A History Lesson

Recently I attended a talk by Grace Karskens, a noted colonial historian. Her published works include The Rocks and The Colony. Karsken’s talk was about her upcoming book, Recovering Vanished Places: Stories from the Hawkesbury/Nepean River.

History is approached by Karskens by an ethnographic focus, a wide lens which includes archaeology, ecology and geography amongst other studies. Sources range from official documents and historical texts to newspaper articles, paintings, local and family histories, letters, poetry and folklore to provides a broader context to understanding history on a deeper level.

Part of the challenge lies in what cannot be found or ascertained. Of course not everything is recorded or accessible, and sometimes all that remains is a sanitised version of real events.

Something that resonated with me was the snatches and snippets of past events that are woven into stories. As a writer I feel at times that my mind is swirling with scraps of stories, real and imagined. Some are recent, others are not my memory fragments but those of parents, grandparents and other relatives. And it isn’t just family that provide threads to weave stories from; chance conversations with friends and strangers also provide material.

Whilst some fictional scribblings require little in the way of research, unlike academic endeavours, it was interesting to hear Karskens talk of how obsessive the need to know can become. It is this attention to detail and intellectual vigour which creates work which resonates with readers. Again this has similarities in the fictional space. Research is an important aspect across many genres: as a reader few things jar more than reading something factually wrong in a story.

The talk provided a taste of what is to come, a book which promises accessible and illuminating insights into vanished places along the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers. There is a link to a TED talk by Karskens here.

What lessons from history do you take on as a writer?

[Photo: view of Hawkesbury River near Wisemans Ferry]

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A Friend for All Seasons

Recently I was able to catch up with one of my oldest friends, LJ. We met in primary school playing handball, or KP as it was known in our school. Throughout the decades we have remained in touch although our lives have taken various tangents and we now live in different states.

One of our ways of keeping in contact has been through correspondence. This ranges from postcards to lengthy letters, often on exquisite stationery and sent with a stack of photos to keep each other up to date with what matters most. If you have ever received a stylish envelope holding several folded pages of news, observations and updates, you will know the joy that it brings.

LJ has surprised me several times with carefully chosen books. When I moved to the mountains she gave me a copy of In The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer, the perfect introduction to living under dynamic, cloud-studded skies. In a nod to our continuing correspondence, she also sent me Women of Letters, a wide-ranging collection of heartfelt letters filled with humour and honesty.

Our long friendship means that we know habits and mannerisms, not only of each other, but of families and friends. We can commiserate and share stories of work place triumphs and challenges, along with the wisdom that comes with getting a little older. It also means that the back story is already there; we can communicate in shorthand, regardless of how long it is between catch ups. When we do connect there is a crossfire of ideas and stories, as well as sharing lists of books, music, podcasts and movies that each other might enjoy.

There are many attributes that I admire in LJ, including intelligence, compassion, humour and integrity. She has a keen sense of the absurd and doesn’t take everything too seriously. She has been there for me whenever I have needed her, as well as when I have been unable to see that I needed a friend. I know how lucky I am to have someone like her in my life.

Do you have a friend for all seasons?

[Photo: old tile spotted in a pub at Strathfield]