Impact Studios

Australia’s no 1 university for research impact

Producers: Tom Allinson and Ninah Kopel 

Collaborators: Anna Clark, Nathan Sentance, Tim Ella and Maddison Lyn Collier

Exec Producer: Emma Lancaster

Associate Producer: Anna Clark

Sound Design: Joe Koning

Host: Tamson Pietsch

Voice Actor: Steve Ahern

Additional production assistance: Ellen Leabeater and Miles Herbert

Marketing and communications: Andy Huang

Thanks to: Les Bursill OAM for his advice on the Darug language, and Grace Karskens and Renee Cawthorne.

History Lab Ep5: Fishing for answers

Ollie Henderson: If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person we want you to know that this episode may contain the names of people who have died.

Tamson Pietsch: I’m Tamson Pietsch and this is History Lab. Sydney’s glittering harbour has a deep watery history. The city has grown up around it’s shorelines. Waterside industries have sprouted whole suburbs. And down at Circular Quay, it’s easy to fill enveloped by the hustle and bustle of harbour life. The sounds of ferries and industry, big ships docking, people wining and dining and tourists hangin’ around. At night time there are these massive party boats that go past and concerts on the Opera House steps.

But with all this noise on the Harbour, it’s easy to miss the sounds of a past that’s still signing.

Anna Clark: The sound of the Eora women singing is one of the things that keeps coming up in some of these early accounts of being in a bay and hearing this constant singing from around the cove.

Renee Cawthorne: Saltwater people have a really beautiful story about their connection to the oceans.

Grace Karskens: They would’ve heard the beat of their paddles as they sang. And the songs were supposed to attract the fish, so probably they’re beguiling the fish to come close and take the hook.

Tamson: The Eora nation is made up of 29 Aboriginal coastal groups from around Sydney Harbour. And their fisherwomen were as much at home on the waves as they were on dry land.

But our written histories have been mostly deaf to their songs. So, is it possible, amongst all the noise of today’s harbour to still hear the voices of the women who once fished these waters?

Anna: I’m walking out to my favourite fishing spot on the rocks down on the south coast

Tamson: This is Anna Clark, an historian at UTS.

Anna: The sea is huge and the water is icy cold but sometimes you just have to go out there and throw in a line and see what pops up at the end.

Tamson: For Anna fishing is as much about the catch as it is about ideas.

Anna: I’ve always loved fishing and the place where I learnt to fish is down on my grandparents’ farm on the south coast of New South Wales and I have very strong memories of scrambling down the bank at this little cove in an estuary that we call paradise and then fishing pumping for nippers and casting them out into the middle of the estuary at sunset.

Tamson: Built into banks of the bay was evidence of a time before her.

Anna: Remnants of meals like fish bones and shellfish scattered through the sandy soil like hundreds and thousands made me think: who’s been there before me, who’s been doing this and what, what did this mean to those people.

Tamson: For Anna fishing has always been a serious past time. But as she got older and became a historian, it also became a practice.

Anna: I was reading a lot of colonial accounts early colonial accounts of early Sydney about fishers and I was flabbergasted to see that the main line fishers of Eora society were women.

David Collins: I saw the sister and the young wife of Bennelong coming ‘round the point in their new canoe. which the husband had cut in his last excursion to Parramatta. They had been out to procure fish, and were keeping time with their paddles, responsive to the words of a song, in which they joined with much good humour and harmony.

Anna: Men had spears and they did a lot of spear fishing but it was the women who went out in boats, their little nawi canoes and hand lined for Snapper and Whiting and Dory.

Collins: The canoe was hauled on shore, and what fish they had caught the women brought up. I observed that the women seated themselves at some little distance from Ben-nil-long, the wife opening and eating some rock oysters.

Anna: It was women who sang to the fishes below. It was women who made nets and sang songs, probably dreaming songs on the nets to try and catch more fish and this really strong you know as a woman myself who loves fishing and not that many women are interested in fishing I kind of felt this interest of shared fellow female fishers across the millennia.

Tamson: But colonial accounts were written by white people about the fisherwomen. So, how can we hear from the women themselves and find out what their world sounded like?

Nathan: Aboriginal stories have long not been told and when they have been told, they’ve been told from European perspectives which have had repercussions.

Tamson: Nathan Sentence is a proud Mowgee Wiradjuri man who also works at the Australian Museum. He wants to decolonise history’s archives. That also means thinking about what an archive actually is.

Nathan: It is archives only collecting and preferencing the written word, which has long excluded Aboriginal people. And libraries doing the same. Or even sort of academic archives keeping research on aboriginal people but it’s done by non-Aboriginal people. So, as a non-indigenous person if you went through these sources, you’d be getting the stories of Aboriginal people through non-indigenous people and it sort of continues itself on.

Tamson: So, when these accounts have been shaped by the institutions that have been complicit in Aboriginal dispossession, well, you not always getting the whole picture….in fact – we know that archival sources are not objective – they might lie to you and there are glaring gaps in the records too. So, if our archives are compromised, where do we go?

Anna: Well, archives are all around us. It doesn’t have to be made from bricks and mortar. For example, the middens that surround the shores of Sydney Harbour that record literally thousands of years of Aboriginal occupation.

Tamson: Kind of like those fishbones you noticed down at the bay as a kid?

Anna: Yeah, yeah that’s right.

Tamson: But hang on, getting to these archives isn’t as simple as just going down to the local library. How can we reach them?

Anna: The English historian RH Tawney, famously said that to be a good historian you had to have a sturdy pair of boots and I think he’s right.

Nathan: Where we’re walking has had two thousand generations of people walking on it. So, we’re walking on top of those footprints and the sort of history that they’ve been making.

Tamson: Nathan Sentance runs First Nations Cultural Programs at the Australian Museum. And today he’s taking Anna away from the cabinets of carefully curated artefacts, to the archives nature has kept.

Nathan: So even if, even though we’re not conscious of it the land that we have has a deep history and it sort of goes from the ground into our feet.

Anna: So, we’re standing here on Ball’s Head in North Sydney, Sydney Harbour Bridge is to our east towards the towards the ocean and we’re looking straight out across to Barangaroo, one of the great fisherwomen stories of Sydney.

Nathan: And the Sydney Opera House which we can just sort of look at right now is on top of like an old shell midden.

Tamson: Remember a shell midden is a pile of discarded shells and bones accumulated in layers over centuries.

Nathan: The Opera House which is considered this big Australian cultural icon, it was a cultural indicator for identity for a very long time, for thousands and thousands of years, pre the Opera House existing.

Anna: Do you think it’s been buried by the Opera House?

Nathan: Well it’s interesting I wonder that, like is it, was the Opera House an erasure of Aboriginal history or is it just continuation of that site being a midden. One of the cool things about middens is you can tell where people would gather and the Opera House does get people together at that place. So, is it a continuation or was it a deliberate attempt at erasure?

Tamson: Wait so those middens, those material archives, they’ve been lost?

Anna: Yeah, in a really sadly ironic profound act of historical erasure most of those middens around Sydney were dug up and burnt by the convicts in huge kilns and crushed to turn into lime mortar to build the very buildings on top of the original Aboriginal civilisation around Sydney.

Tamson: So just let me get that straight. The buildings of colonial Sydney are held together using the archives of Aboriginal Australia.

Anna: Yeah crazy Hey.

Tamson: So, if the middens have been destroyed, what can you learn from being in a place where these women lived?

Anna: Well, in thinking about the history of fishing I really didn’t know where to start and I didn’t know how to write the stories of these people, the Eora fisherwomen but also fishing right around the country. But as I was thinking about it I was able to think about these histories as a series of places and I could, you know, I know Sydney really well I could almost imagine these women and where they were back in time.

Anna: Is it too hard a kind of leap or reach to kind of imagine these women below us fishing in a nawi with their kids?

Nathan: I think through things like song, like the fisherwomen’s song, hearing that can sort of, just hearing that can trigger sort of not really memories but the imagination of what that represents and sort of, yeah, the women on canoes singing to each other at night with a little bit of fire.

Tamson: So, you’re saying when you use imagination to fill out the gaps in other sources, it can take you a long way and immerse you in a whole world. But Anna we’re historians, evidence is everything to us. How do you know? I mean…at what point does imagination turn into projection?

Anna: You never know. And you know there’s a real, I guess there’s a real tension there between making shit up and doing history. But it’s, it’s a practice that’s learned. you know, you’re still, you’re still going to the archives. You’re not chucking everything out, you’re still knowing your stuff, you’re still doing very in-depth research.

Nathan: What’s happening under the water is that balance between all these different species and what we’re doing above the water is trying to have a similar thing but across land and water. Yeah, it’s the give and take of it all.

Anna: A nice way of thinking about it too is, is not simply that there’s a sustainable practice that gets told from one mum to their daughter.

Nathan: The songs and dances would all teach you moral lessons and social lessons mothers and aunties would transfer their knowledge to the next generation it’ll become a part of that circle of life and holistic knowledge. So, fishing wouldn’t just be a practical end game, it’d also be a philosophy that would, the ways that you treat the fish and the ways that you would hunt inform other practices of your life and how you respect each other and sort of, the reciprocal relationships would not just be with the water, it’d be with each other. And part of that would be passing that knowledge down in sort of songs and stories.

Anna: But it’s also about widening your lens just a little bit and seeing some of the places you might just walk past but appreciate when you use historical imagination.

Anna: Oh yeah look at that. That’s awesome. I haven’t seen that rock engraving before.

Nathan: I’m not sure how we would read it but what we’re actually seeing is a rock engraving right here of what looks to be a whale. Whales are very important to coastal Sydney and coastal Sydney mobs. It is hard to sort of read into like what this is besides the aesthetic of its possibly a whale. Could be connected to a long history a long knowledge, yeah, we’re just unaware of.

Anna: Why, why are we unaware of it.

Nathan: I don’t think Aboriginal knowledge for a long time was given the respect that it deserves. Like the complexity or sophistication that was a part of Aboriginal knowledge. And I think it’s directly linked to justifying land dispossession. I think too like if you deny the history of all the importance of this, it makes it easier to move Aboriginal people off this land if you’re not respecting their attachment to the country but also the deep knowledge associated with it. It’s what informed forced assimilation, the idea that Aboriginal people didn’t have a civilisation so we can give that to them. So, I think that’s part of why we don’t have these, sort of, stories about it.

Grace: Well for a long time there weren’t any Aboriginal people in history either, at all. So, when we started writing national history in the early 20th Century, historians would say things like, “Australia began as a blank space on the map”.

Tamson: Grace Karskens is an historian at the UNSW and her work has been challenging the way Australian history is done.

Grace: The tide turned I think in the 1960s and ever since then we have been re-reading and reconstructing Australian history and completely reconsidering it. We actually turn the telescope around and look at it from the point of view of the oldest living culture in the world which is a whole different story and a whole different perspective. This makes Australian history I think the edgiest in the world and at the forefront of this new way of thinking about history.

Tamson: So, changes in the present can make us see the past in a new light.

Grace: It’s only since the feminist revolution of the 70s that anthropologists and historians started looking at the difference between Aboriginal men and women and that they actually do different things and there are politics of gender.

Tamson: And this gave us a new way of looking at colonial records and the traces that remain.

Grace: There is a wonderful image from Joseph Banks who was in Botany Bay in 1770 and he looks out over Botany Bay and he sees scores and scores of little lights on the water. Each one is a nawi with a woman fishing in it. Probably by moonlight I’d say.

Tamson: Wow, that must’ve been stunning

Anna: So why was fishing considered a woman’s job in Eora society?

Grace: As far as tell in Sydney, men did fish but really not full time – not like women. Cause women fished from nawi which are the bark canoes that they paddled with great dexterity. And in front of them there would be a little clay pad on which would be burning a fire. Why, you say. Well she’s hungry. And if you catch a fish you can stick it straight on the fire. And you can feed yourself and your children before you have to take the rest home to hubby. Very important in the politics of food. I think if you’re a woman and the men might be more dominant and want to take the food you’d be quite sensible to eat it before you went ashore and feed your children, that’s women taking power I reckon.

Anna: And they got that power, in part, by taking up new technologies.

Grace: And they used a hook called a Burra. These are beautiful artefacts shaped like a crescent moon and they’re shiny because they are made from the Turban shell, and what they did was hone those down so they’re pearly and iridescent. Which they used as a lure to catch fish. And we’re not quite sure where it came from, it could’ve been a Polynesian introduction but it dates back to about 1000 years and it’s possible, or anthropologists think that it’s possible that women seized that hook and made it their own.

Anna: Grace thinks that through their hooks and mastery of fishing on Sydney’s waters, the Eora women gained significant status.

Grace: It also meant they could go further out and catch bigger fish. So economically, status wise and in terms of the politics of gender it’s possible that that hook made a huge difference. And we can read those differences in society. For instance, we see Eora women at male rituals. The women are there. That doesn’t happen in all Aboriginal societies.

Tamson: And this politics of gender wasn’t just confined to Eora society.

Anna: Yeahthe colonial men brought with them a western male-centred world-view. When they just assumed Eora men were the ones to establish some kind of diplomacy with, they ignored the women. But one woman stood out.

Grace: They were very impressed with Barangaroo because she was one helluva woman. She probably was a senior woman who knew women’s law and was responsible for keeping the younger women in line, teaching, showing them how to fish. She was a woman of authority. And she didn’t let any man – white or black – get in her way.

Grace: If Bennelong didn’t do as she said…

Anna: That was Barangaroo’s husband.

Grace: …she’d break his spears. They were like oh my god she’s really going to get into trouble now. But the question I ask is, is that because she’s just a cranky person or a prickly person? I think there’s more to it than that.

Anna: So, we know that in 1790 from an account by David Collins, some of British the officers.

Grace: …send over a gift because it happens that they catch a whole net full of 1000s of Australian salmon and they send around 400* pounds of that over to these people gathered on the shore line, as a gift. Here we’ll give you a gift, they were always doing that, gift-giving. Can you imagine? For a woman like Barangaroo catching those fish by skill, one by one. This is just a small group of people. What are they going to do with 400* pounds of fish? That’s so wasteful. And it’s also taking food from other people. So that’s just one event where she might have thought, “what is this about?”.

I think that she quite rightly sees this as a shift of power. That if the whites keep giving all this food all the time, which they do in abundance, then that’s going to shift the balance of power from women away to white men and everyone will be dependent on the whites which is partly what happens.

Tamson: Wow! So why is it that more people don’t know the story of this fierce and fiery woman Barangaroo?

Anna: Well it’s all about who we choose to focus on and listen to. And that’s what Grace is doing. She’s revisiting these archives and asking new questions of them.

Grace: Well we are constantly in white style history saying, “last of their tribe” or “last person to die” and we’re waiting for them to die out. It’s a very big trope in white history. What you find if you look is things don’t die out. Aboriginal people continue doing what they do, they stay in country as long as they can. They’re there the whole time, they’re recorded, they are in pictures, they are just not seen. It tells you with history you really need to take the blinkers off, you need to have a revelationary experience about what to look for and what to see

Anna: And the Australian Museum, one of Australia’s oldest colonial archives, is readjusting its view as well. The fisherwomen’s tools and tackle in their collection aren’t seen just as practical objects, they are inseparable from a whole way of seeing the world. So, what does that look like?

Renee Cawthorne: I can give you two kinds of descriptions. One would probably be like a museum 50 years ago where you kind of see a whole lot of objects on display in a cabinet with no real context to what they’re about.

Anna: That’s proud Wiradjuri woman, Renee Cawthorne. She’s an Education Officer at the Australian Museum.

Renee: But when we go down to the first Australians galleries if you are standing from a bird’s eye view you would notice that the displays were in the shape of Sydney Harbour. It’s a really nice space because it really expresses the cultural knowledge but the sophistication of Aboriginal fishing practices.

Anna: Renee says the fisherwomen’s role in providing the steady food supply for the group wasn’t just about establishing status.

Renee: That gave women the control over how much food was given to the group but also how much was shared but also how much was taken from the land and the waterways.

Anna: It was part of a larger, holistic system of knowledge.

Renee: So, the first principle is obviously sustainability and only taking what you need and also giving back to the land and the waterways as well.

Anna: It was a way of knowing, one that was intimately tied to country around them.

Renee: So, in Sydney area and the Dharawal people they have their own seasonal calendar and they see things that are connected from the land and the waterways. So, for example when they see the flowering of a plant that might tell them that a fish is migrating up the coast or that they’re releasing their eggs. So, when they see the Sydney golden wattle flower they know that the mullet are migrating up the coast so it’s a good time to go fishing for them.

Anna: But we also know from colonial officer’s accounts, that the fisherwomen from around Sydney had another practice that connected them to the cycles of country.

Renee: It was called Malgung and what they were doing is they would make fishing line from plant fibres and then they would tie that bit of fishing line round the left little finger and they would tie it about three quarters the way up that finger. Eventually your finger, it would cut off your circulation, your finger would become mutilated and it would fall off. They would then grab that finger that’s fallen off and chuck it into the water. They would hope that a fish would eat your finger and that means that the fish would forever be attached to the finger that the person that it came from but also the line, in the person who made that line as well.

Anna: And that connection to country is one that has been passed down through practice, story and Dreaming.

Renee: Salt water people have a really beautiful story about their connection to the oceans and when their emotions because when they cry with their tears, their tears are actually the salt water and the tears of their ancestors.

Anna: But institution’s like museums have a problem. For a long time, this connection between ancestors and the objects they owned was often overlooked and undermined. And according to Renee, this can strip those objects of their meaning.

Renee: So, a lot of the things we have within our galleries and that are on display were collected in the early colonial periods and a lot of things were actually taken from Aboriginal people without permission. We don’t have information about where they came from, who made them, when they were made. So, we have to do some research on them, some scientific testing but that’s not going to give us all of that contextual information of the maker and the personal connection to the object as well. I guess you’re not giving it enough context to the connection it has to your ancestors and the physical connotations that are surrounded by that object so it’s not just looked as, as a basket for example.

Nathan Sentance: Yeah objects without their culture are sort of meaningless.

Tamson: That’s Nathan again from the Australian museum again

Nathan: They’re not meant to be scientific curios, they’re meant to be parts of culture and how culture manifests itself.

Tamson: You have this wonderful quote Nathan from an Aunty in your blog. She says, museums have the sticks, we have the stories, without the stories museums only have the sticks.

Nathan: Yeah and that’s the truth. That’s an issue with museums and libraries and stuff. Libraries might have language material but they don’t have the meaning behind the words or they’ll have, stone axes but they don’t know really what they’re used for and their database entries will have these very scientific descriptions of them but they don’t have a human connection to them and they’re meant to be used by people, they’re meant to have this story behind them, they’re meant to be sung to, they’re meant to be danced with. So, we need more of that in the museums. Cos if we’re only capturing the object and preserving it forever without that stuff there’s no real point. We’re not capturing the full story of it and we’re not capturing what it’s for, it’ll just continue being a scientific curio if that’s the case.

Tamson: So, Anna, did this process get you closer to the fisherwomen? I mean, do you have a clearer image now of who they were? Or the songs they sang?

Anna: I do…but I also had this realisation. I went out to immerse myself in environmental archives. I’ve talked to historians about how we can challenge colonial sources and reinterpret artefacts. I’ve spent all this time thinking about the past when, you’ve got to remember…some of those songs…they’re still being sung today.

Tim: We sing, we always sung. We always dance. When we play the bullroarer, we sing and dance. And bonfires. Bon fires at night here cos that’s the light house, for the whales. That bullroarer covers across that water and can go for hundreds of miles. Tells that whale to come in and rest.

Tamson: That sound? That’s a bullroarer, a message stick that you spin round and round.

Tim: That bullroarer is their language. woowoowoowoo. All the way out. It goes across the water for ‘em. Tells them to come in for sanctuary.

Anna: Tim Ella is a Yuin man and comes from an unbroken line of fishing people. He was raised on the exact same beach we’re on right now.

Tim: Yes, right now we’re on the beach known as two little beaches in the La Perouse area in Botany Bay and these beaches are very significant part to all Aboriginal people but especially with our family, as we’re on a secluded beach here known as Congwang Bay, Congi Beach.

Anna: Remember that whale carving Nathan showed me in North Sydney? Well we’re at the place called whale, Guriwal.

Tim: Those carvings are our stories, if we ain’t getting to learn our stories cause we’re losing our land. Because it ain’t been told us, its told by carvings.

Anna: But although he’s trained to read those carvings, they’re also under threat.

Tim: It’s very hard to read cause it’s also getting worn out. So, it makes it even hard for our people to understand what’s there. Cos in the old days, we had our people that done them and kept them open, alive. You’ve got to think, some of them, like the one here in La Perouse is over twenty-two thousand years old. But probably when I turned about 18 19, it was decided that graffiti and that was destroying around the rock. People, people ain’t seeing the whale, they don’t understand.

Anna: And the middens here were mined in the early colonial period too.

Tim: We had one in the back of Lapa here and I showed the kids, very rare, that was all dug up for lime, for building here for the convicts. They were dug up for concrete, very rare. That is my history, that is my story. That’s how we teach our kids. And with our story, its telling you what to eat on this land. And when you see a certain shellfish or whatever on top, you know you’re not allowed to touch it. That’s got to be, that’s last eaten, it’s got to regrow. We’ve got to go for the lower piles that haven’t been taken. We’ve got to sustain our food to last for everybody, not for me, for everybody. We don’t own this land, everyone owns it, my people and all animals.

Tamson: So, if these archives are fading or have been erased, how does Tim keep his connection with his past?

Anna: Well he lives it. Unlike the engravings, Tim’s connection with the land and his past hasn’t faded. He performs an embodied type of archive. It’s a history that’s re-enacted across generations, learning songs, fishing methods, stories like the whale story. Like he told Tom, our producer.

Tim: Yeah but that’s where we grew up over there bra, see?

Tom: Yeah right.

Tim: That beach, that secluded beach, we had to walk there every day. I rowed with me father in the net boats we rowed around. Sometimes he rowed three times back with loads of fish, then we’d have to come back and get the nets.

Tom: What kind of fish?

Tim: Mullet, yeah big mullet. We still got a cultural right to do that and we do it every year now.

Tom: I mean, I guess you’d be teaching the kids as well.

Tim: Oh yeah. Well that’s one thing we do, our kids play a big day with this. The kids are the main ones to do it. Cos that’s what we’re taught, see. What, what a lot of people don’t realise, I was probably one of the last kids ever shown this stuff. And I didn’t go to school a lot through my younger years. Cos I was with my father here fishing, with my uncle. So, I was a kid that was against school, I just lived me culture that’s the way I was taught.

Tamson: But Tim’s talking about fishing on Botany Bay here isn’t he, how does that help us understand the fisherwomen of Sydney Harbour?

Anna: Well Tim reckons, a woman’s life on the water was the same here as it was in Sydney Harbour.

Tim: Exactly the same as in Botany Bay, exactly the same as you go further, the same as if you went up north. Women was a big part of fishing. Women. Yes, women, was easy for them to go on the canoe, to take their two kids or a couple of kids. They made shell hooks out of our shells here. I could show you to make shell hooks today. We’ve been taught that. It’s in our culture. A lot of things here what we do, we do. We still can, we don’t need to but we’ve been taught how to do it. We know these things cos this how we’ve lived forever.

Tamson: We’ve been hearing about lots of ways of getting at this story. But in this reimagining Anna of what history constitutes and what its sources are aren’t we in danger of appropriating, again, Indigenous ways of knowing.

Anna: Yeah, I think we are. I think there’s a real danger in colonising not only Aboriginal land, which has happened, but colonizing Aboriginal knowledge and stories. The flipside of that of course is by not doing it by not attempting to tell these stories, are we relegating them to some kind of footnote outside mainstream knowledge in Australia? And that is also a huge cost.

Tamson: So, what does it mean to navigate that tension.

Anna: I guess one of the ethical demands of doing this sort of history as a non-Indigenous person, is learning to listen and accepting that sometimes it’s not our role to tell these stories but it’s just as important to listen to them. Listening to story keepers. Aboriginal story keepers, listening to the environment around us. Listening to the sources. Sources sometimes outside conventional archives. So much has been destroyed in South Eastern Australia so it’s critical to be open to histories handed down orally, practice-based histories, environmental histories, as well as to re-read those important colonial sources under the guidance of Indigenous perspectives. The other thing to remember is that this knowledge has not been ‘lost’ – it’s been forcefully and deliberately erased by our colonial past.

Tamson: So, are we any closer to hearing the Eora fisherwomen? Did you ever learn what their songs sounded like?

Anna: Yeah, we have this tantalising trace. The French explorer Louis de Freycinet was so intrigued by a Sydney fisherwomen’s’ song in 1819, that he tried to write it down. But it’s still so elusive. We don’t know if he heard the song himself or was given the transcript. He wasn’t sure of the lyrics, we’re not even sure who sung them and as a non-Indigenous historian maybe it’s not even my place to try and translate or sing it. But he wrote down a few of the notes.

Maddison Lyn Collier: I’m so excited to do this. I just hope I do it justice, I’m so nervous.

Tom: Maybe then to start with can I get you to introduce yourself.

Maddi: Hey, it’s Maddi Lyn, I’m a proud Gundungurra and Darug girl from Campbelltown. So, it’s just that one sentence isn’t it? Just that one line. I’m going to say it is going to be hard. Cos there are two different translations and there’s two different spellings but it’s not, it’s still not the right Aboriginal spelling if you get what I mean? It’s a water song, so they must put fish in there. I assume they must talk about the fish. The country around. So, it must be the country or water. So, it’s T Mara, I’ve got it now. Country it means home, so well that’s the exact translation so. [Singing]

Tamson: You’ve been listening to History Lab, an investigative history podcast by the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS. I’m Tamson Pietsch. This is our last episode for season one of History Lab. But don’t worry – we’ll be back with Season Two later in the year. Thanks to our collaborators for this episode Anna Clarke, Grace Karskens, Renee Cawthorne, Nathan Sentence, Tim Ella and Maddison Lyn Collier. This episode was produced by Tom Allinson and Ninah Kopel with assistance from Miles Herbert and Ellen Leabeater. Sound design by Joe Koning. Marketing and communications by Andy Huang. Our Executive Producer is Emma Lancaster. History Lab is made in the studios of 2ser that sit on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. We pay respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging – who have been telling stories since time immemorial.

And finally – thanks to you, for listening and coming on this ride with us. We have loved making meaning with you and exploring the gaps between us and the past. We’ll be back later in the year with Season Two. So, if you’re a historian or academic who wants connect with audiences beyond the academy – History Lab is taking pitches now. So, to find out how you can have an episode of History lab made, head to – And while you are at it – on the website we have some extra including photos, interviews and transcripts.

Finally, we want to thank all the keepers of the past – archivists, librarians, curators, collectors, historians and story tellers, thank you for doing what you do. So, for now we are taking break, so we can make season two. But we want you to continue to get that fix of history in your ears

Aside from History Lab, one of my favourite shows is ABC Radio National’s, The History Listen. Each week, host Rebecca Huntley brings the past to life through eye witness accounts, and a deep dig through the archives. You can catch the History Listen on the ABC Listen app, or right next to History Lab, wherever you get your podcasts.

* Correction: Collins’ 1790 account states that the amount of fish given was 200 pounds. We apologise for the error. You can read Collin’s account here.


Podcast playlist


Bonus episode | The making of History Lab |

July 10 · 31 MIN

What does it take to make History Lab?


This bonus interlude episode lifts the curtain on all that goes into making history for your ears!


Executive Producer Emma Lancaster steps out from behind the headphones and asks you to listen hard as she and host Tamson Pietsch discover that in the gap between historians and journalists, great things can happen.


The History Lab final episode for Season One ‘Fishing for Answers’ will be available 25 July 2018.


To find out more about the History Lab pitching process head to



When the Titanic sank in the desert

June 27 · 37 MIN

In the middle of a mining town in outback Australia, over 400 kilometres from the closest ocean, stands a monument dedicated to the memory of the Titanic.

On the surface the story of Broken Hill’s Titanic Memorial can be seen as a simple tale of memory and humanity, one community expressing their sympathy for another.

But on closer inspection, the politics of memory starts to unravel and raises questions about the power of remembering and why we do it in the first place.


Damages for a broken heart

June 12 · 36 MIN

Quietly buried away in Western Sydney’s state archives is a secret history of love.

Lists of lingerie, love letters and lockets of hair, are stapled to writs from over 200 years ago.

In the 19th century a broken engagement could damn a woman for life. But scorned women had an unexpected way to get square.

A now somewhat forgotten law known as ‘breach of promise to marry’ saw women awarded massive damages after being left jilted at the altar.

But why would the courts be interested in the failed love lives of working class people? And what does a convict’s daughter, a barrister and a former Prime Minister have to do with it?

In this episode of History Lab we sift through the historical remains to discover litigious lovers, colonial love triangles and the emergence of medicalised heartbreak on a quest to understand the history of love.