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.

Study Tour

It has been a while since I last posted to this Blog.  However, over the coming month my updates will be more regular.  On Friday I head off to Sydney and then onto San Francisco for nine days–given that crossing the international dateline gives me an extra day on the flight out.  Four of these days I will be immersing myself in the history and culture of this vibrant city.  My previous visits here were a couple of decades ago, so I expect much has changed.

For the other five days of my stay I will be at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California as part of an advanced Oral History Summer Institute.  This intensive course will take the participants through twenty-six session of lectures, workshops, presentations plus networking and special events during the week.

My next stop-over will in Winnipeg, in Canada.  Here my time will be at the University, of Winnipeg the Canadian Oral History Association and with the German-Canadian Studies, also at the University of Winnipeg.  By then my brain will be swamped with information, ideas and even more plans.  So for a few days of relaxation I will enjoy a train-ride from Winnepeg to Toronto and on to Montréal.

My week in this French-Candian city will be spent with the Concordia University and immersing myself in the local culture and history.  A significant part of this tour will be meeting with the enthusiastic and keen historians at The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

Hopefully my posts will be regular (wifi connections) and of interest, even if you are not an oral hiistorian.  Maybe after some thoughs and ideas you may look to your own interests and record an interesting history.

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.

The PhD journey – life over 3,399 days

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On March 29th, 2017 I was awarded my Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of South

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Dr David Sweet with my ‘mate’ and special associate supervisor, Dr Nigel Starck.

Australia at the Graduating Ceremony.  The official conferral was in October 2016.  This higher degree research journey had numerous twists and turns, became frustrating, a joy (often in a few hours of each other), was challenging and above all I learnt so much.  I completed the PhD part-time, which prolonged the agony and the pleasure.  Probably the biggest learning curve has been accepting how little I know.  However, that understanding only opens up the options for further challenges in the realm of research.  Following are some of the (edited) highlights and challenges of my epic journey.

The journey

  • 3,399 days from start to completion
  • Started as a two volume Professional Doctorate
  • 83+ versions written
  • Wrote 230,000 words
  • Final version as a PhD is 109,728 words (inc footnotes and Reference List)
  • 52 people interviewed
  • 57 photographs used
  • 798 references
  • 230 other books devoured
  • Thesis examined by one Australian and one Canadian academic

Allied activities

  • 47 sessions with a PhD reading group
  • 6 papers accepted and published
  • 28 presentations delivered
  • 5 international conferences attended and papers presented
  • 182 books added to my own library
  • 2 bureaucratic challenges with the University
  • only spat the dummy a few times

Teaching

  • 11 undergraduate Courses/Subjects taught
  • 5 Post Grad subjects taught
  • 1 honours supervised student to completion
  • 1 honours student advised to reconsider
  • 7 years teaching off-shore
  • 11 teaching trips to Hong Kong and Singapore
  • Mentored 7 students (2 international)

The Family

  • 2 more grandchildren – 5 in total
  • 4 weddings (3 as the photographer)
  • 2 – 90th birthdays celebrated
  • 1 Golden wedding anniversary celebrated (not mine)
  • 4 deaths, my 2 sisters, 1 brother-in-law, 1 19 year-old nephew
  • 5 hospital admissions for me
  • 10 days in ICU at Modbury hospital
  • 2010 – 7.5 hours of micro-surgery for cancer on my face
  • many other highs and lows of life as well
  • Produced 5 photo-books
  • Completed 10.5 hours of oral history interviews in addition to my PhD interviews

There is life after a PhD

  • Traded a caravan, purchased a Motor Home
  • Reduced teaching to 2-3 subjects
  • Working on 5 research projects
  • Research-Study tour to Berkeley (California), Concordia and Western Universities (Canada) is set for August 2017.

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.

Almost there

About thirty minutes ago I submitted my thesis for examination.  Given the challenge to get this tome submitted before Christmas, ‘blogging’ has been a somewhat  poor relation in the past couple of months.  Marking student assignments, writing, toss in two presentations as well as the thesis, there was little time, or desire left to blog.

I have discovered that submitting a thesis for examination is a challenge as well.  It is a process of bureaucracy, getting it approved firstly by my supervisor(s), soft bound copies printed, paper-work, always the paper-work, filled out and signed and then physically depositing the three copies for examination.  Then it disappears in to the mysterious world of the Graduate Research Centre.

Then sometime later my two examiners will each have a copy posted to them, hopefully early in the new year.  One is here in Adelaide and the other in Canada.  All I know about them is what I have read of their CVs and the recommendation from my associate supervisor.  The reading and grading process can take three months.  The thesis is 90,000 words, plus the reference list, so it is not a short novel to read at leisure.  After the examiners have submitted their grade I then have about six weeks to reply to their comments (and modify the thesis) before it goes the the university academic board for confirmation.  So if all goes well I will be awarded my PhD later in 2016.

As for an update on my other research projects, the blogs will follow shortly.

Where are they now?

I posted an extract of this on the Adelaide Remember When FB page earlier today. Fifty years ago this month (April 1965) 92 teenage boys were presented the Queen’s Scout award by the then Governor Sir Edric Bastyan.  On April 3 (1965) the Queen’s Scout dinner was held at the Top of the Town Restaurant, in Cox Foys, Rundle Street, Adelaide. Back in the ’60s Adelaide did not have many restaurants, especially ones that could cater for a hundred or more guests.  Also the liquor licensing laws were significantly different to those of today (2015), and the legal drinking age was still 21 years of age – so that excluded a hotel venue. In fifty years my detailed memory of the evening has dimmed somewhat.  However, I recall being a little over-whelmed by the occasion – I was 17.  My father had driven me into the city as the event was seen as a significant ocassion by my family.  I caught the bus home afterwards.  The Chief Commissioner (for Scouts) was Henry Rymill, CBE. The 1965 Queen's Scout presentation dinner menu The program for the evening’s events included the Loyal Toast List to Her Majesty The Queen, and a toast to the 1965 Queen’s Scouts.  The response to the Queen’s Scouts Toast was given by Peter Balan, who has since become a successful academic at UniSA.  I remember the film called: ‘The Senior Way’ being screened, but I have no recollection of what it contained other than it showed many images of Scouts doing scouting ‘stuff’. The Queen’s Scout Award is an achievement from my teenage years of which I am still proud and pleased to to include in my resume.  However, what has happened to the other 90 eager young boys – the stories of their lives, their children and grand children?

Presentation of Queen's Scout Award to David Sweet, Government House, Adelaide by the then Governor, Sir Edric Bastyan. (April 1965)

Presentation of Queen’s Scout Award to David Sweet, Government House, Adelaide by the then Governor, Sir Edric Bastyan. (April 1965)

Howard Hamon is the brother-in-law of my mate’s sister (a small world) David Jansen and I went to Glen Osmond Primary School together, but I lost touch with him many years ago, David Rattray (if he is the same person) and I were at Unley High and a number of other names from the ‘Menu’ may have been police officers. Is your name or the name of someone you know on the back of the menu (above)?  Maybe through my blog and Adelaide Remember When. the question can be answered.?

I wish I had the photograph

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Just over 95 years ago [March 23, 1920] Kingsford-Smith, later to become Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith landed his Vickers Vimy (a World War 1 bomber bi-plane) at the culmination of the first plane flight from England to Australia at the Northfield aerodrome on the outskirts of Adelaide.  It is now an inner suburb.

As a young boy, during our car trips through this area, my father would often tell, and retell, the story of his moment of being part of this historic event. Now lost over time, there had been a photograph of my father as an eighteen-year old taken on that March day in 1920. P1000498  My father [eighteen at the time] had walked and hitched rides from his mother’s home at Parkside to watch the Vickers Vimy land at Northfield.

The press of the crowd, reported to be in the thousands, was too great for him to catch any more than a glimpse of the Australian heroes, but he was there.  He saw the plane and his stories made that historic moment mine as well.  Dad had a photograph of his moment, amongst the crowd, at the landing.

From the old photograph that was buried in the bottom drawer of the sideboard in our dining room at home, I can remember my father in his suit and tie, white shirt, and bowler hat, jauntily smiling at the camera. Why is this important to me, and today?

Wearing my father's 'restored'  bowler hat.

Wearing my father’s ‘restored’ bowler hat.

The old, black, bowler hat had been one of the heirlooms that somehow has been in my possession for thirty or more years.  Over time it had been severely damaged and I had often contemplated tossing it out.  However, I kept it.  Today I collected this special piece of history from ‘Adelaide Hatters’ in the Adelaide Arcade, where it had been beautifully restored.

I have my father’s bowler hat, but I wish I still had the photograph.

Inspiration comes from …

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It has been a while since I posted, not because I haven’t had anything to write about, just that other priorities were important.  However, that is life.

During the past three weeks I have listened to twenty-nine final year students present on what, or who has inspired them and guided their passion to strive for a career and life after university.  They, in turn, have inspired me.  Most spoke of publicly successful business women and men, prominent sports people, authors and community leaders.  However, three were different – thus inspiring in a unique way.

Two students spoke of their father and how their examples of support, commitment and love continues to inspire them.  The third student could not relate to any person who had inspired her.  With an initial glance at the assignment, she considered that it was a ‘fluffy’ assessment and that she would not have to do much work to get a good mark.  That was until she actually though about the question as to whom inspired her.  She then discovered that it was not so easy.  Still she could have taken the easy option and picked some ‘high flyer’, conducted a little research and lied her way through her presentation.  However, she didn’t.  The value of ethical behaviour kicked in.  She talked of her challenges in understanding what inspiration was, what drives her to get up each morning, where she wants to go with her working life and what she wishes to contribute to the community.  She found the person who is passionate and inspirational – herself.

I’m struggling with nostalgia

Class Photo, Glen Osmond Primary School 1955

Class Photo, Glen Osmond Primary School 1955

Nostalgia is a word that is commonly used to describe those enjoyable moments in our respective pasts.  We may recall times of riding push-bikes or playing marbles in the gravel on the way home from school.  Or for the girls it may be those special dress-up events when they became little pink princesses, or created elaborate afternoon teas.  No I am not being politically incorrect or sexist, that is just the way we played as kids.

So why are Baby Boomers nostalgic for that past, the ‘other’, which is so different to the experiences of today?   Often the call is made: “It so nostalgic to remember those good old days“.

The defining and understanding of the term nostalgia has changed over more than two centuries of use. Its genesis comes from the Greek nostos, which means a return to your home and algia, meaning a hurtful or agonising ailment.  According to Davis (1979, p. 1), nostalgia was a medical condition described by Swiss physician Johannes Hofner, in the eighteen hundreds, as a disease showing signs of melancholy through to suicide.  It was caused by extended absences from a person’s home.

However, over prolonged time its medical determination transformed in to a popular understanding of nostalgia being a sentimental yearning for a past that is gone and cannot be relived.  Yet there is this desire by many to remember previous times with a degree of longing and angst of loss (Pickering & Keightley 2006, p. 920). Their discussion emphasises that this ache for nostalgia should not be censured, but embraced to show ‘how the past may actively engage with the present and future’ (2006, p. 920).  Nevertheless, a blanket acceptance of the comforting cocoon of nostalgia does not assume that this ‘past’ is analytically assessed (Hutcheon 1993, p. 245).

In recounting war-time activities with New Zealand soldiers, Hutching maintained that nostalgia is ‘about their activities as young men’ (2011, p. 237).  In a personal observation Australian sportsman, author and journalist Peter FitzSimons (2010, p. ix) views nostalgia as: “through my own experience and that of my family, the simplicity of a time long gone in Australia’s past” is realised.  It should not convey sadness or a sense of loss, but needs to offer the magic opportunity to recapture those former and glorious moments (Holak & Havlena 1998, p. 223).

Yet is unrealistic just to evoke, or call on the ‘good times’ and feelings of nostalgia.  We cannot bring bygone days to life, and as commented upon by Holak and Havlena (p. 222) this promotes the feeling of sadness and loss, because there is no return to the past.  The memory of the “good old days” sets up the conflicting emotions of desire and melancholy. A longing for the past is not necessarily about recalling essential details as it is claimed that “one can be nostalgic for something one never experienced” (Green-Lewis 2000, p. 66).

Nostalgia is a ‘coping mechanism’, helping to support our identity and provide an avenue for forgetting (Mannik 2011, p. 87).  It is in our individual memories however they are created, that we recall the myths, emotions, memories and richness of nostalgia.

This outlines why I am struggling with nostalgia.  I see it as encompassing both the good and the bad from my past, the happy and sad times and those exciting memories and times of embarrassment.

Still the question remains, what actually is nostalgia?  Above I recounted its medical basis and historically it has been described as a cerebral disease and a serious psychiatric condition (Routledge et al. 2011).  Marketers and advertisers have ‘tapped into’ this nostalgic concept more recently as it can shape consumer preferences (Holbrook 1993, p. 255; Holbrook & Schindler 1996, p. 36; Stern 1992).  Those interested in cultural studies and sociology consider that nostalgia is more than a return to our home; it is the desire to experience the past once again, or to languish in sentiment and the status quo? While the definitions vary somewhat the understanding is similar.  The perfection of the past or the future is seen against accepting and embracing the present (Wilson 1997, p. 132). Wilson (1997, p. 138) concludes with the observation that:

Perhaps the real secret pleasure of nostalgia is … experiencing the reality of change, the passage of time, and the existence of that great hinterland of ‘lost time’ that yet somehow is still within us.

She seems to be claiming that while we embrace change we yearn for the past, a paradoxical position. It is argued that nostalgia is searching in the past while concurrently it is a starting point as a guide into the future (Pickering & Keightley 2006, p. 921).   I prefer to see nostalgia in a similar manner to that of Routledge et al. and it is more than just a positive memory (2012, pp. 458-459):

It is the self-focused emotional process through which people recollect experiences that imbue their lives with meaning.

There are many facets from which to reflect upon nostalgia.

However, my emphasis and understanding is on the comfortable acceptance of it being memories, cloaked in a warm fondness that can be experienced now and conveyed into the future. To this point I again draw on Wilson and her acquiescence of the ambivalent nature of nostalgia and it embracing both the past and the future (1997, p. 139).

So do you understand nostalgia?

PS.  Can you find me in the photograph above?  I’m in the back row, third from the left.