History Week 2013

During History Week this year, the Professional Historians Association (Victoria) presented a free public event, 'Flashback', designed to showcase the skills of professional historians. The event was held on Sunday 27 October at Melbourne Museum and consisted of a series of lightning talks of just eight minutes each around the theme 'Well-behaved women seldom make history' (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich). Four professional historians presented on the lives of four extraordinary women, who each challenged the social norms of the times in which they lived.

Way Back When were very involved, with Lucy presenting and Fiona and Katherine helping to organise the event as members of the PHA's History Week Sub-Committee. Lucy presented on Ethel May Punshon, known as Monte, who revealed her sexual preference for women at the age of 103. Monte has been remembered as 'the world's oldest lesbian', but, as Lucy demonstrated, there was far more to Monte than her sexuality! Lucy was fortunate enough to be able to use film taken of Monte and her scrap book collection, which are held by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA). The scrap books contain newspaper clippings of cross-dressing women, women in the army, sports women and women just generally challenging the expectations of mid-20th century Australian society. Despite her radicalism, Monte rejected labels, saying, ‘I don’t want to label myself as one thing or another. I’m just me ... Scorpios are like that.’

Writer and social commentator Clementine Ford followed the historians as our special guest speaker, presenting her own take on the theme of radical women in history. The event was a huge success. The 250-seat theatre at Melbourne Museum was filled to capacity with people eager to spend an enjoyable hour on a Sunday afternoon immersed in the past. In fact, 'Flashback' was so popular that we ended up completely booked out a few days out from the event, and with a waiting list of over fifty people!

'Flashback' certainly succeeded in challenging the stereotype that historians give boring, incomprehensible and long-winded lectures, showing that history can be presented in an engaging and accessible way, and still be well-researched and academically sound. We're already getting excited about the possibilities for History Week 2014! 

Fiona Poulton

Monte, c. 1930s courtesy ALGA Collection.