The COVID Waggon: Researching during lockdown

Rolling toward the apocalypse …

The ‘covered waggon’ was long the dominant form of transport in pre-industrial America and became an icon of the American Wild West. My first play on these words is about the US slowly rolling towards a post-industrial COVID19 apocalypse. I watch with genuine horror at what I regard as Trump’s completely botched, inhumane, prehistoric and incompetent response to national leadership to this pandemic.

And I thought his denial of climate change was bad enough. As evidence in the case of the pandemic, look at almost every other national leader’s response and compare the US infection and death statistics. It’s not about testing and it’s not about ‘Chinese’.

To me it’s a reminder of the slippery slope towards fascism associated with American exceptionalism, that has been a major plank of the US Republican Party since 2012. Whenever I see Trump talking in front of increasingly silenced or emasculated experts I think of the parable of the ‘King and his new clothes’. Thank goodness we still have democracy in Australia and the tattered remnants of a free press.

Every day my main ‘go to’ news site, The Guardian Global. Each week day I read Mark Kiser’s WTFJHT (What the Fuck Just Happened Today) posts, all related to the US Presidency and hot linked to press articles. Anyone can register to receive a free daily post or tip the blogger,  highly recommended, see  http://www.whatthefuckjusthappenedtoday.com/ . 21 May 2020 was Day 1217.

Looking under the covers …

Secondly and on a slightly lighter note this COVID-Waggon post is about letting anyone interested look under the ‘covers’ of my waggon and have a sneak peek at what I’m currently working on, thinking about and writing in late May 2020.

It used to take years to research and publish, including articles about random things each of us might have an interest in. I’ve been collecting stuff for decades and filing it away for a quieter and simpler time. Both are currently possible for me, and that time has come with joyful and productive retirement from paid work, heightened by the current pandemic. The advent of fairly idiot proof posting platforms and  powerful online searchable resources like Trove has simplified things immensely.

There are advantages and also pitfalls of being able to trawl the internet and public library sites and post so immediately and personally in this way. At 70 I’m more concerned about making stuff accessible than risking reputation and the risk of important stuff in our landscape being lost forever.

You’ll quickly sense an overarching theme in a lot of what I choose to research and write. For me it’s about using evidence to find the truth and write stories about what happened In this country, including locally in Southern Dja Dja Wurrung country at and beyond contact. It’s also about acknowledging and working with First Nations descendants to reconcile and do something to redress the huge ignorance and denial of the long tail of colonial dispossession.

What reading inspires me …

Sandra Pybus’ ‘Truganini: Journey through the Apocalypse’ is my current seriously riveting and highly recommended bedtime reading. My main source of post contact inspiration in recent years, as for Pybus, are the transcribed journals of George Augustus Robinson. Like her, the journals help me connect what is, what was and what transpired in this landscape and land that was so violently taken and that I have by birth inherited.

In Pybus’ case the Tasmanian journals are readily accessible in Plomley’s  well edited and indexed 1162 page ‘The Friendly Mission’ and its companion volume of papers. I agree with Pybus, paraphrasing her words, that it is incredibly difficult but morally necessary to liberate the stories of the original people trapped within Robinson’s overwhelming self regard, in order to do some justice for first Nation Australians whose lives were extinguished for ours.

I’m my case in Victoria, my best go to sources for the 1840s are again the Robinson Journals, transcribed with minimal editing by Ian Clarke. They are sadly in need of proper and accurate editing, indexing and addition of maps that would help locate the similarly apocalyptic incidents and stories. Friends I ride with cuttingly say if I was ever to go on ‘Hard Quiz’ George Robinson would be my only special subject. I loathe his mission  but reluctantly respect Robinson for doing the hard yards and recording what otherwise would have been lost.

This is a good Segway to ‘Creating autoethnographies’ by Tessa Muncey, my best single accessible book source of academic and writing inspiration in the past decade. In many ways Robinson is something of a self made autoethnographer. He seeks to write, albeit in an opinionated, self serving and uneducated way about all that he is seeing, hearing and experiencing, but it sometimes tells us much more about him.

So if any of this whets your appetite, have a read of whatever other pages or posts interest you on this site.

What else is on the waggon?

I’m meantime collaborating with local friend, author and publisher Gib Wettenhall to research something more like a book, we anticipate will be fine grained, fresh, illustrated, local and place based focusing on the first five years between 1836 and 1842 in southern Dja Dja Wurrung country in the Upper Loddon River catchment. Like good Slow Food, this book will take us time to write. We are well into our second year of field, oral history and literature research but this is a seriously big project.

If you don’t have a copy of our locally published Great Dividing Trail ‘Goldfields Track Guide’ (that Gib won a statewide history award for), buy one via the GDT website. It will to keep you informed and safe whilst exercising during and well beyond this pandemic, and the next.

With bike riding friend and retired local geologist Dr Stephen Carey, I’m researching the history of the Limestone Creek Lime Kilns north of Mount Franklin. They were started in the mid 1840s on the footprint of the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate on an unusual limestone deposit formed over hundreds of thousands of years on a calcium rich mineral spring. Hopefully we’ll publish a paper about it.

With long time friend and Fed Uni colleague Associate Professor Annette Foley and Dr Helen Weadon, we are working on a series of journal papers on the back of field research in four local Men’s Sheds with both shedders and significant others of shedders conducted just before the pandemic. One paper is out for peer review to an international journal and we are working on another likely for Australian Journal of Adult Learning. A third paper is planned with colleague Dr Lucia Carragher in Ireland looking at the impact of Mens Sheds on significant others.


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