The PHA (NSW +ACT) celebrates its 30th year and has a pearler in the process


Ian Hoskins reports on History in July

I suspect the dining room of 133 Macquarie Street, ‘History House’, saw rather more oysters than pearls during its years as the premises of the Reform Club hosting the colony’s Alpha Males (politicians, pastoralists and the occasional vice-regal type) – at least before the Club and probably a few of its members succumbed to the Depression of the 1890s.

But on Wednesday night there were pearls a’plenty at the PHA (NSW +ACT) History in July evening which also marked the Association’s 30th ‘Pearl’ Anniversary.

It was a fine evening. The lecture room was full by 6.30o pm to hear Donna Ingram deliver a Welcome to Country on behalf of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and as an Aboriginal woman born on Gadigal land.

The annual Peter Tyler Oration was delivered by Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson. Alan reflected upon his own career and spoke to some of the themes of his recently published third volume of The Europeans in Australia; in particular the popular imaginings of space which filled the minds of children ‘gazing’ at the newly mass-produced maps that adorned school rooms across the country – maps that placed Australia in the Empire and the world, and localities within an incipient nation. Spatial imagination was giving way to the temporal when Alan began his studies in the 1960s – though I’m sure many of us still remember maps with the pinked in Commonwealth (nee Empire) draped on walls next to blackboards well into that decade.

Now it is the challenge of understanding ‘deep time’ that excites many in the profession. But it is also the case that the historical imagination has broadened far beyond the academy so that thousands are now consumers and producers of history – a point, of course, that many in the audience knew well and endorsed.

It was the perfect segué for the awarding of the Public History Prize to Nathan Fallon (pictured with Lisa Murray, City of Sydney historian). public history prize 01His essay explored the creation of prosthetic memory of the holocaust at the Sydney Jewish Museum. The term was coined in the 1990s by Alison Landsberg and might also be called vicarious memory. As the judge of the essay and a long-time curator, I read the analysis with fascination but must admit to being sceptical about the possibility of any museum successfully recreating the experience of horror on that scale. Nathan did, however, speak convincingly when accepting his award about the effect of the museum upon him – an experience that prompted his enquiry and ultimately the essay. You will be able to download it from the PHA website.

There were six lucky door prize winners of a day/afternoon/evening (?!) out on the harbour on a pearl lugger, courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum and Stephen Gapps, at a time to be announced. They will be joined by another lucky six to be chosen from those who come to the AGM on the 25th August. So make sure you go to that for a chance to sail into history.

Thanks to those who organised the event – in particular Bruce Baskerville, Judith Godden, Carol Liston, Pauline Curby, Stephen Gapps, Birgit Heilmann, Christine Yeats and Nathan Esler. Thank you also to Philippa McGuinness from NewSouth Books who came along with Alan’s latest volume to sell. The box was nearly emptied.

And thanks to everyone who came and made it a great evening.