Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hidden stories and the respectable art of sticky-beaking

Paul Gavarni, La Flâneur 1842: To be a flâneur is to idle without purpose, interested in what you find
I was introduced to the art of flânerie by John Baxter’s book The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A pedestrian in Paris

Baxter, an Australian born writer, journalist and film maker, has lived in Paris since 1989.

There, by accident, he became a guide taking walking parties on literary tours through the streets of a city that he had come to love. The book describes his experiences in that role

I enjoyed it in part because I have been to Paris several times and so knew many of the places and some of the stories he wrote about. It’s a well written easy to read book. I was also interested in a professional sense since I see part of my role as a story teller. 
"The term itself derives from the Old Norse verb flana “to wander with no purpose”.
Baxter used the concept of the flâneur - literally the stroller, lounger, saunterer - to introduce his view of the pedestrian in Paris. The term itself derives from the Old Norse verb flana “to wander with no purpose”. However, it was in 19th century Paris that the flâneur became a cultural icon, someone who wanders the streets as an observer and philosopher, an urban explorer, a connoisseur of the street.

I was immediately attracted to the idea of flânerie. It provided a perfect justification for my habit of just wandering, following my nose to see what I could find. It justified a sometimes insatiable curiosity that could verge on sticky-beaking. I was now engaged in a respected cultural practice! Most of all, I liked the idea of combining history with current observation.

We are surrounded by history if only we could see it.

The drive between Armidale and Sydney via Thunderbolt’s Way is a fascinating history lesson in its own right, embedded as it is in 30,000 years of human history. The streets of our towns and villages, the country side itself, are full of hidden stories.

To discover those stories you need to stop, to stroll, to observe and then to investigate. In fact, you need to become a flâneur!

In recent columns, we have been talking about aspects of domestic life, most recently Australian’s love of meat.

In the days before refrigeration, meat had to be killed locally to ensure that it did not spoil. Well, perhaps not spoil to much, for by the end of a hot day the meat could already be spoiling, beginning to turn black!

Animals might be killed just outside the town or on the butcher’s premises. The demand for meat meant that there were multiple butcher’s shops often co-located with a small general store, each one strongly favoured by particular customers.

Most have gone, victims of changing tastes and the rise of the supermarket. Still, if you walk your town you may be surprised how many of the buildings themselves survive. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 6 June 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 


Johnb said...

I spent yesterday as a flannels Jim. Finding the now overgrown railway siding at Glenreagh where the Dorigo branch line joined the mainline, it still had some of the original rolling stock in situ awaiting regulatory release.On through sandstone to Red Rock where you can step back in time to a sleepy holiday village with creek fishing, camp ground and reserve. You pass the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre, should you stop then you enter another world to that of European settlement. A decorated frontage that is a Welcome to Country and in my humble should be studied as it gives you connections to Country. Inside you first see two large Victorian studio portraits of an aboriginal boy and girl, posed in their sadness and without dignity but still forming a historical record. Opposite is a 200 year old canoe carved out of a banksia log and found by a Yarrawarra man sticking out of the Corindi Creek Bank after a particularly severe flood. More victorian portraits and a small museum gathered together by the Yarrawarra for public display. The signage language, though only typed words, carries great insight, altogether a day well spent ‘flanneuring’.

Jim Belshaw said...

:) It's good to see that bad influence John and thank you for the photos. It's time I did a follow up on Glenreagh. On Red Rock, one of the archaeological missions I went on was up the coast at Station Creek. Keep the good work up!