We need Hindsight


Last August, Tony Abbott said at the launch of an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia: ‘Australians are encouraged to reflect on our remarkable history and contribute to the selection of the 100 moments that have defined Australia’. The Prime Minister used the passive voice, leaving unanswered the question ‘by whom’? It’s not a difficult question to answer. Institutions like the NMA and all the state bodies and the local councils and libraries and community history groups encourage their visitors to think about the past.

So too does our beloved Auntie, the ABC. What would we do without programs such as Hindsight, which take us beyond the top 100 lists to the facts and stories of Australia’s multi-faceted history. This broadcasting does so much to present the complexities of our past and to make us think not only about bygone days but to realise why we live as we do and how we might live better tomorrow.

This afternoon I listened to men telling of their Changi experiences, choking with emotion as they described their ordeal. No-one hearing these voices could remain unmoved – what a marvellous archive these interviews done by Tim Bowden in the early 1980s have left us! But the program did not stop at pathos. It brought to the listener the analysis of historians who have delved deep to try to understand how civilian society can better respond to the needs of returning soldiers – lessons we must still refine, especially now when Australia is being committed to a new offensive in the Middle East.

We need professional, accessible history. That’s why members of the PHA are disconcerted about rumours that cuts to the ABC will affect specialist programs like Hindsight. And when a member of the ABC board speaks out about cuts, as Fiona Stanley did recently, we have to fear the worst.Stanley presented quantitative and qualitative evidence for her argument that the ABC is vital for Australian democracy. You can find her article here. Let me supplement her points with some facts and figures about Hindsight (supplied by its executive producer), which illustrate that history is no sideshow in this debate.

  • In 2014, visits to the Hindsight page ranged from an estimated 1,400 to 2,000 visits per week.
  • The program has thousands of subscribers, many of whom are international listeners
  • The program’s average weekly reach on Sundays at 1pm is about 54,000 listeners.
  • 37,000 listen to the repeat on Thursdays at 1pm.

Hindsight won this year’s NSW Premier’s Mulitmedia history award for Public Intimacies: the1974 Royal Commission into Human Relationships. The judges commented that ‘well-crafted radio … reminds us of the value of this media for historians’.

Indeed. But we need to be vocal in the defence of such resources, so please get commenting and help the PHA NSW & ACT committee to amass the arguments for keeping history on OUR ABC.


by Francesca Beddie, PHA NSW & ACT blog editor (and former member of the ABC Advisory Council)

[Image: Hindsight: 9th Ward Hindsight, Levee wall 2 years later, 2007 https://www.flickr.com/photos/everettt/2077102875/]

Five minutes with Ian Hoskins, winner of the 2014 NSW Community and Regional History Prize for his book, Coast, A History of the New South Wales Edge.


During the week I am the North Sydney Council Historian which means I have a professional interest in all things historical and heritage related in the North Sydney area. This entails research work, reports to fellow Council employees, drafting interpretative signage, mounting exhibitions, writing monographs, managing the cultural and heritage collections, leading historical tours of the local area, managing Don Bank Cottage/Museum – the oldest timber house on the north shore, caring for the monuments at St Thomas Rest Park – the oldest European burial ground on the north shore, and managing the research collection at the North Sydney Heritage Centre in Stanton Library and answering public queries.

Outside of work at Council my historical interest is in landscape history. I have written a history of Sydney Harbour [ed. which won the  Queensland Premier’s Literary Prize for History in 2010] and the NSW Coast. I blog and post Facebook entries about landscape and history at www.ianhoskins.comian

I have wanted to be an historian since I was a boy. I was fascinated with all things relating to World War Two, military aircraft and was endlessly building Airfix models. My interest broadened somewhat at university and I developed a passion for landscape while writing a PhD on the cultural history of parks and gardens in Sydney ― completed at Sydney University in 1996.

Who is the audience for your history?

The audience for my history at North Sydney is potentially anyone visiting the Stanton Library where I am based. These people tend to be living in North Sydney. My historical walks and tours attract folk from all over.

My books are aimed at interested adults ― I like to think of it as scholarly popular history.

What’s your favourite historical source, book, website or film?

I’m a fan of historical documentaries and love Simon Schama’s History of Britain. I think Neil Oliver‘s series on Scotland and Ancient Britain are good in that they grapple with landscape and reflect his passion for material culture.

I love sharing a surname with WG Hoskins, the ‘father’ of local history and historical landscape studies in the UK. I think Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City is brilliant. Tim Bonyhady is a favourite Australian historian. I love Alan Atkinson and Inga Clendinnen’s work.

 If you had a time machine, where would you go?

I would go back to Surrey in 1939 and meet my parents and my uncle (after whom I am named) on the eve of World War Two.

Why is history important today?

History is important today because it can entertain and educate. It contextualises, ‘corrects’ and creates connections between so many things. It is fascinating.

[Photo of the gull by Ian Hoskins]

Five minutes … with Birgit Heilmann, recently elected member of the PHA NSW & ACT executive committee


What is your current position/area of historical interest?

I have worked as a curator at Hurstville Museum & Gallery since 2012. In my role, I develop social history exhibitions with a focus on the St George area. I am currently preparing a WW1-related exhibition for the Anzac Centenary 2015. Another recent project I really enjoyed was collecting memories and photographs from the public about Greek milk bars in the St George area. If you are interested in Hurstville Museum & Gallery’s current and past exhibitions, visit the LMG blog.

birgit w


 What made you decide to pursue a career in history?

As a child I attended many educational programs at museums on weekends and school holidays. I can remember learning how to wash clothes like in the good old days and sketching knight’s armours in the regional museum of my hometown of Wuerzburg, Bavaria. After finishing school, I studied cultural anthropology and European ethnology which examined both humans and their cultural and social behaviour in present day and historical contexts. I concentrated more on the historical aspects of the studies ― I can remember writing an assignment on the history of underwear!

My interest in the culture of religious beliefs brought me to do a PhD at the University of Goettingen. I researched how medieval Catholic relics turned into heritage and historical objects after the Reformation. During my studies I also chose a few courses about museum and exhibition development and had internship placements. I really liked the idea of creating a story about history for a broader audience.

 Who is the audience for your history?

Working for Hurstville Museum & Gallery, my main audience is the local community. Hurstville is very multicultural with a strong Asian population, so we get a great mix of people through our museum doors. I interact a lot with the community as we often encourage the public to come forward with memorabilia and stories for our exhibitions.

What’s your favourite historical source, book, website or film?

Photos in general are a fantastic historical source: when used in an exhibition they tell more than 100 words can.

When I did my PhD I also enjoyed handling archival records. It was really great to transcribe documents from the 17th and 18th century and find the specific facts I was looking for.

If you had a time machine, where would you go?

Back to the Age of Discovery. I would love to be on an exploration ship with natural scientists and ethnologists to make really big discoveries. Mapping a region of the world nobody knew existed. How exciting would that be!

Why is history important today?

History puts the present into context. Provenance of a museum object is always important. Without  knowing the history behind the object we don’t know its significance.