ReViewing History – Day Two

Yesterday was day two and we all met at Notre Dame University in Fremantle for the day. Finally a beautiful sunny, warmer day – much better for Fremantle visiting than previous days.

I skipped the first keynote in order to catch up on sleep (it wasn’t my area anyway) and headed in at 11am to catch Mike McCarthy from the Maritime Museum speak on the reasons why there was so much controversy over the finding of the HMAS Sydney and to discuss the government’s, museum’s, private individuals and crackpots role in this. It was shocking and fascinating and, although not my area, I was riveted to his tale for the whole hour.

During lunch I joined a tour around some of the sites of Freo with Associate Professor Deborah Gare. Although I knew a lot of the stories she told it is always wonderful to be in the place while listening.

This photo, taken from next to the Round House, is the landing site for Stirling and his crew when they arrived to gather information before heading back to England to drum up enthusiasm and money for the new colony. Just left of this picture is the site of the Long Jetty where everyone landed after the colony was settled until the sandbar at the mouth of the Swan River (just one of the many issues to be overcome) was cleared.

As an aside, the man who did this, C.Y. O’Connor, was a genius engineer who created the Port of Fremantle and delivered water to the goldfields (via the pipeline) but shot himself in the head before the first water made it all the way there. The Nyoongar tell the story that the sandbar he destroyed as the first act in all this progress was a sacred site connected to the initiation of boys (I believe) and that the Nyoongar women sang him to death in retribution for this act.

After the tour it was back to lectures and I heard the best set of three papers I have so far. The session was called ‘History in the Public Realm’ and the speakers were Rebecca Sanders, Simon Stevens and Guy Hansen. Rebecca told us about her efforts to bring academic history into the public arena and what sorts of obstacles that brings up. She has thought a lot about what the public see history as and value in the research of history and her ideas have really helped me to make sense of some issues of this kind I’m dealing with at the moment. Simon Stevens spoke on the gentry tradition of writing history in WA and while it was controversial I can actually see what he is saying happening around me. Perhaps I’ll devote a longer post to this topic in the future. Finally, it was really interesting to hear Guy Hansen reflect on his museum curatorial practice over a few decades and suggest some ways forward for curators. Again, fascinating and gave me some suggestions for projects I’m working on at the moment.

To finish off the day I listened to one really interesting, one good and one terrible paper in the last session. During the good papers I collected a bit more information to help me with the research I’m doing for the National Trust and the less said about the last paper the better!

Another full day again today, although again I’m skipping the keynote and heading straight for the first session. As it is now 8.30am and the keynote starts at 9am and I’m not even dressed, I think this is a prudent as well as wise move.


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