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.

Four days in Winnipeg

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Snow indicator with a fire hydrant

Winnipeg is a relaxing and enjoyable city. It is slightly bigger than my hometown of Adelaide (Australia), friendly, and warm in August. Well it is summer here and in winter they measure the snow-fall in metres and the temperature in minus degrees. The fire hydrants in the street have orange coloured indicator poles attached to them so the firies can find them in winter. Not a place I’d enjoy with that level of cold. The Canadians I have met here have been surprised that I have never seen it snow. I have seen and been in snow, but never falling from the sky.

For the tourist there are interesting things to see and do. I mentioned the Walking Trail, called the Loop in an earlier post. It took me a few hours over two days to complete the walk as there are so many interesting stop-offs on the way. The walk along the banks of the Red River and a stroll around The Forks historic site were relaxing and I got a feel for the history of the place, going back to the First Nations. If you are the more adventurous type of traveller there are canoeing, horse riding and bike riding options as well. Remember they drive on the right hand side of the road here.

Along many of the avenues there are pop-up food and drink outlets. These mobile cafes seem to work without any conflict with the bricks and mortar establishments. The range of food is interesting, from the typical hot dog and hamburger to Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek and Italian fare. Tasty too. I guess these are not businesses that flourish in winter though.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a must for any visitor here. I spent about four hours there and I still haven’t been able to Blog about it how I want. I certainly will not do it justice. May be some contemplation on the train east over the next two days will help.

Signs and Street Art

One of my quirks (not twerks) is noticing some of the advertising hoardings and signs. It is not for the advertised product, but more for the play on words, incorrect spelling or the just plain odd. Similarly I have come to enjoy the vibrancy, colours and artistic skills in some (painted) street art as well. I hate graffiti that is just mindless vandalism. The following images have been taken in Berkeley, California and Winnipeg, Manitoba during the past ten days. [double click on any image and you can scroll through them and read the captions]

 

 

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.

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.

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.