Michele and I became colleagues when Deakin University merged with Victoria College in 1991. She was based on the Toorak Campus (since closed) and I commuted there regularly to teach, and we’d occasionally catch up. I was aware of her research interest in post-war German-Jewish migration to Australia and this overlapped with my own research into Jewish migration to Australia, German-Jewish history and the Holocaust, but, as is often the case in university life, we somehow never got around to discussing our mutual interests until Michele, frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to gain research funding for future projects, suggested that we work together in applying for a research grant. The result of her initiative demonstrated how fruitful collaboration can be in the Humanities, despite its traditional bias towards solitary research.
Michele’s passion for oral history was the catalyst for our success. With Peter Monteath of Flinders University and, thanks to the support of Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, we were awarded an ARC Linkage Grant in 2003 to investigate the Centre’s groundbreaking collection of survivor video testimonies. The grant not only funded research assistance but it also included a scholarship for a PhD student. This gave Michele, who was a committed and conscientious post-graduate supervisor, great satisfaction.
Researching the Centre’s video testimony collection required us both to make compromises and broaden our interests. I had previously had little experience dealing with oral evidence and remained somewhat sceptical of its value. Now I came to appreciate the richness and methodological complexity of such accounts and the insights into lived histories they could provide. Michele, whose primary interest lay in migration experiences, found the traumatic nature of Holocaust testimony hard to deal with, not to mention the idiosyncrasies of Jewish traditions and the labyrinthine and brutal quality of Nazi genocidal practices shaping the testimonies. The end result nonetheless was highly productive. At a rough estimate we produced seven co-publications including the edited collection with Dvir Abramovich, Testifying to the Holocaust (2008) and numerous individual publications based on research into the video testimony collection and related themes. It remains an abiding mystery to me how we managed to write joint pieces which in the end flowed so seamlessly that I now have trouble identifying what part each of us wrote.
While our collaboration comprised only a part of Michele’s multiple research interests which extended as far afield as the Northern Territory, South East Asia and Canada and to topics as diverse as Welsh Patagonians and intangible heritage, I am grateful to have benefitted from her commitment to listening to and viewing ordinary people recounting extraordinary events.
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Education
Deakin University (Australia)
10 August 2016