Newsletter 10 May 2022
Peter Laurie Burns (1931 - 2022)
The death of Peter Burns on March 27, at age ninety one, marked the passing of one the great characters among South Australian academics. He was a great lecturer, mentor, promoter of causes, raconteur, sharp wit, academic entrepreneur, and often just a very noticeable and positive presence.
Born in Ottawa, in Canada in 1930, Peter Burns grew up in a solid middle-class environment. His middle name of Laurie was a nod to maternal great grandparent Sir Peter Laurie, once Lord Mayor of London. Peter was sent to board at Lakefield College School, one consequence being he spoke with a beautiful Canadian accent to the very last.
Peter was a student at the University of British Columbia and in later years sometimes regaled friends with stories of paying for his tuition by betting on the races. By way of supporting evidence, others said he retained an interest in horses long after. He also had numerous other great stories about working in the Artic North, securing the sponsorship of a businessman to pay for his ticket to Singapore, where he spent time at the University of Malaya prior to Singapore’s exit from Malaya, and working his passage back from Singapore via Jeddah on a Norwegian ship, his primary sources in tow. On board, he organised a union, prompting the captain to ask him, “Burns, are you a communist?”
Peter’s PhD was based on the journals of J. W. W. Birch, first British resident to Perak, 1874-1875 and he published these in 1976. Birch was assassinated in 1875 and the resultant war with the British allowed for the extension of colonial control over the Malay Peninsula. His interest in the roles of colonialism, imperialism, politics and related issues in South East Asia remained a constant his whole life.
Peter arrived in Adelaide in 1966 at a febrile time in Australian politics when the Commonwealth government realised it needed to develop more Asia-related knowledge. It was time when more people in Adelaide studied Indonesian than they do now and politics and history departments were able to employ far more scholars to research and teach about Asia than, counterintuitively, there are today. For a city with a demonstrable historical connection to Malaya via the Light family and the East India Company, it is hard to believe that Asian History barely has a presence in its universities now.
While he published relatively little, Peter was employed in a time before publish-or-perish became the bane of academia. Colleagues put his issue with publication down to being hypercritical of his own work. The primary sources he published and later extended to the journals and manuscripts of more Malayan officials like Wilkinson and Swettenham, remain important sources for younger scholars, many of whom he supported with stories, advice, and sometimes advocacy.
Peter did stand out for his enthusiasm for lecturing and encouraging students, especially those who showed interest in Asia or idealistic causes. Peter was a key figure in the joint History-Politics course, Old Societies and New States which was one of those subjects which students still spoke of decades after it ended. One reason for its importance was that it emerged as Australia was engaged in the war in Vietnam and there was widespread concern about the spread of communism in South East Asia. Peter’s battered FJ Holden, often found parked near the Art Gallery, was conspicuous, not least for its Stop The Vietnam War sticker even decades later
Among the causes Peter advocated for in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide were the establishment of the Centre for Asian Studies which came to fruition in the mid-1970s. Peter often attended meetings, seminars and taught classes in Centre courses. Due to his keen interest in Asia’s many and competing “autonomous” intellectual traditions, including non-alignment and anti-colonialism, he was critical of external observers and pundits who referred to Asia as a singular “region” – a point that contemporary proponents of an “Indo-Pacific” regional identity would do well to consider.
Peter was also a strong proponent of women’s studies and helped support the establishment of what started as the Research Centre for Women’s Studies in 1982. By that time he had also been a mentor for some of those involved.
Peter’s flair for academic entrepreneurship was highlighted through his interest in the history of trade ceramics from South East Asia which resulted in close cooperation with the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Dick Richards and the establishment of the Research Centre for South East Asian Ceramics. This also led to years of work researching Thai ceramics, among others. This work was notable for its cross disciplinary nature, with historians, archaeologists, physicists and others involved. He was subsequently also involved in the Centre for Telecommunications Information Networking.
Peter was an embodiment of the avuncular – a colleague who was kind, friendly, warm and welcoming towards younger and less experienced academics, post grad students and undergraduates. Many were surprised to be suddenly approached by Peter, hand outstretched, big welcome and twinkle in his eye, as if he already knew them. This extended to having coffee and chats and being a source of advice on things academic and political. Many who went to become academics themselves had Peter to thank for helping overcome their isolation and making them believe in themselves and their research projects. Peter always had great stories about his transition into Australian life and culture, the one about the one armed man from Bordertown a classic enjoyed by many.
While he retired from full time teaching at Adelaide in 1996 and altogether in 1999, Peter was regularly called-on across all three of South Australia’s universities to take over courses on Asia when staff suddenly left or failed to arrive, to rescue post-graduates left in the lurch by their supervisors or unable to get on with them or help in other ways.
Very active and a keen swimmer into his eighties, Peter often shocked those he just met when he told them his age as he came across as far younger. He never lost interest in interesting things, even when they were presented to him by people half his age or younger. He also loved to have people guess at his accent then make clear he was a proud Canadian!
Peter is survived by his two daughters, Kate and Isabel, sons-in-law, Paul and Chris, and grandchildren Elizabeth, Josephine, George and Henry.
SA Medical Heritage Society General Meeting
Featuring Dr. Jacqueline Jepson speaking about her father, Professor R.P. Jepson - a distinguished vascular surgeon and an important figure in the early days of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where he was involved in kidney transplantation and initiated tissue typing in South Australia. May 26, 6pm, Royal Society rooms, Morgan Thomas Lane.
View the flyer here.
Guest Post: Noris Ioannou on Thylacines, Dingoes, and the Eureka Flag
In this Wakefield Press guest post, the author of Vernacular Visions: A Folklife History of Australia - art, diversity, storytelling draws upon his research to discuss the links between thylacines and dingoes, and the way that modern media mirrors the past.
Read the blog post here.
Calling for Federal Election Material
With the federal election happening on Saturday 21 May 2022, the State Library is seeking donations of election ephemera, including pamphlets, letters, and how-to-vote cards. You can send your material via post or by bringing it in to the State Library.
Further information including postal address via the State Library website.
Algie's Romance, a 'lost' film
The State Library of South Australia is calling for help from history buffs with knowledge of the Mitcham Hills area. Four photos in the Library's digital collection are believed to be 'stills' from the comedy film Algie's Romance, filmed in South Australia during 1917 and 1918. Unfortunately the photographs have no background information with them, so if you or your family have any knowledge of the area or the film, the library would love to hear from you.
Further information via SLSA website.
South Australia's History Festival
Held in May each year, the 2022 SA History Festival is kicking off with its opening night on 28 April. One of SA's largest open-access community events, the History Festival features events for everyone, from guided tours to talks, exhibitions, special events, and workshops.
Further information and program available on the History Festival website
Lectures, exhibitions, and events
Watandar my Countryman
When Afghan-Hazara refugee, photographer, and human rights activist Muzafar Ali discovers that Afghans have been in Australia for 160 years it inspires a photographic journey to meet their descendants, his Watandar. This exhibition is a multimedia exploration of identity which presents the lives of a largely hidden community, the Afghan Cameleer Descendants. May 2 - June 3, Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, Hawke Building level 3, UniSA City West Campus.
Further information on the UniSA website.
Building SA: Journey to Uncertainty
Many of the histories of the early days of South Australia tell of the affluent and influential early SA settlers, but what of the equally important stories of everyday families? The Pioneers Association of SA brings to you the fascinating stories of men, women and children who courageously journeyed halfway around the world in pursuit of a dream; a better life for themselves and the generations to follow. They farewelled family, friends and familiar places for an uncertain future.
Open Weekdays 10 - 27 May, 10am - 3pm, Level 3, Stafford House, 25 Leigh Street, Adelaide. Bookings required for talks.
Further information on the Pioneers SA website.
Shaping a democracy: South Australian politics and its leaders in the 1860s
A lecture by Professor Alan Reid exploring political life in South Australia in the 1860s, focusing on the Premiers who tried to (re)imagine democracy in the first decade of responsible government in South Australia. 23 May, 6 - 8pm, University of South Australia, City West Campus.
Further information and registration via Eventbrite.
'Please respect all life anew - the Muses in an Australian context'
An exhibition by South Australian artist Kathleen Patitsas, attempting to understand the ancient Greek's conception of visual art, and depicting the muses in the context of the Australian environment. Open now until June 2, dates and times vary.
Further information here.
The Legacies of Birtish Slavery and Labour History
This seminar is presented by historians working on the project of writing slavery into Australian history. May 16 2022, 5pm to 6.15pm (AEST), online.
Further information and registration here.
Australian Heritage Festival
With the new theme 'Curiosity', the 2022 National Trust Heritage Festival is packed with events to bring heritage to life. Many events are free, online, or held in Adelaide so there is something for everyone. The festival is on until 31 May 2022.
View the events calendar on their website.
You Can't Make this Up! Writing about Historical Figures
Noted historians Dr. Anne Black, Dr. Philip Butterss and Professor Philip Payton will discuss the challenges of bringing historical figures to life. All three presenters are award-winning authors who have written about noted South Australians and historical events. 16 May 2022, 2.00-3.30pm. Gawler Civic Centre, Gawler.
Further information and registration via Eventbrite.
Flinders History Research Seminars: Semester 1
The schedule for this semester's Flinders History Research Seminars is now available. They will be held on Fridays from 11:15am - 12:30pm in room 149, Social Sciences South (Bedford Park) and via Microsoft Teams.
The next seminar is ‘Reconquest? The Iberian holy war seen from England (8th to 13th century)' by Dr. Hélène Sirantoine, The University of Sydney.
View the schedule here (pdf).
ANU Centre for Environmental History: Environmental Exchanges
A new seminar series dedicated to showcasing and discussing the new research that engages with key themes in environmental history. Seminars will be held approximately once a month on Thursdays, with all in 2022 being held via Zoom as well as in-person at the ANU's Acton campus.
Further information on the ANU School of history website here.
The first series is on the topic of Oceans, with the next seminar on 16 June 2022: Dr Alessandro Antonello (Flinders University), 'Antarctic Krill and the Temporalities of Oceanic Abundance'.
Registration and further information here.
Lust for Lifestyle: Modern Adelaide Homes 1950-1965
A new exhibition in the State Library Gallery on the architecture of the post-World War II boom. Open until 5 June 2022.
Further information on the State library website.
Matthew Flinders: The Man Behind the Map by Gillian Dooley
In Matthew Flinders: The Man behind the Map Gillian Dooley looks to the primary sources to discover Flinders as a friend; a son, a brother, a father and a husband; as a writer, a researcher, a reader, and a musician - and above all as a romantic scientist. Published by Wakefield Press.
The book will be launched by Keith Conlon at the SA Maritime Museum on Thursday 26 May as part of the SA History Festival. Bookings essential.
Further information and booking via the SA Maritime Museum.
Murder in the Colony, by Paul Tucker
An anthology of all 391 reported murders in South Australia from 1836 to 1886, from stabbings to shootings, to shipwreck massacres and the case of Elizabeth Woolcock - the only woman executed for murder in South Australia.
Further information and ordering through Wakefield Press
South Australia 1919-1939: Essays from the PHA
This collection of essays from the Professional Historians Association (SA) gives new perspectives of a little-researched period of the history of South Australia. Topics include the flu and polio outbreaks, built heritage, aviation history, women in pubs, and the attempt to erase Germans from the map.
A book launch will be held Monday 30 May, 5.00-6.30pm at the Hetzel Lecture Theatre, State Library of SA, North Terrace. Bookings required by phone or email.
0413 910 234
Further information on the SA History Festival website.
Casual History Convenors, School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW
Casual teaching opportunities available in term 3, 2022. Two courses (ARTSS2271 Inventing Modern Australia, 1900 to Now, and ARTS2272 The European World, 1500-1800) have casual convenor vacancies. Applications due 12 August 2022.
Please contact the UNSW History convenor Dr. Zora Simic for more information: [email protected].
WEA Board Vacancies
The Board of WEA Adult Learning is calling for individuals to assist in developing the not-for-profit organisation. The Board is particularly keen to hear from those with marketing, legal, education, or financial experience to compliment the team. Nominations close 17th May at 5pm.
To obtain a WEA Board Nomination Pack please contact [email protected] or telephone 8223 1979.
Thanks to Commonwealth government funding, Trove is offering a free trial to Australian galleries, archives, museums, and historical societies that would like to reach a vast audience and see their collection in a national context. The trial period ends 30 June 2022.
Further information here.
Calls for papers
Australasian Mining History Conference 2022 held in Burra, South Australia September 18 - 25.
Further information and abstract template on the AMHA website.
Information circular no.1 available here.
History of Education Review (HER) is an international journal committed to the publication of high quality peer-reviewed research and theoretical papers on the history of education.
Further information on the Emerald Publishing website.