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History Is Hot!

November 13, 2019 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm


The Royal Australian Historical Society in collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

Join us in November as three graduate students present their research into Australian History.


Kylie Andrews, Australian Centre for Public History, UTS

Australian broadcasting’s female ‘pilgrims’: A history of women and work in the post-war ABC

This paper provides an insight into recent research that reimagines the nature of women’s work in radio and television production in Australian public broadcasting between the 1940s and 1970s. It introduces you to some of the forgotten women of the ABC, innovative and audacious producers who forged careers as national broadcasters. Described as dedicated ‘pilgrims’ by some, and ‘troublesome dames’ by others, this cohort of ambitious women strategically sought out positions of authority in ABC radio and television in order to enact their own version of feminism, one based on citizenship and public service. They confronted sexism in the workplace and challenged the gender constructs that diminished the scope of women’s involvement in the public sphere. This paper also discusses the effectiveness of adopting historical approaches that revise limited and inaccurate historical narratives, particularly those that assume women in the post-war decades were domesticated and apolitical. It illustrates the importance of widening the research scope to incorporate transmedial and transnational mobilities, and discusses the effectiveness of group biography when writing histories of Australian media and cultural production, facilitating the identification of systems of discrimination and patterns of resistance.


Rowena Lennox, University of Technology Sydney

Sore feet, tears and seeds: Dingoes and people on K’gari (Fraser Island)

Fraser Island, known as K’gari to its Butchulla Aboriginal custodians, is the biggest sand island in the world. Dense rainforest and massive trees grow out of the sand, beautiful freshwater lakes reflect the sky and water so clear it is invisible runs in streams to the sea. Only about 200 people live permanently on the island but about 400,000 tourists visit every year. Among the non-human residents of K’gari are an estimated 76-171 dingoes living in nineteen family groups in places they have inhabited for generations.

Although now on K’gari dingoes are expected to avoid people and there are serious penalties for interacting with dingoes, tame dingoes have lived with Aboriginal people across Australia for at least a thousand years. In the 1830s, shipwreck survivors observed close relationships between the Aboriginal inhabitants of the island and their dingoes.

This talk draws on eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century historical narratives to show that dingoes have an important role in the contact history of colonial-settler and Indigenous Australians. I argue that the emotional residues of historical events still play out in contemporary human responses to dingoes on K’gari.


James Worner, Australian Centre for Public History, UTS

The Sonnenorden/Sun Cult: Turning up the heat in historical fiction

Creative historians advocate for the place of historical fiction in the telling of historical truth. However, on the historical fiction bookshelf are works whose service to history are dubious: these works contain less of ‘history’ and more of ‘fiction’.

One such work is Imperium by Swiss author Christian Kracht (2012, translated 2015). This novel has generated similar debate among German language publishers and historians as did Kate Grenville’s Secret River in Australia.

Imperium is the story of a German colonial oddity, August Engelhardt, a figure in the pre-WW1 Lebensreform [‘life reform’] movement, which resisted the poverty, pollution and urban blight of industrialisation. In 1902, Engelhardt travelled to remote German New Guinea to establish the Sonnenorden [‘the Order of the Sun’], an all-male colony dedicated to worship of the sun, nudism and a diet comprising nothing other than coconuts.

This is a fascinating story. But Kracht’s Imperium invents substantial elements of Engelhardt’s endeavour and life. For example, he keeps his character alive for an additional 30 years beyond his death in 1919 and adds elements of cannibalism, homosexuality, homosexual rape and murder where no such evidence exists. The book remains a best-seller, being translated and read in over 20 languages and awarded numerous prizes.

In this paper, I will sort fact from fiction in the case of Engelhardt vs Imperium and assess what might have been lost (or gained?) in the telling of his story. In so doing, I will consider the point at which an author might abandon the pretence of history and simply write the hot new novel.

About the speakers:

  • Kylie Andrews recently completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has published articles in History Australia and Media International Australia and was awarded the Clare Burton Scholarship for her research into gender equity in the Australian broadcasting industry. In 2010, Kylie received the UNSW Frank Crowley Australian History Prize for her Honours thesis, “History or commodity? Negotiation Australian history as television documentary”. With a previous career in film, television and audio production, Kylie’s research interests focus on histories of media and gender, production studies and biography.
  • Rowena Lennox recently completed a doctorate of creative arts at UTS about relationships between people and dingoes. Her writing is widely published, including in Griffith ReviewMeanjin and Southerly. Her essay ‘Incessant: dingoes and waves of contact on K’gari’ appears in The First Wave: exploring early coastal contact history in Australia (Wakefield Press, 2019) and her first book, Fighting Spirit of East Timor: the life of Martinho da Costa Lopes (Pluto/Zed, 2000), won a NSW Premier’s History Award in 2001. Her second book, Bold: ingenious dingoes of K’gari, is forthcoming with Sydney University Press in 2020.
  • James Worner is completing his PhD through the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS. His project uses a creative historical approach to interrogate masculinities of German internment in Australia during World War One. He seeks a ‘queering’ of enduring narratives of masculinity to allow for greater complexity and honesty in the ways Australia tells the story of its sexual past.
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November 13, 2019
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Royal Australian Historical Society
University of Technology Sydney


History House
133 Macquarie Street
Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia
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(02) 9247 8001

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