Monday, October 5, 2015

In Time and Place - Just right

Jacaranda tree at entrance to Botanical Gardens in Brisbane City
Here in Brisbane (sometimes colloquially referred to as Brisvegas), the jacarandas are blooming.  Jacarandas blooming make Uni students nervous because it means exams are just around the corner.  Many heads will be sore today from the excitement of a long weekend filled with sporting finals. There was the AFL on Saturday night and the Rugby Union yesterday morning when the Wallabies defeated England.  Last night was the Grand Final of the NRL when the North Queensland Cowboys triumphantly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and the Brisbane Broncos are feeling no doubt very sore and sorry for themselves. 

I tell you all this to give you CONTEXT dear reader.  Draw from it what you will. Perhaps you could draw from it that you would have a clear head if you weren't a football fanatic and an easy conscience if you weren't a student.  If you were a family history nut like me, you would be in heaven from having spent the weekend with other mad genies attending In Time and Place at Riverglenn at 70 Kate Street Indooroopilly.

In Time and Place.  In Time and Place.  Keep muttering these words to yourself as you mosey on down the family history path.  I was somewhat smug about this event being so close to home.  A hop, skip and a jump and I was there.  It didn't start til 9am but I thought I would rock up at about 8 because that is what my Eventbrite ticket told me to do and it never hurts to be early right? 




Just as well I went early.  I had been to Riverglenn once before years ago on a conference venue hunting expedition for work. I knew it was near Nudgee Junior where my nephews went to school in their primary years and around the corner from Boulevard Gardens where my sister-in-law Patricia and buddy, from Canberra days, Deborah had their wedding receptions.  I quickly became disorientated as I approached what essentially is a building site with construction banners on the fencing.  Our kids have long left school and I don't go to the fancy gym nearby, so it's been a while since I drove down Jerrang Street. Nudgee Junior is no longer there.  Instead, it's a new school called Ambrose Treacy College.  It's a P-12 school which means they need land. Riverglenn, the conference venue, is living on borrowed time and will be demolished in a couple of weeks.  

I mention these things because, as we were listening to talks about the importance of time and place in our historical research, I was conscious that we were ourselves participating in something that was about to be history.  The buildings would be razed to the ground and it would be difficult to believe that we were ever there.  Maps will change.  Signs will change.  Names will change but we were here.  One day as I tell this story, someone will think I am a silly old woman who can't remember things properly.  Remember this.

Delegate Bag from In Time and Place Conference

So I picked up my beautiful delegate bag and said hello to fellow blogger Helen Connor who shares some of the same ancestry as my husband and is the Hon. Secretary of GSQ which itself is about to move - in time and place..in time and place.  

Notice re GSQ re-location

I purchased the obligatory raffle tickets and said goodbye to my last $5, wondering why I hadn't thought to go to the ATM again this week.  I took a photo of my delegate bag and tweeted it.  I got a cup of coffee and said "G'day" to a couple of QFHS members who were manning stalls or acting as marshalls/gofers.  I wandered around the Trade Exhibition in the light-filled Atrium of the Centre and finally met up with fellow blogger Caitlin.  We scoped the venue for lecture rooms and toilets and then agreed to go in early and get good seats, saving one for fellow blogger Pauleen.    

Dr Denver Beanland opened the conference.  I remember that Dr Beanland got to sit in the kitchen of our first home in Taringa 20 odd years ago when he was canvassing as a local member.  I was thumping the table at the time about the importance of having plentiful child-care in the area.  He was recently appointed as the Chair of the National Archives Advisory Council.  Memories.  

Kitchen at 31 Equinox Street Taringa

Dave Obee gave his keynote address about the importance of context.  As he showed maps of Australia and its connections to British Columbia Canada and vice versa and told stories about places and names, my brain was ticking over with all sorts of possibilities for my own family history research.  I was reminded just how intrepid our ancestors were.  Just because they didn't have air travel didn't mean they didn't get about.  The Forfars on my mother's side of the family went to British Columbia Canada AND Australia.  We were lucky enough to meet one of the Canadian descendants about ten years ago.  I really should do more research on my Canadian Forfar cousins.  I'll start by working my way through this page.  Warning - it may be a while before you hear from me again ;)

Edward Forfar grave at Fort St James Municipal Cemetery Vanderhoof Canada

I tweeted during the conference.  If you want to see tweets about the conference, go to Twitter and enter #intimeandplace to see all the tweets from the conference, not just mine.

After Dave's talk, we then had a choice of speakers for the next 3 x 45 minute sessions with a 20 minute break for morning tea.  I chose Jan Richardson's session on convicts and ex-convicts living in Queensland after 1842, Rowena Loo's session on behind the scenes at Queensland State Archives and Diana Hacker's session on memorials to those lost on the RMS Quetta.  

At morning tea, I think I snavelled the last QSA pencil case...hoorah!

The coveted pencil case...what is it about pencil cases???  Thank you Qld State Archives.

You can get a sense of Jan Richardson's presentation by reading her paper online here.  For me the stand out thing about her talk was how much information there was in other supposedly "incidental" records about a person. She told the story of trying to discover on which ship a particular convict had come out to Australia.  The name of the ship given in court proceedings could not be matched with any known convict transports or any known voyages for that particular ship.  Looking up the same woman's record in the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum records produced a different ship name and the real answer. Would you expect to find information about shipping/immigration in asylum records?  See what I mean?  Check all records..you never know what you'll find.

Rowena Loo's presented an engaging talk which attempted to demystify the work of Archives and its approach to filing or structuring its collection, which can sometimes seem impenetrable.  I learned some new terms and resolve to follow their You Tube channel.  One person asked a very good question at the end which revealed that there is no link between the indexes and the catalogue on the website so you need to search both.   

After lunch Janis Wilton delivered the next Keynote Speech.  This was about oral history and memory and I was captivated by her presentation despite the technical difficulties she encountered.  I was interested in the concept of "rehearsed" memories and moving beyond that in recording oral histories.  I was really struck by the importance of capturing the "senses" of memories e.g. colour, smell, sound...good stuff.  Particularly in relation to black and white photos...you need to ask, "What colour was the house/wall/dress etc?"  Alessandro Portelli's quote on conclusion was very thought provoking....Oral history tells us "not just what people did, but what they intended to do, what they believed they were doing, and what they now think they did.”  Note to self - do more Oral History.

Three more sessions took us to the end of the day and I chose to hear Rosemary Kopittke speak about Suffrage in Queensland and the work done to produce the index now on Qld Parliament's website.  I have done some indexing for the Society in the past but bow down to her expertise in deciphering Kurrent script of which I was previously ignorant.  Go Rosemary!

At afternoon tea, the ebullient Helen Smith waxed enthusiastic to me about the new direction the Registry Office is moving in i.e. digitising marriage source documents so that in future we will be able to see the originals rather than a transcription.  I crept back to their stand to hear more and asked if I could take photos of the beautiful bound registers that they had brought with them.  


Marriage Register for Queensland 1916

After afternoon tea, I chose to hear Michael Brumby speak about his work at the Charters Towers Archives which receives over 300 enquiries a year.  Goodness! My take-away from this session was how important local knowledge is when researching to get an accurate picture of how and where things were in a place.

The last session of the day for me was the very helpful Catherine Cottle who spoke with passion about her role in digitization at State Library.  She spoke about why State Library of Queensland digitizes material (access, efficiency, preservation to name a few reasons) and their selection criteria for digitization. If you want to make sure you are digitizing your own collection to standard check out their handy Toolkit here.

When I first registered for the In Time and Place Conference I "passed" on the Buffet Dinner but changed my mind a week or so beforehand and decided to take up the offer.  I'm glad I did.  It was a chance to unwind and get to know a few more people in a more informal situation.  I was still home by 7:30pm so my husband wasn't too disgruntled.

Sunday was only a half day.  This time I made sure to visit the ATM before I came to Riverglenn and made a beeline for the all-too-tempting Nepean Family History Society stall.  They had displayed these fabulous pictorial histories at the Congress in Canberra earlier in the year and  I managed to resist temptation. A second time proved me a "goner" and I purchased 3 in the areas of my family history research.  I think you know how much I love old photos and I think they are a great prompt for memories and oral history and plan to use them.  Watch out rellies...here I come!

More books for my groaning bookshelves.


The first speaker for the day was the ever inspiring Shauna Hicks with the final Keynote Speech.  She chose to accept the challenge proffered by fellow geneablogger Jill Ball and delivered, to my mind, the standout keynote presentation.  She had the audience in the palm of her hand, enthralled to hear more about love, sex and lies in her own family history. If ever there was a case of write/talk about what you know, this was it.  We followed Shauna down the twisty trail of records, maps, certificates and oral history - marveling at her fortitude and perspicacity.  Of course she ended up with more questions than answers, but....we loved it.

Dave Obee reminded us in his next session "Mythbusters" that this is in fact the goal...every answer should provide more questions...keep asking those questions for a more fulsome account of your family's history.  Question everything.  Is your ancestor really not on that Index?  Go to the original source...indexers are after all human.  He also reminded us that we all use different language/terms for places/concepts e.g. First World War is apparently a Commonwealth concept whereas WWI is a more American term.  Useful stuff to consider when thinking about search terms.

After morning tea, I chose to hear more from Janis Wilton who invited us to think about memorable museum encounters and what made them great.  She pointed us to District Six Museum in South Africa and Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre in Tassie (Tasmania) as examples of powerful, engaging museum experiences which invited you to dig deeper and explore further.  She ran out of time but managed to tell us a little about some of the work undertaken at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery to address people's interest in the history of the building and site, formerly a technical college.  You can download the MRAG audio tour from iTunes or Google Play Store for free. I look forward to exploring the App.

Helen Smith's informative talk on parliamentary reports and inquiries really opened my eyes to the wealth of information about your ancestors that could be gleaned from what might be regarded as  dry and dusty documents.  Some of the extracts she read from The Royal Commission Reports on Children Working in Mines, 1842 were heartbreaking but also fascinating accounts of the daily life of our ancestors.

After the raffle prizes were drawn, sponsors and organizing committee members and venue workers thanked, it was all over, red rover. 

I went home feeling very pleased that I still had half a day to pretend to my husband that I had been home and doing the housework.  I put a lamb on a slow roast in the oven, raced into town to buy a book that's out of print (more of that later in another post), cleaned the bathrooms and vacuumed within an inch of my life.  Even my Fitbit was pleased with my progress.  To my mind, the In Time and Place conference was "just right" ....not too big and not too small...digestible in both sessions, duration and price.  Thank you to the organizers, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors for all their hard work and efforts in making it so.  

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

But the big question is (and we always like questions don't we?) ...Will this kind of conference happen again?  Who will pick up the baton from the organizing committee and take it on? Do we need conferences like this or are AFFHO congresses enough?  It's a crowded marketplace and a big job.  What do you think?  Are you or your organisation up for it?

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