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]