There will be three talks of interest to Environmental Historians in the upcoming 2019 Blackheath History Forum series:

August 17: Meredith Lake (historian)

Nature, Science and the Bible In Australia

The conflict narrative of ‘science vs religion’ took popular hold in Australia in the 1880s.  In 1885 one of Australia’s most important astronomers, John Tebbutt, for whom a crater on the moon is named, resigned as president of his local Bible Society. Tebbutt had believed with the Psalmist that ‘the heavens declare the glory of god’ and  alongside his scientific papers he wrote Christian pamphlets urging young people to convert. But what happened? Meredith Lake will take up Tebbutt’s story – and those of others – to explore how colonists tried to do three things all at the same time: understand their surrounds, absorb new scientific ideas, and reassess the Christian Bible. It was an enterprise with parallels – and consequences – for our own time. 

Dr Meredith Lake is a writer and broadcaster interested in how Australians have understood the big questions of faith and meaning. Her most recent book is The Bible in Australia: a Cultural History (NewSouth, 2018). She’s an Honorary Associate of the Department of History, University of Sydney, and the presenter of Soul Search, ABC Radio National’s newest religion and spirituality program. 

August 31: Peg Fraser  (historian and museum curator)

The bare bones of the land: remembering Black Saturday 

 (Presentation for NSW History Week 2019)

Ten years ago, in February 2009, the bushfires of Black Saturday swept through country Victoria, killing 173 people, burning 430,000 hectares of land and damaging 78 communities. One of those communities was Strathewen, a tiny settlement on the outskirts of Melbourne, that lost ten percent of its population and eighty percent of its buildings.

As part of a collecting project for the Victorian Bushfires Collection at Museums Victoria, Peg Fraser interviewed survivors from Strathewen. In their stories, memories of previous bushfires, family farming history, lifestyle choices and community relationships are densely woven in a complex interplay between physical and social environments. These memories helped to shape people’s reactions to Black Saturday, but the fires also changed survivors’ interpretation of the past – sometimes strengthening their relationship with the land, sometimes destroying it – and created a new and complicated layer of story which continues today. Drawing on the oral histories of Strathewen survivors, Peg explores the relationship between the physical landscape of Black Saturday and the landscape of memory.

Peg Fraser is a social and oral historian. In 2010, she was one of three MV curators involved in a year-long project to collect objects and oral histories reflecting a wide range of experiences and perspectives of bushfire in Victoria. She continued her work with bushfire survivors while completing her PhD at Monash University. Her book, Black Saturday: Not the end of the story (2018), is available from Monash University Publishing.

October 26  Alessandro Antonello  (historian)

The Greening of Antarctica: Assembling an international environment

The Antarctic region today is governed by a suite of international treaties that concentrate on the protection and management of the environment and natural resources. This talk will detail the period between 1959 and 1980, when the diplomats and scientists of twelve nations laid the intellectual, scientific, legal, and geopolitical foundations of today’s Antarctic. It is a story that combines scientific research with international diplomacy, grand ideas with the material realities of ice, ocean, and animal bodies, lofty ideals of conservation and protection with base geopolitics and a search for power. It is a view of Antarctica quite distinct from the tales of imperial heroism that still dominate cultural imaginings of the south polar region.

Alessandro Antonello is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne. He previously worked at the University of Oregon and received his PhD from the Australian National University. He has published extensively on Antarctic history and his book The Greening of Antarctica: Assembling an International Environment was published by Oxford University Press in May 2019.

See the full 2019 program here:

The 2019 program will be fortnightly from 3 August until 26 October. All presentations are held in the Blackheath Public School Hall on the corner of Great Western Highway and Leichhardt Street, except for the 14 September presentation which will be held in the Phillips Hall Blackheath Community Centre.

For details of the 2019 program click on the link above.

Doors open at 3.30, talks start at 4.00, followed by a Q&A which generally ends around 6.00. Admission is $5 (free to those 18 and under). Refreshments are available from 3.30 for a small additional charge of $2 to $5.