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Emeritus Professor Alison Mackinnon AM - Aus Day 2022

Emeritus Professor Alison Mackinnon AM

‘We are all part of the story’

Welcome to you all and welcome to the land of the Kaurna people, I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the people of the Kaurna nation and pay my respects to Uncle Mickey and Elders past and present.’ And,  I would also like to thank the Unley Council and in particular  Mayor Hewitson and Melanie Williams, the Assistant to the Mayor, for inviting me to share this important occasion.

Australia Day is a time for all Australians to reflect, respect and celebrate.  On Australia Day, we reflect on the past, present and future. 

The story of Australia begins 65000 years ago with the first nations people and it continues today – with you, new, citizens adding to the richness of our communities. It is a story with many highs and lows, and this certainly bears reflecting on. There is still much to be written in our national story and as an historian I am happy to be part of that writing – and reflecting. It is fascinating how history evolves: it is certainly not static. In the past – say in the nineteenth century – history used to be mainly about great men, leaders, say Napoleon or Henry the Eighth – and villains like Vlad the Impaler.  Then over the twentieth century the history of ordinary people began to be told – history from below, as it was called. Workers, peasants, servants all began to attract the interest of historians. And then, in the third quarter of the twentieth century women’s history came to the fore. Why was not much written about women, we asked? What were women doing over the centuries? Were they all just wives and mothers? And that’s where I fit into the story as I have written a great deal about women’s history, and the great changes that have come about with women’s education, with women gaining the vote, with woman having access to birth control. The changes in women’s lives over the last 150 years constitute a major revolution of our times. And South Australia has a proud part to play in changing women’s lives. We were the second place in the world (after NZ) to grant women the right to vote. And we were one of the first states in the world to admit women to universities.

And now a further transformation in history is taking place. The story of first nations people, those who have inhabited this continent for the longest time, is being documented and included in the national story, as it should be. As we look around us we ask who trod this land before us? Who hunted over these paddocks, swam and fished in Brownhill Creek and explored this bush? Who sheltered in the famous ‘shelter tree’ in Heywood Park? We have two ancient River red gums overhanging our garden a few streets from here, home to birds, bees and possums. Those trees predated colonization and stand sentinel to generations of people, both indigenous and non -indigenous. We are entering a period of ‘truth telling’, that is no longer ignoring the stories of our First Nations but incorporating them into our national story, even if at times those are harsh and sad stories, stories of dispossession and mistreatment. As the theme for this Australia Day goes – we are all part of the story.

Compared to the story of Aboriginal people, the City of Unley is relatively young. Yet at 200 years old it is the second oldest suburban City in Adelaide. Amongst the earliest settlers were German and Chinese folk, adding diversity from the beginning.

I have mentioned then that as a historian I am part of telling the story, but I am also part of the story of the South Australian community. In 1849 my great, great, great-grandmother Sophia Balhausen arrived in Adelaide. Her husband Johann, a miner, had died from lung disease in Zellerfeld, Hannover. In 1849, Sophia emigrated to Australia on the ship Pauline. Accompanying her were five children, including daughter Caroline, then aged 24.   Another daughter, Johanna Sophie Ernestine Ballhausen, had preceded her, arriving in Burra, a copper mining town in South Australia, in 1846. There Johanna married William Dunemann, a miner.  Sophia and her family travelled to Kooringa, an old name for Burra, and established themselves. Why I wondered would Sophia take that incredible risk – and bring her family across the world to what was not much more than a mining camp at that stage? This is a question which I guess many immigrants can answer. Perhaps Sophia saw opportunities for her growing children that were no longer there in Hanover. Did she ever become an Australian citizen? We do not know but certainly her son in law did. The inscription on her grave in the Old Cemetery in Ballarat is telling. ‘Pioneer Sophia Ballhausen’, it calls her and notes that ‘Finally settling in Ballarat , she started a dynasty which, by 1989 embraced seven generations of the Ballhausen (three families) [sic], Tankard, Norton and Dunemann families by whom this memorial was gratefully erected’. Sophia’s decision to leave the Harz mountains and take the long voyage to Australia was vindicated. It resulted in a long line of Australian descendants.

How many of you, receiving citizenship today, have taken similar journeys, and will contribute a long line of Australian descendants?

While historians chart so much change in our societies we also like to note the continuities. One such continuity is the occasional eruption of terrible plagues, or pandemics. Just over 100 years ago Spanish flu caused havoc in Australian society, killing, among others, my grandfather and leaving my grandmother Emma, a widow with six children. How did South Australia deal with this terrible outbreak? Recently I was able to visit the Old Quarantine Station on Torrens Island, just off Port Adelaide. Although it is now really an historic ruin it gives one a vivid picture of the times. It had its own wharf where potentially infected people were unloaded and isolated. There was an incredible machine, a great piece of industrial architecture, a giant autoclave which sterilized suitcases. A series of small separate huts housed people at various stages of infection. Looking at those little cabins I thought that many people now would have preferred to be there with all the space of Torrens Island rather than in a medi-hotel! What a pity the whole site was beyond repair for our current situation! I do recommend a visit there when it is next open to the public – it is well preserved with excellent signage.

But enough of reflecting on the past. Let us celebrate your new citizenship! I wish you all well and welcome you to the delights of the City of Unley and the State of South Australia. Thank you.

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