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Please note: the conference is in BUILDING 2 on the UC Bruce campus. 
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DAILY FORECAST (care of Describing Things in Canberra):  

Wednesday Canberra weather: regardless of any thing Neil Finn may have said, you don’t really have your own personal weather bubble. You can easily test this by travelling from the Woden Valley to the northside on foggy morning. Or getting on a plane in December and flying to Helsinki.

So those of you who are in Canberra today will probably experience much the same weather as each other. Warm to hot and slighty sticky. The weather equivalent of spilling cocoa on your new trousers.

Chemical interventions such as deodorant, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and anti-histamines are strongly indicated. Consider long before you commit to opaque tights, however hairy your legs are. Once the sun is over the yard arm, applications of gin and tonic may be beneficial.



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Tuesday, November 29 • 2:30pm - 3:30pm
Biography and Life Stories :: 2A12

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Patrick Mullins: ‘Justifying the profane: Ethics and Biography’

Since 2014, I have been researching a biography of Sir William McMahon, prime minister of Australia from 1971-72. The only prime minister to have not been the subject of a biographical study, McMahon has offered an exciting way to approach and explore the issues that confront biographers during their work. For me, the most pressing of these issues have been the ethical ones: questions of ownership, of the multiple responsibilities owed by a biographer, and the consequences of a finished work.
     In this paper, I examine the historical treatment and understanding of these ethical issues in order to contextualise my response to them as they’ve arisen in my practice. I argue that contention with these ethical issues is a necessary part of modern biographical practice and, indeed, demands both recognition of biography’s ‘profane’ nature and a justifying answer from the biographer—a tentative one of which, for my own work, I offer here.

Benjamin Miller: David Unaipon’s Life Stories: Aboriginal Writing and Rhetoric

David Unaipon (1872-1967) has been described as a scientist, author, anthropologist, preacher, inventor and public speaker. To these descriptions can be added musician, lecturer, curator, political activist, guide, and door-to-door salesman. A master of many trades, descriptions of Unaipon have struggled to merge the various aspects of his life into a single, coherent narrative. This paper focuses on Unaipon’s life stories – the stories told about him and his family and the stories he told about himself. A central argument of this paper is that, rather than describing Unaipon as a jack of all trades (or, worse, a master of none), Unaipon can accurately and productively be described as a “rhetor,” a person using various forms of media (and various forms of life writing) to present arguments across different social, political and cultural contexts to change beliefs about Aboriginality. To describe Unaipon as a rhetor can re-energise the arguments he put forward during his lifetime, can reveal the consistency and relationship between arguments he made in various fields or disciplines, can explain inconsistencies and contradictions in his life and writing, and, most importantly, can provoke debate and discussion about Unaipon’s life and writing at a time when, despite his prominence as one face on Australia’s $50 note, as the namesake of Australia’s most prestigious award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writing, and as an author anthologised in collections of Australian and Aboriginal writing, his writing is all but ignored in Australian culture and literary criticism.

Sue Joseph & Carolyn Rickett: To Begin to Know: David Leser resolves his 'burglar' eyes

Janet Malcolm, the noted journalist and author, asserts that: ‘The biographer at work…is like the professional burglar’.1 However, this notion of theft transcends the limits of biography to include the life writing genre which often takes the stories of others in producing a text. This writerly practice raises ethical tensions for authors negotiating the space and intersections between self and other, and proprietorial entitlement. Increasingly, with the heightened awareness of vulnerable subjects and familial allegiances, harm minimisation is often a consideration constraining narration.

The focus of this paper is the method in which Australian author and journalist David Leser navigates these tensions – journalistic investigator and the dutiful son; former husband and doting father – in constructing his patriography To Begin To Know: Walking in the Shadows of My Father.2

A prolific story teller, narrating the story of his father, publishing great Bernard Leser, was impossible earlier in Leser’s career. But enmeshing it with his own story, ten years later, somehow bridged a tacit gap between father and son.


Rosemary Williamson: Natural Disaster and Writing the (Political) Self: Julia Gillard’s My Story and Anna Bligh’s Through the Wall 

Through memoir, Australian politicians may reflect on leadership broadly but also on the particular challenges they face during extreme weather events. This is so in Julia Gillard’s My Story, published in 2014, and Anna Bligh’s Through the Wall: Reflections on Leadership, Love and Survival, published in 2015. Gillard was Prime Minister and Bligh was Premier of Queensland during the 2010-11 ‘summer of sorrow’, when floods wreaked havoc on large parts of Queensland. Gillard’s memoir devotes several pages to natural disaster, including the 2010-11 floods, and Bligh’s devotes over two chapters to the floods.

This paper will identify and compare the ways in which Gillard and Bligh frame their experiences of the 2010-11 natural disaster in the writing of their political selves. A possible consequence of this framing, it will argue, is that the memoirist serves to characterise not only herself, as a leader, but also the natural environment, as an adversary. This will be illustrated with particular reference to Bligh’s Through the Wall.

The paper will draw on and extend scholarship in the environmental humanities in a novel way, by viewing political memoir as a means by which dominant and potentially problematic views of the natural environment can be perpetuated. The writing of political memoir, in this sense, involves ethical considerations beyond those typically associated with the genre.



avatar for Ben Stubbs

Ben Stubbs

Lecturer, University of South Australia
Dr Ben Stubbs is a travel writer and travel writing scholar who investigates the plurality of the form: in particular Ben’s focus is on modern ethical considerations, extending the “learned judgements” in the field to explore how it can advance understanding of culture and place and to examine its growing importance within journalism. To explore this area Ben combines traditional academic output with non-traditional writing. His book... Read More →


Sue Joseph

Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney
Sue Joseph (PhD) has been a journalist for more than thirty five years, working in Australia and the UK. She began working as an academic, teaching print journalism at the University of Technology Sydney in 1997. As Senior Lecturer, she now teaches creative writing, particularly creative non-fiction writing, in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Her research interests are around sexuality, secrets and confession, framed by the media... Read More →
avatar for Benjamin Miller

Benjamin Miller

Lecturer, University of Sydney
Dr Benjamin Miller is a lecturer in the School of Literature, Art and Media at the University of Sydney. He has published on representations of blackness and indigeneity in the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Commonwealth Literatures, the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature and Studies in Australasian Cinema. He is currently working on a monograph about David Unaipon’s life and writing.
avatar for Patrick Mullins

Patrick Mullins

University of Canberra
Patrick Mullins is a lecturer in journalism at the University of Canberra, from where he obtained his PhD in 2014. He was the Donald Horne Creative and Cultural Fellow in 2015, a research fellow at the Australian Prime Ministers Centre at the Museum of Australian Democracy (2015-16) and the winner of the 2015 Scribe Non-Fiction Prize for Young Writers. His biography of Sir William McMahon will be published by Scribe in 2018.

Carolyn Rickett

Senior Lecturer, Avondale College of Higher Education
Carolyn Rickett (DArts) is an Associate Dean of Research, Senior Lecturer in Communication and creative arts practitioner at Avondale College of Higher Education. She is co-ordinator for The New Leaves writing project, an initiative for people who have experienced or are experiencing the trauma of a life – threatening illness. Together with Judith Beveridge, she is co-editor of The New Leaves Poetry Anthology. Other anthologies she has... Read More →

Rosemary Williamson

Senior Lecturer, Writing and Rhetoric, University of New England
Dr Rosemary (Rose) Williamson is Senior Lecturer in writing and rhetoric, and Convenor of Writing, School of Arts, University of New England. Her main research interests are Australian political discourse, and magazine history and writing. A current project examines the ways in which parliamentary speeches, press reports, political memoirs and magazine articles define Australians in relation to the natural environment at times of natural... Read More →

Tuesday November 29, 2016 2:30pm - 3:30pm
2A12 Building 2, UC

Attendees (10)