30 November 2012

Australia-China relations: oral histories

The National Library of Australia is placing online audio and transcript of a project by the Library, Australia-China Council and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called "Beyond the Cables" to record perspectives of forty years of Australian ambassadors to China for the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China established December 1972.

I approached listening to my own recording with some trepidation. I am always apprehensive about re-reading things I've written... this recording went from unprepared to on-the-record in three hours sitting in a fancy studio with the lovely Michael Wilson as my interrogator. I had not expected Michael to begin at the beginning as we seemed to do. You are spared my prenatal life but not much more.

I guess it's in the nature of oral history that it may ramble. I speak not in prose but in utterances, as we are supposed to do. I fear there are anecdotes incomplete as we changed subject here and there.

It is mercifully easier to browse with the text and audio parallel. The transcript not perfect but a huge labour. I hope no one will sue me for things said  :-)

As I write this, my own transcript is the only one accessible online so far. I will have to find time to listen to others as they become available, I suppose... life is a string of distractions from what you think you should be doing (I refer not to the vacuum cleaner but the novel).

I hope this collection amounts to something valuable long-term. I hear from GS who interviewed a number of the others that he has been having a good time, that there are some good stories. More seriously, perhaps it will give international relations and history academics more insight into how we go about making international relations. Too much writing in the history of Australia-China relations, in my observation, has drawn upon news clippings and the surmise of authors as to how to pin them together... dignities and dogmas become entangled with notions unsoundly based on fragmentary evidence.