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The ARC Centre For The History Of Emotions, The Centre For Applied History, Macquarie University And The State Library Of New South Wales are hosting a symposium on June 17 about the multi-layered pasts of Sydney’s Central Station to coincide with the Dead Central exhibition at the State Library of NSW.

This collaborative workshop accompanies the State Library’s exhibition Dead Central, and considers the emotional, embodied and creative ways we experience the past. Co-sponsored by the Macquarie University node of the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions, the Centre for Applied History, Macquarie University, and the State Library of New South Wales. Guests are encouraged to bring smartphones and headphones for the best audio-experience of the Dead Central exhibition.

View the schedule here

The symposium will feature a range of presentations, including:

Mean Streets

Peter Doyle

A short newsreel from 1938 called ‘Men of Tomorrow’ opens with a bird’s eye view panning shot of Sydney, filmed from the top of Central Station clocktower. As the pan reaches Elizabeth Street and Surry Hills, the voiceover melodramatically contrasts life in the modern, affluent city with the vice and wretchedness of the nearby slums. In fact, a notional all-seeing observer stationed at that spot through the ‘20s and ‘30s could have witnessed a huge and surprising aggregation of criminal events, great and small, of nearly every kind imaginable. This presentation will examine a selection of crimes, and characters from the forensic record, all of them local to Central Station, and will ask to what extent such stories of real crime might both reveal and conceal the broader textures and tensions of everyday life.

Peter Doyle is the author of the City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs, 1912–1948 (2005) and Crooks Like Us (2009). He has curated exhibitions on forensics, photography and pulp publishing, at the Museum of Sydney, Justice & Police Museum and the State Library of NSW. He is the recipient of multiple Ned Kelly Awards for his crime novels (the latest being The Big Whatever, Dark Passage, 2015). He is an Associate Professor of Media at Macquarie University, Sydney.

Sydney Central Again – Toby Davidson

When I arrived in Sydney in 2002 aboard the Indian Pacific, Central Station was my first introduction to Sydney, a frenetic shock in contrast to the open plains of inland Australia. The disorientation of that experience is now replicated in my poem ‘Sydney Central Again,’ which begins at the Station then moves out into the city itself. In writing the poem, I delved more deeply into the history of the Station site, especially its prior life as the Benevolent Asylum, which I found less buried that it might seem due to the number of transient and downtrodden people still frequenting the area. It is almost as if the asylum has gone but the patients remain, interspersed (but ultimately not dispersed) by the channelled tides of the daily commuter rush.

In this paper I will discuss my process in composing ‘Sydney Central Again,’ looking in particular at how its structure mimics the confusion of history, place, emotion and, indeed, visibility that confronts a small-town stranger propelled through the polyglot rabbit warren of Sydney Central and out into the open-air confusion of an alien city which makes transients of its people, some just more temporarily than others. This is my own hidden history, layered on top of older hidden histories, imagined simultaneously and multi-temporally.

Toby Davidson is an Australian poetry researcher, critic, writer, facilitator and editor at Macquarie University. His research interests include the internationalisation of Australian, British and American literary criticism, twenty-first-century considerations of Western Christian mysticism, and cartographies of public commemoration of writers, including literary tourism. He is the author ofChristian Mysticism and Australian Poetry(2013) and Beast Language (2012).

Sydney’s Gothic Mortuary Station: Remembering and Dismembering – Louise D’Arcens

As the State Library’s Dead Central exhibition shows us, Central Station is a site with many layers, evoking many pasts. These include the deeper European past that is recalled in a number of its architectural features, most famously its iconic clock tower and the miniature Gothic Revival splendour of its Mortuary Railway Station. From 1869 to 1938 the bodies of thousands of Sydney’s deceased left this station for Rookwood Cemetery, where they were received in equal Gothic solemnity at the Necropolis station. Every day, the imaginations of Sydney commuters are captured by this chapel-like structure, which many think of as ‘creepy’; but the Gothic was not always seen this way. This paper will consider the meaning of the Mortuary Station in the larger context of colonial Australia’s medievalist civic building programs. Looking at the cultural memory that was being created for Australia through the construction of these buildings, it will also reflect on the deeper, Indigenous cultural memory that was disregarded and even, at times, dismembered in the process.

Louise D’Arcens is the author of Old Songs in the Timeless Land: Medievalism in Australian Literature 1840–1910 (2011), Comic Medievalism: Laughing at the Middle Ages (2014) and is editor of the Cambridge Companion to Medievalism (2016). She has published extensively on the revisitation of the medieval in Australian culture, and is currently writing World Medievalism (forthcoming 2020). Louise is Professor in the Department of English at Macquarie University, and Director of the Macquarie node of the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Keynote Address: Adam MacKay of Helmsdale: Of Emotion, Place and Memory – Katie Barclay

Twenty-one year old Adam MacKay climbed from the window of his bedroom in the small croft he shared with his mother into the early morning light, avoiding waking his brother in law who slept by the fire. He crossed the striking green and yellow landscape to a local burn or stream, where he spent time praying and reading his bible. Adam then walked towards Helmsdale, the small fishing village in the far north of Scotland, where the night before during a party he had been physically restrained and taken home. Walking the three miles to the village about 6am, he stopped to consider the piece of land where he planned to put a house and wife, observing other villagers leaving for work as he did. He came towards two cows bound to a post. He fed the black cow some sheaves of grass, but threw stones at that which was speckled. Then picking up a large stone, the size of man’s hand, he threw it at a hen. In retrospect, Adam wasn’t sure why he did this. But on doing so, he heard a cry of someone, perhaps a woman, in distress—‘Oh God, Oh God.’ Rather than investigate he walked on to the house where he had been the night before. No one was yet awake, so he shovelled herring guts from the front of the property. Shortly after a crowd emerged and tried to disarm him of his spade. He climbed upon a heap of hewn rock, clutching the spade, until Mr Simson offered him his hand, told him he was safe and asked him to come down. As he was taken into custody, he noticed an elderly beggar woman who was seriously wounded in the head.

In 1817, Adam MacKay told this story to a sheriff clerk in a deposition after he was indicted for the murder of Catherine Sutherland or Oag, who was killed as she waited to beg of the men returning from night fishing. It’s a remarkable criminal narrative, not because criminals weren’t usually good storytellers—quite the contrary—but because, in the context of a murder, it seems to focus on the wrong things. On time praying by a river. On a fantasy of future marriage. On two cows met on a journey through a landscape that mattered. Is the hen a euphemism, you wonder, a symbol that holds the key to this story, to his intent? What is true here—other than perhaps that hand offered to an ill man on a heap of stones, telling him he’s safe. A moment of emotion, of connection, that seems to offer clarity for both the reader and the storyteller. Yet, is this too a deception, a misremembering? This paper explores an entanglement between landscape, story and emotion between two outsiders in a small Scottish community, a mentally ill youth and an old beggar woman. It seeks to interrogate the ways that our material world creeps into the stories we tell to make sense of our lives, of the way that landscapes shape memory and memory practices, and how emotion acts to clarify our connections to environment and to instruct us on what, how and why we should remember.

Katie Barclay is an Associate Professor in the ARC Centre for Excellence in the History of Emotions, and the Department of History at the University of Adelaide. She is the author of Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650–1850 (2011), Men on Trial: Performing Emotion, Embodiment and Identity, 1800–1845 (2019) and is currently writing her fourth monograph, Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self. She holds an ARC Discovery grant ‘Precarious Accounts: Money, Sex and Power in the Industrial Revolution’ to explore how accounting practices shaped selfhood and morality across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Ghosts in the Archive: Creative Remembering and the Past – Tom Murray

Animations of the past and place-based re-enactments of traumatic events often evoke a form of spectral history. This presentation discusses the role of ghosts in some creative representations of the past.

Tom Murray is an academic and media producer who has worked in documentary production for over 20 years as a writer, director, and producer. He has won major screen industry awards, public recognition for scholarly work, university research awards and grants, and the Max Crawford Medal. Tom is a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University’s Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies.

The Trouble with Trauma: Telling Stories of Everyday Life for Inclusive Places – Nicole Matthews

Over the past half century, sharing accounts of lived experience, especially experience of marginalisation, oppression or trauma, has come to be viewed as a key path towards social change. Telling your own autobiographical story—whether face to face, in writing or through audio-visual media, has been understood as a comparatively unmediated way of forging emotional connections between teller and listener that might shift perspectives and ways of doing things within organisations and professions. But listening to such stories can evoke a range of emotions—sometimes empathy, but sometimes also defensiveness, shame and or distress. Listening to personal stories can be difficult emotional work, both for the teller and the listener.

This presentation draws on interviews with people who encourage others to share stories—what we call listening ‘brokers’—in Australia, the UK and the US. As I argued in my recent book (with co-author Naomi Sunderland) Digital Storytelling in Health and Social Policy (Routledge, 2017), these ‘listening brokers’ told us that traumatic and tragic personal stories were not always the best ways of enacting change. In this talk will share some of the insights from those involved in gathering stories about the ways that stories of the everyday, especially when embedded in particular places, can prompt reflection and transformation not just by individual listeners but also by institutions and organisations.

Nicole Matthews lectures across media and cultural studies at the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. Nicole’s work brings together auto/biography, disability and Deaf studies, popular genres of broadcast and electronic media, and education. Her funded collaborative research projects include work in partnership with the Deaf Society of NSW, Scope UK, the Dementia Training Study Centre (SA/NT), and most recently, the National Acoustic Laboratories and the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre. She has a long-standing interest in social justice-oriented listening, in both political and professional settings.

TMI? Where auto-ethnography, microhistory and intimate archives meet – Catherine Freyne

Carolyn Steedman, writing about the craft of the historian in her 2001 book Dust, observed that ‘the Historian who goes to the Archive must always be an unintended reader.’ It’s true we historians are a prurient lot. Meanwhile, Jill Lepore has described the generative acts of ‘intimacy and betrayal’ that are part and parcel of both biography and microhistory, suggesting that ‘microhistorians … betray those who have left abundant records … in order to resurrect those who did not.’ (Lepore, 2001.)

When my father died suddenly in 2005 he left behind an archive of personal papers which reveal much more than he ever told his family about his long-concealed homosexuality. This material was never meant for my eyes, and reading it as a daughter, its contents are borderline TMI (too much information). But the historian in me was gripped by the generational specificity of his experience. I saw an opportunity to place my father’s richly-described experiences in a broader context; to examine them in relation to the larger histories of ‘gay life’ and of ‘the family’ in late 20th-century Australia. There were powerful personal drivers too: my own identification as queer, and a hunger to better understand my father’s difficult behaviour that affected me as a teenager, and shaped our family dynamic. So began my doctoral project, The Family as Closet: Gay Married Men in Sydney, 1970–2000. In this paper I will describe the emotional and ethical aspects of working as a historian and storyteller with an archive that is so close to home.

Catherine Freyne is an award-winning historian and media producer who specialises in 20th century urban, social and oral history. She has developed multimedia history content for the City of Sydney, ABC Radio National, ABC Innovation, Think+DO Tank and the Dictionary of Sydney. She is currently a recipient of the Chancellor’s Research Scholarship at the University of Technology, Sydney, where she is completing a creative practice PhD in history and journalism. Like the poet Muriel Rukeyser, Catherine believes ‘the universe is made of stories, not atoms’ and has a particular penchant for the true ones.

Event details

Where: Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000
When: Monday 17 June 2019, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Cost: Free, although registrations are essential. Register here
Contact: (02) 9273 1770

More information here.