Impact Studios

Australia’s no 1 university for research impact

Host:  Dr Tamson Pietsch
Bonus Episode Co Host: Dr Alecia Simmonds
Executive Producer: Emma Lancaster
Supervising Producer: Sarah Mashman
Executive Story Consultant and Script Editor: Belinda Lopez
Senior Producer: Olivia Rosenman
Producers:  Zoe Ferguson, Julia Carr-Catzel

Produced with the help of: 
Sound Engineering: Output Media
Collaborating UTS academics:  Dr Katherine Biber (Faculty of Law) , Dr Alana Piper, (Centre for Public History), Professor Claude Roux (Centre for Forensic Science) and Dr Trish Luker (Faculty of Law)
Illustrator: Dinalie Dabarera
Digital media and curator: Benjamin Vozzo

Announcer: Head’s up, if you are Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, you should be aware that this trailer contains the voices and names of deceased persons.

Tamson Pietsch: This season on History Lab we’re delving into the traces left by the law

Claude Roux: we work with a lot of shades of grey. We work with a lot of uncertainties here right from the beginning

Tamson Pietsch: And this means we’ll be looking at the ‘law’s way of knowing’

Alicia Simmonds: I think that the law is sometimes the worst place to look for the truth or is certainly not the only place…

Katherine: One thing I’ve observed is that death, money and family together are some kind of special cocktail

Tamson Pietsch: Fortunes will be made…

Samadhi: They talk about tins of gold… she used to hide her wealth in the backyard.

Tamson Pietsch: And forgotten

Actor: “Mrs Scales…  was one of the most remarkable figures in the legal history of the State”.

Tamson Pietsch:  but you’ve probably never heard of her

Samadhi: and he said “oh you know we have a psychic ancestor?” and I said what we have a what?”

Tamson Pietsch: We’ll be looking at how the law knows YOU.

Olivia Rosenmann: What exactly is a signature?

Trish: Well, the more I research signatures, the more difficult that question becomes.

Tamson Pietsch: And revisit a theft of the most intimate kind, sealed by a thumb mark and settled by the courts…

NEWS: …the decision a devastation for those determined that justice would be their’s.

News: (ABC Kerry O’Brien) After sitting for 107 days… Justice Maurice O’Laughlin dismissed the landmark compensation case based on claims relating to the removal of two children from their Aboriginal communities … in Mr Gunner’s case the Judge accepted his mother’s thumbprint as evidence she had authorised his removal…

Tamson Pietsch: And, we’ll hear about the 16 words scratched into a tractor fender by a dying man

Geoff Ellwand: he scrawled on the tractor will a very simple message “in case I die in this mess. I leave all to the wife”. And he signed it

Tamson Pietsch: that would change the way courts across the world think about what makes something a legal document

Tamson Pietsch: So strap in as we take you into places you’ve possibly never been before.

Tammy: I’d like you to shuffle these for me… just shuffle shuffle until one falls out and then stop shuffling …. I like to call these my inner purpose cards…

Tamson Pietsch:  Where we’ve definitely never been before

Xanthe: So we are going into the wet lab….

Xanthe: … pour out some of the iodine and iron zinc solution into a tray and will soak the document. We let it air dry a little bit until it no longer smells like salt and vinegar chips.

Tamson Pietsch: Now if we could only get this tape to play ….

Olivia Rosenmann: Oh shit…

Emma Lancaster: what does the beeping mean?

Tamson Pietsch: History Lab season three lands December 12. ‘The Law’s way of knowing’ is a special four-part series (with a bonus ep), where we look at histories that intersect with the law.

Claude Roux: everything leaves a trace

Tamson Pietsch: History Lab is made on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation whose land was never ceded.

Announcer: This award winning podcast is a collaboration by the Australian Centre for Public History, Impact Studios a new audio initiative at the University of Technology Sydney and our media partner 2SER.


Podcast playlist


A close match

March 11 · 34 MIN


Three days before Spain’s general elections in 2004 a series of bombs exploded on crowded Madrid commuter trains, killing almost 200 people.


The Spanish authorities found a plastic bag a few blocks away from one of the bomb sites with a single, incomplete fingerprint.


This was the trace linked to a man living 9000 kms away, a US Attorney in Oregon by the name of Brandon Mayfield.


We’ve been told that every fingerprint is unique to every finger, but what if this is the wrong question to ask?


Forensic Science was founded on the principle that ‘every contact leaves a trace’ but history shows we can’t always rely on one trace alone.




Reading the signs

February 17 · 38 MIN


When was the last time you were asked to sign something and did you stop to think how the strange squiggly mark you make on a page could be used?


The signature is a performative act, crucial to the law’s way of knowing, but it’s also been used as an instrument of power and control.


In this episode of History Lab we hear from a boy who was stolen, the man who took him away and the Judge who was asked to decide if a mother’s thumbprint was a sign of consent.


The presence or absence of a signature on a legal document can speak volumes and throughout history Aboriginal people have been reclaiming this marker of individual identity to represent the many and speak back to an empire.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this episode contains the voices and names of deceased persons.



Making a fortune

February 03 · 34 MIN

‘Making a Fortune’ looks at the popularity and persecution of two of the most formidable fortune tellers of Federation Australia.


In the first decade of the 20th century, Australians were focused on the future. It was the dawn of a new century, and a newly-formed nation. But during this time, police were cracking down on a booming industry dominated by women—it was a service that society deemed superstitious, archaic and fraudulent and one that is unlawful to this day in some parts of Australia. This is a story of entrepreneurship, independence and the force of the law.


Why were these female fortune tellers so aggressively pursued by the police and how did they use the law to fight back?