What’s On

Click on an event below to find out more about it. Events of the RHSV can also be found in our Whats On bulletin and History News.

ON NOW until 30 December 2017 : Exhibition : Standing on the Corner
10 October 2017 : Evening Lecture : Returning the Kulkyne
23 November 2017 : Lunchtime Lecture : Secret Codes and the “Cable Girls” of West Block

Returning the Kulkyne

Tuesday 10 October, refreshments 5.15 pm, lecture 5.45 pm
Venue: 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne
Cost: Members free, non-members $10
Speaker: John Burch

The Kulkyne is a unique natural environment south of Mildura formed by the Murray River overflowing into the dry Mallee. Floodplains and semi-permanent lakes made it valuable Aboriginal land and a desirable squatting opportunity. Returning the Kulkyne traces the use of land from the squatters to the present and examines its impacts on the land and its people. It then explores the possibility of returning the Kulkyne to some semblance of its former state.

The talk will examine a selection of the stories associated with the Kulkyne. The squatters grew Kulkyne Station into a 3,000,000 acre business before it collapsed under the pressure of land reform and rabbits. Already seriously compromised, the land then became State Forest and was logged until exhausted. The Mildura railway, finished in 1903, opened the area up and led to the natural values of the Kulkyne being identified. In the 1930s Mildura resident Les Chandler initiated the campaigns that led to the creation of Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in 1980. The story of the Kulkyne’s Aboriginal owners will be discussed in detail. Initially resisting their dispossession they were driven into an accommodation with the squatters, becoming a valued rural workforce before dwindling and leaving their land. Abuse and a stolen generation had apparently driven them to extinction.

John Burch is a history graduate returning to history as a retiree after a career in the public service. His primary interest is restoration of the Kulkyne, but his research in that area has increasingly led him into the story of the Kulkyne’s traditional owners. The RHSV journal recently published, ‘The Wirrengren-Kulkyne Pathway: Locating a Cultural Icon’, which was an offshoot of his studies of early colonial land use. He is currently exploring a PhD researching Aboriginal use of the Mallee back country before colonial settlement.


Lunchtime Lecture : Secret Codes and the “Cable Girls” of West Block

Thursday 23 November, refreshments 12.30 pm, lecture 1.00 pm
Venue: 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne
Cost: Members free, non-members $10
Speaker: Peter Dowling

A small, innocuous and often ignored building in Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle has quite a remarkable story to tell. The building is located in the rear of the West Block curtilage and today is used as an electricity substation and a place for the staff of the main offices to park their bicycles.

But, during the Second World War this small building, tucked away behind the main building which housed the Prime Minister’s Department, was occupied by a group of young women working on the top-secret encryption and decryption of government cables. They called themselves the “Cable Girls” and the building, “The Bunker”. Dr Peter Dowling will tell the story of this building and its young staff who played a vital but highly secretive part in Australia’s war effort.

Dr Dowling is a historical archaeologist and a Council member of the Canberra and District Historical Society. In a former life, Peter was involved in defence intelligence and communications which later drew his interest towards the history of this place and the young people who worked in isolation there.