2012: the year of remembering

I write this blog from Indonesia. Reviewing the past year, poet and journalist Goenawan Mohamad called 2012 the year of remembering. The resonance with 1965 is deliberate. It harks back to what the Australian novelist Christopher Koch dubbed the year of living dangerously. Koch borrowed that term from Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who was actually describing the year before, 1964, when Indonesian politics were in turmoil.  The ferment spilled over, culminating in an attempted coup on 30 September 1965 and an ensuing massacre of at least 200,000 Indonesians caught up in a frenzy of (ostensible) anti-communist bloodletting.

For thirty or so years that September day known as Gestapu – the acronym for the Movement of the 30 September, aimed at removing generals accused of plotting to overthrow Sukarno — was swathed in mystery. Rumours about the massacre were persistent, sometimes exaggerated, often ill-informed by other prejudice especially against Chinese Indonesians. How many died at whose hand was a matter of speculation. Most perpetrators were not brought to justice.  Surviving members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and their families led tainted lives. Those in jail faced the death penalty, waiting to hear each Independence Day if they were to be pardoned or granted another reprieve from execution. Others faced exile and discrimination.

Then came the reform period, the fifteen years since the fall of Soeharto (the major beneficiary of the failed coup), when the scabs have been picked at and attempts made to heal deep wounds. These culminated in the year of remembering. (Of course, many outside Indonesia notably Robert Cribb, an historian at the ANU, had already done much to shed light on the facts of 1965 and its aftermath.) What makes 2012 special is that the examination of the past has now reached well beyond academics and the people directly affected. 1965 is no longer taboo.  Those who have felt stigmatised by Soeharto’s New Order interpretation of history are having their memories placed on the record; and a new generation of writers is retelling the Gestapu story, some in fiction, others by way of documentary film and journalism.

As historian Asvi Warman, who is now called upon to give testimony in a variety of cases relating to Gestapu and other murky incidents of the last few decades, has commented:  “One thing is certain; the freedom of the press enjoyed by Indonesians during this era of reform has had a positive impact on the historical revelation of many issues that were suppressed in the past”.

Centenary of Canberra

Dear PHA NSW members

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.

But this month, I’m abusing my position at the steering wheel to make an unashamed advertisement for Canberra in 2013. You will by now be aware that it is nearly a hundred years since Lady Denman, wife of then Governor-General Lord Denman (and a champion of women’s suffrage), announced on 12 March 1913 that the name of the new Australian capital would be Canberra.

There’ll be plenty of history on show to mark the Centenary. Already the Canberra Centenary website has posted a timeline and a series of five booklets, The Keys to Canberra’s History. There’s also been much focus on the federal capital design competition, with two pieces posted on the website by Centenary of Canberra History Adviser Dr David Headon. See www.phansw.org.au/centenary-of-canberra/

As the celebrations gather momentum, more memories are surfacing. Recently I was swimming in the pool behind the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra. Also there was a white-haired woman, conscientiously striding up and down through the water. We exchanged greetings. She went on to tell me that one of the reasons she visited the pool so often was that it made her feel closer to her late husband. He was a Kay and had grown up on the dairy farm that once operated where the hotel now stands, right on the edge of the city’s parliamentary triangle. I’m hoping the Centenary will increase the momentum to capture such stories but also to stress the importance of having professional historians involved interpreting the past.

PHA NSW is exploring one way of doing just by possibly staging a CPD event in Canberra in May 2013. There’ll be plenty for members to see during a visit to the capital and ways we can fly the history flag. If you are interested in participating in such an event, please contact me at

In the meantime, very best wishes for the festive season.

Francesca Beddie

Image credit: National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an14324452-31 – Perspective from Capital Hill, Canberra [transparency] – part of Richard Clough collection of slides illustrating the design, construction and landscaping of Lake Burley Griffin and adjacent national areas of Canberra, ca. 1909-1981.

November 2012 CPD: defamation, legal issues and insurance for historians

PHA NSW’s CPD session on defamation, legal issues and insurance for historians was held on the evening of Thursday 2 November 2012 at History House. The session was organised by Judith Godden and there were 15 PHA NSW members in attendance.

The CPD was divided into two halves. In the first hour, Peter Fairfield, principal of UBK Lawyers and author of the Easy Guide to Australian Law, gave an overview of the history of defamation. Using the example of David Irving vs Penguin Books, he explained how defamation claims revolved around damage to a person’s good reputation, and the grounds for defence against accusations of defamation. He outlined what historians need to know about defamation law, including the responsibility of oral historians. Peter Fairfield offers a service to historians whereby he can read a manuscript to check for any possible grounds for defamation litigation. For more information, visit www.ubklawyers.com.au

The second hour was presented Damien Miller, the Manager of the Southern Region of Resource Underwriting Pacific, underwriters for our professional insurers Armbro Insurance Brokers P/L. Although Ambro had intended to provide a solicitor to discuss legal issues in relation to our professional indemnity insurance, the lawyer in question was held up in a legal matter so was not able to attend this session. However, he briefed Damien who clearly outlined the legal issues and what cover is offered to historians under Ambro’s Public Indemnity insurance cover. This includes intellectual property, loss of documents, defamation, legal advice and public relations advice.

Damien also indicated that Resource Underwriting Pacific is looking into offering members a range of services relating to insurance cover, including providing members across the PHAs with standard disclosures for publication, advice on contracts, and a plain English fact sheet for the PHA NSW and ACPHA websites that outlines what is offered under the insurance cover provided by Ambro. For more information about Resource Underwriting Pacific visit www.ruppl.com.au

Because of the informal nature of this two hour session – members were encouraged to ask questions as they arose – it was a very informative and productive.

Damien has offered to present this session again next year and on a regular basis thereafter to keep members updated about changes to insurance cover. Hopefully the lawyer would be able to attend also, to answer any questions. Perhaps this session could be scheduled on a weekend so members who live in out of town can attend. We will definitely record the next session and make it available as audio download.

Laila Ellmoos

Image credit: Courtroom scene, Sydney: the ‘Philo Free’ civil libel trial, 1 December 1817 (State Library of NSW, Edward Charles Close – sketchbook of New South Wales views, c. 1817, State Library of NSW, PXA 1187, Digital order no. a2821047)

New PHANSW website!

The PHANSW is delighted to launch its new look website. Built in wordpress the new site will allow us to keep our members up to date very easily. The site features individual member profiles that our members can update and edit themselves, helping them to promote their work more easily.

Image credit: State Records NSW – New South Wales Police – Particulars of Deaths and Bodily injuries sustained by the Police from Bushrangers from the time of Peisley’s depredations March 1862 to 7th June 1870.