Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Memory of the world

That's a big formula: Memory of the world. What's it all about? Well, Unesco has decided to register a certain number of outstanding historical documents as a permanent testimony of the human story of our planet. I'm enchanted to learn, for example, that the choice of US documents is neither the Gettysburg Address nor even the Watergate tapes, but a whimsical Judy Garland movie that charmed me infinitely as a child: the Wizard of Oz.

In the case of Sweden, Unesco has registered two sets of family archives: those of Alfred Nobel [1833-1896], founder of the prize, and those of the 88-year-old cineast Ingmar Bergman.

Concerning France, Unesco has selected the tapestry of Bayeux.

This fragment shows the Conqueror's half-brother Odo wielding weirdly a massive shaft at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I've always liked to imagine, not very objectively, that he might have been a nominal forebear of my 13th-century ancestor Odo de Scevington [literally, in Saxon, place of the shaft], owner of a manor in Kent with the lovely name of Dolce. In any case, if future researchers use a computerized network to look up the Bayeux tapestry, they might find their way to my Skeffington typescript [click here to find it straightaway].

In the case of my birthplace, Australia, the Unesco Memory of the world project is perfectly explicit. The documents to be registered for posterity are our convict archives. Here's a treasured personal fragment of this memory:

This is the famous ticket of leave indicating that my Tipperary great-great-great-grandfather Patrick Hickey [1782-1858] was transported to New South Wales in 1829, and even spent time on notorious Norfolk Island. Today, I get a kick out of thinking that the future world, as envisaged by Unesco, will remember my maternal family and me, not for the pioneering efforts in Braidwood of Charles Walker [1807-1860], probably the elder brother of the whisky inventor Johnnie Walker, nor for smart hotel founders named O'Keeffe, nor for northern Irish Protestant pioneers named Kennedy and Cranston, nor even for any of us living folk (including my two Smith cousins, Australian doctors, who were indirect recipients of the Nobel Prize for Peace awarded to Médecins Sans Frontières a few years ago)... but for a vulgar and no doubt lovable Irish cattle-poacher whose son William Hickey [whom I'm researching] was an early bushranger.

Personally, I'm not troubled by this strange filtering process that determines what might, and what might not, be remembered. On the other hand, I was disappointed by the fact that, during my one-month visit to Australia last year, I was unable to visit Braidwood, the territory of Patrick Hickey. He got there easily in 1829. My ancestor Charles Walker, too. But William Skyvington never made it. Modern Australia was incapable [because their public transport is shit] of letting me visit the region of one of my major ancestral memories.

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