Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Winnipeg)

I have been struggling on how to Blog about this museum since my visit four or five days ago. Nothing I wrote seemed to convey my lack of understanding of what has happened in the world, or express the extent of the brutality by some over others. Of course I have known of many of the atrocities, the genocide, and the absolute bloody mindedness of hate, ideology and fear. The history of human violence against those who are different goes back thousands of years. It is not a twentieth or twenty-first century phenomenon. So instead of focusing on the histories of inhumanity–I could never do it justice–my thoughts and writing are about the museum and my experience there.

The museum stands out in the Winnipeg city-scape. It is six stories tall and a spectacular, modern, architectural design. Its exterior of angles and geometric shapes will catch your eye and the modern, stark, but beautiful interior complements the perseverance of people in spite of the horrific history of human cruelty and viciousness.

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While there are artefacts and archival collections on display, it was the high-tech interaction that brought this history alive for me. From an iPod App self guided walking tour, numerous interactive exhibitions to a number of small theatres where you can sit and watch narratives of history unfolding, the experiences are sobering. It made the experience personal. I will let the accompanying photographs show some of the aspects of the museum.

I sat watched and listened to one exposé of the Holocaust, among others. There is a floor of the museum dedicated to this specific genocide. While I have read about and seen films of the Nazi atrocities this is the first time I have had a personal interaction with such barbarism. Taking photographs of a cap, an article of clothing, pages from a diary, or display photos, to me seemed an intrusion, almost demeaning the suffering these murdered victims and survivors experienced at the hands of Nazi ideology and the ignorance, hate, or apathy in other countries at that time–and unfortunately still pervades some societies. I have not visited the sites of the death camps in Europe and I’m not sure I could now.

If I have an issue about this museum it is not about what is on display, or how it is educating the community–children to adults. I observed that Australia and New Zealand don’t rate a mention–we are not that innocent, and why isn’t there a similar museum in Australia?

I walked away from this record of history asking why? Why do we hate difference? Those who see past the differences and embrace diversity and tolerance are heroes. Hopefully I am a wiser and more humble person–through spending a few hours in this special museum and the richness of history.

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Five hours at Union Station

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The update board and the time mystically changes

It had to happen. I’m stuck in the Winnipeg railway station and the passenger train is idling on some siding still three hours away. I’m not alone. There is about a dozen people are also lounging around the waiting area. At least the kids have run our of puff and have crashed into a quiet slumber. This is one busy rail route. The waiting area is under the tracks and there are extremely long consists moving in either direction every fifteen to twenty minutes.

I was told today that during the height of the cold war, Russia had nuclear missiles trained on Winnipeg as it was a strategic rail hub for North America. Hopefully mad Kim does not have the same idea.

The beautiful building dates back well over 100 years. It is typical of the rail monoliths constructed by the rail barons in the 1800s and early 1900s–grand, ornate and impressive. Many of the out buildings that were part of the rail-yards in the previous century have been restored and used as part of the Fork Historic Site. This is a cultural, historic and food area to please anyone looking for a relaxing drink, a bite to eat or some Canadian memorabilia.

 

There is an outdoor stage area that is turned in to an ice rink in winter. The adjacent Red River, (Muddy Waters)… freezes in winter also. The centre of the frozen river is cleared of any debris and skaters can glide for kilometres in either direction. Engineers check it each day to ensure it is safe.

Another hour has passed and so has the arrival time. Very quietly the time of arrival has been changed to 4am on Friday. The train is now six and a half hours late. At this rate I will not be arriving in Montreal until Sunday–24-hours later than expected.

I have put the time to good use. I had a seventy-minute power nap. Marked five PR GradDip assignments. Re-drafted a five-minute Podcast for the same class. Cleared a bunch of emails from students. Written this blog. But I need a coffee!

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After the power nap– now I need another one, it’s 2am.

Saturday Arvo in Berkeley

I’m sitting in a corner café called the Mudrakers Café, on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley. It has Turkish origins and the coffee whilst nice is not freshly made by the cup, but in bulk quantities, then stored in a vacuum flask where you help yourself. This seems to be the popular option here. Similarly in the cafes, berger joints, or other more casual restaurants, there is an expectation of serving yourself.  Even clearing up afterwards. The Californians are well-trained to take their rubbish and dirty plates to a collection point; they are not left on the table for the staff to clear away.  Apparently it is a local ‘thing’.

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The Berkeley Coffee House

I spent the morning drinking coffee–yes even more coffee then touring the Berkeley campus with a Canadian colleague from the week’s ‘Summer School’. I estimate I have now seen about half of this massive campus in two half-day walks.  The Sather Tower is known as the University of California’s most enduring landmark.  It was completed in 1915 and at 300 feet it is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell-and-clock towers.  It has 61 carillon bells weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds–you can work out the weights in kg.  Big and heavy.  Its local name is the Campanile.  Thankfully there is a lift to take visitors to the top.  After all the walking during the past week, my legs would not stand up to it.  However, I managed the last two flights.  Even with the haze the views were impressive.

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The Campanile, Berkeley Campus

The Summer School at Berkeley

This was five days of interesting and challenging exchanges of experiences, planned projects, academic debates and friendly chatter. Have I gained anything from this experience? Yes. Briefly, my observation is that oral history in the US–well certainly out of the Bancroft Library, Oral History Centre–is about conflict resolution, community empowerment and corporate/political/government positioning. Often it is the background, or story behind the official history to provide legitimacy, explanation and understanding for others to digest. Many of my fellow colleagues’ projects were along similar lines. There is an emphasis to develop oral histories based on community projects around race relations, community protest and aspects of assimilation.

While there was academic debate, by some, over oral history as a legitimate methodology, the inclusion of this means of research is strong across all levels of education here. Numerous colleges/universities have courses with strong oral history aspects and it is encouraged for post-graduate Masters and PhD research too. I was the only person undertaking an individual, family based, oral history. Others who were tackling similar projects were still focused on how the individual family member interacted with the wider community. Simply put: my research focuses on the individual where the consensus here is to use the individual as a means of interacting with a wider audience.

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My first taste of grits

My final night in Berkeley was spent with a colleague (Canadian) who has a strong interest in indigenous studies.  Shrimp and pasta, a glass of merlo and I tasted ‘grits’ for the first time.  I had read about them and understood it to be part of the staple diet of southern US.  Other than being salty, they had the texture and flavour of mashed potato, fried up.  However, I guess there are numerous means of cooking it.

Enough of academia for the moment–my next post will be about– I’m not sure what, but hopefully interesting.

By the time you get to read this I have arrived in Winnipeg, Canada, on the next leg of my study tour.  My first impression is that this city is flat.  Beautiful blue sky and comfortably warm.  None of the fog/pollution that San Francisco was suffering.  A new adventure awaits.

Flourishing Life – Story Launch

Today (April 11, 2017) I was invited to attend the launch of the latest ‘Life Story’ at the St John Centre in Unley (Adelaide).  More than thirty people packed into the board room to hear some of the highlights of The Adventures of Wojciech Czuchra.  Wojeciech (and with true Aussie acceptance, he is known to many as Chook) was born in Krosno, Poland in 1948.  His father, Jan, was a Catholic resistance fighter in the Polish underground during WW II.  His mother was Jewish and survived the Holocaust.  Their marriage did not have any of the political or religious conflict that was still rife for many years after the end of the war.

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The cover of Wojciech’s story showing him enjoying his great love of sailing.

The beauty and power of research came to light during the many hours of discussion with ‘Chook’ that led to the publication of his 35 page story.  A 1932 black and white movie of the Krosno Town Square had been put online by the grandson of the photographer.  The grandson lives in the US.  Such is the richness and historic value of this vision that you will be moved in realising that most of the people shown as happy smiling, men women and children were, seven years later, dead.  Murdered by the Nazis – either herded in to the nearby forest and shot, or transported to the death camps.  This discovery led to another contact with Alexander Bialywlos-White, a 93 year-old Jewish gentleman who was also born in Krosno and was a survivor of the Nazi atrocities through the now well documented Schindler’s List.

With another twist to Wojciech’s story he met a woman, Helen, at a dinner party in Adelaide, in the early 1990s.  As they chatted about their past, they discovered that Jan, Wojciech’s father, was instrumental in the rescue of Helen’s parents.   Jan hid them and Helen, who was a baby at the time, in the forest away from the German and Communist armies.  Since that chance meeting, Helen and Wojciech have remained close friends and share many interests.

I have not attempted to condense ‘Chook’s’ story here, but offered a tantilising glimpse in to the life that is rich in adventure, love, danger, triumph and tragedy.  Flourishing Life is a program offered through St John Community Care.  It captures the stories of older people to help them record and transform their memories, stories and experiences in to an anthology of oral histories, recorded, shared and held for the future.  The various stories collected are not in a digitally accessible form as yet, but this is an evolving project with UniSA.  If you wish to know more of the St John Community Care program visit the website at: Community Care co-ordinators, to email the project officer.  The researcher for this story is volunteer Marion Burns and I acknowledge her dedicated and detailed research on which my Blog is based.

115 years have passed

Today, November 1, 2016, is the first Tuesday in November and the nation (Australia) stops for a horse race – The Melbourne Cup.  I have absolutely no interest in horse racing, yet it has been with me all my life.  My attitude to this ‘sport’ is a fool and his/her money are soon parted.  More on that later.

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Harold Revenue Sweet, greengrocer. Taken before 1939, probably in the inner south-east suburbs of Adelaide

My father was born on November 5, 1901, in Broken Hill, NSW, Guy Fawkes Day and the first Tuesday in November.  It was Melbourne Cup Day.  His name; Harold Revenue Sweet.  The horse that won The Cup in 1901 was called, wait for it, Revenue.  Yes, my father was named after a horse.  So the first week in November was a celebration in our home.  Thankfully I was born in August and this family tradition didn’t continue, otherwise I would have some wierd and unpronounceable middle name.

Growing up as a kid in suburban Adelaide and having a father whose birthday was on Guy Fawkes, or cracker night was a treat.  There were family and friends visiting, tables of food and good times.  The couple of weeks before ‘the night’ the kids in the neighbourhood would collect old lumber, tyres, anything that would burn to build a bonfire.  Between us we would scavenge around to get old clothes, stuff them with straw, paper and grass to build a ‘guy’ to place on top of the pile of rubbish waiting to be burnt.  There was not one environmental thought amongst us.

I still have a nostalgic feeling this time of the year.  Fireworks can be dangerous – no they are dangerous – and how we were allowed to do what we did I am still surprised.  None of our mob ever got injured by the crackers, but may children did.  Then there were the fires.  Cracker night was the busiest night of the year for the (then) SA Fire Brigade.  Decades later, as a fire fighter, I came to appreciate the problems unsupervised fireworks can cause.  Yet we kids set-off ‘penny bangers’ and ‘thrippeny bombs’ under tin cans, in letter boxes and storm water drains – anywhere it would look and sound spectacular.  It was fun.

It was Dad’s birthday and Melbourne Cup Day in 1957 and I remember asking my father why we didn’t put money on the horses and win more back, like one of our neighbours did regularly for the Friday night ‘trots’ and Saturday ‘gallopers’.  Often one of my boyhood friends would be excited over a win of a couple of pounds from a bet, more so if his father gave him a few bob from the winnings to spend on lollies.  At that young age I hadn’t compared homes and lifestyles in the neighbourhood.  My father, who had come home from work early, took me for a walk.  He pointed out the horse gambling neighbour’s home and then we walked in to Fisher Street, Myrtle Bank and he showed me a home there.  I knew it quite well.  I would walk past it twice day going to and from the Glen Osmond Primary School.  The home was two-story, huge grounds, lawn tennis court, a swimming pool (unherad of in the ’50s) and they had numerous cars.  One was a Studibaker.  Dad asked me which I preferred, the horse betting neighbour’s poorly kept bungalow, or the mansion owned by the ‘bookie’.  I can still remember his words, ‘they only tell you about their wins, never how much they lose.’ Lesson learnt – I have never bet on a horse race.

I struggle to visualise my father’s life as a teenager 100 years ago.  At fifteen he was working full-time having only gone to Unley High School for one or two years.  The photograph above is the only one I have of Harold Revenue Sweet working, then as a home delivery greengrocer.  Recently I ‘discovered’ more than four-hundred family photographs that I knew existed, but thought had been lost.  What stories they generate – now to capture the narratives before they are lost forever.

Pearl Denton’s 21st

I visited my mother’s 21st birthday celebrations last night, or in the vernacular of the 1920s, ‘her coming of age party’. While researching something quite different I stumbled across two newspaper reports of Miss Pearl Denton’s – my mother’s maiden name – celebrations.

Such were the cultural formalities in Adelaide in 1925 that the celebration could not be held before her actual birthday and since her birthday (September 20th) fell on a Sunday that year, it was improper to celebrate on the day of worship. So the party was held on Monday September 21st at the Parkside Masonic Hall.

Over the years and some four decades later my mother would occasionally talk of her twenty-first birthday party. According to the short newspaper reports, in the Adelaide Register and the Mail, games were played amongst the guests. This confirms my mother’s stories of playing: pass the balloon, musical chairs, mystery package, and surprisingly (for me) indoor bowls, played on coconut matting. While the newspaper reports mentioned dancing, apparently this scandalous activity was condoned however there were strict guidelines on what was permitted between any non-married couples.

The Mail (newspaper) listed the names of sixty-one guests, the hosts, Mr and Mrs R. L. Pearce (my mother’s older sister and her husband) and my future father, H. R. Sweet was one of those present. Reading through the list of attendees, I can recognise a few names of aunties and uncles, and quite a number of family friends, or those whose names were part of the dinner-table conversations over the years.

The supper tables were laden with food and decorated with Iceland Poppies, according to the newspaper reports. Fifty-years after this event my mother was still growing poppies. I remember, as a child, our home being decorated with these flowers each spring. My mother would lightly burn the base of the stems and blanched them with boiling water so that the displays lasted longer.

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Undated, possibly 1926 and may have been at the Oakbank Easter Races.  My mother is at the front looking back at the camera.  Her elder sister, Myrtle and her husband, Bob Pearce, are seated at the rear left of the photograph.  Their daughter is on the right of her father.  It is also possible my father, Harold Sweet took the photograph.

Whether my parents were betrothed (engaged) for my mother’s 21st, I have no record of that. They were married eighteen months later in April 1927. Similarly, I have little in the way of stories from either of my parents about how they met, what they did for entertainment, or their ‘courting’ days. Both my elder sisters are also dead so I cannot chat with them as to what they may have been told either.  If there are any photographs of the 21st celebrations, or of my mother from that era,  I have yet to discover them.  The photograph (above) is one of the few showing my mother with her elder sister and brother-in-law, who were the hosts of her ‘coming of age party’.

This is a continuing regret, for me, and a gap in my history of the family.  Each of us should look too these narratives and photographs as an important legacy for future generations.  I found it serendipitous that this inadvertent discovery of two small newspaper articles published ninty-one years ago caused me to reflect and remember a little more of my mother.  Our way of life, our means of enjoying, our family celebrations and our entertainment are different now.  I have not written this to compare and claim one period of time is better than another.  They are unique.  Yet each should be celebrated, remembered and passed on as an important legacy of our family history.

If you haven’t used Trove, I highly recommend it, but be careful, it is addictive.

More Government mismanagement

Our State Government is morally and financially bankrupt.  There is a lack of planning and budgets are cut to meet the whims of the day’s thoughts.  One of the recent decisions by the Minister for the Arts, Jack Snelling, to cut more than $1 million (annually over the next three years) from the State Library is just one example to this poor management.  In South Australia our State library is a critical cultural centre for our history and for future generations.

I accept that management has the right to improve efficiencies, modify procedures and introduce change.  That is how we develop and improve.  However, this must be done in a planned and strategic manner, not with the slash of a political pen to cut financial support, in one area, to prop up poor decisions elsewhere in Government.

Yesterday (Wednesday September 8) I was in a doctor’s waiting room and picked up the August 2016 publication of Reader’s Digest.  I haven’t read one of these magazines in years.  On page 66 was an article: Inside the world’s most beautiful libraries.  Under the current circumstances it grabbed my interest.

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Article in the August 2016 publication of The Reader’s Digest.

It listed nine impressive libraries around the world.  None are in Australia, and according to Cornelia Kumfert, the author of this article, the closest one to Australia is in South Korea.  I am not suggesting that our State Library, or even the Bar Smith Library, is of similar standards to those nine listed by Kumfert, but it does say something about how poorly our politicians treat our history, heritage and its value in to the future.

Yes ther are many worthwhile issues to support, health, public transport, the environment are just three.  Yet without a history, the legacies from our past where is our culture, the values we hold dear and the legacy we bequith to our children and their children?

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Respected historian, Brian Samuels, speaking at a recent rally (Sept 2016) to Save our State Library. (used with permission)

This is not a call to open your wallets, but to let your politicians know that our libraries are a vital part of our being and must be maintained.  Change procedures, restructure, or what ever management sees as necessary, but don’t decimate 180 years of our histoy and tens of thousands of years of recorded Aboriginal heritage through poor polictical decisions.

Save our State Library #saveourstatelibrary

Use the Twitter hastag to keep the momentum going.