The University of Newcastle, Australia

History under the spotlight at the Newcastle Writers Festival

Monday, 9 March 2020

The Newcastle Writers Festival will again this year feature talks from historians, not only from the University of Newcastle, but also from the local area and beyond.

Nancy Cushing

Associate Professor Nancy Cushing, an environmental historian from the School of Humanities and Social Science, is currently the Vice-President of the NSW History Council. Having presented or hosted a session at the Writers Festival since it began in 2014, she is passionate about again bringing history to the fore.

Nancy will chair a session with Hunter Valley biographer Barbara Heaton, author of Working Class Warrior. The book tells the life story of Jim Comerford, who rose from coal pit boy to become a trade union leader, political activist, labour icon and writer.

“Comerford was known as a tough but fair union negotiator with what Heaton describes as 'a mind like a steel trap',” Nancy said. Having arrived in Australia with his Scottish family in the early 1920s, he was just 15 years old when he witnessed the 1929 Battle of Rothbury, also known as the Rothbury Riot. Comerford played a central role in labour relations in the Hunter Valley through his long career, dying at the age of 93 in 2006.

Another NWF session created in partnership with the NSW History Council features discussion of the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain James Cook from an Indigenous perspective.

“UON Professor John Maynard and Australian Museum First Nations curators Laura McBride and Mariko Smith will give their views on how Indigenous Australians are responding, and how would they like others to respond, to this pivotal event in our history,” Nancy said. The session is hosted by Dr Stephen Gapps, who is the History Council President, University of Newcastle conjoint and a curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The School of Humanities and Social Science is a cultural partner of the NSW History Council, a relationship that brings benefits to the University’s students and academics.

“The NSW History Council is the peak body for historians in the state and supports historians of all types, including those in local and family history societies and professionals working in public history, the GLAM sector and universities,” Nancy said.

“Our partnership with the History Council allows us to advertise our events through the Council’s newsletter and social media channels, attend member-only History Council professional development sessions, participate in their annual History Week, and, for staff and post graduates, give paid talks as part of the Speaker Connect program."

Professor Catharine Coleborne, the Head of the School of Humanities and Social Science, pointed to the enormous popularity of history for our communities.

“Our academic historians are highly engaged with our libraries, the museum and local cultural institutions,” she commented, adding that “Nancy Cushing has made an important contribution to keeping our historical research accessible and relevant, including through her tireless energy for the Newcastle Writers’ Festival each year.”

“Being a member of the History Council is an important tool for industry engagement. It gives us a profile in the wider history sector beyond academia and allows us to be a strong voice advocating for historians based in regional areas,” Nancy said.

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