Report on Australian Historical Association conference Brisbane July 2014

July 14th, 2014

Well I spent last week attending the Australian Historical Association (AHA) conference at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. The University has changed a lot since my time there. It was five days of history, catching up with friends, networking, social events and library visits. I am not going to attempt to summarise even the sessions I attended as there were 14 streams over the five days with a choice of 8-9 sessions in each stream most days plus the plenary sessions. In fact some days it was hard to decide which sessions to attend and as some of the buildings were quite distant from each other it was not always possible to change streams during a session. The AHA has published the abstracts of all the papers online here.

There was a strong emphasis on WW1 history but I tended to go to colonial history sessions. Lynette Stewart’s paper on a murder her ancestor was involved with was interesting and I am looking forward to reading her book Blood Revenge: Murder on the Hawkesbury 1799 when it is published later this year by Rosenberg Publishing. On a similar theme I went to Meredith Walker’s talk on The Murdering Creek Massacre: Family Stories, Veracity and Context. When we were looking for our new home we drove past Murdering Creek many times (off the Sunshine Coast motorway) so it was good to learn the history. Another session I enjoyed was Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History and this was a good chance to catch up with Melbourne friend Dr Liz Rushen. A Brisbane friend I caught up with was Niles Elvery and his paper on Researching the First World War Conflict at the Queensland State Archives showed how much material may be in places that you don’t immediately think of.

Also part of the conference was a one day seminar hosted by the Professional Historians Association Queensland Branch (PHAQ). This started with a white gloves tour of the John Oxley Library (JOL), State Library of Queensland. I was very impressed with their new (to me) surroundings and it was certainly a long way (although just across the river) from where I first started working at the JOL in early 1982. From there it was a bus trip out to the University and I must say that I am impressed with Brisbane’s underground busways and bus stations. No wonder I didn’t see that many buses on the road.

Again lots of interesting sessions but I particularly enjoyed the talks on the Special Collections Library at James Cook University and the Capricornia Collection at Central Queensland University. I also liked Greg Cope from the National Archives of Australia Brisbane office speaking about Queensland’s Hidden History in the Archives. He also gave out a paper copy of his presentation so lots to follow up there. At lunch time I did a walking tour of the University’s Great Court buildings and attendees were given a copy of the Brisbane History Group‘s 1998 St Lucia Campus Heritage Tour booklet.

At the end of the sessions we had a white gloves tour of the Fryer Library again with a WW1 military theme. So many treasures in these special collections held by university libraries across Australia. I also picked up a few of the old Fryer magazines as they have interesting articles on various parts of the collection. Then it was a quick taxi trip into the CBD and Old Government House  for the launch of  the PHA‘s Circa: the Journal of Professional Historians. Wine, cheese and other nibbles were most welcome before we then went on a tour of parts of Old Government House which has been substantially restored since I last saw it.

The catering over the five days was impressive with lots of delicious morning and afternoon teas and substantial lunches. Probably just as well I had to do so much walking from the car park, to and from buildings and up and down stairs each day to get to the food area. The noise level at break times was amazing but it highlighted just how many people were catching up with each other and discussing the sessions. I took the opportunity to talk to two of my favourite history bloggers. Marion Diamond (one of my Australian history lecturers from way back when) now writes Historians Are Past Caring which I try to read on a regular basis. Marion has also written about the AHA conference and you can read it here.

Another person I follow on Twitter and whose blog I read regularly is Yvonne Perkins (or Perkinsy as I think of her tag). I was watching her tweet during the conference and I wished for two things – that my fingers moved as fast and that my Twitter app on my phone had not died. I need to get a new more modern phone but I did miss reading her tweets live. But you can catch up with them here – the Twitter tag was #OzHA2014 and other people tweeted too. Since the conference Yvonne has also done a number of posts on her Stumbling Through the Past blog (where does she find time) but the main one on the conference is here.

Of course I can’t go anywhere without buying a book or two. There was quite a bit of temptation but I couldn’t go past Mark Pearson’s Blogging & Tweeting Without Getting Sued: A Global Guide to the Law for Anyone Writing Online and Matthew Ricketson’s Telling True Stories: Navigating the Challenges of Writing Narrative Non-Fiction, both published by Allen & Unwin.

It was a pretty full on five days and some lecture rooms had more comfy seats than others. I am glad I made the decision to go and it is my first AHA conference for quite a few years (I think the last one was Armidale). Catching up with people I knew from Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra was great and meeting more PHAQ members was good and I hope to get to more of their functions now that I am back in Queensland. Having Mum’s place to stay in Brisbane was handy and cheaper. The 2015 conference will be in Sydney but I won’t be able to go as I will be on the Unlock the Past Baltic cruise! Maybe the year after will be an option and if not there are always the blogs and tweets to keep us informed.

Researching & Writing History

May 17th, 2011

I attended the Unlock the Past Researching & Writing History Seminar in Adelaide on 13-14 May 2011.

I’m starting to wonder if I attend too many genealogy seminars – why? At this seminar I caught up with people I met at the Genealogical Society of Victoria‘s Australasian Scottish Conference in Melbourne a few weeks ago and I met the husband of a friend I caught up with at the Auslib Sense of Place local studies conference in Sydney a week ago. Plus I caught up with various Adelaide friends as well. Genealogy and family history is a great way to build up a network of friends and colleagues around the countryside.

In my various studies and government jobs over the years, I have been involved with or had responsibility for various publications so I was familiar with a lot of the content of this seminar but it was good to get fresh perspectives on some of the issues.

Day one started with Peter Donovan, professional historian from Donovan & Associates talking about So, You Want To Write History? and this was an informative talk illustrated entirely with cartoons which I loved. Included in the seminar satchel was a copy of Peter’s book Adventures With Clio: Historians Recounting Their Memorable Experiences and for the bargain price of $5.00 I was also able to buy Peter’s book So, You Want To Write History which was the basis of his talk. It was a great introduction to the two day seminar.

Next was Peter Bell a professional historian and writer talking about How Old Is My House and this was an introduction on how to trace a house history with lots of practical hints and good illustrations. Peter’s handout summarised the major sources. I first met Peter back in Brisbane in the early 1980s when I was working in the John Oxley Library – good to see we are both still involved with history 30 years later.

Due to illness, Cassie Mercer from Inside History a new magazine launched last year, was unable to attend and Alan Phillips from Unlock the Past (UTP) spoke briefly about Inside History, UTP and Find My Past Australasian collection.

After lunch was Ashley Mallett, an editor and author, talking about Sporting History and Biography and this was one of the topics I was most interested in. However Ashley’s presentation was more suited as an entertaining after dinner type talk rather than a how to session and I am no wiser on how to research sporting history and biography.

The next speaker was myself talking on Writing Resource Guides and this is an area well outside my usual comfort zone as I have never talked on this subject before. I agonised over what to say, what to include and in the end I opted for basic advice based on my own experience and included some of my favourite resources so that attendees could go home and check them out. I was grateful for the feedback over afternoon tea which was positive I’m happy to say. I might blog this talk as the websites might be of interest to others.

Carol Baxter, genealogist and author, was the next speaker on Writing Creative Non-Fiction. Carol is an enthusiastic and motivating speaker who set the scene for her two talks on Writing Interesting Family Histories the following day.

Jackie van Bergen, a proof reader, was next with What I Meant To Say Was … and this was an interesting and humorous session which was summarised in her handout. A key lesson was not to rely on spell check alone as it only picks up words spelt incorrectly, and won’t pick up where you have used a wrong word. She gave examples where publishers had to pulp books because of inappropriate words not being picked up in the editing and proof reading stages.

In the last session of the day on Publishing and Marketing – Self Publishing or With a Recognised Publisher, John Scardigno from Peacock Publications and Michael Bollen from Wakefield Press talked about the issues involved.

Day 2 started with Graham Jaunay from Adelaide Proformat talking about Accessing Government and Private Archives. As a former government archivist I always find it interesting hearing researchers talk about using archives and some of the issues they find frustrating. It was good to see Graham talking about private archives in Adelaide as all to often researchers only think about government archives.

Carol Baxter was next with Writing Interesting Family Histories which is the title of her book on the subject and I think most attendees went home with a copy – I know I did! Carol gave examples of how to turn boring paragraphs into something much more interesting and appealing to readers.

After lunch, Annie Payne from History From The Heart gave a talk on Gather, Organise & Preserve Your Personal & Family Stories which was also a bit of show and tell. Annie held up items such as a green butter dish and asked attendees what memories did the dish invoke and we could all identify with it (although my Gen Y son wouldn’t have a clue) .

One thing I especially liked was when she handed out three jars, each with a particular smell inside and people were asked to recall what memories the smell brought back. I use photos and documents to stimulate memories but had never thought of using smell before.

Patricia Sumerling then spoke on Oral History: Tips For Historians and her informative handout summarised her various points. Patricia also gave the next talk on Understanding Context in History or A Work of Fiction, again with a useful handout. She was an entertaining speaker giving her own experiences  on various projects and books to highlight the points she was making.

The final session was Printing Your Book with David Sweeney from Openbook Howden. He illustrated his talk with examples of various books and gave costs for each type which was quite useful for those planning to publish.

Earlier I mentioned the seminar satchel and it had lots of useful flyers and handouts from publishing companies and presenters so that attendees can learn more after the seminar. There were trade display tables including Gould Genealogy & History, Unlock The Past, Wakefield Press and History From The Heart.

All up it was a very intensive two days and as usual I have come away with new ideas, new things to do, and renewed inspiration to finalise all those various draft family histories I have sitting in my filing cabinets. Now to find the time!!

Family History Online

September 29th, 2009

The August 2009 issue of History Australia has a fascinating article by Graeme Davison on Speed-Relating: Family History in a Digital Age. Professor Davison talked on this topic when he gave the annual Don Grant lecture for the Victorian Association of  Family History Organisations in 2007. I found that a stimulating talk and it generated much discussion afterwards. It is good to now see something in print and I look forward to reading it. I hope it leads to further discussion on this important topic by family historians.