Latency, Language and Time

Last night I took to Twitter expressing my concern at safety for people attending protests, but also my joy at the public awareness of black rights, with references to highly emotional musical performances. I also followed up with this, which I think, without wanting to cause hurt to anyone, is a story worth telling.  

Decorum restored after my “wild” expression of joy “in public”, I will state that once, many years ago, I equally “lost my temper” in public in response to a racist comment made on a uni internet discussion board. I was angry at the ignorance of intnl students (not Chinese) attending the uni of which Gough Whitlam was Chancellor, plus Australians who went along with it. It was an incidental comment about Australian Aboriginals and what I noticed was the casualness with which it was made and the obliviousness to how offensive it was. I was also annoyed that a uni discussion site was being used for things other than course-related purposes, not the least of which by people who had no idea of the significance of the institution they were attending. I posted that the comment was inappropriate and to stop using the site as a “bitching board”. The response to that was heartening. Fellow countrymen of the people who posted it agreed with me, even if those who did it made the “free speech” defence and claimed they were just quoting “poetry”. I considered that the people who wrote that “poetry” did so a long time ago and themselves would now probably be ashamed of it. They could not get away with it today, in whatever context it was intended, and there was no critical thinking behind its regurgitation in that instance. I regretted losing my temper in public, but not the reason. It did, however raise a significant point about the latent racism that pervaded in culture and language, barely recognised as such by people inured to it. I don’t think we can blame everyone for that, just make sure awareness of it is raised and make the appropriate changes.

Juukan Gorge – My outrage at its destruction

I was without power and all phone lines were down due to storms when this was made public knowledge so I vented then through Twitter, but I can now more fully express my personal outrage at the destruction of Juukan Gorge.

For many years I have been trying to draw attention to the destruction of sites of cultural and scientific interest in the Kimberleys and Pilbara regions of northwest WA. I published my novel, “Katajarri – Murder by the Board”, partly for that reason, in that instance involving stromatolites, the fossils of some of the oldest life-forms on Earth..

There are many sites of significance in the northwest which are in potential danger due to an inadequate environmental impact assessment process, which not only fails to recognise sites of significance but dismisses them in a streamlined process designed to disregard them. Consultation is practically non-existent and as locals, scientists and researchers note, there is much that is unknown, unresearched and uncatalogued, making the danger of destruction higher.

It is very important that people with local knowledge, researchers and those in the know make the significance of the northwest generally known. At times it has been necessary to keep sites secret to preserve them but as is becoming increasingly evident, while taking appropriate precautions, it is essential that the general public knows that there is much more to the northwest than red dirt and spinifex.  

Mining is an important industry – the Australian economy would practically collapse without it, but it must take place within appropriate contexts. The benefits of preservation, whether for pure purposes or perhaps commercial gain from tourism, far outweigh the costs, which to the mining industry are minimal. It’s frustrating that near to ideal practice is achievable but that vested interests and general ineptitude is resulting in mediocrity. To quote the old concept, we have a chance at greatness. We can set a standard for cultural and scientific recognition in hand with economic gain and be recorded as those who helped preserve history, rather than as those who blew it up.

Note on historical definition of Australia’s left-right parties

A lot to come, but to put the previously noted paper into context, Australia’s political history is very convoluted and cannot be summarised in a single sentence. There was a left-right delineation, specifically defined from the 1880s with the Free Trade Party being the left and the Protectionist Party, the conservative right. The Labour Party came into being in the early 1890s and were also “left” and supported the Free Trade Party, which governed New South Wales. The conservative, now so-called “Liberal Party”, did not exist in the 19th century. For complicated historical reasons, the ironically misnamed today’s conservative “Liberal” party is the descendant of the Protectionist Party of the 1880s and 1890s, which opposed the progressive “leftist”, genuinely liberal, Free Trade and Labour Parties which led NSW politics at the time.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Free Trade Party and then the Labour Party wanted to remove regressive indirect taxes, such as sales taxes and import duties, which impacted on the middle and working classes the most. They fought for the introduction of direct taxation in the form of income tax instead, whereby people could be taxed according to wealth and ability to pay. They also advocated for legislation as the means by which to ensure working conditions and living standards as opposed to reliance on free-market forces, which the Protectionists claimed would be sufficient. 

In New South Wales in 1895, the Free Trade Party under George Houston Reid, fully supported by the Labour Party under Billy Hughes, introduced the historic Land and Income Assessment Act, following a landslide win in a special election held to decide the issue and whereby, for the first time in NSW, people were taxed according to wealth.

It was not until many years later, after the 1908 “fusion” and many more changes, including Billy Hughes’ division of the Labor Party , that the party structure began to resemble that which it represents today.

Many would also claim that, even now,  the current resemblance is not that of even ten or twenty years ago. 

“Errors, Inaccuracies and Misimpressions in Errol J. Lea-Scarlett’s Queanbeyan: District and People (1968), Gundaroo (1972) and Queanbeyan in Distaff (1983).”

Please click on the link below  to access a paper addressing issues relating to work by previous writers on the history of Queanbeyan.

Errors, Inaccuracies and Misimpressions in Errol J. Lea-Scarlett’s Queanbeyan District and People (1968), Gundaroo (1972) and Queanbeyan in Distaff (1983).

This is a slightly modified version of a hard copy of the paper currently held in the Queanbeyan Public Library by the heritage librarian, Brigid Whitbread.

My work on the history of the Queanbeyan district differs significantly from that of previous writers. Although my original intention was to focus on my work only, in the circumstances, I have decided to publish the paper to make it generally available during a time it may not otherwise be as it establishes context to the extent and manner in which my research differs.

The paper is a precise and objective exposé of errors and issues with works that are among the most constructed in Australian history. 

I recognise that people of substance, including Prof L. F. Fitzhardinge, put their names to, reproduced, cited or presented some of the works in question. I feel for those people, including one who, probably unknowingly, introduced a talk which was published in the Journal of the Canberra and District Historical Society and reproduced in a book in 1983, which contained much incorrect material. That unfortunate situation of blind repetition was continuing for some time as the work by Lea-Scarlett was still being promoted as the authoritative history of the district until relatively recently, when I pointed out it was incorrect, being all the more reason the correct history needs to be in the public domain and in context as soon as possible, so that more people are not so compromised.

I also feel it necessary to present this exposé because the works referred to constituted the authoritative histories of the district for many decades, were a source of great injustice to many people, presented a very limited and inaccurate history of the district and to some extent Australian history in general and were of significant influence, an influence still being felt today. The critique and my works present an antidote to the right-wing extremist conservative politics promulgated in the works referred to and assurance that such is not integral to the  Australian psyche. 

Although my work completely overturns that of the previous writers referred to, the responses to it so far have been embracing, welcoming and encouraging, which I appreciate.

Joanna Davis

Delaying book launches as safety precaution

Although I wouldn’t expect there to be 500 present, for precautionary reasons I am delaying my official book launches in Canberra.

Online versions of “The O’Neills of Queanbeyan” and “The Boltons of Ginninderra” are already available and I will now soon also upload the online version of “Politics in Queanbeyan – from the Counties to Federation” for purchase through this website.

 Stay safe!

Astronomy in the Bush

In 2012, I led an astronomy night at a place called Ongerup, in the Stirling Ranges, known for Bluff Knoll and impressive wildflowers. They have a malleefowl research centre there, “Yongergnow, and the woman who managed it then invited me to Ongerup to deliver an astronomy talk. It was fabulous. David Malin, of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, gave me permission to use his photos and with a well-presented audio-visual display I delivered a talk on almost everything from the Big Bang and the persecution of Galileo to the HR diagram, RA and Dec and modern constellations. Fortunately, a great man, who used to ride around the country on his motorbike stargazing, lived nearby, and he brought his big telescope. The Moon was obligingly in crescent phase, so we followed the talk with sky-gazing outside – some naked eye, some with the excellent telescope. The whole town came and we had a great time, even people who were into astrology found it fascinating and enjoyed it. It was well-organised, well-catered and the telescope was a major feature. I was immensely appreciative of Ongerup and all those who took care of me while I was there – I felt like a celebrity. It also made me appreciate how little people in the bush get of this kind of live interaction, whether astronomy talks or musical performances. Knowing how receptive they are to it and how important it can be, we should encourage it.

Little anecdote – apparently, people were so impressed with the way that night and other talks I gave in the bush went, word got around and it helped lead to the idea for the ABC TV’s “Stargazing Live” nights with Dr Brian Cox and Julia Zemiro. It’s probably apocryphal, but I like to believe it, so if it is total bs I apologise and ask the makers of the show to go easy on my little delusion.

The “Carte du Ciel”

With the now acknowledgement of some of the “hidden figures” in space projects, it is timely to note that women have been involved in astronomy at all times, both as acknowledged trail blazers and often behind-the-scenes. Years ago, as part of an astronomy course, I wrote a paper on the “Carte du Ciel” project, an ambitious international collaborative attempt to photograph the entire sky, launched in 1887, in which brief reference is made to women employed on the project. With minor modification, the paper can be read by clicking on the link below. Note the paper was written in 2003, so the web links in the references do not work.

I should point out that amateur science is important and astronomy, specifically, is a field in which amateur contribution is of great significance. In this paper it is merely noted that the “Carte du Ciel” project marked a transition in Australian science from amateur to “big science”, which was not necessarily a good thing and had both its advantages and disadvantages. Much of the ground-breaking research in Australia at the time was by amateurs. 

“Photographing the Sky in 1887 – Australia’s contribution to the Carte du Ciel project”

Jules Verne – the Devil in the Belfry?

I loved Jules Verne as a child and remember well seeing movies like “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “Master of the World”. In the 1990’s, I came across a story by Verne in the original French, practically unheard of in the English-speaking world, which gave a very different view of Verne as opposed to his reputation as a not-too-literary glorifier of ‘Boy’s Own’ science. This led to a paper I wrote in 2000 for an undergrad science fiction course. We considered having it published then as quite revelatory, but I decided against it at that time. With dystopian science fiction and its predictions and warnings seeming to be emerging as fact, it may be interesting to know something of the take on science the writer generally known as a utopianist really had. Therefore, as a matter of general interest and slightly blushing, I reproduce the paper here, complete with typos and corrections by my lecturer! The original was 5000 words which had to be reduced to 3000 for submission, thus the occasionally stilted turn of phrase and attempt to cram essential detail into footnotes – necessary reading for context.

N. B. Today, I would translate “Le Feu…Il brille au Paradis, il brule l’Enfer” more simply as “Fire – it shines in Heaven, it burns in Hell” and  the literal translation of “Qui qu’en donne” is slightly different from that as it appears in the essay.

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