The Margaret Henry Oral History Archive

Image courtesy of University of Newcastle

Image courtesy of University of Newcastle

It’s Australia Day, a time to celebrate amazing achievements by Australians and to welcome new Australians to our fold. It’s also a time to reflect on how far we have come as a nation. To do that effectively we can’t lose touch with the past. And what better way to visit the past than by listening to the words of Australians from previous generations who often lived in a very different Australia from the place we know and love?

I moved to the Newcastle/Lake Macquarie region late in 1998 and it took me quite a while to meet people who shared the same interests as me – namely the past. Only a few years ago I met Margaret Henry but as she was such a busy woman I never got the chance to really sit down and chat with her. So it is with much regret that I didn’t discover, until after she died last year, that she had been a history lecturer at the University of Newcastle and that in the 1980s she worked for the Department of Community Programmes where she was responsible for the Open Foundation Course.

“Margaret encouraged generations of Novocastrians to engage in history and the cultural heritage of the region. She loved for people to share their stories, was a good listener, and these oral history interviews are testament to Margaret’s passion for history, and her vision to have these important ‘voices’ documented.”

Here is more about the archive:

“The Margaret Henry Oral History Archive is a collection of audio tapes, transcripts, summaries and essays that were part of the Oral Histories Open Foundation Course (1986-1989). Margaret Henry was a history lecturer at the UON in the 1980s.

Margaret Henry Oral History Archive on Soundcloud

“The wider collection of Margaret Henry Oral History Archive – over 200 interviews in total and with many stories of Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and its surrounds and records voices describing the Regions cultural, intellectual and social life. It is an incredible legacy to Margaret Henry. The original audio tapes and written sources are held in Cultural Collections at the Auchmuty Library, University of Newcastle (Australia).”

Here is a link to the archive at the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections page.

With thanks to Gionni Di Gravio, University Archivist and “Congratulations to Dr Ann Hardy who undertook the complete digitisation project work and the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund that made it all possible.

Here is just a short selection of some of the interviews. Amazing stuff and it’s gratifying to know that all this knowledge has been saved.

A6969 (i)(a) Zaara Street Power Station – Clarrie McLennan – Written Source
Interviewer Louise Parker

A6969 (i)(b) Life story of an Aboriginal Woman – Annie Whilamena Kelly (born of Aboriginal descent) – Written Source
Interviewer Miss Shay Kelly (daughter)

A6969 (ii) Merewether & its Beach – Alice Ferguson – Written Source
Interviewer Trish Pattenden

A6969 (iii) Paediatric Care at the Newcastle Mater Hospital –  Sr. Mary Barnabas Gardiner – Written Source
Interviewer Elaine Perry

A6969 (iv) The Great Depression – Kathleen Jones – Written Source
Interviewer Bob Price

Happy listening and reading and Happy Australia Day!

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An update on Ruth Skilbeck’s books

The Writer's Fugue

It’s an exciting time for Ruth. On the 20th of this month her novel Australian Fugue: Missing will be available on Amazon Kindle and soon after as a print book that can be ordered through bookshops.

Australian Fugue Missing

Her non fiction work The Writer’s Fugue: Musicalization, Trauma and Subjectivity in the Literature of Modernity will be available through her website and bookshops on the 21st October. It will also be available as an ebook. A very exciting month for Ruth and Starving in a Garret wishes her well! For more information go to PostMistress Press.

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The Fugue State and the work of Ruth Skilbeck

Ruth Skilbeck

Photo source: Ruth Skilbeck 2015

I first met Ruth Skilbeck when Ruth, Paula Morrow and myself were invited to read at our Booklovers group which often meets at Cooks Hill Books. I have written about Paula’s book Darwin’s Dilemma in an earlier post here. I was immediately drawn to Ruth’s work as we have both written about the same, very fascinating thing – the fugue state.

From wikipedia the fugue state: “is a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including the memories, personality, and other identifying characteristics of individuality… Dissociative fugue usually involves unplanned travel or wandering, and is sometimes accompanied by the establishment of a new identity.”

“In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition.”

Ruth’s journey into publishing began in the 1990s when she felt compelled to write her first novel, Australian Fugue whilst living in Newcastle, strangely in the cottage she is living in now. She had been trying to write this novel for years and could not move beyond the first couple of pages and then the idea came to her to use the fugue structure with its two main meanings, musical form and psychological state of amnesia and wandering. Ruth knew about musical fugue as she had played recorder in a choir as a child in the village where she lived in England (and played baroque music).

As Skilbeck says in her own words, the manuscript “…in many ways it just seemed to write itself, from there I have found out about the cultural history of fugue in literature and most fascinating of all perhaps in psychology, and wrote my PhD on this. I am interested to follow this through and write another book of critical theory in the field which develops and advances what I have begun in my PhD, and more novels too of course!”

Ruth has written how strange it is to be back in her cottage in the very spot, in the living room where that idea first came to her, an idea that she has been following and that has been driving her writing and research ever since. I do believe that when we think long and hard enough about certain things, for instance, like the fugue state we attract into our lives more knowledge and people and books that can help us on that journey. It has certainly been that way for me and it sounds as if is has been for Ruth Skilbeck as well.

Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room is first in a forthcoming series by Ruth Skilbeck exploring silencing, trauma, and identity in postcolonial family life, after-effects of unknown hidden histories and mysteries of self in denial, how one appears to self and others, and the need to go beyond disguise, deception, and reinvention, to find truths of lost self-identity. You can buy the book at Amazon here.

In Missing, the unabridged Australian Fugue novel Ruth Skilbeck more shockingly explores the need to remember to acknowledge the past, to find out truths of self-identity, to confront ghosts, and seek a true understanding, through processes of art and writing and justice. It will make you rethink everything you’ve heard by JS Bach.

The book will be Published by Postmistress Press and available next month. Ruth has also written a work of non fiction, The Writer’s Fugue: Musicalization, Trauma and Subjectivity in the Literature of Modernity and will be available soon at Ruth’s new website: Ruth Skilbeck Author. It’s an exciting time for Ruth and I wish her well on her journey.

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Wrap up of Poetry at the Press Book House


What a wonderful afternoon we had at the The Press Book House last Saturday 15th August. Thirteen very diverse, fascinating and engaging poets entertained us. Unfortunately Ivy Ireland was unable to attend due to ill health.

Here’s part of my introduction:

“I am so pleased that Janette and I have been able to assemble such a wonderful group of poets together to read for you today. But don’t forget, poets don’t just need people to listen to their poetry. They need people to buy their books as well. I have copies here of The Starving in a Garrets’ poetry books available and The Press Book House also has an Australian Poetry bookshelf. Happy listening everyone and happy buying.”

The lineup in order of performance:

Jan Dean, Judy Johnson, Jean Kent, Meg Dunn, Dael Allison, Louise Berry, Jenny Blackford, Janette Hoppe, Jill McKeowen, Michael Collins, Gillian Carter-Swain, David Graham and Geoff Nicholls.

Here’s the bios of most of the poets:

Jan Dean’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including The Night Road (the 2009 Newcastle Poetry Prize; Sunweight (the Newcastle Poetry Prize 2005, for which she won the Local Prize); The Best Australian Poems 2005 (Black Inc) and The Best Australian Poetry 2004 (UQP). In 2014 her chapbook Paint Peels, Graffiti Sings (Flying Island Books, Macau) was published in English and Mandarin. Jan’s poetry collection With One Brush was published as winner of IP Picks Best First Book in 2007 and shortlisted for the Mary Gilmore Award in 2008.

Judy Johnson has published five poetry collections, several chapbooks and a novel. Her prizes include the Victorian Premier’s Award, Josephine Ulrick, Wesley Michel Wright (twice) and Val Vallis awards. She was shortlisted for the West Australian Premier’s Award. Her verse novel, Jack was on both the Melbourne and Sydney University syllabus

Jean Kent has published five full-length collections of poetry. The most recent is The Hour of Silvered Mullet, which was published by Pitt Street Poetry in 2015. (You can fine more info at the following link

Meg Dunn is the offspring of a mermaid and a lighthouse keeper. Born in Newcastle she has recently returned after 17 years in Melbourne. She has been a theatre practitioner for the majority of her working life and yet has never been a waitress. She co-founded Zeal Theatre and Newcastle Poetry at the Pub and run many poetry gigs in Melbourne including the Overload Festival. She won Best Spoken Word at the Melbourne Fringe for her spoken word show ‘Brave’ (available on CD). She’s currently working on a poetry adventure novel, ‘The Real Thing’, and completing the Bachelor of Arts she never had.

Louise Berry has had poetry published in various anthologies.

Jenny Blackford’s poems have been published in Westerly, Quadrant, Australian Poetry Journal and more. She was awarded third place in the ACU Prize for Poetry in 2014, and has two poems shortlisted this year. Her illustrated pamphlet, The Duties of a Cat, was published by Pitt Street Poetry late in 2013.

Janette Hoppe‘s poetry is a reflection of her Australian and New Zealand Maori heritage. Her tanka and haiku have been published in journals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The creative director of Papatuanuku Press Janette’s current project Collecting Cobwebs – The Blue Series will be launched during Mental Health week with all proceeds going to Beyond Blue.

Jill McKeowen works full-time at the University of Newcastle, where she teaches academic writing to students across all disciplines. She has only recently begun to present her poetry in public, so hopes to have a more literary bio note by this time next year.

Gillian Swain has been writing and performing poetry around Newcastle and the East Coast for quite a while now. Gillian’s poetry has texture and taste, has energy and touch. Gillian has been published in various anthologies and has a chap book published by Picaro Press called Sang Up. Gillian and her husband run a Coffee Roastery in the Maitland area and an Espresso Bar where they also hold poetry events.

David Graham’s poetry spirals from the dizzying heights of surrealism to the mired depths of drunkenness, with the inevitable following hangover. Graham is also a guiding force in the Word Hurl Antislam, a no rules spoken word and poetry night, held monthly in Newcastle and publishes a fort-monthly poetry, prose and anything journal called The Word Hurl Times.

Looking forward to the next one!

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An afternoon of poetry at the Press Book House

Papatuanuku Press

Starving in a Garret and Papatuanuku Press is hosting an afternoon of poetry at the Press Book House Hunter Street, Newcastle on Saturday 15th August, 3.30 for 4pm start till 6pm. This is an open reading with each poet having 10 mins to read and mesmerise the audience. Come along to Newcastle’s favourite eclectic bookshop to hear some of our favourite Newcastle posts.

Here is the event on Facebook. I hope you can make it.

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Sharing is caring

socialmediaEnough to make sure a blog post you have enjoyed reaches a wider audience. It’s obvious isn’t it? But why is it some many blogs don’t have share buttons or at least the common media share buttons we mostly use – the like button, the share to Facebook and twitter and various others. These buttons are very important as Codeboxr explains:

“Social share buttons are usually shown accompanied by the specific number of people that have already shared the content. When a visitor sees that the numbers are high, they’ll think that the content is worthy of reading and sharing as well.”

It really frustrates me when there are no share buttons. So many of us are time poor. When we do browse the net, we do it swiftly. We find an image here, a poem there and want others to enjoy them. We reach the end of the post and there’s nothing but a comment box. AND it’s one you have to fill in your name and email address. You don’t bother of course. You move on to the next page.

When you have a large community of people with similar interests, writers and reviewers, for instance, the reblog button is also very important. Your die hard followers form the inner ring of followers and bloggers. If this inner ring reblogs to their own blogs, other rings are formed comprising their followers who don’t necessarily follow the first blog. And so it goes expanding communities and forming new networks.

As wikipedia explains: “Reblogging (and the increased attention paid to the indexing and encouragement of reblogging) has become a major feature of many social networking sites and content-hosting services, and it has also become a potent means of secondary content promotion and audience measurement whereby links to external content are syndicated across multiple profiles and the reposts are indexed as a measurement of currency and relevance.”

So bloggers don’t forget the share buttons. Sharing is caring.

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Paula Morrow on Goodreads

Darwin's Dilemma COVER high res final

I recently had the good fortune to meet Paula Morrow the author of Darwin’s Dilemma: the damage done and the battle for the forests. “This novel is based on two true stories: A fictional group investigate the truth behind a quote of Darwin’s. Has the West emphasised one idea of Darwin’s, ignoring his other equally important idea? To the detriment of the planet?
Also we have true eye-witness accounts of the young people who sleep on platforms high up in the trees, battling to save the last of Tasmania’s old growth forests from destruction.”

Her book on such an important subject definitely needs to reach a wider audience so I helped show Paula become a Goodreads author. Check out her profile and her other titles.

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