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A scholarly visit to the harbour city

The 2019 ANZSHM Conference

I recently had the privilege of being a delegate at the 2019 Australian New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine (ANZSHM) 16th Biennial Conference Beyond Borders: Health and Medicine in Historical Context at the University of Auckland. The aim of the conference was  to view the history of health and medicine in a broad international perspective, with ideas and systems taking on different forms in different contexts.

The conference

The conference proceedings began on Day One with a traditional welcome to conference delegates at the Waipapa Marae within the grounds of the University of Auckland.

ANZHSM 2019 Conference Uni of Auckland Screenshot

 

The conference covered a number of themes ranging from museums, to influenza, public health, medical research, women’s health, vaccination, biography, tropical disease, medicine and war, childbirth, non-western medicine, and others.

There were over 110 papers covering a range of challenging and stimulating topics that crossed the boundaries from clinical matters from the past to more general histories. Medical history attracts a cross-disciplinary cohort ranging from clinicians, practitioners, historians of various stripes, archivists, museum professionals and others. The discipline has a transnational following that was reflected in delegates from around the globe including Korea, UK, USA, Australia, Philippines, Canada, Russia, and the host New Zealand.

Auckland University of Auckland Signage 2019 UoA

 

The keynote speakers represented the transnational nature of the conference and the cross-disciplinary following of the research area. From the University of Exeter there was Mark Jackson’s ‘Life begins at 40: the cultural and biological roots of the midlife crisis’ where he argued that this concept and experience is a product of the lifestyle of the 20th century. Nursing historian Christine Hallett’s ‘Between ivory tower and marketplace: the Nurses of Passchendaele project and the perils of public history’  argued that the desire of community engagement and university agendas has led to debates about the nature of public history. Yale University’s Naomi Rogers examined health activism in the USA in her paper ‘Between ivory tower and marketplace: the Nurses of Passchendaele project and the perils of public history’ and finally the University of Auckland’s Derek Dow reflected on evolution and revolution in the history of medicine since the 1960s in ‘Inert and blundering: one medical historian’s odyssey 1969-2019’.

Red Cross Sidman women work for Red Cross causes 1917
The Sidman women volunteer their time and effort during the First World War for the Camden Red Cross. Patriotic fundraising supporting the war at home was a major activity and raised thousands of pounds. This type of effort was quite in all communities across Australia and the rest of the British Empire. (Camden Images and Camden Museum)

 

I presented a paper called ‘A helping hand: Red Cross convalescent homes in New South Wales, 1914-1916. In this paper I argue that the military medical authorities and the patriotic funds were poorly prepared for the outbreak of war and failed to come to grips with the issue for months. The newly established Red Cross stepped into the breach and undertook groundbreaking work in the area of soldier convalescence, initially with homestays and then eventually establishing the first dedicated convalescent homes in New South Wales.

 

The power of the past in the present

The European past of New Zealand is front and centre within the grounds of the University of Auckland. There are a number of important heritage buildings linked to the period when Auckland was the nation’s capital. The outstanding example is the Old Government House at the bottom of the campus surrounded by pleasant gardens and lawns.

Auckland Old Government House Dining Room 2019
The Old Government House built in 1856 is located in the grounds of the University of Auckland. Its classical architectural style has much timber its facade cut to resemble stone. It had an important place in New Zealand government until the capital was moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865. This image shows the dining room and the influence of interwar design. (I Willis, 2019)

 

Walking around Auckland Harbour precinct I was struck by the vibrancy of the city. In part from the upcoming 2021 America’s Cup Challenge and the growth of Pacific rim cities like Sydney, Vancouver, San Francisco and Auckland. The city has a relaxed aesthetic with a dynamic youthfulness – just like a big country town. The huge cruise liners disgorge their passengers to spend up the high-end fashion outlets along Queen Street, all within sight of the longshore wharves and container terminal.

The city fathers have not lost sight of the past and have gone for adaptive re-use of old mercantile buildings in the Harbour precinct. There are some striking examples of heritage retention that could be models for town planners in Australian cities and towns.

Auckland Tiffany Building 2019 Customs St
This image shows the building occupied by Tiffany & Co at 33 Galway Street, Auckland. The building is the former Australis House and was restored over an 18 month period in 2015. This is a fine example of adaptive re-use of a heritage building and is part of the larger restoration and conservation work taking place in the Britomart precinct. (I Willis, 2019)

 

Tourism can provide these benefits if handled with sensitivity and an understanding that the visitor is seeking evidence of authenticity and a genuine representation of the past. The city precinct demonstrates that heritage and history does not have to sacrificed in the search for economic prosperity and job creation.