PAMBU:Pacific Manuscripts Bureau Newsletter. Series 5, no. 27, Feb. 2010

Having recently read the sad history of Nameplaces Australia, it’s nice to see that this University placed initiative has managed to survive a recent University restructure.  Ewan Maidment details what changes have occurred, and then follows with the usual exhausting and exhaustive list of activities undertaken by the Bureau.  In addtion to site visits and the impressive microfilming work undertaken by the Bureau, they have recently taken in a topical collection of material relating to disaster risk management in the Pacific, and are working with the extremely controversial Ok Tedi – Fly River Land owners case files.  Ewan also provides a brief summary of staff, including the news that Ewan himself is in “transition to retirement”, due in November this year.  (Shauna Hicks and I spoke about this sometime ago, and we are expecting the world to end around then.)

PAMBU includes reprints of articles on a wide range of subjects from Mangaian performance masks, to a summary of the PARBICA workshop in September 2009, and a devastating review of the PNG National Archives.  ” Our National Archives”, writes Sam Kaima,” which used to be one of the best in the Pacific Islands region, is slowly dying due to lack of support and funds.” Sam’s litany of disaster will be sadly familiar to many – failure to transfer archives, downsizing and deskilling of staff, lack of space and no plans for more…

It is good then to turn to the report on the National Archives of Solomon Island by Brandon Oswald of Island Culture Archival Support, detailed at  Plagued by power outages and with limited supplies, the project assisted with training and support for the ongoing preservation of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate records.  Ewan’s detailed reports of his trips to Vanuatu and Rarotonga played to a similar theme, emphasising both the extraordinary depth of the collections and the risks which they face, as well as his own awareness and appreciation of the cultures and people with whom he works.

‘Staying at the Aututaki Hostel… was not only convenient but provided the best entertainment. About 100 Aitutakians arrived to prepare for Te Maeva Nui annual inter-island dance competition. The Hostel woke at 6:30 am to the most beautiful custom hymn, sung in parts, prayers, a sermon and speeches, then leapt up to exercises, cooking, eating, washing, cleaning, making costumes and rehearsing the songs and dances accompanied by slit drums, base drum, conch shells and yells, like Tarvurvur in full eruption, and continuing off and on unitl more speeches and evening prayer at about midnight.” (p. 10)


Information Update: JCPML. April 2010

As always, a slick, glossy little 4 pager for the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. The front page offers congratulations to  Hayley Fletcher, this year’s recipient of the Hazel Hawke Scholarship and to Professor David Black, for his Order of Australia. There’s also a little promo for the Library’s education program.

The centre pages feature an article on a new display, in the Kandy-Jane Henderson Foyer.  I think I re-read the location twice to confirm.  A very nice dedication to the first archivist at the JCPML, and one who is, of course, well known throughout Australian archivy.  Nice touch. 

This is the first exhibition in the foyer featuring realia from the collection, and starts with Curtin’s cigarette case.  Curtin was a heavy smoker, smoking upto 40 cigarettes a day. The case provides the metanym for an exploration of smoking during the Second World War.  The article, and the exhibit, include some nice quotes from the archives (well referenced) and some images of cigarette advertisements (I’m not sure where they come from.)

Finally, there is a small feature about a new web resource, “The Prime Minister and the President”, prepared by Dr Steven Casey of the London School of Economics.  You can view it at

Image and data manager, January/February 2010

It’s always difficult with these infommercial style magazines to identify what is really a ground breaking new product or way of working, and one which just sounds really good.  That said, it is worth persevering, although always with an eye for the brief bio or disclaimer at the end of the article.

The theme for this issue is email management and enterprise content management.

Axway have an unauthored article about a recent survey into file attachments and the transfer of digital data.  In addition to obvious concerns about security , there are storage and management issues.  The figures quoted are certainly something to conjure with – a typical user may receive around 149 emails a day, a significant proportion of which will contain attachments, often well over 5 mb each.

Jill Nehrybecki’s first paragraph on email management in her article ‘The liberating effect of integrated messaging’ will be instantly recognisable in many organisations, finding that emails are largely self managed, stored in bulk and with a strong element of finger crossing and hoping like hell that everything will work out.  She advocates a couple of general solutions, including the use of structured document management systems, and ends by warning of a staff member at France Telecom who found one more email was one message too many.

James Dellow, by way of contrast, suggests  in his article, ‘Rage against the machine’, that what is needed is not more control but rather a better understanding of the way in which email is used, and the emotional attachment that some users feel towards their ‘personal’ mail.  James points to staff who migrate emails from employer to employer, who do not understand why storage is an issue, and advocates a work environment where the purpose of email is understood, rather than simply managed as yet another data storage problem.  He also presages a world where email is replaced by Google Wave and instant messaging, a somewhat alarming thought.

Australian Historical Studies. Vol. 40, issue 2, June 2009

This slim volume has been sitting on my desk for some considerable time, I have to confess.  According to the blurb on the inside cover it is ‘concerned with aspects of the Australian past in all its forms’, which definitely means that it is interested in us, or we should be interested in it.

This issue features articles on race, missionaries, comunism and religion, domestic architecture, childhood and larrikinism.  Coming from a range of experienced and ‘early career’ historians they range over a gamut of sources, from the expected newspapers and reports, to architectural plans and correspondence files.  However, two authors in particular stand out for me for having used archival material in fresh and interesting ways.

The first of these is Hilary Carey who, in ‘Death, God and Linguistics’, has used the ethnographic materials, grammars and vocabularies produced by missionaries to analyse the way in which those missionaries came to understand and negotiate with the aboriginal cultures they were dealing with.  Many of the original sources she has used are also available online at   The second is Julie Collins, who  has used architectural journals and plans to analyse the way in which ideas about children, childhood and the home influenced domestic architecture in the  post WWII period.

In addition to the articles, there are reviews of books and exhibitions. Margaret Allen, of the University of Adelaide, reviewed Blue jeans jungle greens at the history trust of South Australia, while Kylie Mirmohamadi, La Trobe University, reviewed the Lost gardens of Sydney at the Museum of Sydney and the accompanying publication of the same name, which is also currently sitting on my desk.  In her review Kylie notes that:

these were significant gardens which were created, in the main, for wealthy men [which] has ensured the existence and survival of the artefacts gathered for this exhibition. But no traces remain of past gardens that were less grand. The paucity of archival and material evidence of ordinary gardens leads to the underrepresentation of vernacular gardens.  Some gardens, it seems, are more lost than others.

Archivists and curators generally will not only agree, but argue that the lack of documentation is further exacerbated by the many threats private and public collections now face.

Books reviewed are  Prison: cultural history and dark memory, a fascinating look at the rise of tourism directed at prisons; Talking and listening in the age of modernity; Land of vision and mirage: Western Australia since 1826; The Scots in Australia; Empire, barbarism and civilisation; Orb and sceptre, a set of essays presented in honour of Norm Etherington; Breaking the bank, a study of the robbery of the Bank of Australia in 1828; Tom Willis: his spectacular rise and tragic fall, a biography of ‘an enigmatic, ghostlike character’ who was nonetheless significant in the colonial history of Australian cricket and Aussie rules football; The secret war: a true history of Queensland’s native police; Political tourists: travellers from Australia to the Soviet Union in the 1920s – 1940sAborigines and activism; and last, but by no means least, Australians in Italy.

Placenames Australia. March 2010. ANZAC issue

Often credited as the event that ‘created a nation’, the landings at Gallipoli in April, 1915, are commemorated in the lead article of this fascinating little newsletter, the product of the Australian National Placenames Survey. 

Harvey Broadbent’s article examines the history of the Gallipoli site, noting that the name was most likely derived from the Greek word Kallipolis (meaning, ironically, ‘beautiful city’).  He describes an almost archeaological layering of placenames and meanings, which clearly tell the story of conflicting cultures, of physical advances and retreats, contacts and abandonment.  Brendan Whyte tells of another place of myth and imagining, the red planet, and outlines why two of its craters have the aboriginal names of Canberra and Woomera.

The newsletter also includes a placenames puzzle, a good source for a great quiz night question,  and part one of a two part article on two unusual names for Australia – Notasia and Ulimaroa.  Jan Trent has identified the origin of Notasia (described as meaning South Asia, although I think it might be more eponymous than that).

The Survey itself, once University funded but now a voluntary organisation, has set itself the task of developing a national gazetteer.  However, not content with merely documenting Australian placenames, the survey has gone to places Australians have named, including the above mentioned Gallipoli and Mars.

Productivity Commission Research Report: Contribution of the not-for-profit sector.

When the discussion paper that lead to this report landed on my desk last October, I have to confess I was overwhelmed by the size of the report, and underwhelmed by the thought of reading, let alone responding to it.  But in light of Senator Joyce’s recent comments about the value of these reports I thought I’d give it another go.

Both the report and the discussion paper are weighty tomes – the report has 441 pages and lxii pages of summary and abstracts.  So almost a ream of paper or half to a third of an archive box in the report alone.  Is it worth the paper it’s written on?  The culture and recreation sector makes up the third largest segment, after environmental organisations and religious instititutions, with the third largest contribution to the economy, and by far the largest number of volunteers – 2,072,300 to social services 1,474,600.  These stats alone are something to conjure with.

More than that, the report recommends the establishment of a one stop shop for registration of charities, where information can be obtained once, but used many times.  Surely a goal of any good records manager or archivist.  How well the report identifies what will be required both by the Registrar and the organisations and individuals involved, is another matter. 

If you are concerned about how Australia handles charitable organisations, encourages donations, or just want a really good understanding of the economics of the charitable and not for profit sector, start reading.  Copies are available from the Productivity Commission,

“Memento’ – issue 38, 2010. National Archives of Australia

This issue provides looks at two of the NAA’s Exhibitions – one at the National Archives Canberra office on  ‘Australia’s forgotten Prime Minister’, Stanley Melbourne Bruce; and the other on its touring exhibition Shellshocked: Australia after armistice.  The front cover has a lovely photo of Bruce looking somewhat austere and slightly disapproving, perhaps as a reflection of his lack of notoriety or fame.  Dr David Lee, the author, says that some people compare Bruce to America’s Calvin Coolidge, as being of ‘no great distinction and little imagination’.  Lee disagrees, saying that Bruce ‘had as great an impact as any Australian prime minister… a complex and fascinating man; a sportsman, soldier , prime minister, anti-union politican, diplomat and visionary.’  The images provided in the article give little hint of this depth, although he is clearly a snappy dresser.  Worth looking at if you are in Canberra anytime until May.  Dr Marina Larsson examines the evidence of the impact of caring for physically and mentally wounded men on their families, especially the women, in the years after the First World War.  In addtion to the Exhibition, which is in Adelaide 5 March to 23 May, and in Perth, 4 June to 8 August, the article also references Dr Larsson’s book Shattered Anzacs: living with the scars of war.

As always, Memento ranges over a number of topics and subjects, from economic history to social tragedy and artistic and cultural endeavour.  Dr Andrea Benvenuti’s article on Australia’s response to British efforts to join the European Economic Union follows.  A recipient of the Margaret George Award in 2008, he has utilised the resources of the NAA well.  The article examines Australia’s sense of shock and betrayal, linked to fears that joining the Union would mean Britain would be less supportive of Commonwealth and particularly Australian trade concerns.

My favourite article was the one by Julia Church about the Australian Scottish Ladies Pipe Band world tour, in 1925.  It amply demonstrates the way in which Government archives document not just government transactions, but what we now think of as social transactions.  And it links back to the Stanley Bruce article in the first two paragraphs. Very nice.   Kate Bagnall goes beyond the archives to track down Jimmie Minahan, an Australian chinese man attempting to return to Australia, the land of his birth, in 1908.  As Kate says, ‘In the time between his departure as a five-year-old boy and his returnas a man of 31, the Australian colonies had federated the attitued towards non-white immigrants, particularly Chinese had hardened.’  Jimmie’s attempts to be recognized as Australian tested the new immigration laws and remains as a landmark case in Australian law.

Only one real criticism for this well produced and glossy magazine (and it’s one that applies to lots of archives promotional magazines) and that is, there are no references.  A series number, file reference or barcode would be very useful, especially for researchers wanting to do some follow up.  Archives are all about access, and this seems such an obvious lack.