible change in Casey as she learned first hand the struggles of Gumbaynggirr people to survive colonial times and then make a place for themselves in the modern world.

She was moved to hear a rare recording of her great-grandmother singing in language and the impressive efforts of the community today to keep the Gumbaynggirr language alive.

The team at Who Do You Think You Are did a fantastic job to build the story to its emotional conclusion.

That is the power of television and it doesn’t matter at all if one of the contributors has had a haircut or not.

Image: Casey Donovan and Michael Bennett

Five minutes with…Kylie Andrews

Introducing our new PHA NSW and ACT member, Kylie Andrews

What made you decide to pursue a career in history?
I’ve always had an interest in history and biography, but I think it was when I began to research histories of adoption, as I pursued my own family story, that I began to appreciate the ways history can foster new understandings of the past. I became particularly interested in histories that illustrated the experiences of young women in the 1950s and 1960s. (Thanks to the Post-Adoption Resource Centre for its seminars and resources).

Before becoming a historian, I had a career in media production. I spent more than a decade immersed in the creative industries, working across a variety of formats, from the animated feature film ‘The Magic Pudding’, to radio commercials, broadcast design and corporate videos. At one point I decided to extend my knowledge of media and communications theory at UNSW; it only took one history subject and I was hooked. Quickly developing a love for Australian history, I realised that I could also apply my new historical skills and see the media landscape with an insight I had been craving; to understand why certain industrial and cultural practices were the way they were, to shine a light on the complex relationships and dynamics of past lives. My interest in media theory very quickly developed into a passion for histories of media, and history in the media.

Do you have a favourite historical source, book website or film?
Gosh, too many to choose just one! I love history in so many formats: from the work of Inga Clendinnen and Peter Cochrane, to popular television histories like ‘The Hour’ and ‘Band of Brothers’. In regard to sources and archives, Trove has been incredibly valuable, as have the media archives held by the National Archives of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive.

If you had a time machine, where would you go?
First, I would visit my parents in their youth, to gain a sense what their lives were like during WW2. I’d then shadow the protagonists of my history of the ABC. (For my PhHD thesis I wrote a history of women who worked Australian public broadcasting in the post-war era). I would love to see, first hand, the workplace dynamics and production cultures that existed as media craft and radio and television technologies were blossoming throughout the 20th century.

Why is history important today?
History allows us to challenge limiting narratives, particularly those that privilege certain identities and silence others. As a historian interested in the intersection of gender and media, I love history’s democratic nature — by making alternative identities and perspectives visible and by using an expanding variety of sources to serve those new perspectives.

Intermarriage in colonial Singapore


…by Dr Marc Rerceretnam, principal researcher, Yesteryear Heritage Researchers

The year 2019 is historically significant in Singapore. It marks the bicentenary of the founding of a modern trading outpost on the island. Although evidence of strong commercial activity goes back as far as the 14th century, by 1819 the island had reverted to a sleepy settlement. This year’s bicentenary in Singapore celebrates the beginning of its continued success as a social, economic and political hub in Southeast Asia.

In January 2019, I began a six-month Research Fellowship with Singapore’s National Library Board. As part of my project, I planned to extend my 2012 paper[1] on race mixing and intermarriage in 19th century Singapore to show how early Singaporean communities were much more resilient, inclusive and integrated than previously recognised given the racial polarisation under British colonial rule. I decided among the best candidates to gauge levels of integration were the then newly emerging Christian church communities because, unlike other religious or secular organisations that were  regionally, gender or ethnically aligned, the Christian churches tended to accept people from all backgrounds. They also kept excellent records.

Delving into 190-year old archival records is exciting enough. Still, I was not prepared for what I found. I didn’t find a handful of intermarriages; I found masses of them: up to 33% of all marriages held between 1834 and 1858 were racially mixed! These marriages were largely Asian-to-Asian marriages. European-Asian marriages did exist but were still relatively rare, as most colonial British and Europeans tended to treat local Asian communities with condescension. Indeed, it was not uncommon to come across British or European males with several mistresses or even a harem. Their illegitimate off-spring were often abandoned. Asian-to-Asian unions seemed more genuine and permanent. Within the newly formed churches, these unions were common among newly arrived China-born male migrants. Most tended to marry local-born girls from Melaka, many of whom were 16th century descendants of Portuguese colonialists. Melaka is located 205km from Singapore, with many migrating from there to Singapore immediately after 1819. Others of the Chinese-born men married local-born Malay girls.

Such intermarriages (Chinese with locals) are referred to as Peranakan unions. The Peranakans have long been regarded as an ethnic group descended from early Chinese, Indian or Arab settlers (among others) who came to the Southeast Asian region to trade. Far from home, they settled in these new lands, married and had children with local women. This practice potentially dates back to at least the 10th century, with strong evidence from the 16th century. These communities were widespread, established and harmoniously embedded within socially pliable indigenous communities in their host countries of settlement. In the Malayan archipelago (now Malaysia and Singapore) these communities were dominated by Peranakan families of Chinese lineage. This was especially so in Melaka, Penang, Singapore and parts of Indonesia.

Today, the popularity of identifying as a Peranakan has burgeoned, though why is hard to explain. It could roughly be equated with the dubious but recent thrill an Australian gets when they find they are descended from a ‘First Fleeter’. While Peranakan communities dominated social, economic and political life during the colonial period, the prestige associated with being one greatly diminished after the Second  World War and the advent of independence in the 1950s. However, in the last 15 years, there has been a revival in Peranakan culture and heritage. My recent historical find of evidence  of a Singapore-specific Peranakan community is attracting keen interest. Up to this point in time, historians believed all Peranakans in Singapore migrated to the island from elsewhere in the region. I have been presenting my findings at  public events in Singapore, with the next scheduled for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore on Wednesday 26 June 2019  My paper will be published in the Singapore National Library‘s research journal ‘Chapters on Asia’, ‘BiblioAsia’ and ‘The Peranakan’ magazines in the coming months.

For more information on my work, please go to my Facebook page ‘Yesteryear Heritage Researchers’ or email,

[1] ‘Intermarriage in colonial Malaya and Singapore – A case study of late 19th and early 20th century Asian Christian communities’ , Journal of Southeast Asian Studies,Vol. 43, No. 2, June 2012.


A special book launch: Rosemary Kerr’s history of the road trip


…by Pauline Curby

Rosemary Kerr’s long-awaited road trip book was launched at Gleebooks on Glebe Point Road on the evening of 17 May. Chaired with competent professionalism by friend and colleague Dr Emma Dortins, this launch marked the culmination of years of research and writing, leading to a PhD thesis and finally to this beautifully presented publication.

Roads, Tourism and Cultural History, On the Road in Australia is published in Britain by Channel View Publications as one of its externally peer-reviewed tourism and cultural change series that seeks to ‘critically examine the complex and ever-changing relationship between culture and tourism’. Rosemary’s book does this admirably as, in the words of Professor Grace Karskens, she ‘takes us on a strange and magnificent journey across the Australian continent and deep into the hearts and minds of Australians’. I eagerly anticipate reading this work by a historian at the top of her game who is also a very talented writer.

The launch of On the Road was a chance for many PHA members to join Rosemary’s extended family and friends to chat over a drink and snacks at the ideal Sydney book launch location – upstairs at Gleebooks. Rosemary’s PhD supervisor, the University of Sydney’s Emeritus Professor Richard Waterhouse and Professor Grace Karskens of the University of NSW launched the book jointly.

Richard spoke of Rosemary’s tenacity throughout the long years of research and writing and how he sometimes wondered what he, as an academic, had to offer this professional historian who – after a short career in accountancy – had worked for some years in PHA member Sue Rosen’s consultancy. In fact, a large project examining historic bridges and road-related heritage, undertaken by this firm, inspired Rosemary to make road trips the subject of her thesis.

For Richard Waterhouse, Rosemary was a dream student, always meeting deadlines and reliably turning up for fortnightly supervisory meetings. It was with real joy that he witnessed how this exemplary student made the leap from thesis to publication, an experience only a small minority of his PhD students have been able to make. Richard congratulated Rosemary for producing a complex, compelling and important history, which places the Australian road as a cultural artefact within both national and international contexts.

Richard’s wife Professor Grace Karskens, became a source of support and invaluable advice to Rosemary on the logistics of publication. Not only has Grace had experience in her earlier career as a historical archaeologist in road history, but she also has an extensive publication record.

Finally, in a moving speech Rosemary expressed her appreciation to all those who had helped her throughout her journey on this ‘road less travelled’. She especially paid tribute to her beloved parents: her late mother Carmel and her father Bill Kerr, who unfortunately was too unwell to attend the launch. Roads, Tourism and Cultural History, On the Road in Australia is dedicated to Carmel and Bill Kerr with whom every summer as a child Rosemary enjoyed road trips up the NSW coast. As was the case with many Sydneysiders, their first stop was always the Oak cafe at Peats Ridge where she slurped a milk shake before the family resumed its long journey up the Pacific Highway to their holiday accommodation on Queensland’s Gold Coast.



Photo caption: Launch of Roads, Tourism and Cultural History, On the road in Australia at Gleebooks, 17 May 2019. From left to right: Emeritus Professor Richard Waterhouse, Dr Rosemary Kerr, Dr Emma Dortins, Professor Grace Karskens, in front: Emma’s son August. (Photo: Pauline Curby)

Current Research Notes: Going to London


Ian Willis is preparing papers for two conferences: the 2019 Australian Historical Association conference and the 2019 Redefining Australia and New Zealand at the University of Warsaw

Thousands of young single Australian-born women travelled to London and beyond from the mid-to-late 19th century.  This pilgrimage, as historian Angela Woollacott has called it, was a life-changing journey for these women. They were both tourist and traveller and many worked their passage throughout their journey.

These young women were both insiders and outsiders, both colonials and part of the heritage of colonisers. The dichotomy of their position provides an interesting position as they explored the transnational relationship between Australia and the UK.

In the 19th century colonial-born women from well-off families went husband-hunting in England. By the early 20th century the list of women travelling to the United Kingdom started to include creative-types including actors, writers, artists, musicians, and singers; one of the most famous being Dame Nellie Melba.

In the mid-20th century following the Second World War young working women from modest backgrounds started to explore the world and head for London. Ian Willis is investigating the journey of one such person, Shirley Dunk, who in 1954 travelled from the small community of Camden in New South Wales, to the United Kingdom with her best friend and work colleague, Beth Jackman. Ian has access to Shirley’s journey archive, which consists of personal letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, ship menus and other ephemera. Shirley’s letters home were reported in the country press and were reminiscent of soldier’s wartime letters when they acted as tourists in foreign lands.

Ian is exploring how Shirley was subject to the forces of urbanism, modernity and consumerism at a time when rural women were presented with representations of domesticity and other ‘ideal’ gender stereotypes.

You can hear more at the AHA conference in Toowoomba.

Image: The Tower of London was a popular tourist attraction for young Australian born women who travelled to London and beyond. These women acted as both tourist and traveller in their journey of exploration.  (P Pikous, 2006)

[This post is drawn from Ian Willis’ blog, Camden History  Notes]