Humbling along



This is a quick emotional muster at the start of the week.

Yesterday I spent the day at our Victorian Greens Women’s Network Conference.  As part of an exercise we discussed women as leaders and what some of the qualities were in women that we admired. This morning I’m trying to quickly unpack why I had an instant and negative response to humble as a positive quality. Then I need to get on with business.

Other people have done a much better job than me at analysing qualities of women and leadership but here are a couple of of thoughts. I’m the result of aspirational family dynamics. I was encouraged to achieve but at the same time told not to get my hopes up. It was also not the done thing to sell yourself too much lest ye be accused of having tickets on yourself. The worst.

I guess you could say I was raised that being humble is a good thing.

So what happens when you grow up, become ambitious, feminist, driven? Is it possible to be all of those things and also humble?


I’m going to go with a tentative yes and shape what I mean by humble. To me it means backing yourself without diminishing others. It especially means acknowledging the contribution other people have made to your success. It means not bringing the drawbridge up after yourself, but shoving a massive stick in the cogs so that no-one else can either (sorry about mixing the metaphor, I haven’t had a coffee yet).

So, there are a few thoughts about being humble. If you have any please let me know. Go forth into the week lovelies. Back yourself, back others.

Toni Morrison

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In 2017 I…..

“We all have a certain measure of responsibility to those who have made it possible for us to take advantage of today’s opportunities”.  

Angela Davis

I’m not alone in taking on too much in 2017. There is a theme running through lots of #GLAMblogclub end of year reflections, from Annelie de Villier’s post talking about burn out and getting more balance, to Hugh Rundle’s post about (among other things) vocational calling.

The idea of professional vocation is an interesting and, as Hugh pointed out not unproblematic one. I entered the nursing profession on the heels of the nursing strikes of the 80s. A long fight for wages and professional recognition that pushed back at the socialised idea of nursing as vocation. Discussion of work that uses words like vocation and calling can invite a different expectation around pay and conditions, that we should perhaps be grateful and accept lower pay or poorer conditions or even work for free, for the privilege of doing what we love.

I see occasional references to being an archivist (or librarian etc) as a vocation and it concerns me somewhat. It is certainly blended as part of my identity but it doesn’t mean I’d do it for free. (Ok maybe I would. Its complicated). Being engaged in professional life outside of our day jobs often means committees, organising, attending workshops and conferences, reading, writing, engaging on social media, volunteering. Being politically engaged layers on another level of involvement. Perhaps the liminal spaces between these are what makes it hard to identify the boundaries between personal and professional life? It is certainly much harder to to balance ‘work’ and ‘life’ when there are no clear lines between the two. 

As we continue the conversations about activism and archival practice, I’d suggest we need to parallel it with conversations about self care.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde

I’m on board the move to push back the cult of busyness. Every time I hear myself say how busy I am I roll my eyes at myself. If we know each other moderately well I’ll be asking what you are doing to make yourself less busy.

This is not the most picturesque shot taken of Stephen and I in Iceland, but it captures a moment of breathtaking peace and happiness.


I wrote about my self care strategies in DeepSmile, I’m hoping to spruce this list up as 2018 goes along.

Here are a few of my favorite self care resources;

Plan to Thrive

Self Care Strategies for Dismantling the Patriarchy

Read more about that Audre Lorde quote here;

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Chaining myself to fences and other professional development.

This is part one of two, maybe three posts about archival activism. I wanted to respond to Annelie De Villier’s excellent post and also use this as a contribution to this month’s #glamblogclub with the theme of ‘how you ended up here’.

Protective interrupting is a behavioural strategy  developed by social workers as one of a set of skills for children and young people exposed to abuse or violence. It has been part of my own skill set since the 90’s and it is only making sense, as I write this, why that might be.

These days I pull it out of my toolbox if I find myself in conversation with someone and I start to feel uncomfortable. It might be because they are sharing something I don’t feel I should know, or if boundary lines are being crossed. It might be because a third parties story is being shared. I might not be feeling safe or resilient enough to hear that story.

I went to the Australian Society of Archivists’ 2017 ‘Diverse Worlds’ conference last week prepped and ready to protectively interrupt. Nicola Laurent and I presented on Vicarious Trauma and Radical Empathy in Archival Practice. We set up the discussion with some clear guidelines around personal disclosure, confidentiality, self-care and safe (enough) spaces. It felt like all those participating responded to this respectfully and thoughtfully and no interrupting was needed.

Eileen Louden

picture taken by @EileenLouden

Creating this kind of space doesn’t happen by accident and it is extremely hard to measure. I learnt this and other skills as a young feminist activist in the 90’s, living alongside women who were working in women’s shelters, at sexual assault support services, women’s health clinics.

Together we organised and ran major events, rallies, protests, built organisations, conferences, festivals. We used nonviolent and feminist principles to underpin that work. We drove to the desert and chained ourselves to fences. We caught buses to Canberra and got sprayed with tear gas by military police. We learnt to listen, and argue, negotiate. How to take up space, create space, remove ourselves from space.

Reclaim the Night

Poster from my personal archive

I got arrested more times than I care to mention.

So what point is there to telling this story? Well, firstly I want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that some of what we built was deeply flawed. Bi phobia, transphobia, racism, ableism all existed to some extent within the constructs of our work.

To uncover and examine this structural violence requires critical self-reflection. In the archival context this requires us to examine how and why we do this work. As Scott Cline describes it “in the archivists circumstance, self-clarification is uncovering the meaning of our profession and distinguishing its inherent values” (Cline, 2009,p336).

I think what I’m trying to say is that the skills that make an activist archivist aren’t necessarily going to be taught in a Masters program. Activism can take many shapes, though, and the skills of an activist can and should be applied to change the colonialist, heteronormative, patriarchal structures that shape our current institutions.

As Cassie Findlay points out “we need to come to grips with a necessary refashioning of our professional identity” (Findlay,2016,p.158). Perhaps this new identity is one where skills such as the ones I have mentioned are considered as important as appraisal and description.


Cline, S (2009). To the Limit of Our Integrity: Reflections on Archival Being. The American Archivist, vol 72, 331-343

Findlay, C. (2016). Archival activism. Archives and Manuscripts, 44(3), 155-159


**Part two will be about professional associations and working within institutions of power. Also about citation as a political act.

***Part three will be about the silences in our descriptive schemas. I’ve been working on something for a while about gender and archival description and  I suspect I’ve been sitting on it out of fear.




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GLAM 3017

Archivist Young passed the awl over the panel and stood back as the door to the airlock slid open. Twirling it around like the magician they had seen on the tapes, Young appreciated how the old tool had been fitted with the chip that unlocked the repository. No archivists had needed such tools for hundreds of years, but since the re-use rule had passed the team took great delight in finding creative ways to re-purpose things.

This awl had been found the last time they had been on a research expedition to the red zone. In anticipation of impending disaster a team of scientists, archivists, curators & librarians had worked together to move all of their physical collections off planet. They had finished just in time, before the Knowledge Wars had started. It was still something talked about in hushed tones and usually only after a few whiskies. Other smaller projects had been trialled on earth. The salt mines had proven too insecure and the Antarctic repositories? Well it was best not to dwell on what a spectacular disaster that had been.

Every now and again information would come through to central archives that information had been left behind and a team would be put together to investigate.  Young lived in hope that one day they would hit gold, and they would find a collection from the time just before the wars, before everything had been purged. They still had a collection of the old computers, and a few of them spent spare afternoons tinkering with them and hoping one day they would have a use for them.

Once the airlock had finished the cycle of dust extraction & other decontamination protocols, Young quickly moved into the repository and kicked up, gaining speed until in position at a window in the section where the taxidermied animals were kept.  Someone with a wonderful sense of humour had positioned a Giraffe so that it was looking out the window. If you timed it just right you could see the earth as it rotated past and share in the best of all cosmic jokes.

To be continued…..

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Can anyone suggest a better word for journey?

The story below provides an overview of my career path to archives. It was published in the April edition of the Australian Society of Archivists Victorian Branch newsletter and appears with only two changes. A spelling mistake helpfully pointed out by my father, and this picture of me in my Grandad’s veggie garden. For reasons that will be obvious if you read on, and because how adorable was I??

mini me for ASA piece

I started my working life as a nurse, but other than picking up a few useful skills (I’m still occasionally called on for stitch removal and dressing changes), I don’t think a career in nursing was ever going to stick. I completed my training in Warrnambool in the early 1990’s (Deakin University) before moving to Hobart to work as a nurse, bushwalk and fight for gay law reform.

In 1997, with what was left of my twenties I took off travelling and eventually landed back in Melbourne. I got casual work at Collingwood Children’s Farm (CCF) and spent a blissful few years milking cows, collecting eggs, making jam, and radicalising my approach to food systems and community development. If I was looking for an archivist origin story, it would be during this time. Collingwood Town Hall called the farm one day to remind us that the basement was full of boxes containing 30 yrs of records, and that we needed to pick them up. I was nominated the staff member most likely to enjoy spending a day a week (for six months) sorting it all out, and so the seed was sewn.

Pic for ASA piece #1 Michaela

In the early 2000’s I decided more study was needed. I completed a Masters in Peace Studies through UNE, blending my passion for food systems and interest in post conflict reconstruction with a minor thesis on food production and land mine distribution. It was during these studies that I really started to understand the critical role that archives play in justice and peace processes and a clearer idea of a professional pathway emerged.

At the same time I joined the corporate world, starting out as a temp clipping newspaper articles, creeping up the ladder and moving into a Business Analyst role. I left 7 years later with enough redundancy to finally realise my dream to become an archivist. I completed the coursework Masters in Information Management through UniSA, and then so that I could articulate into a PhD I signed on for more. Lifelong learning appears to be a theme. My ongoing research will see me seeking out new ways to interrogate digitisation processes, including how to capture the material & cultural elements of redundant technologies and the haptic bridge between hard copy and digitised records.

It didn’t occur to the manager who hired me at DHHS that having an ex nurse working in a health archive might have hidden benefits. Certainly my knowledge of medical terminology has come in handy, as has my ability to read bad handwriting. I have been working for the Victorian State Government (DHHS) for 7 years now. I’m proud to have contributed to the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the broader work the department have been doing to make its collections more visible & accessible.

My ongoing career aspiration is to continue to seek opportunities to blend archival practice and research in spaces that support social change. I’d also love to be Australia’s first archivist in space, but would settle for being Australia’s first space archivist.

Pic for ASA piece #2


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Archivist Toolkit


“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” Douglas Adams

Just when I was considering retiring this blog and sticking to my reflective writing practice, along came #GLAMblogclub. Timing was key, the shitstorm of global politics and recent conversations about archivists and our professional responsibilities. Then Cassie Findlay, who has a knack for getting in with the words I want to say, but better (thanks Cassie) tweeted this;

It really feels like we are living in an important time doesn’t it? I’ve been casting around for something in my living memory to pin this feeling to and I keep returning to 1989/90. In the six months after I left high school several historic events happened. The Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, in Czechoslovakia the Velvet Revolution happened. With breathtaking naivety I was drunk on the possibilities these things represented. Obviously, things are unfolding somewhat differently this time. The difference is this time I feel equipped to be more than a passive observer. 

Twenty eight years later I have more perspective, experience, and a new archivist toolkit. So, 2017 will be about using this toolkit to get better at embedding political activism into my professional practice. It has taken some doing but I’m finally in a place professionally where I have the opportunity to influence decision making, practice change and lead projects. I’m not saying its great power (yet), but I do feel the responsibility.

So just to get started, here are a few things I’ve been thinking about;

The planet

Melbourne University Archives have just installed solar panels! This is brilliant, and the kind of leading the way you expect from that corner of the world. Now it is up to the rest of us to step up.

Given all the other ways I try to reduce my footprint on the planet I’ve been conveniently hiding the amount of flying I do in a part of my conscience marked ‘but travel’, and ‘but conferences’. I fear the time may be rapidly approaching when this is no longer a plausible defense. Social media provides a great platform for networking, amplifying messages and sharing links to materials but there are a lot of people who only use it at conference time. We need to start finding new ways to build and work with our global network of activist archivists (and allies) that fills in the gaps between conferences or even dare I say it, replace them.

Smashing the patriarchy

I will continue chipping away at the patriarchy in my workplace. We built patriarchivedotcom as an online place of deposit for materials and stories (and for those if I don’t laugh I’ll cry moments). More time needs to be spent redefining the scope and promoting it to the world. Please if you aren’t already, follow  the twitter handle @patriarchivists or add some content.

As the manager of a mostly male team I have been thinking a lot about emotional labour and and how this creeps into our workplace culture. Things like birthdays or  morning teas when it is almost always the women bringing the cake and tidying up afterwards. Or doing the collection to buy the flowers. Don’t get me started on the apologising. Unless these things get called out they become part of an unacknowledged and accepted culture.

Actively engaging

Locally, I’m excited to be on the organising committee for the 2017 Australian Society of Archivists Conference. With the theme of Diverse Worlds we are looking to dust off (sorry) some uncomfortable but important topics. How we address the archival silences, how we make collections and our profession more representative? Running in parallel with the Information Technologies Indigenous Communities Symposium (ITIC) it will be a week full of stimulating content, new ideas and connections and by popular demand *drum roll*, a craft corner. I can feel a separate post about craftivism forming already.

Finally, I was going to add that I’d like to learn how to stop procrastinating but given I’ve left this until the 30th to write it that probably doesn’t need saying. There still more to say so I’m sure I’ll find a way to chisel the theme for February into an activist kind of shape.

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My Rainbow Collection

To the archives!

The marriage equality debate in Australia seems stuck on one question at the moment. To plebiscite or not to plebiscite? The 1999 republic referendum, and more recently Brexit are just two examples of how things (in my opinion) can go horribly wrong . Those of us who lived through the gay law reform days in Tasmania also remember how things can go horribly hateful. I don’t want to see what happens when narrow and homophobic views are fuelled by a mainstream media more interested in drama and sensation that rational debate. I’m desperately hoping this plebiscite doesn’t happen.

baby dyke

Couldn’t look mean if I tried.

Being a good little archivist, I’ve been asking friends who were living in Tasmania in the day to dig around in their (or their parent’s) attics* for anything relating to gay law reform. The first response to this call has came from Jen Crothers, who on a recent trip home from Vancouver had a dig. And struck gold.

I’ve been slowly sorting through it and as I read through some of the letters to the editor, and pamphlets distributed by anti-gay groups I’m suprised by the memories and the feelings that are stirred up.

It was a successful campaign, but a horrific amount of hate speech was printed in the name of ‘honest debate’ before it was over.

Jen must have felt shocked too. The post pack full of documents she sent came with a trigger warning.


Content warning

article 3

The Hobart Mercury 23rd May 1994

article 1

The Examiner 19th May 1994

article 2

The Examiner 19th May 1994

Tas- Alert

Flyer distributed by Tas-Alert

flyer 4

The Examiner 21st May, 1994










*archival euphemism

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