Revealed: Treasures from Hurstville by Emma Dortins

Treasures’ sums it up well. Intriguing clusters of objects become treasures in this exhibition curated by PHA member Dr Birgit Heilmann and team of the Hurstville City Museum and Gallery. The objects introduce the visitor to Hurstville locals of several generations. They also explain how the locals’ involvement in business, leisure and home life was linked in radiating circles to greater Sydney and to a broader middle-class cultural life tied to the United Kingdom, the church and European fashion.

Hurstville has seen a strong Chinese community grow across the past few decades. While this exhibition did not extend to their presence in the suburb, it was interesting to see several Chinese and bilingual entries in the visitors’ book.

Sincerity emanates from the locally handmade objects, such as the models of historic buildings made by a Hurstville resident concerned for their protection after the demolition of Sydney’s Old Blue Bell Inn in the 1930s. And once you’ve noticed them, there are local hands everywhere – clasping handbags, turning gramophone handles, administering pinches of smelling salts. Objects like the ingenious raffle ticket receptacle (a toothy, jug-eared gentleman wearing a pair of novelty spectacles with plastic nose and moustache attached – you deposit your ticket in his mouth) glued together by an enthusiastic local bowling club member don’t come across as kitsch here, but instead as expressions of a bustling community life.

Another thread in the exhibition is collecting.  Visitors engage with questions like, why collect buttons? How do you keep cakes in a museum? How did the Hurstville Museum collection begin? The program of talks and workshops associated with the exhibition played further on this theme, including a time-capsule workshop for teenagers and adults, and a talk by Michael Lea, curator at the Powerhouse Museum on the acquisition of Lieutenant Clements’specimen cabinets, the fruit of his enthusiastic collecting on a series of sea voyages from the 1820s to 1840s.

I had a chance to meet Birgit briefly, and when she mentioned having worked in Hahndorf a few years ago, I found myself saying ‘Ah well, Hurstville’s a bit different’. I don’t know anything at all about Hahndorf – except that it’s picturesque — and realised I was expressing a Hurstville cringe (I work here) to the curator of the Hurstville Museum and Gallery! As I left the exhibition, and walked back past the Friendship Pharmacy and Miles Franklin’s statue, the cringe had lifted and I looked about me with more curiosity than usual.

Image: View of the exhibition space in the Arts and Crafts style Hurstville Museum and Gallery, with the Friendly Pharmacy delivery bicycle


Open Access and Professional Historians

By Yvonne Perkins

The issue of open access has grown from a fringe movement led by a few mathematicians and scientists to an issue that is being debated in academia throughout the western world.  Governments are taking notice and the United Kingdom is in the process of seeing a significant change in the manner in which academic journal articles are to be published.  The Australian Research Council has recently announced their open access policy.

We are in the midst of a profound change in the system of academic publishing. This is an issue that Australian historians cannot ignore.

What is ‘open access’?  It is recognition of the injustice to researchers who cannot access academic journal articles because of the prohibitive fees charged to people who do not belong to an institution with a library which pays the hefty subscriptions.  Academics in poorer institutions are not able to access vital research papers thus restricting their ability to conduct the kind of ground breaking research that will benefit humanity.  Most research in universities is funded by taxpayers.  Those same taxpayers then have to pay again, as much as $30 per article, to read about the research they funded.  Open access is about making academic journal articles freely open to anyone.

The Australian Historical Association has written a useful summary of the changes in Australia and how they affect Australian historians which we should all read.  The Australian Research Council (ARC) has recently announced their open access policy.  All publications arising from ARC funded projects from the beginning of this year must be deposited in an open access institutional repository within twelve months of publication.

However, this is not the end of the debate.  The publication of academic journals is in a state of flux and it is important that historians keep abreast of the issues and debates not only in Australia but elsewhere in the world.  We are part of one world of historical research and publishing. The academic publishing model chosen by one nation has a direct impact on us as Australian historian, Brett Holman explains in this post in which he describes the implications of the changes in the United Kingdom on his research and writing.

Likewise historians overseas are directly affected by their ability to access Australian history journals.  Melodee Beals is a Senior Lecturer working in the United Kingdom who researches the history of Scottish emigration.  She is interested in both the communities to which Scots migrated as well as the Scottish remaining in Scotland, hence her research includes Australia.  In her blog post about open access she describes the difficulties she has in accessing the journal articles she needs:

I found myself constantly barred from some journal, some database, that I desperately needed. When I begged my librarians for subscriptions, I was politely informed just how much electronic subscriptions cost. As the only researcher in my department who needed this particular publication, how I could I ever justify such a recurring expense?

She gave this remark on twitter recently in response to the prospect of Australian history journals becoming open access:

@perkinsy very much hope it’s soon! Very hard to get digital subscriptions at UK unis.

— Melodee Beals (@mhbeals) March 8, 2013

It is particularly important that the voice of independent historians is heard in these debates.  One of the proposals that has gained favour in some quarters as a result of the Finch Report into open access in the United Kingdom is the gold access model.  Gold access includes an ‘article-processing charge’ (APC).  Under this model it is proposed that the author pays the publisher for the privilege of publication rather than the current model where the reader pays the publisher.  If an historian works at a university they may be able to persuade their institution to pay the charge, but an independent historian would have to fund it themselves.  In the same blog post referred to earlier, Brett Holman also explains the problems that the APC would present to independent historians if this model were to be adopted.

I believe that open access can provide significant benefits to all historians in Australia if the model adopted is carefully chosen after full and reasoned consultation with all historians, academic and independent.  Historians in Australia can choose three responses to the open access debate:

  1. Ignore it in the belief that it does not affect us and won’t in the future;
  2. Insist that the present model of publication and access to articles in Australian historical journals is the best one and that any change will be detrimental; or
  3. Understand that change is going to occur, engage with the debate so that the model adopted in Australia for academic historical journals is the best model for all practising historians in Australia.

I believe that change will occur.  If historians adopt either position one or two above they will be ignored and the changes that take place will not necessarily be in their best interests.

We need to make sure that independent researchers are not marginalised by the model of open access that is chosen.  Professional historians need to become informed and get involved in this debate.  What do you think about open access?  Are there other issues concerning open access and professional historians that we should be aware of?  Add your comment below!

This blog post reflects the views of the author and does not reflect the position of the Professional Historians’ Association of New South Wales.  

Useful Websites and Posts about Open Access

Open Government: resources for historians

More and more Government information is now available online. OpenGov NSW (, which is hosted by State Records NSW, provides free online access to information published by NSW Government agencies, including Annual Reports and open access information released under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act).

OpenGov NSW provides a simple and easily accessible portal to both contemporary and historical publications. Content on the website will be preserved by State Records NSW, using digital preservation technologies. While there are now over 2,000 publications on the site, it will grow as Annual Reports and other publications from NSW Government agencies are uploaded. In the meantime if you are looking for annual reports from the former Public Works Department or the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) from the middle of the twentieth century or NSW Government Gazettes from 2001 to the present OpenGov NSW is a good starting point.


Academic snobbery. Local historians need more support, says Ian Willis.

By Ian Willis

Local studies have an important place in the history landscape in Australia. Local history is incredibly popular amongst thousands of amateur practitioners, yet only a relative handful of academic historians take an interest in it.  Both groups appear to have dug themselves into trenches on either side of a no-man’s land of history practice, territory marred by a lack of understanding, trust or desire for compromise. The academic is ensconced in the institutional setting wrapped up in career prospects, peer-reviewed journals and remote conferences. The amateur local historian is unpaid volunteer in a community sector that is under-valued and often invisible. While there is a list of differences between both sides, there is common ground.

I explored this proposition in my keynote address, ‘Academic snobbery. Local historians need more help’, at the annual Yass Historical Association Conference Beyond the limits of location, held from  8 to 10 March 2013 in the quiet picturesque landscape offered by  St Clement’s Retreat and Conference Centre in Galong, NSW. Using two case studies, the Camden’s writers project for the Dictionary of Sydney website and the Wollondilly Heritage Centre History Project, I examined how there can be successful engagement between local historians and academics. Both projects illustrated the development of trust between keen amateurs and academics.

The Camden’s writers project produced 22 short histories for the Dictionary of Sydney website. See also  It engaged 14 amateur historians with the academic world for the first time and increased their confidence in their ability to write authoritative local histories. The Wollondilly Heritage Centre History project put together an exhibition development team in the mid-1990s, which engaged with the Migration Heritage Centre and the Powerhouse Museum. Team leader Doreen Lyon has observed that ‘local history benefits from a more rigorous approach’ and ‘academic history reaches new heights with the colour supplied by local historians and museums’. She emphatically feels that ‘we need both!’

Group of people standing, 2 people at front holding a drawing.
Members of ‘Koit’, Thirlmere Estonian Society with team leader, Doreen Lyon (right).

I also discussed the principal differences between amateur historians and academics around education and training, issues of authority and expertise, the institutional location of each party, the popularity of local history, the politics of local history methodology and its subject matter. A lack of understanding about each other’s interests and a degree of insecurity stymies dialogue.

Despite these differences both camps share a curiosity about the past. This can produce successful engagement between amateurs and academic historians, built on understanding, tolerance and trust. This will take time. Both sides have much to offer each other and it can lead to a win-win for all parties, as the lively question and answer session after my speech demonstrated.

The PHA (NSW) is in a unique and interesting position with respect this issue.  Members have the opportunity, through their work, to start a conversation between amateur and academic historians. They can help overcome the suspicion and lack of trust through open and robust engagement around professional history practice. Such actions will foster greater understanding and a more tolerant local history landscape. Public historians have a foot in both camps and it is in their interests to help bridge the divide.