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RAHS Upcoming Events

The Royal Australian Historical Society has an established tradition of delivering a diverse Calendar of Events throughout the year, helping make history accessible to all. This program includes lectures, skills-based workshops, regional seminars, tours and book launches.

The annual RAHS Conference is a highlight of the Society’s activities. It provides an opportunity for the RAHS and its Affiliated Societies to network at a conference dedicated to promoting local and community history, showcasing the research of individuals and societies.

February 2024

RAHS Day Lecture – Ella Zuila, Australia’s Forgotten Heroine of the High Wire

A circus poster depicting a female acrobat riding a bicycle on a high wire. The poster reads ' Ella Zuila. The Australian Funambuliste. Heroine of the High Wire'.

US circus poster, c.1881 (Image courtesy Mark St Leon).

Event Date & Time: Wednesday, 7 February 2024 @ 1.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Event Location: Online via Zoom

Cost: Free

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Event Description:

While Australia has been visited over the years by many circus companies, troupes and performers, Australia has also produced a number of circus artists who garnered international fame. One of Australia’s earliest circus ‘exports’ was Sydney-born Catherine Webber (1854–1926) better known in the United States, England and Continental Europe in the last decades of the 19th century as ‘Ella Zuila, The Australian Funambulist & Heroine of the High Wire’. This presentation will outline her life and career and will be richly illustrated with contemporary photographs and posters.

About the speaker:

Dr Mark St Leon, now retired, was a university lecturer in the areas of accounting, economics and management. He is a Councillor of the RAHS. He is the author of Circus: The Australian Story (Melbourne Books, 2011).

March 2024

Central Coast Regional Seminar – Beyond the Digital Horizon: Trove, Libraries and Archives

A sepia photograph looking south of Mann Street in Gosford. A dirt road is in the centre and buildings line the street. Signs read 'Hairdresser', 'Tobacconist', and 'Royal Hotel'. Horse-drawn carts are visible.

Looking south, Mann St., Gosford ca.1900–1927 (State Library of New South Wales).

Event Date & Time: Saturday, 2 March 2024 @ 10.00 am – 3.30 pm

Event Location: Gosford City Lions Community Hall. Russel Drysdale St, East Gosford NSW 2250.

Cost: $20

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Event Description:

Christine Yeats and Carol Liston will consider ways to research ‘beyond the digital horizon’. Christine will offer tips and advice for making the best use of Trove and discuss researching passenger arrivals to the Australian colonies using the NSW State Archives Collection and the National Archives of Australia. In a talk titled ‘It’s not all online’, Carol will use examples from the State Library of NSW and NSW State Archives Collection to outline the benefits of visiting the archive and library. Carol will also take participants on a ‘tour’ of the RAHS Library and discuss what makes this collection so special for local and community history.

About the speakers:

Adjunct Associate Professor Carol Liston AO is an Australian historian who specialises in the history of early NSW (1788–1860). Her particular interest is the colonial development of the County of Cumberland (Greater Western Sydney), using land records, family history and surviving buildings to document the past.

Christine Yeats is an archivist and historical researcher. Christine’s research interests include the silk industry in Australia and Romani migration and settlement. She is President of the Federation of Australian Historical Societies, RAHS Senior Vice President and RAHS Events Committee convenor. Christine also convenes the Assessment Sub-Committee UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Committee.

RAHS Day Lecture – Virtue in Australian Capitalism

altEvent Date & Time: Wednesday 6 March 2024 @ 1.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Event Location: Online via Zoom

Cost: Free

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Event Description:

In 1868 Miss Lucy Osburn, a trained nurse, read a book on board the ship Dunbar Castle. She and six Nightingale nurses were travelling to Sydney to take up their posts in the Sydney Infirmary. They arrived on 11 March to a strange small town known to be peopled by criminals and an infirmary that stank of sewage. Miss Osburn’s book was a gift intended to help her prepare for life in the colony. It was much-needed, though ‘she was afraid’, she wrote to Florence Nightingale, that the book was about a different colony. It was very easy to get them mixed up, partly because all of the settler colonies shared a shaky, anxious goal of building a new kind of economy, based on virtues that often seemed overshadowed, at home in England, by the excesses of the old aristocracy and an entrenched class system. Nurses like Osburn, and also medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, clergy, teachers, charity workers, engineers, architects and surveyors were the vanguard of the moral-economic goals of these ‘social laboratories’. Although many professions were modelled on those established in Britain, such white-collar work grew much faster in the Antipodes and in the other English speaking settler colonies of Canada and the United States than they had in the home country. Over the following decades, this professional class invested a combination of financial capital and morality into the economies of Australia and the rest of the settler world, building a model of ‘virtue capitalism’ that would take over the global economy by the mid-twentieth century. In this lecture, Hannah Forsyth will talk about the ways virtue was imagined and built into Australian capitalism, how it went wrong and what has happened to professional expertise and morality in the economy in recent decades.

About the speaker:

Hannah Forsyth is a writer and historian. She has written two books, Virtue Capitalists (Cambridge University Press, 2023) and A History of the Modern Australian University (UNSW Press, 2014). Hannah holds a PhD and an MA in History. She did her BA Honours in Near Eastern Archaeology and has a qualification in educational design (GradCert Learning Science and Technology). Hannah has taught (both in person and online) global history, historiography, Indigenous histories, Australian history, politics and the history of capitalism and has supervised postgraduate students. She has also facilitated adult learning and workplace training, run focus groups and conducted research interviews.

RAHS/WEA Workshop – Using Trove: A Beginner's Course

Event Date & Time: Wednesday 13 March 2024 @ 11.00 am – 1.00 pm

Event Location: Online via Zoom

Cost: RAHS members $35 | Non-members $39

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Event Description:

Trove is the place to explore all things Australian. With just a few of keystrokes, we can all enjoy the pleasures of time travel. This session will suit beginners and intermediate Trove users. A handbook will be provided to participants to help them become familiar with the Trove basics before the course.

About the speaker:

Christine Yeats is an archivist, historical researcher and active supporter of local historical societies. Her research interests include the history of the Romani (Gypsies) in nineteenth century Australia and attempts to introduce a silk industry into the Australian colonies. Christine has undertaken a range of consultancy projects including significance assessments, biographical and local history research. She is President of the Federation of Australian Historical Society, Senior Vice President of the RAHS and a member of the Professional Historians Association (NSW & ACT). Her recent publication is Handy Guide: Convict Records of NSW: The Human Stories of the Transportation System (2021).

RAHS Special Lecture – Bee Miles: Australia's Famous Bohemian Rebel

altEvent Date & Time: Tuesday, 19 March 2024 @ 1.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Event Location: Online via Zoom

Cost: Free

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Event Description:

Bee Miles was famous for appearing in public in towns and cities across Australia, breaking their rules, and living, she said, ‘recklessly’. But she was no ordinary wanderer. Born into a wealthy family, Bee moved in Sydney’s literary and artistic circles in the 1920s and 1930s before she took up residence on the streets. A truly larger-than-life character, Bee constantly defied conventional expectations of female behaviour. Until now, no one has uncovered the real story behind the colourful legend. This first full biography offers a fascinating glimpse into a dark side of Australia’s history.

About the speaker:

Rose Ellis is a writer, editor and researcher based in Sydney.

April 2024

RAHS Day Lecture – Bennelong and Phillip: A History Unravelled

altEvent Date & Time: Wednesday, 3 April 2024 @ 1.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Event Location: Online via Zoom

Cost: Free

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Event Description:

Kate Fullagar will speak about her new book, Bennelong & Phillip: A History Unravelled, the first joint biography of Bennelong and Governor Arthur Phillip, two pivotal figures in Australian history. Fullagar’s account challenges many misconceptions, among them that Bennelong became alienated from his people and that Phillip was a paragon of Enlightenment benevolence. To present this history afresh, Bennelong & Phillip relates events in reverse, moving beyond the limitations of typical Western ways of writing about the past, which have long privileged the coloniser over the colonised.

About the speaker:

Kate Fullagar FAHA is currently professor of history at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, in the Australian Catholic University, and co-editor of the journal History Australia. Her book The Warrior, The Voyager and The Artist won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2021 NSW Premier’s Awards.

May 2024

RAHS Day Lecture – What Is So Good About Crime, Historians' Edition

Louisa Collins prison record. Her prison record includes a photo of Louisa and notes she was executed on 8 January 1889.

Louisa Collins, who in 1889 became the last woman to be executed in NSW, provided Nancy Cushing’s entrée into the world of crime history. Her prison record demonstrates the richness of primary evidence associated with offenders.

Event Date & Time: Wednesday, 1 May 2024 @ 1.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Event Location: Online via Zoom

Cost: Free

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Event Description:

While crime statistics trend downward, the appetite for stories about crime just keeps growing. This abiding interest makes historical crime a tempting area for historians following their own interests or with a view to writing histories that people want to read. In 2018, I became part of this trend when I developed a course on the history of crime in Australia. In this talk, I will discuss why crime can be so fruitful for historians, illustrating my points with examples from Australia’s criminal past.

About the speaker:

Nancy Cushing is Associate Professor in History at the University of Newcastle on unceded Awabakal land. Her teaching includes the history of crime while her research area is Australian environmental history. Her current book project is A New History of Australia in 15 Animals (Bloomsbury). Nancy is the 2024–2025 Coral Thomas Fellow at the State Library of New South Wales, Director of the Centre for the Study of Violence and a member of the executive of the Australian Historical Association.