13 states, five weeks, thousands of kilometres, from the swelter of a Louisiana bayou to the glorious fall foliage of Vermont…

Interviews with wonderful radio-makers and visionaries, and with oral history venerables… will write about that soon.

Favourite place N’Awlins, just because of those folks’ big heart and unstoppable music. We stayed in Treme, oldest African-American neighbourhood in the US, and badly hit by Katrina. Sad to see boarded up houses and even worse, vacant blocks, where everything had been wiped out. But the Treme Brass Band still plays wild music every Wednesday night in the old neighbourhood hall – $5 gets you rice and beans and the best live jazz music you’ll ever hear. I’m a hopeless fan of the TV series of course – so it was cool to see the oh-so-elegant elder of the band, in his crisply pressed trousers and white hat, presiding over an increasingly exuberant occasion. I ended up on the dance floor, along with everyone else, including the bartender – a woman who insisted we could not be allowed to walk the two blocks home. Instead, she lined up a ride home for us – with the leader of the Treme Brass Band, Mr Benny Jones. An absolute highlight – thank you ma’am!


Live with the Treme Brass Band


Washington was a surprise; hadn’t realised how impressive that monument mile is.  Wonderful tour of the Capitol with insider Don Ritchie, Senate Historian there since 1976. I met Don back in the ’90s when he chaired a session I did at the Oral History Association of Australia in Alice Springs in central Australia. The red dust of Alice a bit of a change from D.C.!


Donald Ritchie, US Senate Historian, gave me a splendid tour of the awesome Capitol in Washington D.C


Also a memorable hike on the Cranberry Bogs of Massachusetts with Studs Terkel’s old friend and collaborator, the funny, astute and delightful Sydney Lewis and her hospitable friend Sarah, ace broiler of swordfish.

A hike in the Cranberry Bogs with Sydney, Sarah and two joyful mutts

In real life, I talk a lot. Like way too much! Sometimes I even bore MYSELF, going on and on in broken record mode about some ancient grievance or tedious domestic whinge. But when I get out my audio recorder to capture someone else’s story, I morph into a model of mute and rapt attention. Someone called it aerobic listening, which describes well the intensity with which I absorb what the person Read the rest of this entry »

Music all over N’Awlins

On our first morning in the French Quarter, we happened on this curious quartet: a soulful African-American woman singing and playing clarinet, what looked like her daughter, aged about eight, on a pink drum set, a fabulous guy on rhythm tuba behind, and this odd little white kid hanging around with a trumpet. He didn’t play while we were there, but once did a sort of shuffle towards the spectators. She sang and then went into what seemed like effortlessly soaring clarinet – listen to it here. And that was just Day One!

new orleans busker

Later, at DBA, a club on Frenchman’s with free or very cheap entry, we heard Glenn David Andrews. Glenn had a colourful past, we were told, had been in prison and stuff, but was getting back in touch with the community and had appeared in Treme, the HBO series we loved, along with his cousin, the fabulous Trombone Shorty. Wearing a t-shirt and boardshorts, Glenn didn’t look as cool as his backing musicians – but once he started playing that trombone, we were gone. He came down on the floor to sing Happy Birthday to a friend, brandishing and working the instrument and sounding like a young bull elephant about to charge. And funny too – ‘ I want y’all to dance – even you white folks’. For energy, soul and pzazz, he was the best live act we’d ever seen – until the next night, when the Treme Brass Band played the CandleLit Lounge.

Glen David Andrews at DBA club Sept 2011

Beneath all the partying was the ever-present pall of Katrina. Vacant blocks among the colourful housing in the Treme area looked innocuous, but each one had once been a home. Other houses were boarded up, or showed obvious damage. What enrages residents even now is that

a) it could have been avoided: the hurricane was a natural disaster, but the impact was manmade – the levees were not built deep enough and using properly constituted soil, so they could withstand the floods

b) emergency relief was slow and inadequate, because New Orleans folk were largely black and poor. Can’t imagine the same pathetic response happening in Boston or New York, eh.

We stayed with a lovely couple in Treme, Michael, a native New Orleanser, and David, a ‘convert’ from New England. They were lucky – they ‘only’ had about four foot of water in their home, a converted corner pub. David cried when I asked him about the casualties. The numbers didn’t even depict the reality, he said. So many folk died later, due to fractured families and broken hearts. The effects were felt in little ways for so long – like the fact that two years after Katrina, inner city residents like David still did not get mail delivered to their home. I found that astonishing in a country as rich as the US – but here’s David, telling it like it was.

David from Treme 

Homes damaged by Katrina - and vacant lots where homes razed.

Chuffed to be the first writer of the 365 writer-a-day App launched by Varuna, the Writers’ House at Katoomba in the fabulous Blue Mountains west of Sydney. It will ultimately get to Itunes, but meanwhile, link is here. I read a short passage from ‘Minefields and Miniskirts’. Nothing fancy – had to do it in one take when the builder across the road finally put away his power tools for lunch – afraid at any moment he’d start up again!


Delighted to be invited to give a seminar at Concordia Uni’s excellent Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, 6-8pm 17 October. It will be open to the public, and will showcase diverse stories I’ve researched over the years: a behind-the-scenes intro to Australian life.

UPDATE: Here’s an interview I did at COHDS about ‘treating’ oral history for radio.



Minefields, Miniskirts and Mixed Marriage: Oral Histories from Down Under

Centre d’histoire orale et de récits numérisés
Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling
Université Concordia University
(514) 848-2424 #7920

Adresse postale | Postal address:
1455, boul. de Maisonneuve Ouest
Montréal (Qc) Canada – H3G 1M8

While in the US 18 Sept-22 October (2011), I’m keen to meet fellow practitioners who are passionate about radio as crafted narrative, and oral history. I’m happy to do a masterclass or seminar – or just meet and talk.

Here’s roughly where I’ll be. Please get in touch! Email smchugh@uow.edu.au

New York: 18-24 Sept

New Orleans: 24-29 Sept

North Carolina 1-5 October (doing a class at Duke Uni, Centre for Documentary Studies)

Appalachians and South: 5-10 October

Boston and Cape Cod: 11-16 October (class at Transom Radio Workshop)

Montreal 17-18 October

Chicago 19-24 October (FilmLESS Festival at Third Coast Audio)

The archive of my books, radio and other work can still be found at http://www.mchugh.org, but watch this space for updates.

Also my University of Wollongong staff page

And my academic.edu.org page http://uow.academia.edu/SiobhanMcHugh

I will get round to maintaining them very soon – and post pix!

I’ll be heading to the US for five weeks in Sept/October 2011 to check out their ways of telling stories on radio – and to pay homage to Studs Terkel in Chicago. Have discovered a Chinese version of Studs – amazing oral historian (and poet/performance artist/dissident) called Liao Yiwu. Read his book, ‘The Corpse Walker’ – the people jump off the pages, no artifice, astonishing stories.


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