They Came By Boat


… Ruth Banfield reports on an exploration of the history of Macarthur.

They Came By Boat is an exhibition [until 15 October] that explores the incredible journey convicts, free settlers and, in current times, refugees, faced when leaving their homeland and arriving in a new and foreign country.

The exhibition features a range of works from Campbelltown City Council’s permanent collection, along with loans from the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society and the Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library. Taking the form of portraits, landscapes and illustrations, it was my goal as the curator of this exhibition, to select works that would showcase the Macarthur region from a historical perspective.

The portraits depict many historic figures and families from the Macarthur region, including the Scarr family, Samuel Bradshaw, Arthur Wilmore and the Edrop family.  Artists include Joseph Backler, Joseph Lycett, Thomas Kirby and Gracius Broinowski.

During a period where art was a tool to both elevate status and possibly gain freedom for those punished under the convict regime, these works bring into focus early settler families from Europe. These families journeyed over oceans, arriving in Australia and eventually settling in what is now known as Macarthur. The art shows the houses they built and the landscape they inhabited. The scientific illustrations explore wildlife from Wedderburn and sublime landscapes, juxtaposed with nineteenth century portraits of society figures.

On the lands of the Dharawal nation, the area now known as Macarthur was initially surveyed in 1857; earlier it had been known as the Cowpastures. Attention was drawn to the region in the late eighteenth century after a myth had circulated about the colony of a small herd of cattle living in the area. Determined to find this elusive herd, Governor Hunter explored the area, finding the cattle in 1795. The animals are depicted in a significant early rock painting in what is now Kentlyn, near Peter Meadows Creek, which survives as the oldest-known Indigenous record of colonisation. This event marked the beginning of white settlement within the region.

In 1805, wool pioneer John Macarthur was controversially granted 5,000 acres of land to raise Merino sheep on a prime grazing area near the Nepean River. This fine wool would be exported back to British factories.

Included in the exhibition is a small hand-coloured engraving, Broughton’s Oder Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Pass in New Sud [sic] Wales 1861  (left). This work, by an unknown artist was based on a work by engraver Joseph Selleny. Selleny was born in Meidling, Vienna on 2 February 1824 and arrived in Sydney on the 5 November 1858 on the Novara.  He was brought on board to illustrate the local surroundings. This image was published in a book titled Narrative of the circumnavigation of the globe by the Austrian frigate Novara. In a very rare type of acquisition, this image, a loose leaf separated from the original book, was presented as a gift by the Friends of Campbelltown Arts Centre.

Also on display is a copy of Gracius Broinowski’s six-volume series, Birds of Australia, published between 1889 and 1891. This series made a significant contribution to the understanding and conservation of the Australian wildlife as no other local artist had attempted such a feat.

They Came By Boat offers an idealised view of Australia as depicted by artists for reasons almost like an early form of marketing, with the intention of drawing more people into the colony and show the perceived progress of the empire’s rule. As before, many nationalities and migrants still make their way to the area which has become a rich, diverse and flourishing community, known as South West Sydney.


The Campbelltown Arts Centre is open every day  from 10am to 4pm with free entry. Its address:
1 Art Gallery Road
Campbelltown NSW 2560


Image: Joseph Lycett, View upon the Nepean River at the Cowpastures, New South Wales 1824-1825.



History tourism


Berlin wears its history on its sleeve. Its reputation as the seat of Hitler’s Third Reich and pivotal position during the Cold War, then the collapse of the divide between east and west, make that inevitable. But the modern German state has propelled history further into the public eye, in the hope that frank discussion of extremism will be the antidote to its resurgence. Germany is striving to do this by putting history in the way: on street corners, in pavements, into restored and new buildings as well, of course, by way of  many museums and memorials.

A spin-off from all this is history tourism — and jobs for young historians. We joined two English-speaking walking tours, one of Berlin during the last days of the Third Reich and the other of Hohenzollern Potsdam. The first was led by an English woman with a Masters degree in German history; the second by an American, with a Bachelors in history, during which she studied post-war Judaism in Germany. I admit to some disappointment that we did not encounter young German historians; still, it was heartening to see history graduates employed in the field.

That said, the contrast between our two guides brought into clear focus the variety of skills and knowledge a history tour leader needs. It would seem obvious that interpersonal skills would top the list. In fact, neither guide was a natural but the first, Pip, made up for lack of eye contact with her insightful historical interpretation and genuine interest in the topic. The second brought to mind the Yes Minister quip that the ideal hospital has no patients; ergo a tour without tourists would have suited Rachel better. Dressed to suit her mechanical doll-like patter, she had a good spiel worked out. Our small group learned quite a bit about kings in and of Potsdam, as well as a bit about the city’s WWII and post-war story. But questions were effectively discouraged. We went away with a clear impression of what she wanted to say: Potsdam’s palaces reflect royal indulgence. A stroll through the palaces and gardens, with or even without a guidebook, would have conveyed that same message.

Pip on the other hand added to the tour an historian’s interest in changing versions of history and the discussions or emotions memorials can evoke. For example, she suggested that the myth of German efficiency in prosecuting the Holocaust needed to be modified: the megalomania of individuals in Hitler’s entourage did mean the rules were ignored at whim. She referred also to new scholarship about the use of drugs in the German army. While these had proved effective for quick campaigns such as the invasion of France – with soldiers doped enough to go without sleep for a couple of days – the same tactic couldn’t work in the vastness of the Russian terrain.

The determination in Germany to confront extremism today may make it, despite the emergence of the ultra-nationalist party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), a less likely bed for right-wing radicalism than Sweden or Austria. This was the view Pip presented to our group, which included some young Australian travellers and a couple of ill-clad English lads, all of whom stayed the distance, listening to her explanations and asking questions that were both invited and answered.

The lessons of history are no guarantee against human folly. But seeing first-hand the destruction war creates – yes, the bullet holes in Berlin’s buildings are genuine – and sensing the heartbreak caused by the wall that divided a city and a people for 40 years might just help to stimulate outrage at attempts to repeat past mistakes. In the age of Netanyahu and Trump such optimism could be misplaced; nevertheless, Germans seem resolved now to discuss and debate their past. Let us hope that being able to call out the echoes of Nazism deployed by the Afd and others, Pip is right and Germany will stay its centrist path.

Francesca Beddie

Image: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or the Holocaust Memorial, designed by American architect Peter Eisenman. It covers 19,000 m2  in the very centre of Berlin.


Oral history in a global world


This week (13 to 16 September 2017) Oral History NSW hosted the 2017 Oral History Australia conference. Minna Muhlen-Schulte provides a snapshot.

Moving memories: oral history in a global world presented an exciting, challenging and moving survey of the impacts of oral history. The conference also covered new directions shaping the discipline.

Some of the sessions I attended explored the role of oral history in placemaking. Hamish Sewell demonstrated the power of geo-locative audio to revive the identity of a town like Nambour, Queensland. Professor Heather Goodhall’s interviews with former Tranby College students revealed the little recognised contribution of Australians of South Pacific heritage to Aboriginal social justice and land rights movements. Laila Ellmoos showed how the City of Sydney connects communities with its oral history collection both online and onsite, incorporating it into the design public spaces that remember people’s experience of place.

Another topic discussed was the impact of digital media and it obsolescence – how can oral histories be future proofed against the continual shift of platforms and technologies? How do new technologies influence the practice of recording and producing interviews? And how can oral historians train community members to continue recording their histories after a project ends? Professor Alistair Thomson, Sarah Rood, Hamish Sewell and Dr Siobhan McHugh offered a range of academic, professional and practical perspectives.

International key note speakers presented the impact of oral history projects from East Pakistan to Eastern Europe. Dr Indira Chowdhury (Director, Centre for Public History Srishti Institute of Art and, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India) examined how the Partition of India in 1947 saw the displacement and migration of approximately 12 million people and along with them the displacement of memory and history. While the new Indian state celebrated independence, the memories of refugees confined within the new borders were silenced. Oral history interviews with refugees from West Pakistan and successive waves of refugees from East Pakistan reveal how they did not identify with the national Indian story of ‘freedom.’ Their stories presented more complex narratives including positive relationships between Muslim and Hindu families prior to Partition. The geographic expanse of India and dispersal of millions also meant people were not reunited as sometimes occurs in other diasporic communities. Recent oral history interviews have stitched together their experiences and played a role in forming new shared ‘communities of memory.’

The provocation of silence into testimony with far reaching political consequences was further explored by Professor Dalia Leinarte (Vytautas Magnus University and as Chair of the United Nations Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women). Professor Leinarte discussed the reasons behind silence and amnesia in the biographical accounts of those who lived through the Communist and ethnic conflicts of Eastern Europe.  She has extensively researched the rape of tens of thousands of women during the Bosnian War which left them traumatized, stigmatized and without a voice. Dalia’s work to collect their testimony as well as that of women trafficked in Lithuania has helped changed public perceptions of these atrocities and establish recognition of women’s rights in these regions.

This presents just a small snapshot of the wide ranging and fascinating sessions on offer at the conference, and the powerful ways oral history can help reimagine our lives and instigate change.

Image: Partition of Punjab, India 1947 (Wikicommons)