I’ve been known to be a bit of a judgmental cow about alcohol consumption. So I thought it a good idea to be an elitist cow too and sample more quality boutique gin. The truth is my Dad hated alcohol with a vengeance, due to his own history with his first wife (not my Mum) and her family. He took this hatred to extremes, so I grew up really think alcohol was the devil.
I’ve been known to be a bit of a judgmental cow about alcohol consumption. So I thought it a good idea to be an elitist cow too and sample more quality boutique gin. The truth is my Dad hated alcohol with a vengeance, due to his own history with his first wife (not my Mum) and her family. He took this hatred to extremes, so I grew up really thinking alcohol was the devil. But I reckon it’s us humans that make it so.
I’ve had to unlearn that extreme about alcohol and judging people, because like all things, in moderation it can be good for us. Problematic usage is something else of course and being a descendant of a brewer and a publican, well here we are examining the irony. Dad didn’t know the tragic family history connected to the brewery, but I can’t help but wonder if he knew in his genes.
This project has a community arts aspect and key to this are stories, not just Bridget the Publican’s and John the Brewer’s.
Happy Sunday! Since moving back to Melbourne in 2018 from the Northern Territory I’ve been struck by a change in mood I’ve witnessed here, about how we value stories. This project has a community arts aspect and key to this are stories, not just Bridget the Publican’s and John the Brewer’s.
In Alice Springs, when I have worked in community service and particularly as an anthropologist: every person’s story counts. And when you work with people’s stories you hold them dear and true, you respect confidence (of course), but every story, big and small, is important. Sometimes I feel that in Melbourne (and maybe big cities more broadly), people can think their stories of the every day are not glamourous enough. I’ve even had people recommend books of prominent people rather than tell their own story (despite wanting to tell their own story).
Every story. Your story. Not only because a story that has been published or been on TV or in a film, not only because of a public profile, not only because of a following. Because you are you. Valuable. Your story is valuable.
Family stories are important. And this blog doesn’t tell stories I can’t tell of course. I want to give Bridget and John’s story a lot of historical context. But there is also another part of this project – an intent to collect other families stories with permission.
Stories of resilience and humour from Irish-Australian families, but not just with the nice bits only. Not just bushrangers and the focus on violence that seems to dominate the view of our families. Some stories are dark and may have aspects, but it isn’t all gunfire and robbery. A large portion of Victoria has Irish family roots and many stories are forgotten under the bravado of the fascination with outlaws.
One of the things about the intergenerational baggage many of us want to lighten, is that it’s made heavier by silence.
Don’t just do a family tree. Don’t just do a family history. Don’t rely on that one dedicated family member to do all the work. Do a family oral and social history – together Bring stories and perspectives together. And watch the burden lift. Maybe this project can start some projects for your family?
We often talk about family intergenerational trauma as though it's negative. But as much as there is trauma there must be alsoresilience, hope and survival. There is two sides to every coin and we can celebrate them both by holding them lightly in the telling of stories.
Silence maintains stigma. Stories celebrate survival. Every story counts. Every story deserves to be told, even anonymously if need be.
The end game of this project is a series of community theatre projects, where actors will tell pieces of these stories (without identifying you if you wish), in light and shade. These productions will show the past and present in alternate presentations, using gentle lighting and a technique known as black box theatre.
If you are a member of an Irish-Australian family with a an intergenerational story of resilience to tell – send me an email to email@example.com
One of the things I would like to do with this project, is have a look at the neuroscience of laughter. What part of the brain does it come from? Well…the limbic system, our survival centre, our emotional centre, is primary to laughter.
Quick Saturday post – because I need to edit another video and I am slack this week, bogged down in research. One of the things I would like to do with this project, is have a look at the neuroscience of laughter. What part of the brain does it come from? Well…the limbic system, our survival centre, our emotional centre, is primary to laughter.
Of course I plan to getting to the actual science studies and sharing them as I go along – but for the moment I am just scraping the surface.
I’ve encountered the old ‘you can’t laugh at that’ policing a lot in my lifetime. Perhaps the policing of what we laugh at is part of our uniquely human sociality, our tendency to try and control the world around us; but it’s also an oxymoron. The more you try and police what people laugh at, the more they find other ways to laugh at it or just do so in private. Why is that?
I’m going to posit that it is part survival technique, something integral to what makes us human. I recently found a piece on pain management and swearing. And swearing, like laughter, is closely related to the limbic system of the brain.
Which is interesting because comedy, often does both. It often harnesses laughter and swearing. And policing people who swear is a literal conservative industry, let’s face it. Some people will step over someone dying because they are swearing, rather than help them. These people are not my people.
There is evidence the urge to swear is quite primal, not really to do with the word itself, not a choice, and far from all the ridiculous clickbait about swearing making you more or less intelligent – the reality is the release of swearing is human. So the drive to police swearing is often about power and control, not any real threat to the supposed social fabric.
While some might reduce laughter to ‘it’s either funny or it’s not’, the reality is far more nuanced, much more complex. In 2016/2017 when I started to explore comedy, I had experienced so much physical and emotional pain that it was part catharsis (see article below from the Centralian Advocate newspaper – please forgive me I will link to a transcript of this article for accessibility reasons soon and edit the post). I knew I was playing part auto-ethnography as an anthropologist and part comedian as social change agent, but was really just playing at the edges of ‘being a comedian’.
I’m loathe to call myself a comedian these days, not because I don’t love comedy and there are some brilliant comedic voices out there, it’s something else. I find the policing of what is considered comedy frustratingly commercialised, much like I find manufactured popstars can be likened to the Woolworths of music. We consume comedy based on supposed mainstream relatability rather than what is actually creative or interesting uses of the art of moving people to laugh. The microphone on chin stand up stage comedy has become so highly commodified and I don’t think I fit that mold of comedy. Never mind the accessibility issues it presents for me as someone with sensory processing disorder. Laughter has become wrapped in social plastic wrap and sold to the masses. I long to be part of a contemporary reinvention of something like Monty Python (which challenged the status quo at the time while a bit cringeworthy now!).
At an individual level, there is an aspect of societal control in the regulation of laughter that is very similar to the shaming of addiction and mental health. By policing laughter we are attributing to people more agency and more control over things than they actually might have, in some effort to show we have free will, or choice. Sometimes laughter is spontaneous for a very human reason.
If you are laughing to survive something, no one should tell you not to laugh. I recently saw a parent discussing online how her child was silenced from laughing in hospital by hospital staff. This young person was visiting a dying parent and they were laughing together and were told they were disrespectful by a member of the nursing staff. These last moments with their parent were intervened into by someone meaning to protect some thinly held social superiority – a power trip over this young person’s last memories of a loved parent.
I wanted to cry for them and I won’t hold back here, I want to jettison the staff member into outer space in a large cartoon slingshot.
And I’m reminded of the last time I laughed about Dad in his presence. We had a shared memory of a time I had to resuscitate him in my early 30’s. I had to drag his 80 kilogram frame off a chair. He would laugh at me when I would later say “I don’t want to drag your sorry ass around again” whenever he did cheeky things that put his health at risk. He would love to laughingly remind me that when pulling him off the chair I had put his back in, that I had done him two favors that day.
The last time we shared this joke, I was walking with Mum down to Noosa river inlet. It’s a windy sandy track and I was struggling along and I paused and said to him “Dad this is the last time I drag your sorry ass anywhere”. Mum stopped and laughed and then we both cried for a bit and carried on, me with Dad’s ashes tucked under my arm in a rather heavy box, to the water edge.
I agree some things (like mocking other peoples experiences of violence, sexism, ableism, racism etc. to put them down) should never be mocked. This is because there is also some science about laughter having the ability to reinforce some shitty stuff (even if some in the room doesn’t think it’s funny, there is a contagion like effect that can change behaviour over time). Some behaviours can be made acceptable by laughing at them along with others. But the neuroscience shows that laughter is far more complex than even this, and way more complex than “it’s either funny or it’s not”.
Fuck judging people for laughing at the difficult things in life. The neuroscience places laughter firmly in the part of our brain that is the oldest and most linked to the uniqueness of human survival. I want to embrace that being able to laugh in the face of pain is a hallmark of survival. So, I ask you, have you laughed today?
My grandfather, Harry, used the expression, “I’m gonna have words with them”, about any difficult conversation. So the first episode of “On the Wagon” discusses the language of alcohol use. Warning bad jokes about Paleo.
My grandfather, Harry, grandson of John Brady, used the expression, “I’m gonna have words with them”, about any difficult conversation. So the first episode of “On the Wagon” discusses the language of alcohol use. Includes bad jokes about paleogenetic info. Closed captions available with are good for all sorts of people, even those who struggle with Australian accents.
And as promised…a little about the research quoted (and yes, I said “synapses”, not synopsis, because I am hoping you’ll feed your brain!):
Citation: Evolution of hominid ethanol metabolism. Matthew A. Carrigan, Oleg Uryasev, Carole B. Frye, Blair L. Eckman, Candace R. Myers, Thomas D. Hurley, Steven A. Benner. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2015, 112 (2) 458-463; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404167111
Significance of study: Many modern human diseases are attributed to incompatibility between our current environment and the environment for which our genome is adapted. It is unclear whether this model applies to alcoholism. We investigated this possibility by studying alcohol dehydrogenase class IV (ADH4), the first enzyme exposed to ethanol in the digestive tract that is capable of metabolizing ethanol. We resurrected ancestral ADH4 enzymes from various points in the ∼70 million y of primate evolution and identified a single mutation occurring ∼10 million y ago that endowed our ancestors with a markedly enhanced ability to metabolize ethanol. This change occurred approximately when our ancestors adopted a terrestrial lifestyle and may have been advantageous to primates living where highly fermented fruit is more likely.
Bridget Brady was no wilting flower. She ran the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore and her professional was listed on her death certificate as “Licensed Victualler”, or in more modern language, a ‘Publican’ or ‘Bar Manager’.
Something in my gut tells me Bridget Brady was no wilting flower. I have a range of documents about my great great grandmother I want to reveal, over time. She ran the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore and her profession was listed on her death certificate as “Licensed Victualler”, or in more modern language, a “Licensed Publican”.
So, today, on Valentine’s Day, I’m paying homage to Bridget and the women on the Australian Goldfields. They mined and owned businesses and across a huge number of professions and commercial activities. Sometimes as wives to miners, sometimes as individuals, but all of them represent a significant part of the gold rush economy.
She fought for her possessions after her late husbands will was contested at this highest court in Victoria. I have some interesting police documents from her time running the Shannon Hotel. She also was pregnant with her first child Mary Jane on the long journey from Liverpool in the United Kingdom to colonial Australia in 1863 as a new bride. As you can imagine, running a goldfields pub would have been a difficult thing to do, but reading these documents I can’t help but imagine her taking it all in her stride.
As for the location of the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore, I can’t find an exact reference. This is one of the things I hope to rectify when I visit Kilmore Historical Society.
Check out academic Dr. Clare Wright talking about women like Bridget and their contribution to goldfields life. Closed captions available.
Video Copyright Sovereign Hill Museums Association
I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately and his dark sense of humour and how he engaged humour to soften the blow of difficult times as the best medicine. Interesting for a man born on the 1st of April 1923 and who resented that date for the rest of his life. CW: low level discussions of end of life conversations.
I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately and his dark sense of humour and how he engaged humour to soften the blow of difficult times – as the best medicine. Interesting for a man born on the 1st of April 1923 and who resented that date for the rest of his life. CW: low level discussions of end of life conversations.
My Dad joked at the most inappropriate times, but always made it about the ridiculousness of the situation instead of mocking the people in it.
He would often tell me how much he disliked people who played ‘practical jokes’ on people. Being born of the 1st April and growing up in the 1920’s and 30’s in the Collingwood/Fitzroy are of Melbourne meant he never got to experience a birthday that wasn’t filled with anxiety about what someone might do to him in the name of joke.
I’ve never really thought about it much until recently. But now, I am doing at PhD on…the politics of laughter, with the title: “You Can’t Laugh at That”. So I suppose it’s been a topic of interest in my life for as long as I can remember because members of my family seemed to laugh at everything bad that happened.
Dad did like to say, at the end of the discussion about how he hated April Fools Day, but would add sometime funny at the end of it. It was like he was disclaiming not liking a day that was supposed to be humourus, with humour.
Maybe this an example of humour traditions born out of the great depression and two world wars? “I think this is shit and <describe how this is shit>, but then <insert funny story that makes people laugh about how shit it is>”
So, when in last few years of his life he was fighting a number of voices in his medical care that wanted to keep him alive in circumstances he didn’t consent to. He had an adventurous life until his 50’s and while he didn’t complain, he loved telling me his stories of that life. He had a living will that said he didn’t want to spend the end of his life being kept alive by machines. It was his worst nightmare.
I’ve not forgotten a conversation just before he died about a doctor who had branded him “noncompliant” for rejecting a treatment. A treatment he thought was effectively a medical experiment to his thinking.
While he spent his entire life disliking his birthday being the butt of jokes, he reminded me what he thought of the doctor with a hot take on the circumstances of his birth. Whether it was an embellishment or not he would say:
“It just before midnight and the midwife got really worried and was yelling at my mother Push! push! you need to push!”
<At this point, he would get very solemn because he knew how to tell a story>
“And my Mother was like, but I’m not ready! I’m not ready to push! It’s too soon! And the midwife…”
<Insert dramatic pause>
“And the midwife is waving her arms in the air saying “you cannot have this child on April Fools Day! And I was born at 12.05 on the 1st of April. I’ve never done what I was told to, why would I start now”.
Jack brady 2002
And herein lies the birth of the tradition of my humour and probably that of the entirety of Dad’s side of the family. Laugh at the tragic, the inconvenient, the sad, the annoying parts of life, because otherwise you are destined to be a slave to those events. To laugh at these events is an act of resilience, not humour.
That’s all for my Saturday post, I did have some success finding the archaeology team for the Kilmore brewery site this week.
Hope to have more news to share about what I am learning about the Kilmore brewery soon and I’ll do some more posts about what I do know already, next week.
And research is often laborious and often noncompliant and I am having to be patient, so please don’t push and put up with my bad puns, less it bears a post too early or too late. Bye for now.
Exploring how I first came across my ancestor John Brady’s death in 1888 and his erasure from history. Was this mental health stigma in action? Do we as a culture just erase uncomfortable mental health history?
Okay, some posts a bit light and some serious and technical, this is how ‘The Deadline‘ rolls. Content warning: discussions of death and mental health (‘insanity’) that may be distressing for some.
So in my family there was this enigma about our founding ancestors, John and Bridget Brady (nee Lynch) that I was curious about. And with genealogy I find starting with how people finished a good place to start, so death certificates first and gravely work backwards. Sorry for the puns.
And John and Bridget’s story is a lesson in confirmation bias. Basically we knew they had pretty hard Irish migrant lives in the Victorian goldfields and they had both had alcohol related deaths. They, in my Dad’s language ‘drank themselves to death‘, so I am blundering along, assuming death by things like liver and kidney ailments.
In 1999, while I was studying Anthropology at the University of Queensland, my Aunt Anne handed me the Brady family tree she had been working on. It was a pretty good effort, but I had access to the Pioneer Index for Victoria from 1836 – 1888 from the university. This is the one of the source indexes that websites like Ancestry.com use. Given learning about genealogy is part of anthropology it was a perfect opportunity.
Anthropology has a tradition of participant observation (immersing yourself in your research with people) in the production of ethnography. It requires a certain level of introspection and techniques to position yourself in the research so as to avoid objective/subjective disasters. This project is an exercise in autoethnography.
So the exercise of learning about the first Irish-Australian ancestors on my father’s side was exactly an example of the need to think carefully about my assumptions. Given that a number of family members have struggles with alcohol, a lot of that has been almost an accepted part of the lineage. My father hated alcohol with a vengeance and was quite vehement that alcohol destroyed families and I saw my parents have a beer once a month at best.
Doing family tree research (for yourself or anyone else) requires a lot of moments of unpacking confirmation bias. What’s confirmation bias? Probably best if I give a fictional example. A long told family story about a female ancestor reveals they loved to smoke Tabaco in a pipe, and this was considered quite unladylike and contributed to her death. Some have said lung cancer because there is a recent family member who died from lung cancer. There is a family photo of her in the 1860’s with the pipe in her hand, rested at her side. You find her death certificate and it doesn’t shed much light, but her headstone reads ‘died of foul air’ on it, and you think that confirms the family story of complications from smoking Tabaco. But the ‘smoking killed her’ family theory may well be confirmation bias and it’s important to step back and look a bit closer.
The expression ‘died of foul air’ or ‘bad air’ is related to an old defunct disease theory – known as Miasma theory and usually relates to infectious disease and the idea that various fumes were causative (that we now understand to be bacterial). Your ancestor has died in her late 30’s and you start to look at the history of where she died and find a tuberculosis outbreak in the area at that time. Your ancestor lived in a community without much medical care and it’s unlikely she would have had a proper diagnosis to be put on her death certificate. But it’s also likely that TB was was the cause of her death and having smoked Tabaco a complicating factor.
So, this leads me back to John and Bridget and the moment during my examination of family history that changed everything for me – John’s death certificate.
Image description: Image is death ledger from October 29th, 1888 at Kilmore Shire. John Brady. Brewer. Male age 49 years. Result of inquiry – Death from a wound in his throat, inflicted by himself while in a state of insanity. Inquiry held Oct 31st 1888, Patrick O’Neill J.P.
I first looked at this certificate in 2000 and put it down to process it until I picked it up in 2020 again and The Deadline project was born. I was going through a period of intense suicidal ideation and treatment for that twice a week and I was trying to understand my experience.
Here’s some of the feelings it brought up (written in my dark take on the world!):
The nature of the self inflicted wound to the neck. Holy hell. That’s committed. What on earth would drive you to that?
A state of insanity. How does one do insanity in a field (Dad said he died stumbling around in a field)? Do you discuss this with the cows? When was he found? Who found him? Did someone witness the state of insanity? What did it look like?
What warning signs were there? Why didn’t anyone listen? Did he talk about it?
Was he medically unwell too? How did they define insanity? How did they conclude this?
Is this my future, is this inherited? What the heck!
And finally, THE NEXT CLUE to follow…he was a BREWER! Let’s find the old Kilmore Brewery. There was a lot of gold rush pubs (I knew this from earlier research) but unlikely to be more than one brewery.
So my journey to understand how John the brewer (not to be confused with John the Baptist, because our John was most definitely Catholic) to came to be in a field in a state of insanity began and unpacking exactly what ‘a state of insanity’ meant in 1888; began in earnest in January 2020.
So you and I, Dear Reader, are going to go on a dark journey and next we will take a look at the Kilmore Brewery. And at times I am going to drink Gin in very small amounts and read to you bits of info and I may podcast or video that, because as my dear friend Rene will tell you, I am a piss weak drinker.
And here’s one small spoiler alert – the history of John Brady’s ownership of the Brewery is referred to only once in official histories (or missing altogether) and less than a line long, although it was a significant timeline of events for the town. While I understand his death is sensitive for religious, social and legal reasons but why forget him altogether? Shouldn’t we have honoured his life anyway?
Was this mental health stigma in action? Do we, as a culture, just erase uncomfortable mental health history as well the persons contributions?
It’s enough to make me drink (but I promise you in moderation). Laterz. To the brewery we go. See you there.
IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14
YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.
The Deadline is video, podcast and blog project, taking you on a darkly humorous boutique distillery tour that crosses representations like “Who do you think you are?”, “Time Team”, “Drunk History” with “What we do in the Shadows”.
The Deadline is video, podcast and blog project (and eventually community theatre project), taking you on a darkly humorous boutique distillery tour that crosses representations like “Who do you think you are?”, “Time Team”, “Drunk History” with “What we do in the Shadows”. Let’s talk about what is hidden in our family history closets and mock the crap out of the government policy and the inane and outdated social conventions that drive stigma and taboo.
Now before you go ballistic about how “you can’t laugh at that!”, people often laugh through trauma as a way to cope. And we won’t be laughing at people’s experience unless it’s something a family member found funny and is prepared to share with you…and you are not that wanker whose going to tell them they can’t laugh at this are you? We will mock the hells out of the system along the way.
If you would like to read a bit about how community arts and good mental health practice here’s a little taster for you:
Keller, S.; McNeill, V.; Honea, J.; Paulson Miller, L. A Look at Culture and Stigma of Suicide: Textual Analysis of Community Theatre Performances. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 352. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/3/352#cite
About the author of this site: I’m Jacci Pillar, a presenter somewhere between Louis Theroux and John Safran but a lot queerer than both. “The Deadline: Of Death and Gin”; is a hybrid arts project that combines autobiography, anthropological ethnography and comedy.
Why do this? It all started with a family history of laughing about “things you shouldn’t laugh about” in order to heal through some big family crises. My family has been plagued with mental health and addiction issues, often hidden with such ferocity it was comical. Then I began unwrapping the family history in 2005…
Two founding ancestors of a Brady lineage in Australia, John and Bridget were goldrush brewery owners in Kilmore, Victoria, Australia. (Irish-much?) John died in 1887 from “a wound to the throat after being in a state of insanity”. His wife, Bridget, died a few years later with an enlarged liver, a typical drinker’s death. My great grandmother, Jane Brady, was left to die in Sunbury Mental Hospital in 1945, and while her connection of the original lineage is unclear, this is because of the erasure of mental health histories and social stigma. Jane and extended family claimed to be direct descendants of a John and Bridget, but other family members dispute this. Jane’s records are vague and require more investigation.
Regardless, the Deadline is not about family history, it’s about family secrets and how and why they shouldn’t be secret and it’s about understanding social history. How family secrecy doesn’t help us heal, demonizes and excludes people and reinforces dangerous stigma about mental health and addiction.
RESEARCH IS SAYING THIS TRAUMA COULD BE both INHERITED and a result of experience, WHICH LED ME TO ASK, AM I DOOMED?
We all talk about good mental health but then hand our depressed relative a drink in the corner at Christmas and hope they’ll go away. Let’s face it, we’ve all got that Uncle or Aunt. For my family that person is me.
If you’ve ever rung a suicide hotline late at night, you’ll realise lack of funding mean you are more likely to get on hold music than rapid help.
The voice message should say “Please try and restrict your suicidal thoughts to between the hours of 8.30am and 4.30pm, when we have the resources to deal with you. We are sorry for the inconvenience. Have a nice night.”
Research has also shown how stigma, shame and lack of services, push people to further harm.
If we want people to keep living so much, why are we literally killing people with shame?
Could modern mental health and addiction services be like the self-fulfilling bungled social policy of promises unmet, the ultimate spin. “The Deadline” takes a personal look at what we’ve learned anything in the last 200 years.
Worse, could the idea that we inherit our trauma be taken on board by people so deeply that it replaces ideas like fate and destiny? Or self-fulfilling prophecy?
I sincerely hope not!
Take a journey with me through The Deadline, from my great great grandfather’s 19th century brewery to now – using comedy, history, family stories, picking researcher’s brains and gin! Don’t forget the gin!
Content will include literary blogposts and some little film and podcast projects as we get out to Kilmore and Sunbury later this year and do some history investigation like:
Interviews with experty type people
Interviews, oral histories and stories from other Irish-Australian families with similar intergenerational mojo
Interviews with people who perform about dark topics
Whatever else I think of.
Weekly posts and updates as the project develops coming soon…
IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14
YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.