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History Lab S1Ep3: When the Titanic sank in the desert

Sarah Gregson: There’s a book called ‘In the Shadow of the Titanic’ and I always relate to that name because I sort of feel like I myself grew up in the shadow of the Titanic.

Tamson: On the 14th of April 1912 the Titanic, a British passenger liner, hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic.

Sarah Gregson: When I was about 6 years old I was given a jigsaw puzzle of the Titanic in its last throes- very cheerful present for a child.

Tamson: It took two hours and 40 minutes for the ship to sink leading to the deaths of almost 1500 people.

Sarah Gregson: With half the ship underwater and the other half sticking up in the air and lifeboats coming away from the sinking ship. And yeah that was my job for the next little while to put together a jigsaw puzzle of a tragedy.

Ninah Kopel: Do you remember at the time what you actually wanted for Christmas?

Sarah Gregson: No. No, I don’t I’m afraid. I think at six years old I probably wanted a puppy, but I don’t I don’t know.

Tamson: This puzzle of a shipwreck that a six year old Sarah Gregson was gifted by her parents one Christmas morning in the 1960s depicts of one of the most infamous maritime disasters in modern history.

This is History Lab and I’m Tamson Pietsch. Today an investigation into the politics of memory. It will take us to some unexpected places and we’ll see what a story about trying to remember can reveal about what we choose to forget.

Sarah Gregson: I was born in South Hampton and we came to Australia when I was very young.

Tamson: Southampton is where the Titanic began that fateful voyage from the UK to New York. But Southampton isn’t the only connection that a now grown up Sarah Gregson has with the ship.

Sarah Gregson: As long as I can remember I always knew that my great grandfather had been a stoker on the Titanic.

Tamson: Stokers are the people who shoveled coal into a furnace to power the ship.

Sarah Gregson: They call them the ‘black gang’ because it’s a very dirty and tough job.

Tamson: Sarah Gregson went on to become a labor historian at the University of New South Wales.

Sarah Gregson: I was doing my PHD research on the maintenance of the White Australia policy.

Tamson: Until one day her work led her to a small mining town in the far west of New South Wales.

Sarah Gregson: I Was in Broken Hill and walking through Sturt Park. It was just on the way to the library. Bright sunny day, and I saw a broken column which is a classic Greek symbol of life cut short. And when I realised it was a Titanic Memorial I was really quite blown away because I think I don’t know how many relatives of Titanic victims there are in Australia but probably not that many. In Southampton, they’re a dime a dozen.

Tamson: So how did a ship that went down in the night over 18,000 kilometres away somehow make its way into the hearts and minds of an Australian desert town?

Sarah Gregson: I don’t think I really realised that it was a mythology when I first started to look at it. I just thought we were a long way from the ocean. Why is that there?

Tamson: So we sent History Lab producer Ninah Kopel to investigate.

Flight Attendant: Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Broken Hill. Please remain seated with your seatbelt firmly fastened until the aircraft…

Ninah Kopel: So I’m on the corner of Beryl and Sulphide Street in the middle of Broken Hill and behind me the sun is setting and to my right is Sturt Park. I’ve been told that this monument is in the middle of a park so it should be easy to find. Oh yeah I see it. It’s right there. Oh it’s so much smaller than I was expecting!

Sarah Gregson: It’s a very beautiful park. Green grass and there’s lots of roses. Beautiful spot to be.

Ninah Kopel: The plaque at the front of the monument which says, “erected by the citizens of Broken Hill…

Sarah Gregson:…As a memorial to the heroic bandsmen of the steamship Titanic, who playing to the end calmly face certain death, whilst women children and their fellow man were being rescued from the wreck…

Ninah Kopel: …of that ill fated vessel”. So that’s in the middle and there’s this big pillar broken off at the top and also on the plaque, I should say as well, is a bar of music which is from Nearer My God To Thee. Which as the story goes is what the band’s been playing as the Titanic sank.

Tamson: But that story about them playing as the ship went down… did that really happen?

Sarah Gregson: I think it’s unlikely. It’s one of those things that we’ll never know for sure but the most reliable witness a guy called Gracie. He said that the band packed up about half an hour before the ship sank which makes more sense. It will be hard to play on a listing ship I would imagine….

Tamson: Another thing often misunderstood about the bandsmen…

Sarah Gregson: Of course they didn’t play Nearer My God to Thee because it would have been irresponsible. They were there to play light airs to calm people. Nearer My God To Thee was a funeral song.  Mass panic would have ensued if they’d played that. I think the most credible explanation is this is a mythology that people have told themselves over time. They’ve tried to liken the victims to uncomplaining heroes that they were somehow brave in their in their decisions. And I’m not saying that they weren’t, the people who stood back and allowed people into life but I think they were. There was an element of heroism in that…

Archive voice 1: 1912 the SS Titanic appeared the very symbol of a way of life: prosperous, inevitable and everlasting.

Archive voice 2: nothing to see and nothing to hear except the distant roar of the water and the Titanic.

Archive voice 3: Isn’t that the ship that they say is unsinkable?

Archive voice 4: 3 sharp clangs on the crows nest bell, followed by a cry from the lookout, “ice right ahead sir”.

Archive voice 5:Till the end I heard them play, nearer my god to thee.

Archive voice 6: The biggest and finest ship in the world.

Sarah Gregson:…I think these stories perhaps they calm people and make them, you know, to not think about the suffering that people went through.

Tamson: But if this memorial in Broken Hill was some kind of expression of grief why is it dedicated to the Bandsmen? What was it about them that moved an Australian desert town to cast their names in Stone?

Ninah Kopel: Knock knock? Hi…Which way am I going… Hi, how are you!

I’ve been asking around town to see who can tell me more about the bandsmen and what they meant to Broken Hill and people keep pointing me towards one person…

Margaret Price:Hello, come on in.

Ninah Kopel: Thank you What a beautiful old building.

Ninah Kopel: …Margaret Price, from the Broken Hill Historical Society. They’re based out of this old historic synagogue in town. And that’s where we meet

Margaret Price: This is the Titanic memorabilia in here.

Ninah Kopel: So Margaret and I are standing in this room with these cabinets full of Titanic memorabilia. There’s books, pictures…

Margaret Price: This cupboard has got a lot of the written work…

Ninah Kopel: …small replica statues…

Margaret Price: …  it sort of tells a story.

Ninah Kopel: But Margaret has a few stories of her own. She leads me out of the room into a passageway and into the historic synagogue.

Margaret Price: Come and have a look

Ninah Kopel: umm, I’m not sure if you’ll remember this, but when did you become aware that there was a bandsmen memorial in Broken Hill?

Margaret Price: When I was a kid. Yeah we used to skip around it, never really taking into consideration that a huge big ship sunk. We just thought it was bandsmen in Broken Hill and most people do. They say oh we didn’t know so many bandsmen were on the Titanic from Broken Hill. I say nobody was, but they just assume that’s why we built it.

Ninah Kopel: None of the bandsmen on the Titanic were from Broken Hill. None of them were even Australian.

Margaret Price: The people in Broken Hill played bands. The miners played bands. There were bands bands bands.

Ninah Kopel: So in 1912 when the people of Broken Hill heard about the Titanic sinking….

Margaret Price: When they read it in the paper or heard it on the radio, they all then said we got to remember those heroic men and they probably thought they were the only men that stayed on board. Not really understanding so many other people went down.

Tamson: So that’s it? The memorial was an expression of empathy?

Ninah Kopel: Well that’s what Margaret told me. But to understand why the bandsmen in Broken Hill felt so strongly about the bandsmen on the Titanic, you have to know a bit about the history of Broken Hill. And in particular, the history of music in Broken Hill.

This is the Barrier Industrial Unions Brass Band at their weekly rehearsal. We’re in a large hall and photographs line the walls along with uniforms and memorabilia spanning back to the band’s formation in 1884.

Ross Mawby: When you’re a brass player generally you’re a brass player for life.

Ninah Kopel:This is Ross Mawby.

Ross Mawby: I play a baritone which is a little larger than a tenor horn a little smaller than a euphonium.

Ninah Kopel: But he also happens to be the past president of the Broken Hill Historical Society. So he’s a good person to shed some light on what music has meant to the town.

Ross Mawby: We play a lot of music associated with Broken Hill. ‘Broken Hill I Love you Still’ is one of the tunes we play rather regularly.

Ninah Kopel: So when you play you feel connected to the history of the Broken Hill?

Ross Mawby: I do. The music is very meaningful even today we play music associated with the union movement like the red flag and music like this. Militant union songs and that, going back to the big strikes early in the early days of the 20th century and the late 19th century.

Tamson: So the brass bands were kind of like the soundtrack to Broken Hill unionism?

Ninah Kopel:Exactly.

Tamson: And so the strikes Ross was telling you about, they were for better work conditions in the mines?

Ninah: Yeah. And if you know anything about the history of Broken Hill, it would be about the town’s mines. They’re famous.

Tamson: Well that’s where BHP Billiton started right?

Ninah Kopel: Yeah, BHP started off Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.

Tamson: But it’s also famous for its industrial action, right?

Ninah Kopel: Yes. So if we are talking about the period when the titanic sank in 1912, it would have been the 1908 to 1909 BHP lockout that was fresh in people’s minds.

Sarah Gregson: The 1908-9 strike was very well photographed and there were a lot of images of the band playing and the miners marching to the pit heads very organized and very fiercely organized against scabbery.

Ninah Kopel: So ‘scab’ is a union term for people who cross the picket line and continue to work during  strikes.

sarah: You know they didn’t want non-union workers going on the mine but also as a show of strength as well.

Ninah Kopel: So if I were a miner in 1909 and I was going to try go to work during that BHP lockout, what would happen to me?

Sarah Gregson: You may well have had an image of a scab put on a coffin, a make believe coffin, and the coffin marched up the street to the marching band and ceremoniously put into the grave. I’ve probably got one somewhere.

Ninah Kopel: Sarah is scrolling through some research on her computer trying to find some images that will bring this story to life.

Sarah Gregson: oh yeah.

Ninah Kopel: And there they are: images of the graves, and tombstones featuring skulls, dedicated to the men who dared to keep working.

Sarah Gregson: To the memory of Thomas Fowler scab in the B.H. mine. 1909 scab’s grave. So no fate to dire for a scab.

Ninah Kopel: So he wasn’t actually dead?

Sarah Gregson: No no no, they didn’t actually kill him.

Ninah Kopel: Back at the band Hall in Broken Hill, Ross continues to tell me some of the brass band’s history and its connection to both the unions at home and abroad.

Ross Mawby: There was a very strong tie between unions throughout the world in those days. When the strikers in London, the dock strikers, went out on strike, unionists in Broken Hill sent money over to support the dockside workers

Ninah Kopel: And so when the Titanic sank in 1912 the union band in Broken Hill heard about it and felt solidarity with the bandsmen who had died on board, connected to them, through this global movement.

Ross Mawby: It was just the sentiment the people had. That these were brave men who died, in keeping people calm as the ship sank and we decided to put up a memorial.

Tamson: So this wasn’t just some musicians expressing empathy for their fellow bandsmen. This was kind of a political statement about workers and unionism.

Ninah Kopel: And that’s where this gets really interesting. Because this is a story about politics and the union movement. But it’s definitely not as simple as it seems.

I’m going to give you something to read and ask you to read it and you’ll probably realise what it is fairly quickly

Sarah Gregson: Oh. I’ve never read it out aloud before. In loving memory of William Edward. Three long years have now passed since this great sorrow fell, yet in my heart I mourn the loss of one I loved so well. Time rolls on and years pass by, whatever may be my lot. As long as life and memory last, he will never be forgot. I’m surprised. Like i’m not a teary person but yeah. It really is quite touching.

Ninah Kopel: Sarah’s reading a small notice from a newspaper article printed in 1915.

Sarah Gregson: That’s something that Emily Ellen wife of William put in the newspaper three years after her husband died on the Titanic. And William Edward was my great grandfather.

Ninah Kopel: In case you’ve forgotten he was a stoker on the ship, one of the ‘black gang’.

Tamson: So when Sarah was working on that puzzle of the titanic …..

Ninah Kopel: She was re creating the image of her great grandfather’s death.

Sarah Gregson: The stokers have kind of mixed reputation because some of them survived and it was, how can I put it, not good for  your masculinity to survive the Titanic sinking because of this notion that the men had to stand back. But many of them were put into lifeboats to row, to be in charge of the boat. So some men didn’t survive because of ‘cowardly reasons’, if you can call it that. They’d survive because they were fulfilling a role in the lifeboats. But also there would have been men who thought, ‘bugger this I’m going to do whatever I can to get into a lifeboat’. And being a stoker they would have been at the bottom of the ship and probably had a closer realisation than most that the ship was going to sink.

Ninah Kopel: But when you start to break down the narrative of those who survived that night and those who didn’t, what starts to emerge is really a message about class.

Sarah Gregson: The statistics suggest that if you were a first class woman the only reason that you didn’t survive was that you refused to get into the lifeboat. And that was true of women who were scared or women who chose to stay with their husbands. But the interesting stat I think is that 31 percent of first class men survived but also 31 percent of third class children survived. So when you say 31 percent of first class men and third class children, I think you start to see that there was a class advantage in who got into the boats. I also think that it’s difficult to understand how there couldn’t have been mass panic and jockeying for all the seats in the boats, had some people not being prevented from coming up to the deck. And so I think a large number of third class passengers never even were able to get through. And I don’t know whether that’s because they were locked down there or whether they were people saying no you can’t come through here. You know those notions of areas that were off limits by class were still quite strong then, even in a catastrophe.

Ninah Kopel: So why is it then, that the bandsman have been the most remembered figures from the night the Titanic sank?

Sarah Gregson: I think the bandsmen have been memorialised more than any other Titanic victim. They’ve certainly been seen as a trope for memorials more commonly than anything else. That can’t be said of other workers on the Titanic. In fact you could be forgiven for thinking that the rich first class passengers rowed themselves for all that is talked about the crew.

Ninah Kopel: And so when Sarah arrived in Broken Hill and saw the Titanic Memorial…

Sarah Gregson: …it had a particular resonance for me that it probably wouldn’t for many other people and that started the research. So I started looking at newspapers and then I started to get a sense of the people who wanted the memorial.

Ninah Kopel: As it turns out, it wasn’t just the union brass bands….

Sarah Gregson: I found there was a different story to tell about conservative people in the town wanting the memorial. The initial Memorial Committee was made up of mostly town elite people mine managers members of the local clergy the mayor and so forth. Ordinary workers weren’t involved in that committee.

Ninah Kopel: Sarah never managed to find the minutes of the Memorial Committee’s meetings so we can’t know exactly what happened in them but she did find newspaper articles that reported the minutes in very fine detail.

Tamson: So What do they say?

Ninah Kopel: Well one of the things the newspapers reveal are the people who were involved in the decision making behind the scenes. One of those people was W.E Wainwright.

Sarah Gregson: Bill Wainwright was a leading mine manager in Broken Hill. He managed the Broken Hill South Mine at the time of the Titanic sinking and he was quite innovative both in technological matters in mining but also in matters of labor relations. And so the Mine Managers Association was asked to give a donation to the Titanic Memorial but their minutes record that they didn’t have any money for such purposes but they encourage their members to go along and intervene in the discussion.

Ninah Kopel: So Wainwright wasn’t on the Memorial Committee but he was there when they were making some pretty important decisions, decisions like what the monument would say and who it would memorialise.

Tamson: What were they planning?

Ninah Kopel: Well they were talking about a memorial for the engineers

William Wainwright: a monument has been erected in London for the engineers….

Ninah Kopel: but Wainwright said he thought a memorial for the bandsmen would be more appropriate.

William Wainwright: To the memory of the ship’s brave bandsmen. It had been women and children first with them.

Sarah Gregson: And so Bill Wainwright was one of those who chose to go along and intervene and he was one of the people who most strongly opposed the notion of commemorating the engineers and preferring the bandsmen as a memorial subject.

Tamson: Why did a mine’s manager care whether the town remembered the Titanic engineers versus the bandsmen.

Ninah Kopel: Well Sarah says its because the engineers in Broken Hill were unionised.

Sarah Gregson: They were absolutely crucial to the success of disputes in Broken Hill because they controlled the lifts that go up and down to the mines so if the workers were out on strike, then nobody worked. And so when it came to thinking about what was a desirable subject for memorialisation I think it’s no accident that the mine managers on the committee said, “Oh no we’d rather The bandsmen then the engineers”.

Tamson: And everyone just went along with that?

Ninah Kopel: Well the plan went ahead.

Sarah Gregson: The memorial was unveiled in 1913.

Ninah Kopel: So the union bands played. Speeches were made.

Sarah Gregson: They talked a lot about the sympathy that people of Broken Hill felt for the victims of the Titanic disaster which I’m sure is very true.

Ninah Kopel: There was talk about Britain and what it means to be British…

Sarah Gregson: They very much wanted to emphasise the the imperial connections between Britain and Australia and to a certain extent America

Ninah Kopel: And the Mayor said things like…

Mayor: When danger was the greatest the more courage the britisher displayed.

Tamson: But what does this have to do with the bandsmen?

Ninah Kopel: It’s about the symbolism behind the memorial and what the town wanted to say about itself at this moment in time.

Sarah Gregson: I think this is a clear motif that is really common in Titanic remembrance to emphasise the Britishness of the heroes when really the Titanic was a ship of all nations. To talk about the men who stood back as British Heroes was very important and to link Australia with supporting that kind of narrative, you know we’re part of that great League of white nations. Literally.

Ninah Kopel: And so the union band started to play Nearer My God to thee and then there is  another speech from a man called W.J. James…

Sarah Gregson: …and he said that the memorial was another evidence of the sympathy that local people felt for the bereaved…

W.J.James: it worthily commemorates the grand deeds of a brave body of men.

Crowd: hear hear!

Ninah Kopel: But then he said this:.

W.J.James: I trust that the time is not so far distant when this community would see fit to erect monuments to the memory of many of their own brave citizens who lost lives in the mines of Broken Hill .

Ninah Kopel: So that speech was made at the unveiling ceremony in 1913, guess when the city of Broken Hill unveiled their Miners Memorial?

Tamson:1925 maybe?

Ninah Kopel: No. It would take a lifetime, 88 years to be exact before the Line of Lode miners memorial was built in 2001.

When you walk around the town of Broken Hill today, you are shadowed by a small mountain of mining refuse. It’s called a slag heap and it basically divides the town in half.

Tamson: and that was where the original BHP mine was, right? Right in the centre of town…

Ninah Kopel: yeah, and as they mined the ridge it got bigger and bigger.

Tamson: Is there still mining going on?

Ninah Kopel: There is still a bit, but nowhere near what it was in the past.  And as mining left Broken Hill, so did its residents….

At the last census there were  less than 18 thousand people in town. But In 1915, at the peak of the boom broken hill had a population closer to 35 thousand

Tamson: And what happens at the slag heap now?

Ninah Kopel: Well, it’s taken on a new meaning.

I’m standing outside the lodge where I’m staying here in Broken Hill and it’s hard to imagine a time before there was a miner’s memorial in town. I’ve organised to meet a retired mines inspector, Stan Goodman here at 9 am. He pulls up right on time in a big four wheel drive

Stan Goodman: Are you aware that a lot of the streets in Broken Hill are named after minerals and that sort of thing?

Ninah Kopel: Trying to navigate broken Hill, You could be forgiven for thinking you had picked up a periodic table instead of a map.

Stan Goodman: …Oxide, chloride iodine, they’re parallel streets. There’s crystal argent, glen Beryl, cobalt Wolfram running that way.

Ninah Kopel: Stan started off in the mines straight out of high school and worked his way up to being a mines inspector.

Stan Goodman:  That’s all all to do with safety. The mines inspector’s job.

Ninah Kopel: And although Stan has retired now. He keeps himself pretty busy. He’s on a mission to change the way miners are remembered in Broken Hill. And it all started right here on the top of the slag heap.

Just looking around and you realise how in the middle of Australia we are.

Stan Goodman: Yeah Broken Hill, is not exactly you know the prettiest place on the earth but you know for a lot of us, its home. Would you like to go over to the memorial?

Ninah Kopel: Yeah that would be wonderful.

Stan Goodman: I come up here periodically. You know I’m not seeing anything new, it’s I guess I just reminisce with myself. I look at names and think about things that happened. And yeah it’s a bit morbid in a way I suppose but. Yeah It’s a bit hard to explain.

Stan Goodman: Come up here….Maxwell George Rose was my brother in law. He was jammed between a piece of equipment and the rock and a bolt went through his hard hat into his brain. And that happened about six o’clock in the evening and he died about nine o’clock the next morning in hospital. But that sort of sort of set me off I guess wanting to find the details, but his age is wrong. And I thought you know if that’s a mistake I wonder how many other mistakes there are. And the more I look the more I found a lot of mistakes.

Ninah Kopel: What age does it say he is there?

Stan Goodman: 29. In fact he was 27. Yeah you know it’s I think if you’re going to have a memorial you should make the information as accurate as you possibly can and I think that’s just what some research properly.

Ninah Kopel: For stan remembering is about getting the facts right.

Stan Goodman: When I started reading through what I could see so many mistakes in people’s names were spelt dates of death cause of death. And I you know I’ve thought about it for a while and then I decided I’m going to start a project I’d retire by the stage and I thought well I’ve got to do something rather than just sit around home so I started doing research on all the fatal accidents that happened on the mine and finishing up doing a book.

Ninah Kopel: Stan’s taking history into his own hands and he’s investigating the stories behind the names on the monument.

Stan Goodman: I don’t say I’ve got 100 per cent right all the information but it’s as good as what I’ve been able to find. Where as a lot of the information that went to preparing this was poorly researched, it really was….excuse me.

Ninah Kopel: We walk through the memorial and come to a blank section, right at the end….Why do you think there’s extra space?

Stan Goodman:  Fingers crossed that there won’t be anymore but if there’s anymore, there’s room to put them there. Yeah but hopefully there’ll be no more additions. But in mining you never say never.

Tamson: So why did it take a mining town so long to build a memorial for all its  workers who had died?

Ninah Kopel: And why in 1913 when the Titanic Memorial was built  didn’t they consider building a miners memorial instead?

Sarah Gregson: The year that the Titanic went down was a particularly deadly one in Broken Hill. 21 fatalities and 385 men injured or off work for more than a week.

Christine Adams: Death was a forever present companion in Broken Hill homes.

Ninah Kopel: This is Christine Adams. She’s a local historian and city councillor and she tells me that back in 1912 & 13 deaths on the mines were happening way too frequently to even think about building a miners memorial. but with the turn of the century…..

Christine Adams:…. by then by then you had that lessening of pain because the deaths were not as frequent as they were when the Titanic went down.

Tamson: Well maybe she has a point. maybe the town had to wait until mining slowed down before they could stop and build something like a miners memorial….

Ninah Kopel: Maybe, but christine says there was also a matter of cost.

Christine Adams:Who would those days have said well we’re going to put up a memorial for the men that have died on our mines. You know I mean you if you go out to the cemetery yes there are quite a lot of deaths and many deaths recorded on the epitaphs on the graves.

Ninah Kopel: Christine spends a lot of time at the cemetery.

Christine Adams: I always say when I have more more relations out there than I do in town.

Ninah Kopel: And she thinks the cemetery provides some clues about why a miners memorial wasn’t built sooner ….

Christine Adams:…because these stories in that cemetery tell you the story of Broken Hill.  You can follow the frequency of deaths on the mines but you can also see the people that died in certain years. You could actually see how this city arose from what it did. Because it was a pretty hard struggle to survive.

Tamson: So the cemetery is kind of a monument unto itself.

Sarah Gregson: I think that’s interesting but it’s a fragmented memorial process isn’t it. I think you only get to see the death toll when you see all the names collected in a place and I think it’s over 800 men have died in Broken Hill in the mine so individual graves don’t cut it as a trope for me.

Ninah Kopel: But maybe these two different memorials have a stronger link than you might expect.

Christine Adams:When you think about it there is there is a connection because those men died in their job. And if you look at Broken Hill 850 names up there on the Miners Memorial a lot of those men would have been bands,’men.

Ninah Kopel: Oh i never thought of that.

Christine Adams: I just thought about it myself to be honest. Yeah, they would have been members of the bands that died underground. So there would have been an empathy with the Broken Hill people because their sense of loss and their loss was a frequent loss.

Tamson: So what does Sarah make of that idea that the two memorials are in some way related?

Sarah Gregson: I’ve read similar arguments in tourists brochures of Broken Hill. However I think that argument doesn’t account for the people who opposed the memorial on the basis that local deaths that were not paid attention to at that time and in fact the Mine Managers Association was absolutely shameless in not giving money to the local hospital to support workers who had all sorts of shortened lives because of the impact of workplace disease. They didn’t give out money at all to those purposes. So the idea that they would be concerned then about Titanic dead I think again shows the hypocrisy. So while I have no problem accepting that people were horrified by the Titanic loss the fact that it takes years to get a memorial to the Broken Hill miners I think suggests where priorities lie, where the ideological battle lines were drawn and why Titanic was memorialised quickly and the dead miners in Broken Hill were not. As far as I can see the titanic memorial is entirely ideological.

Ninah Kopel: So people just take the titanic and they apply their politics and their ideology and interpret it the way they want to.

Sarah Gregson: Yeah yeah absolutely. I’m more and more coming to the idea and I may change my mind about this but I’m thinking that memorials of themselves don’t have a life.

They only have a life in so far as the people who are living around them see them as important and that importance can change over time. I think the meaning of the Titanic memorial when it started is never going to be the same as it is 100 years later. Those societies have changed. They have different ideas about it. But if it has a relevance to them today that it didn’t have in the past, I don’t think that’s a problem

Tamson: And maybe that’s the point that memorials aren’t so much about the events that they are  built to  commemorate as they are about the changing politics of remembering and forgetting.

Christine Adams:I think we’ll start. Good morning everybody and welcome to a walk in the park. It’s one of the events for Broken Hill Heritage Festival that started on Wednesday night….

Ninah Kopel: It’s heritage week in Broken Hill, this year the theme is ‘monuments’ which is what brought me here in the first place. I’m in Sturt Park and a crowd of people have gathered and everyone is  here to talk about the Titanic Memorial. What it meant in the past and what it means today……

Margaret Price: I would like to thank all those people who worked so hard and who linked the RMS Titanic with the city of Broken Hill. The Bandsmen Memorial, its Trade Unions, its bands, its citizens, and its empathy with all, built this memorial…..

Song: Broken Hill, I love you still and I always will be true. To my friends, my pals and comrades….

Tamson: You’ve been listening to History Lab, an investigative history podcast by the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS. I’m your host Tamson Pietsch. Thanks to our collaborating Historian Sarah Gregson. And special thanks to Broken Hill Historical Society, the team at Outback Archives, The Barrier Industrial Unions Brass Band, Broken Hill Community Voices, Steve Vine and everyone else who showed Ninah around town. If you want more history for your ears head to There you will find some photos of the memorials that Ninah took on her trip. Next time on history lab, we find a past that is still singing:

Tim Ella: Them waves are talking to us. Everything is still talking to us. The wind, everything. And it’s why it’s always good to listen and soak up what’s there.

Tamson: This episode was produced by Ninah Kopel

Ninah Kopel: There are these moments  that we know from the records that there were people expressing doubt….

Tamson: Welcome to history Ninah

Ninah Kopel: But how do you say that in a sentence?

Tamson: Our Executive producer is Emma Lancaster, Miles Martignoni is our supervising producer. Sound design by Joe Koning with additional assistance from Miles Martignoni. Marketing and communications by Andy Huang. History Lab is made in the studios of 2ser that sit on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. We pay respect to their Elders, past present and emerging, who have been telling stories since time immemorial.


Podcast playlist


Fishing for answers

July 24 · 37 MIN

Sydney’s iconic Opera House plays host to musicians and dancers, actors and singers. But beneath the notes of their voices, another song echoes across the city’s waters.

Indigenous Eora fisherwomen passed down their knowledge through their songs while paddling their canoes, a cooking fire at one end and their kids on their shoulders.

Anna Clark and Tamson go looking for the fisherwomen’s world, and discover that, if you listen closely, the past of Sydney Harbour still sings.


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



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.