Continuing on from last blog, here are a few more of the people I count as significant others, people whom I have met in my wonderful journey into learning in the Humanities, and whom I think of special, and who have inspired me, and made a difference to my life.
My blogging on the people whom I think of special, the significant others who have had a positive effect on my life, would not be complete unless I introduced you to Helen. When she was in office, Helen was very much loved by the RHD candidates and staff alike, and was a recipient of the prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Award for her work in the School. Yet I always got the impression that if you were to ask Helen who she was at the University, this humble, quiet, diligent lady who worked overtime almost every night of the week, of her own free will, and for no extra in her pay-packet, would say something like, “Who me? Oh, I was nobody really.” In actual fact, in a recent email, I did ask Helen just that–who she was in her role at the University– and she replied: “There’s not much to say about my role at the School. I was admin assistant to the role that is now called Dep. Head of School-Research and Research Training. The Research Training Convenor was Pam Nilan, and my duties were organising documentation to and from students, scheduling confirmation meetings and the RHD [Research Higher Degree] Symposium. She [Pam] did a great deal for the students of the School.” In a later email, Helen said: “Pam became Research Training Convenor in 2006 in SHASS [School of Humanities and Social Science] and surveyed the RHDs and identified isolation, training needed to research data bases, writing skills and conference experience. She set up RHD workshops and the two [RHD] symposia per year. She also had open door for students to call on her in her office whenever they wanted. My role was to assist her by setting these things up and scheduling.”
Back when I was an RHD candidate, first in the MPhil degree, and then in the PhD degree, Helen was our RHD “mother”. We RHD candidates always knew where we could go, to whom we could turn, and on whom we could rely, if we needed to know exactly what to do to when applying for various things–travel for research, conference attendances, equipment necessary to our research, etc.,–and which forms to use for what and when, and how to fill out the applicable forms correctly. As well, Helen was always there for us. Many the time some stressed RHD student would go to Helen in tears, and be comforted.
Like every other Research Higher Degree (RHD) student, within my first year study, I had to front a Confirmation panel and give a verbal and written of my research in order to be confirmed into my candidature for the degree. As is the usual, at these Confirmations, one is either given a fail–“your research and the work you have managed so far doesn’t meet our/the degree expectations”–or a conditional–“your work is not yet up to scratch–but we can see that you could possibly make a go of it, so work on your research, then we will set another Confirmation date for you, and you can re-present”–or a pass, you are Confirmed into your candidature for your degree, and you can proceed. I was fortunate, and was confirmed into both my research higher degrees without any trouble. Yet, like most other intending RHD candidates, before each of my Confirmations I was a bundle of nerves. In fact, on the morning of my PhD Confirmation meeting I was a train wreck. Helen left her desk to take me to the room set aside for my Confirmation, and talked sense to me until it was time for her to leave the room. Nevertheless, I still found the whole Confirmation process to be a nerve-wracking experience.
Despite her increasingly heavy work-load, Helen did much for us RHD candidates that was not written into her job description, and went over and beyond her duties. For one example, while I was doing my PhD, the RHD NewMac conferences (conferences run by the RHD candidates from our University in conjunction with the RHD candidates from Macquarie University, Sydney, for RHD candidates, and headed by an academic chair as the guiding light,) ceased when the originators, Associate Professor Marea Mitchell and Dr Dianne Osland, left their universities–Marea took a promotion elsewhere, and Dianne resigned. I mentioned to Hugh (my principal supervisor back then) that I felt that the NewMac conferences were an asset to the RHD students, and too valuable to just let it go. With Hugh as our guiding light and as the academic chair for NewMac, we gathered a small team of willing RHD students together (I acted as student “secretary”), and got a revamped NewMac up and going again. Helen took on the official task of looking after the conference moneys, and then, even though it was way beyond her duties as Admin Assistant, she also helped me with the student mailing lists, arranged the catering, booked the necessary equipment and lecture theatres, and guided me in a thousand other ways when running the conferences. She was not our secretary, she did not work for us, yet she did–she willingly did all these things of her own volition, working through her lunch time and other breaks, and before and after a full day’s (and often, an evening’s) work. We all missed Helen sorely when she retired, but knew that she fully deserved her retirement, and the time to enjoy her mother and her family.
Meet Professor Pamela Nilan: Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, in the School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia, and Adjunct Fellow in Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia (2013-2016). Currently, Professor Nilan is also the Treasurer of the Asia-Pacific Sociological Association, and a Chief Investigator on an ARC-funded Discovery Grant: Fostering Pro-Environment Consciousness and Practice: Environmentalism, Environmentality, and Environmental Education in Indonesia, and Assistant Dean for Research and Research Training in the Faculty of Education and Arts. As well, since 2005, Professor Nilan has worked in January each year as a member of the Jakarta Selection Team to interview AusAID-funded Australian Development Scholarship applicants for Indonesia.
Pam Nilan has teaching expertise in the subjects of Sociology, Social Theory, Research Methodology, Youth Studies, Gender and Development, Indonesian Society and Culture, and has had extensive administration and governance expertise in universities. Pam also has expertise in mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) research in Australia and in selected countries of the Asia-Pacific region, and has further expertise in working with large external, non-profit-making, organisations. She has collaborated on research projects and initiatives with researchers from many academic and research institutions both in Australia and overseas, and has also conducted applied research and scholarship in conjunction with various government departments such as, for example, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Australia) Australian Agency for International Development (Australia) United Nations Development Programme. In administration, Pam was Convenor of the Graduate Certificate and Master of Social Change and Development postgraduate coursework programs for six years. In governance, to name just a few of her positions, Pam has been Deputy Dean, elected Faculty member of Academic Senate, and Deputy Head of School for Research Training.
An experienced youth-worker, Professor Pamela Nilan has also been a Chief Investigator on several previous externally-funded project grants, and has worked in Australia, Vietnam, Fiji and Indonesia. Pam has also carried our research projects at universities in several other countries, including universities in Holland and France. Her current research endeavours are focused in Indonesia. In the youth research field, her main focus is on school-to-work transitions, gender, class and popular culture. She has published numerous conference papers and presented at international and national conferences, and has published numerous articles in refereed journals, written books, co-authored books, has also contributed many book chapters to edited collections.
Professor Nilan is also an External Reviewer – Programs, a Research Masters Examiner, and a PhD Examiner, and has supervised a large number of PhD and MPhil theses, and has been a recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Supervision Excellence in the Faculty of Education and Arts. She was instrumental in developing the Graduate Certificate and Master of Social Change and Development, a program sequence which included both on-campus international students and online distance education students. Pam Nilan is also one of the nine University of Newcastle, Australia, researchers who were selected by the Australian Research Council for membership of the 2015 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) Research Evaluation Committees.
Further to all this, as Helen Moffatt said in her emails to me: “[Pam] did a great deal for the students of the School” of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle (SHASS); for example, during the time she was Research Training Convenor in SHASS, Pam “surveyed the RHDs and identified isolation, training needed to research data bases, writing skills and conference experience. She set up RHD workshops and the two [RHD] symposia per year. She also had open door for students to call on her in her office whenever they wanted…. “
At the time I was attempting the MPhil, Pam was The Research Training Convenor, Department Head of School-Research and Research Training. Until I made my Confirmation for my MPhil I had only seen Professor Pamela Nilan in passing or in the School office in consultation with Helen Moffatt. All I knew back then, was that she held a very important office, and must admit that I was over-awed, and felt a little intimidated in the presence of such greatness. I had no need to feel intimidated or scared. During my MPhil Confirmation process I discovered that, in common with the other academic staff in the School of Humanities (and in especial my wonderful supervisor Hugh Craig) and the Faculty of the Education and the Arts, Pam was very human, very approachable, and took a great interest in assisting me to further my career as an RHD candidate. I also discovered that Pam was exceptionally kind. This was brought home to me in many ways–one was when, after receiving my MPhil, I was honoured at a School of Humanities and Social Sciences end-of-year dinner for newly-graduated MPhil and PhDs, by Pam, who invited me to join her at her table, and then later in the evening humbled me by her speech when she presented me a prize for my work, for my memoir The Carpet Child. This prize, a striking chrome and black enamel University of Newcastle desk set, sits on my desk at home as a constant reminder of the great people who have inspired me. On another occasion, at a Faculty end-of-year dinner sponsored by NUPSA (Newcastle University Post Graduate Association), Pam again honoured me by inviting me to sit at her table with the Head of Faculty and the Head of School, and I was awarded with the University of Newcastle School of Humanities and Social Sciences Publication Award for book chapter “Translating and Conveying the Damaging Childhood in Our Kate” in Catherine Cookson Country: On the Borders of Legitimacy, Fiction, and History Ed. comp. Julie Anne Taddeo. Farnham, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. On yet another different occasion again, Pam took me under her wing and in one-to-one sessions taught me how to write a winning paper and compile a portfolio to submission, nominating a leading academic for the Vice-Chancellors Award for Supervision Excellence. I have much to thank Professor Pam Nilan for, she models excellence in her work, and even though I could never aspire to her heights, she is a significant other who inspires me, and who has helped me to grow inwardly and as a scholar.
I suppose I can say that I first “met” Edward Fenton vicariously, in a meeting with Professor Hugh Craig when I began my PhD studies. My dissertation was entitled, “Creative empathy: how writer’s turn experience not their own into literary non-fiction productions.” The focus of my PhD was a form of life writing called literary docu-memoir, and which form I have explained in previous blogs. In a first meeting as my PhD supervisor, Hugh suggested to me two books that fall into the category of literary docu-memoir, and that I might look at and consider as worthwhile to my research.
One of these books was Lighthouse, written by Tony Parker, first published by Eland in 1975, and reprinted by Eland in 1980. The other book was Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land, by Sheila Stewart, originally published by Oxford University Press. The book was with Oxford University Press for a number of years. When this publisher decided not to renew their contract go on Sheila Stewart’s Lifting the Latch go, publisher Edward Fenton, Day Books, saw that Sheila’s Lifting the Latch was too good a book to be allowed to let go. So Edward immediately set about picking up the publishing rights to book, and then published it under the banner of his publishing firm, Day Books, first in January 2003, and then reprinted in January 2004, and again in 2006. Edward gave the book a new look and a new lease on life. Without altering the text, Edward gave the production some added magic: he redesigned the lay-out and the cover; he added more illustrations (which he commissioned Michael Mattingley to do); he added photos; and he added a glossary (which he commissioned Graham Binns to write,) to the work. Edward was proved right in his efforts and foresight. As a Day Books publication, the book’s popularity continues on, and sales have increased. I have read both the Oxford University Press production, and the Day Books production of the book, and must say that Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land, as published by Day Books, is by far the superior copy of the two, and that the work is hugely enjoyable and informative, and holds one as the reader spellbound from start to finish.
In line with my usual research techniques, after Hugh had introduced me to Tony Parker’s Lighthouse, and Sheila Stewart’s Lifting the Latch, I searched for any the other book that may have been written by these writers, and read them all. This, to find any information and bits and pieces that may be of use to, or in any way assist, my research focus. When researching, I discovered that Sheila Stewart also wrote five other books to publication: her memoirs, A Home from Home, which was published by Longmans, 1967; a type of “cameo” work, entitled Country Kate, which was published by Roundwood Press, in 1971; a book about country practices and traditions, Country Courtship, and which was published by Roundwood Press in 1975; and Ramblin Rose: The Boatwoman’s Story, published by Oxford University Press, in 1994, and reprinted. To my mind, it is fair to say that the best of Sheila’s books are Ramblin Rose: The Boatwoman’s Story (RR), and Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land (LTL). Her other three books reflect her earlier style as a beginning writer, and are nowhere near as well written as LTL or RR, and of those two works, LTL is the better of the two. Without a doubt, Shelia Stewart’s Lifting the Latch is a most precious little gem of book.
When researching a particular book, I also dig around to see what information I can find on the author, read works by others that are known to have, or that may have, or that I suspect may have, influenced the writer I am currently researching. As well, I write to the author her or himself in the hope of getting inside information that may be of help to my research. If I cannot gain direct access to the author, I write to, or even phone (nothing beats the direct approach) the publisher of the book I am researching. Yet try as I might, I could not find how or where I could get in touch directly with Sheila Stewart, or even if she was still living (Sheila was a very private person), so I wrote to Day Books publisher Edward Fenton about his Day Books edition of Sheila Stewart’s Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land. Edward answered immediately (this email was the start of our many communications, and an on-going friendship), and was extremely helpful to my research. As well, Edward suggested that I write a short letter to Sheila, and said that he would pass it on. But, Edward warned, Sheila may not answer my letter, she was a very private person and for certain very understandable reasons which Edward explained to me, she did not answer letters from writers or researchers. To both our surprise, Sheila answered my letter immediately, and explaining her methods and techniques. I felt very humbled, very privileged, and very grateful to both Edward and Sheila for granting me “inside” information on Sheila and her works. I am not at liberty to discuss this letter further. Having said this, I hasten to add that in the exegetical work to my PhD dissertation, I did disclose what Sheila had said to me about her methods and techniques as an interviewer-writer. My reasons for doing this were, that because an exegesis is an explanation and an interpretation of a piece of writing, and because my topic focus was in literary docu-memoir, a form of creative that requires the writer to interview the living subject for their story, their life experience and thoughts and feelings, I saw that the information oh her methods and techniques could possibly prove helpful to others who might be researching, or contemplating producing, a work of literary docu-memoir.
In his emails, Edward had said to me that if at any time I managed a trip to England, to let him know. If ever I got to England, said Edward, he would show me around Sheila Stewart country, where she set her books, where she had interviewed the people whose stories she wrote, and where Old Mont, the sole subject in her beautiful literary docu-memoir, Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land, had lived and worked. As the Thames watermen say, “They [whoever they may be] do says that if you lives long enough, eventually all good things comes to thems who waits.” Back home in Australia, when a trip to England was just a dream, I patiently waited, and waited, and waited, and hoped that my time wouldn’t come before I had an opportunity to visit England and “live” Sheila Stewart country, and “meet” her old Mont, and actually meet Edward in person. In 2015 my dream to visit these places and meet Edward in person became a reality. Previously, I have mentioned that I was fortunate enough to gain a speaking place at the IABA European Chapter 2015 conference, and which was held in Madeira. This came as a wonderful surprise. Bob and were overjoyed–we were actually going to England! But I had to make it happen, I had yet to write my conference paper. Nevertheless, I immediately emailed Edward to say that my abstact had been one of the chosen, and that I had gained this speaking place at the conference, that we were coming to Europe, and that Bob and I would be breaking our journey to Madeira, and stopping of in England for a couple of weeks. Edward wrote back, and we arranged to meet.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the morning after we arrived in England Bob and I picked up a rental car in London, and drove straight down to the Cotswolds, to Charlbury, where we were to meet with Edward Fenton, the publisher of Day Books. I also said in that previous post that Sheila Stewart’s fascinating book Lifting the Latch: Life on the land (in which the single subject, Old Mont Abbott, tells his story for himself about his unusual life experience and thoughts and feelings,) is a Day Books publication. Sadly, Sheila Stewart passed away not too long before our visit. During the time we were in England, and before Bob and I left the Cotswolds to follow the literary and history trail around England, or as much of the trail as we could in the time allotted, Edward kindly took time away from his work, and fitted our visit into his busy schedule to show us around, and helped to bring alive for me the people and places Sheila knew and wrote of, and that I had read about in her books. Following Edward around, listening to him as we visited places Sheila had written about in Ramlin Rose and Lifting the Latch, places Old Mont from Lifting the Latch had worked and lived in and spoken of, I felt like I was in her books–living them–and that I was meeting (in some cases actually was,) the people and places she wrote about. I understood Sheila and her books; I lived the experience. I had the feeling hat I now knew what it was like to actually live a book, to be in a living book. Edward also introduced Bob and me to at least one member of Sheila ‘s family. In all this, I feel very honoured and humbled, and very grateful to Edward for affording me the opportunity to live this experience. For me, it truly was a dream come true. I have already written about this visit in previous posts, but no matter how many times I write about the experience, for me it will never seem to be enough, there are not enough words to convey the experience fully.
To be continued …