History Seminar Series 2019


Thursday 26 September

Presenter: Deb Lee-Talbot 

Title: Papua’s First ‘Prime Minister’ and the ‘Queen of New Guineans’- how feminist discourse functioned within the London Missionary Society spaces in Papua, from 1874 to 1898.

Abstract: During the late nineteenth century, members of Motuan communities and the London Missionary Society came together in a series of complex intercultural, social encounters on the frontier fields of New Guinea. A close reading of letters, reports, and newspaper articles from this period detail the particulars of the trade, labour and conversion encounters that occurred. During this presentation, I combine these materials with a critical feminist gaze to examine the experiences of women, European and Papuan, in this place during the late nineteenth. I consider the experiences of two women in particular, Fan Lawes and Keua. I describe how these women encountered one another and I then scrutinize their experiences of being named the ‘Queen of New Guineans’ and ‘Prime Minister’. I contend it was the social and cultural disruption caused by the arrival of the London Missionary Society members that enabled these women to obtain politically powerful roles and be named accordingly.

Time/ Location- 12 pm to 1 pm; Burwood C2.05; Geelong ic 1.101; VMP ArtsEd1

Previous seminars- 

Seminar archive- Trimester 1, 2019

6 March-

Presenter: Jon Ritchie

Title: Bully Beef and Racism: the real origins of Papua New Guinean nationalism

Abstract: A central part of the Australian-funded new Pacific Institute for Leadership and Governance in Port Moresby is the Bully Beef Club Building. The building commemorates the political discussion group of young Papua New Guineans who debated nationalism and independence over shared meals of bully beef (a.k.a. tinned corned beef) in the 1960s. My paper challenges the romanticism of this story and reminds us that Papua New Guinean nationalism was born in the racist policies and attitudes of many Australians and nurtured by lessons from decolonisation and equal rights movements taking place at the same time.

13 March

Presenter: Helen Gardner.

Title: Finding culture in the Pacific: The Culture Paradigm and kastom in 20th century Pacific church and mission

Abstract: The culture paradigm – the idea that cultures are relative, plural and holistic – has shaped human relations and personal identity from the mid twentieth century to the present. This paper explores the development of the culture paradigm through key texts based on the study of Pacific Island people in the 1920s, and then the spread of the idea beyond anthropology into theology and missiology from the 1940s.  As the West being trained in the culture paradigm, Pacific Islanders were deploying the concept of kastom (custom) in their dealings with missionaries and colonial administrators. Eventually the culture paradigm returned to the Pacific as theological colleges established curricula inspired by new theologies and anthropology.  This paper explores the culture paradigm and kastom through the 20th century in relation to Pacific Islanders and the churches and missions of the region.

20 March

PresenterBart Ziino

Title: Reading, writing, rumour: war knowledge in Australia 1914-18.

Abstract: This paper examines how Australians at home received, read and circulated knowledge of the First World War.  It traces not only attitudes towards news coverage, but the less formal networks that proliferated, including private correspondence, word of mouth and rumour.  The emotional environment in which Australians read the war news is critical: we should not mistake readers’ expressions of hope for naivety or gullibility.  Far from an Australian public kept in the dark by the exaggerations of war correspondents and the limitations of censorship, we find a sophisticated Australian news-reading public familiar with the agencies that supplied their news, and the technologies through which it was delivered at such a distance.

27 March-

Presenter- Chris Waters

Title- ‘Periodisation and progress’: Some reflections on Australian history

Abstract- This wide-ranging paper is an attempt to combine some personal reflections on my journey of researching and writing Australian history over the last thirty-five years, with my thinking about that history in the short, medium and very long duree. It also brings together some of my ideas on the very ambitious question as to what these different historical interpretations tell us about the idea of progress for humankind through history.

10 April– 

Presenter: David Lowe

Title: The Colombo Plan in the long 1950s: process, possibility and planning

Abstract: While powerful interpretive lenses of Cold War and modernisation influence how we understand most postwar foreign aid programs, there is a need to look also at the spaces in
between the adjusting ideas about the region, status, difference and commonality that emerge from a less determined and more relational inquiry. This lecture undertakes such an investigation through the unexamined work and legacies of the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia, beginning in 1951, and soon boasting a membership of more than 20 countries.

17 April

Presenter-Brad Underhill

Title- The broad aim of Australia’s post-war development of Papua New Guinea: a ‘New Deal’ for whom?

Abstract– Before the Pacific war, Australia was spending a combined £42,000 on its colonial administration of the Territories of both Papua and New Guinea. Ten years after the war, the Australian Government was spending £16,864,000. This spending was primarily aimed at advancing the socioeconomic and political development of the Indigenous people of Papua New Guinea. In 1955 a Territory Administration discussion paper argued Australia should accept that it is committed to PNG indefinitely; firstly, because of the incapacity of the Indigenous population ‘to stand completely by themselves in the modern world’ and secondly, because of Australia’s strategic security. The only challenge to this assumption for long-term political control of PNG was internal pressures most likely sponsored by outside influences. This suggests that Australia’s post-war development of PNG was premised on managing affairs so that its ongoing presence was regarded by the Indigenous population as essential to their continued well-being. Essentially, it was an appeal to ‘enlightened self-interest’. If the broad administrative aim was for amicable co-existence, then the yardstick by which policy effects should be gauged must not be one evolved for the metropolitan country, instead, as this seminar will discuss, the formulation and implementation of every policy must be appraised from an Indigenous perspective.

1 May– 

Guest Presenter:

Emily Millane is a PhD Candidate and Research Fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. She is also a superannuation policy consultant, and has worked as a federal ministerial policy advisor.

Title: Australian Superannuation – the History of a Modern Institution

Abstract: This presentation is drawn from a PhD thesis on the history of Australian superannuation policy. Why did Australia end up with a publicly mandated, private occupational system of superannuation? Why didn’t the country adopt a contributory social insurance system, so common in other countries? And what are some of the consequences of the decision to legislate a private system of retirement pensions for superannuation fund members? The presentation draws on an institutional framework to explain why there was insurmountable complexity involved in establishing a ‘big new government scheme’ of superannuation, given the existing institutions of private superannuation and the Age Pension. It also draws out the pragmatic reasons why the Hawke and Keating Governments adopted a private superannuation system, and how superannuation has been used as a vehicle to solve different policy problems. 

8 May– 

No seminar this week

15 May

Presenter: Christopher Mayes. DECRA Research Fellow, Alfred Deakin Institute

TitleTowards a tendentious history of bioethics in Australia

Abstract: Australian bioethics is often assumed to share a similar history to American bioethics. Yet the emergence of bioethical debate in the 1980s over reproduction, euthanasia and the nature of moral authority in secular liberal democracy had a distinctly Australian character. To date, the history of these developments has not been critically examined. In writing a history of bioethics in Australia, I am attracted to R.G. Collingwood’s notion of a ‘tendentious history’, which he outlined in Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1926) as the process of historical thought being motivated by a moral attachment. Today, tendentious is more commonly used to discredit or insult. However, Collingwood contends ‘all history is tendentious and if it were not tendentious nobody would write it…except bloodless pedants’.

More recently, historian of medicine, Roger Cooter argues ‘there should be no evading [tendentiousness] in history-writing. Indeed, it is arguably in the relentless efforts of historians to avoid being tendentious that lie many of the discipline’s current problems.’ I can’t speak to the problems of history as a discipline, but I agree with Cooter in terms of the histories of bioethics, and much of the histories of medicine. There is an unwillingness to read across the logics, politics, and objectives of the bioethical/medical project. Instead, there is a prevalence of uncritical and celebratory narratives. Something I wish to avoid.

This seminar aims to provide a brief overview of my current project on the history of bioethics in Australia; explore the kind of history I am attempting to write; and to open up discussion about historiography and the philosophy of history.   

22 May

Presenter: Kate Laing. 

Title: Joyce Clague’s activist journeys: a path of the local and the international

Abstract: Recent scholarship has begun to analyse the history of Indigenous activism in the international arena at the UN and other transnational organisations. However, there has been little scholarly focus on Yaegl, Bundjalung, Gumbainggirr, woman Joyce Clague who was a leader in the Aboriginal rights movement​ and from the 1960s to the 90s used international forums to advance social justice issues. Clague’s activism was defined by collaboration with international organisations, especially the World Council of Churches where she was promoted as a national delegate to the Program to Combat Racism. Her engagement with women’s groups like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom gave her activities a global context and allowed her gain to skills and networks that crossed national borders. This talk will detail research from an article in progress co-authored with Lucy Davies, which combines oral history with archival sources to looks at Clague’s early life and travels, her collaboration with her husband Colin Clague, and her involvement in political movements to understand how her experiences of international collaboration shaped her local activism in the women’s movement and her advocacy for Aboriginal rights.


Trimester 2, 2019.

Thursday 11 July

Presenter– Matthew Ricketson

Title– What happens when journalism meets contemporary history? A case study of Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

Abstract– Patrick Radden Keefe is an Irish-born journalist who for several years has been a staff writer at The New Yorker. Late last year his contemporary history of “The troubles” in Northern Ireland was published. His book takes its title from a Seamus Heaney poem, “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing”. It combines the methods of an investigative journalist with that of an historian; that is, face to face interviews, primary source archival research, and deep reading in the secondary source literature. This means the book is exhaustively researched. It is also vividly written; Patrick Radden Keefe provides a history of the bitter conflict in modern Northern Ireland by telling the stories of a small number of key participants, such as the family of Jean McConville who was abducted and murdered by IRA terrorists and two of the IRA’s leaders, Delours and Marian Price. Journalism and history come into conflict however because of slipshod management of an oral history archive at Boston College. The Belfast Project was created for the work of a former journalist who had reported on The Troubles and had persuaded IRA members to be interviewed on the strict condition that their information would not be released during their lifetime. Detectives pursuing murder cases against various IRA members including Gerry Adams managed to prise open the archive because the terms and conditions under which it had been set up were loose and undefined.

Time/ Location- 11 am to 12pm; Burwood C2.05; Geelong ic2.108; VMP ARTSED1

Wednesday 24 July

Presenter: Felicity Turner. 

Title– The Rights of (Wo)men: Gender, Race, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century United States

Abstract– 2020 marks one hundred years since the ratification of the nineteenth amendment in the United States, a constitutional amendment stipulating that the right of U.S. citizens “to vote shall not be denied or abridged…on account of sex.” Given the length of time it took for American women—particularly African-American women in the south—to achieve the right to vote, deserved attention has been paid to the significance of this right and the opportunities that the franchise opened up to all women. Less attention, however, has been paid to the costs, or the losses, associated with women’s attainment of the franchise. By examining the legal options that women possessed in the nineteenth century U.S.—options that are often obscured by a singular focus on the achievement of the franchise—“The Rights of (Wo)men” resituates voting rights within a continuum of legal rights, therefore illuminating what American women gained when they achieved the franchise, but also what they lost. Only by acknowledging these ambiguities, I argue, can historians fully appreciate the problematic gendered and racialized nature of the rights that American women aspired to achieve.

Time/ Location- 12 pm to 1 pm; Burwood C2.05; Geelong ic1.108; VMP 36917

Presenter: Jason Gibson

Title: Revisiting Ceremonial Sites of Historical Significance: Fieldnotes, Indigenous Cultural Heritage and the Re-inscription of Place.

Abstract: This paper describes recent efforts to utilise the archive of the pioneering Australian anthropologist A.W. Howitt in order to better understand the ceremonies he witnessed and documented in the late nineteenth century. Howitt witnessed ceremonies in Victoria and New South Wales, between 1883 and 1884, and published some of the most detailed descriptions of religious and ritual life for this part of the continent. Although the published accounts of these ceremonies are well known, the unpublished field notes and maps produced by Howitt while in situ at the ceremonial grounds reveal far more of the intercultural and inter-personal exchanges that shaped these now historic events. In discussing the process of returning Howitt’s notes to interested Aboriginal people and communities, I explore the ways in which these materials may be utilised to support cultural heritage claims. I also make some preliminary observations about how different materials invite the re-inscription of place and inform contemporary notions of cultural identity.

Time/Location- 12 pm to 1 pm; Burwood C7.06; Geelong ic 2.108; VMP ARTSED 2 36917

Thursday 8 August– 

PresenterEmma Kowal is Professor of Anthropology at the Alfred Deakin Institute and Convenor of the Science and Society Network at Deakin University. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist who previously worked as a medical doctor and public health researcher in Indigenous health. Much of her work is at the intersection of science and technology studies, postcolonial studies and Indigenous studies. Her publications include the monograph Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia and the collection (co-edited with Joanna Radin) Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World. Her current book project is entitled Haunting Biology: Science and Indigeneity in Australia.

Title: Episodes in the history of Aboriginal Whiteness

Abstract: The dominant account of the history of racial science in Australia is the ‘doomed race theory’. Up until WWII, most Australian scientists and policy makers believed the inherent inferiority of the ‘Aboriginal race’ would lead to their ‘natural’ demise. This paper will focus on an alternative and lesser known racial theory: the ‘archaic Caucasian theory’. This theory of the racial origin of Indigenous people saw Indigenous people as distant and ‘primitive’ relatives of the European ‘race’. This attenuated relationship appeared to provide scientific support for the biological ‘absorption’ of Indigenous people into the white population. I connect this idea of Aboriginal people as cousins of Europeans to an enduring interest, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, in identifying albinism in Aboriginal people. I discuss newspaper reports of albino Aboriginal people in Queensland, WA and NSW from the 1870s, reports that were finally ‘authenticated’ when a Darwin paediatrician documented an albino Aboriginal girl in Numbulwar, NT in 1969.

Scholars of race and settler colonialism have explained aspects of Australian history and society as the manifestation of twin desires of settler Australia: to eliminate Indigenous people and to become Indigenous themselves. The assimilation era and the Stolen Generations immediately come to mind as structures designed to force Indigenous people to ‘become’ white. Drawing on the history of the archaic Caucasian theory and Aboriginal albinism, this paper focuses on a slightly different angle: theories and ideas shared among white settlers that Indigenous people actually are white.

Time/ Location- 11 am to 12 pm; Burwood F2.009; Geelong ic 2.108; VMP ArtsEd1

Wednesday 21 August

Presenter:  Louise Blake.

Title: Women and Community on the Upper Goulburn Goldfields: reframing a completed PhD.

Abstract: This presentation draws on my recently completed PhD thesis, Women and Community on the Upper Goulburn Goldfields. Inspired by a familial connection to the goldfield region in north-east Victoria, my study used a microhistorical approach to investigate how women (and men) made different kinds of community on the goldfields focusing on the three themes of geographic locality, gender and belonging.

In this presentation, I focus on the township of Woods Point. I do this to demonstrate how using feminist theory and microhistory repopulates the township with women’s stories. Accordingly, I explore how this study contributes to earlier literature on women on the goldfields, including in goldfield nostalgia in the 1890s and 1930s, that reflected contemporary concerns. As I contemplate ‘what next?’ for my research, I also consider (and welcome feedback on) how, as a public historian, I might use my study to work collaboratively with various individuals and groups with a connection to the township to inform new interpretations of the experiences of women and families in the nineteenth goldfield township. 

Time/ Location- 12 pm to 1 pm; Burwood C2.05; Geelong (NEW LOCATION) JB3.303 ; VMP 36917.

Thursday 29 August– Timothy Neale.

Title- ‘Firestick continent: specters of indigeneity in Australian bushfire science and management’

Abstract- Over the past decade, there has been renewed interest amongst southern Australia’s policymakers and publics in Aboriginal peoples’ use of bushfire (or wildfire), spurred in part by the publication of mass-market books seminar the potential for precolonial practices and knowledge to ameliorate contemporary risks. In this seminar, I will extend my argument about the ecomodernist aspects of these influential accounts (see: Neale, 2018), further exploring how the dominant settler regime of wildfire management and science today was founded upon the study and internalisation of Indigenous knowledge during previous eras. Drawing upon archival research and ethnographic work within projects aimed at the revitalisation of Aboriginal fire practices, this paper will conclude by reflecting on how the unmarked history of entanglement between settler and Aboriginal epistemes presents difficulties for Aboriginal peoples seeking to assert their right to care for their territories or ‘Country’ with fire today.

Time/ Location- 11 am to 12 pm; Burwood C2.05; Geelong ic2.108; VMP ARTSED1.

Thursday 19 September– 

Presenter: Gabby Wolf.  

Title- Machinations of the British Medical Association: Excluding Refugee Doctors from Queensland’s Medical Profession, 1937-42

Abstract- When medical practitioners fled from the Nazi regime in the 1930s, the British Medical Association (BMA), the peak body for the medical profession in the British Empire, agitated strenuously to prevent ‘refugee doctors’, as they were described, from practising medicine throughout the Empire. Prominent BMA representatives pursued this agenda in Australia through their appointment to statutory state-based authorities that registered and regulated doctors. This paper discusses how, between 1937 and 1942, they sought to use those bodies’ registration and disciplinary powers in Queensland to exclude refugee doctors, despite the resistance of this state’s government to BMA pressure to pass legislation constricting their eligibility for registration. In so doing, the paper contributes new perspectives to scholarship that analyses the BMA’s effectiveness as a pressure group. This paper’s exploration of motives for the BMA’s animosity towards refugee doctors builds, too, on histories of the medical profession.

Time/ Location- 12 pm to 1 pm; Burwood C2.25; Geelong *G ARTSED Video Mtg Room ic3.123 Academic Programs