Fallon Mody, Nat Cutter, and Henry Reese, 2019. Photographer: Nicole Davis

Listening Across Boundaries: The Greg Dening Memorial Lecture 2019

Emeritus Professor Greg Dening (1931–2008) occupies an important place in the history of the History program at the University of Melbourne. As Tom Griffiths put it: “Greg was not only a wonderful historian but also a gifted teacher, and he believed that immersion scholarship could be transformative — of oneself, and also of the world … In his hands, history was no mere subject at university; it became a form of consciousness, a definition of humanity, a way of seeing — and changing — the world” (History Workshop Journal 67:1 (Spring 2009)).

We remember Greg Dening through an annual memorial lecture, the text of which is published in Melbourne Historical Journal, and through an annual Greg Dening Memorial Prize, generously supported by the SHAPS Fellows and Associates Group.

Last year’s Greg Dening Memorial Lecture was delivered by three young scholars whose work is distinguished by the qualities that Greg Dening prized and nurtured: creativity, imagination, experimentation, and an attitude of ‘sensitive curiosity’ towards their historical sources and subjects (the phrase comes from Paul Turnbull’s obituary for Greg Dening (The Eighteenth Century, 49:3 (2008)). Current History PhD candidate Nat Cutter, and recent graduates Dr Fallon Mody and Dr Henry Reese, presented on the theme of ‘Listening across Boundaries’, drawing upon ideas and motifs from Greg Dening’s work and applying these to their own specialist areas of historical research.

You can listen to the lecture, and view the lecture slides, in the video below.


(The recording begins with Nat Cutter; Henry Reese is from 17:05; and Fallon Mody from 34:08).


Nat Cutter, ‘Between Captives and Consuls: Searching for the ‘Little English’ of Barbary’

Greg Dening devoted his career to the study of the people ‘on the other side of the beach’, and the ‘little people’ on his own. He wanted ‘to celebrate their humanity, their freedom, their creativity and their dignity’, listening to their voices in all available forms to give ‘the past and the other the dignity of being able to be their own selves’. In this paper, Nat Cutter introduces three ‘little people’ who left their homeland in England to live among Catholics, Muslims and Jews in Ottoman Tunis and Tripoli. These individuals – an abandoned wife turned merchant, a convert chancellor and cavalryman, a wayward and ‘disorderly’ apprentice – and others like them, forgotten by historians between the sensational literature of captivity narratives and the high-flying world of diplomacy, eked out a fluid, liminal life without many of the strictures felt by their captive and consular countrymen. By listening for their voices, we can learn a great deal about the Maghreb’s place in the early modern world, and challenge ourselves to more thoughtfully engage an increasingly multipolar, multicultural and mobile world.

Richard William Seale, A Correct Chart of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Levant: From the latest and best Observations: for Mr. Tindal’s Continuation of Mr. Rapin’s History, 1745

Henry Reese, ‘Listening to a Train Wreck: The First Phonograph in Warrnambool’ 

In the summer of 1897, a passenger train derailed between Warrnambool and Allansford in the Western District of Victoria. Thankfully no one was badly harmed. This local scandal reverberated through the community and encouraged a range of responses. The dramatic clamour of colonial modernity literally coming off the rails provoked a local impresario to recreate this event in sound. The Warrnambool sound recordist Thomas Rome’s construction of the train accident is one of the earliest surviving Australian-made recordings. In the spirit of Greg Dening, Henry Reese offers a close re-reading of this micro-historical fragment, emphasising the motley of associations that accrued to early performances of recorded sound in colonial Australia. Thomas Rome’s recording provoked listeners to attend deeply to their own local soundscapes. This hints at a longer trajectory for the concept of ‘field recording’ than is conventionally ascribed, and complicates neat distinctions between scholarly and creative approaches to history-writing.

Warrnambool Train Derailment, 11 March 1897. Photographer unknown. Corangamite Regional Library Corporation, 7441

Fallon Mody, ‘”1000 Babies Can’t Be Wrong”: Listening out for Arthur Deery, An Alien Doctor in Victoria’

In January 1961, fifty mothers marched through the Victorian town of Healesville demanding their doctor, who had been abruptly dismissed, be reinstated to the local hospital. The Sun reported they marched in “blistering, near-century heat” carrying placards that declared, “1000 Babies Can’t Be Wrong” and “Doc Deery forever”. The mainstream newsworthiness of this moment was who these white, middle-class mothers mobilised in support of: Doc Deery was a Hungarian Jewish “alien doctor” with “communistic ideas”. Arthur Deery was among hundreds of refugee doctors who arrived in Australia in the 1930s. Historians have paid little attention to this group beyond representations of their marginalisation, as social and professional outsiders. In this paper, Fallon Mody re-presents Arthur Deery’s migrant medical life, which spanned 40 years, and three country towns. In doing so, Fallon’s research highlights how such biographical explorations enable what Greg Dening called “history’s empowering force” to give us a deeper, more human understanding of being an ‘alien doctor’ in Australia.

The image shows Dr Arthur Deery with his wife and children in their home in Toora, Victoria, where he practised during World War II. Photographs courtesy the Deery family



Nat Cutter (him/he) is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, researching the origins, experiences and influence of British expatriates in seventeenth-century North Africa. He is interested in digital humanities, diplomacy, social networks, evangelicalism, news networks, trade, material culture, and piracy. His recent article, ‘Turks, Moors, Deys and Kingdoms: North African Diversity in English News before 1700’, published in the Melbourne Historical Journal, won the 2018 Greg Dening Memorial Award and the 2019 SHAPS Fellows Group Annual History Essay Prize.

Henry Reese (him/he) is a historian, researcher and musician. He completed his History PhD without corrections at the University of Melbourne in 2019. Entitled ‘Colonial Soundscapes’, this thesis was the first cultural history of early sound recording in Australia. Using a novel methodology that combines the material and the cultural, this project knits the sensory, social, business and economic histories of sound recording in a modern settler society into a cohesive whole.

Fallon Mody (her/she) is a postdoctoral research fellow in an interdisciplinary research group in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, where she also completed her PhD. Fallon’s research interests can be described as discipline-diverse but qualitatively-focussed. Her PhD project, ‘Doctors Down Under: European medical migrants in Victoria (Australia), 1930–60’ is the first systematic exploration of the lives of rank-and-file migrant medical professionals in this period. This research begins to redress the invisibility of medical migrants in Australian migrant and medical history.


Previous Greg Dening Memorial Lectures

2018 Gillian Triggs, ‘Australia’s Protection of Human Rights: Is a Charter of Rights a Solution?’

2017 Joy Damousi, ‘Out of Common Humanity’

2015 Ron Adams, ‘Talking to the Dead’

2014 Ross Gibson, ‘”Who Knows the Weather?”: The Memory of Greg Dening’

2013 Shino Konishi, Maria Nugent and Tiffany Shellam, ‘Aboriginal Australians and Boundary Crossings’ (preceded by postgraduate presentations by Jayson Cooper, Lucy Eyre, Annika Lems, Damir Mitric, and Zoe Robertson)

2012 Alexandra Walsham, ‘Landscape, Ancient Monuments and Memory in Early Modern Britain’

2011 Shane Carmody, ‘On Finding Oneself in a Library’

2010 Katerina Teaiwa, ‘Challenges to Dance! Choreographing History in Oceania’

2009 Tom Griffiths, ‘History and the Creative Imagination’


Feature Image: Fallon Mody, Nat Cutter, and Henry Reese, 2019. Photographer: Nicole Davis