Bega PhD student receives top history honour

PRESTIGIOUS: Merimbula’s Jodie Stewart has been awarded the third annual History Council of NSW’s Deen De Bortoli Award For Applied History. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

PRESTIGIOUS: Merimbula’s Jodie Stewart has been awarded the third annual History Council of NSW’s Deen De Bortoli Award For Applied History. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

A “moving” essay by a local historian on the issue of reconciliation has won a prestigious award History Week award.

Merimbula’s Jodie Stewart has taken out the third annual History Council of NSW Deen De Bortoli Award For Applied History.

“It is great acknowledgement of the work I have been doing,” Ms Stewart said.

I’m incredibly grateful they shared those experiences with me, they have made my research very rich. - 2017 Deen De Bortoli Award winner Jodie Stewart

Through her PhD at the University of Wollongong’s Bega campus, Ms Stewart is documenting the development of the Bundian Way project as an important and “potentially recuperative public history initiative”.

Her essay Emotions, Stories, Pasts: Feeling the Settler and Aboriginal Past on the Bundian Way was described as a “moving and useful exploration”, offering a “rare insight into how public history works in the reconciliation process”.

The award aims to encourage historians writing Australian political, social, cultural and environmental history to approach their research in a way which uses the past to inform the present.

Ms Stewart said the essay contains interviews and reflections on the nature of the relations between the land’s original inhabitants and settlers, both now and in the past.

“In reconciliation the onus is often disproportionately on Indigenous people,” she said.

“I talk about how acknowledging honest histories about the Aboriginal and settler past can be hard emotional work for some non-Aboriginal people.  

“They’re thinking very hard about who they are and their complicity, and I argue that thinking about these issues produces certain emotions, but can also open up productive spaces, which often means thinking deeply and reflectively about the more honest histories told through the Bundian way project.  

‘Respondents shared their feelings of guilt and shame about the settler past, and not fleeing from it, or endlessly worrying about it.”

The themes of belonging, home, sense of self and how to move forward are important elements of Ms Stewart’s essay, which investigates the non-Indigenous connections to the Bundian Way, and the process of reconciliation.

“It got them [respondents] to reflect on their own education, and where their knowledge of Indigenous people came from,” Ms Stewart said.

“I’m incredibly grateful they shared those experiences with me, they have made my research very rich.

“It was difficult for them, but they did it with great humility.

“Without my respondents there would be no research.”

Ms Stewart was told in July she had won the coveted $5000 award, and had to keep it under wraps until winners were publicly announced.

Unfortunately, as fate would have it she was ill with the flu, and couldn’t accept the award in person.

“I was devastated, this is a major award and a huge achievement in my PhD journey, and I couldn’t accept it,” Ms Stewart said

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