Sunday, September 10, 2017

Writing preoccupations - Vikings, History awards, Native Title, Roman villas and New England architecture

Today's Sunday snippets are a round-up of my own and other people's writing. I hope that you find something of interest.

An article in RT reports confirmation based on DNA analysis that the body found in a famous Viking burial site was female. Analysis of the skeletal remains had suggested this, but doubts were raised because of the perceived structure of Viking society. It is the first formal confirmation of the existence of a female Viking warrior. The RT article includes links to the scientific paper reporting the results. This is worth a read.

 This month's history carnival, the 168th,was hosted by Helen's ART and ARCHITECTURE mainly. Do have a look. My favourite among the posts mentioned, and I'm not alone here, is Laundry Methods During the American Revolution: The Really, Really Quick Version  

On 1 September I reported on Winners of the 2017 NSW Premier’s History Awards. The post includes the judges' comments on each award winner along with a link to the publisher. I heard an interview with Mark McKenna telling part of the story from From the Edge and I'm looking forward to reading the book. 

 My main post on the New England Australia blog during the week was The Western Bundjalung Native Title Decision

At Tabulam on 29 August 2017,around 400 people including traditional owners gathered in a crowded marquee erected on the local racecourse as a temporary courthouse to hear the consent determination delivered in the long-running Western Bundjalung Native Title case. 

After a Welcome to Country and traditional smoking ceremony, Federal Court Judge Jayne Jagot delivered her consent judgement. This granted the native title claim, legally recognising the rights and interest of the Western Bundjalung people as traditional owners of the land, including the right to camp, hunt, fish, gather resources and conduct their cultural practices on their country, as well as the right to be consulted on matters including mining applications on their land that affect the management of their land.

The post provides details and background on the decision. While it's mainly drawn from the media reports listed at the end of the post and is in that sense derivative, it took me a long time to write because I was trying to gather it all together to tell a story. I also wanted to add some links to things like the full decision.  

The photo from ABC Mid North Coast shows some of the elders at the hearing. If you look at the left hand side you can get a feel for the emotion of the day.

I was a bit nervous about this post as I am so often now on writing about Aboriginal history or issues. However, Michael Bennett,  the historian at NTSCORP Ltd who played an important role in collecting the evidence required to substantiate the case, said in a tweet: "Thanks Jim for your thorough and authoritative review". Needless to say, I was pleased. Outside his work for NTSCORP Ltd., Michael has been painstakingly putting together a history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW. You will find the results of this work at Pathfinders. The History of NSW Aboriginal Trackers.It's an interesting site and well worth a browse.    

I have another story to do on the latest Yaegl Native Title decision, the first to award title over ocean in NSW. Native title does not grant absolute rights, but it means that people can exercise traditional rights without restriction from State legislation. This has become a major problem in Southern NSW where the Yuin people have been restricted from fishing for private purposes on what was their land because of general restrictions and charges designed to protect fisheries and raise Government money. 

Meantime, the new discoveries keep rolling out. The fossil footprints of Trachilos date to c5.7 million years ago reports on one such discovery. As my regular history commenter Johnb says, it's exciting. The discoveries have turned our understanding of the deep human past and the evolutionary process itself on its head. Linear evolution has been replaced by possible multi-linear evolution from several sources. We have many more hominid species who may have or indeed did interbreed.  

One effect of this is that the entire conceptual structure underpinning, common ideas about race and evolution, that underpinned so much of nineteenth and twentieth century thinking has been swept aside. It survives today and remains important, but it can't survive in the longer term in the face of the growing evidence. 

Not all the discoveries relate to the distant past.We are finding new stuff all the time.This Guardian story,  Barn conversion leads to amazing find of palatial Roman villa, is an example. 

These discoveries don't necessarily invalidate previous historiography. Many now ignored histories that are seen as fuddy duddy, well past their use by dates, not reflective of "modern" thinking, actually contain great insights. Just because a person has worked from less evidence and from world views that many now reject does not mean that they are wrong on every point. Sometimes, having less evidence can be a real advantage. However, at the very least the new discoveries add texture and depth to familiar stories as well as writing new stories. It's an exciting time to be an historian. It's also a challenging one because so much more has to be fitted in. 

My core writing focus remains on New England Travels: journeys through space and time.  I am trying to use this as an integrating device across a range of my historical writing, ultimately leading to my full history of New England. 

I thought of titling this photo "You call that a verandah. This is a verandah!" This is the Croft, just outside Armidale. 

The linkage is that my latest historical research foray is architecture, including a new series on the New England built landscape and architecture in my Armidale Express column. These forays take time and put off actually finalising anything, but they do add to the texture and depth of the product. 

Mind you, I blame the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) for this latest foray because of programs like Grand Designs!

In my first column in the series (Architectural keys to past), I said in introduction. "The past lies all around us in the form of the built landscape. We see it, but then we don’t because it is so familiar to us." I think that's right. No matter where you live, the built landscape is both where you live now and an historical artifact.

In the series I am going from the Aboriginal built landscape right though to the most modern.  

This is a recent construction outside Armidale from architect Luigi Rosselli. The description reads: 
This hill top house is a concrete expression of Armidale ’s unique meeting of rural life and culture, “agri-culture”, a town with a university and many other cultural institutions. 
The clients seamlessly combine their flourishing agribusiness with their white collar occupations.  Gentlemen farming.   Their modern “Homestead” is located at the peak of the property overseeing the health of the cattle in the valley below. 
The 1000 metres of altitude are felt outside with cold winter fog covering the valley, whilst inside the house is a refuge enhanced by strongly integrated passive solar design principles.   The sheds and barns are located remotely. 
Keeping nature intact, the grassy slopes of the hill continue all the way up under the concrete platform.   The slab and the corrugated steel skirt under, are a protection against grass fires and conceal large water tanks.   The concrete and the tanks provide ample thermal mass to balance the temperature extremes that high country encounters.   The Interiors are an urbane and cultured refuge to a collection of art and indigenous artefacts collected in Africa and Asia.   There is no place for whips, saddles and country style clich├ęs.
Now I happen to be rather fond of country style cliches and older styles such as this one, Woodleigh, also just outside Armidale. But the point about architecture and the built landscape is that it constantly reinvents itself, replacing what went before.

That replacement process can go too far to the point that it destroys the past beyond repair,  That has happened in Sydney to a significant degree to that city's permanent loss. But to the historian its all evidential grist to the mill.

I have sidetracked, something that I am prone to do. However, and just to finish this post, I have had a wonderful time searching the house sale notices looking for examples to illustrate various architectural styles and to trace changing patterns over time. I wrote about this in Using Domain or as historical research tools.


Winton Bates said...

The write-up about gentlemen farming is cringeworthy, but my initial impression was that the hill-top house has architectural merit. Foliage would help to make it look as though it belongs.
Woodleigh is beautiful. I think I might have been there. Is here an apple orchard close to the house?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton, I agree with both your points on the hill-top house. I was unfair, I think, to quote the description at length, but it did represent sensibilities (attitudes) that were in a way independent of the house. I think that the house will fit in well to the landscape and is a very worthy edition to the built environment.

Trying to remember on Woodleigh. I think that there would have been. I need to do more research. I tnikn the house was owned by the Perrots.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Winton's "cringeworthy" comment - but then, most descriptions of architect's work would qualify for that.

What amused me was the credit for the "Landscape Architect: William Dangar" - who seems to have thrown a few grass-type pottings nestling up against the concrete/gal foundations - which are themselves later referred to as "protection from grass fires". Hey, say what?

Yet another one of those "looks great, wouldn't want to inhabit, and doubt anyone will for a long period" creations imo.


Jim Belshaw said...

Those descriptions are a bit like the captions one sees at art galleries, kvd! It may be unfair to criticize William Dangar at this point ( since the photos are taken when the building is still at the raw stage. Dangar should know. While he is now a prominent Sydney landscape designer, he grew up in Armidale.

I have to think about you last sentence. Something niggling at my mind

Anonymous said...

One can only judge by what is presented, Jim.

Dangar's contribution appears to be a couple of dozen grassy-type plants, in a bed of woodchip ffs, protected by a (temporary?) electric fence. A dollar gets you 5 that the fencing won't be removed before the present owners depart and that, should a grass fire eventuate, his 'contribution' will ... contribute.

The house is striking but, I'm guessing - not liveable - for any length of time.


Jim Belshaw said...

Of course, kvd, on your first sentence. Your last sentence in both comments related to my niggling thought. To what degree are modern designs liveable? Are we building fortresses in isolation from and imposed upon their environment, castles in a hostile environment that can only be sustained so long as their defences survive?

In regard to this particular house, I know the general area but have not worked it through room by room from a livability viewpoint, nor have I looked at the flow from inside to out, at the extent to which it is integrated with as opposed to imposed upon the immediate environment. Visually, think it will meld with time, but it is a bit of an urban fortress.

Anonymous said...

An "urban fortress" - on the top of a hill, in a paddock, miles from the nearest skinny latte and quintessentially, an "echo" of "the sheds" (conveniently located "remotely" :)

But of course, it "fits in" with its "environment" :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Oh dear, kvd. I did laugh. :) Fitting in is just a visual thing independent of the fortress.

Anonymous said...

See, I think that's a significant difference between our worldviews Jim.

I see no problem with calling a spade a spade, whereas you seem quite happy to give the benefit of the doubt to any shovel-like object?

Perhaps it's my failing, but geez - it saves a lot of time, and the hit rate (at my age) is comforting :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Ah, kvd, you call a spade a bloody shovel, I call it a spade! Given the size of the bloody shovel you sometimes use compared to my more discrete implement, hits are indeed more likely!

Anonymous said...

This, perhaps, might be true :)

But only on Saturdays.


Jim Belshaw said...

:) Of course!

Anonymous said...

Link for floor plan. Hope it works...


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, kvd. That's a very odd internal design. Clearly they designed it for their life style including displays, and the odd latte, but the flows don't feel right. And just two bedrooms. I am inclined to put aside my spade and pick up your shovel!

Jim Belshaw said...

fancy trying to sell the damn thing.

Anonymous said...

Jim, if you ignore the wording, it is in fact a 4-bedder - admittedly two of which (gym & study) are fairly small, but I wouldn't hold that against the plan per se.

I would question the sitting room off the main bedroom, through which you must go to access the mb - and, as always, I smile to myself at the much-touted 'abundant views' when all the furniture (as it must) faces inwards - which is just as it should be in any 'human cave' :)

And also, a bog next to the front door is sort of ok, subject to appropriate timing of one's movements, as it were - and not to mention a laundry on high spin-cycle when you're politely avoiding any mormon-shaped humanoid or irate neighbour.

Come to think of it....


Anonymous said...

"fancy trying to sell" - yes, but it raises a wider issue I have been trying to remember to pass on as a suggestion for your (or any) blog:

There orta be a way to flag specific posts for forward review - maybe 1,2,5 years hence. Or maybe there is?

It seems to me this 'house' will be subject to reasonably rapid turnover of owners, and it would be really interesting to see the outcomes of the next 5 years - and afaics you or I will just have to remember to remember :)


Jim Belshaw said...

You could turn them into bedrooms, I guess. Agree re sitting room off the main bedroom.

I don't know anyway of flagging posts for future review within the blogger format. It is an issue. I have published 3217 posts on this blog, 1347 on New England Australia, 558 on New England's History. And then there are the posts on the blogs I'm not updating any more. That's a hell of a lot.

because I leave comments open, I do revisit posts when there are new comments. I also use the search facility to find posts that I want to revisit and use again. But updating and rechecking posts is a bit of a content management nightmare.