The ECGs’ 10 Year Anniversary Booklet

The project that I undertook with Hurstville City Uniting Church’s English Conversation Groups (ECGs) is the creation of their 10th Anniversary Booklet. We asked both current and former students and helpers to share their favourite memories at the ECGs. We also sorted and included photos from the past ten years to be added into the booklet. The purpose of such a project is to reflect on how much the organisation has grown over the past ten years and to celebrate a big milestone for the organisation. The testimonies shared by those involved have also revealed the positive impact that the ECGs have had on the students’ and helpers’ lives and reinforces the value of volunteering and cross-cultural exchange. Whether the student or helper has been a long-standing member of the group or was simply involved with the ECGs for a few months, these testimonies reveal common experiences of self-growth and a sense of community within the organisation.

The main components of the booklet include a nine year photo timeline, a foreword written by the organisation’s founder and coordinator, student testimonies, helper testimonies, and a few pages of photo collages. The purpose of the nine year photo timeline is to demonstrate how the group has changed over the years but to also recognise the long-standing members of the group. Unfortunately, group photos were not taken each year so from 2011 to 2013, substitute photos have been used that do not include all members of the ECGs that year. I also asked Ivy, the founder and coordinator of the group, to write a foreword reflecting on the ten years of the ECGs since its inception in 2010. Following the foreword is the main component of the booklet, which are the student and helper testimonies. The testimonies do not encompass everyone who has been involved in the group but former and current students and helpers who were willing to share their experiences and responded to our request for written submissions. We also went through old photos to find pictures of these helpers and students to include in the booklet alongside their testimony. The final pages include photo collages with group photos and photos of members of the ECGs who weren’t depicted in the previous pages.

The reason why I decided to become involved in this project was because I was a volunteer of the ECGs myself. I was able to witness the value of the organisation first hand and felt a personal connection with the organisation through my own involvement. I felt that many of the students and helpers had stories to share and different reasons for coming to the ECGs. While this group only formed a small part of their routine on a Tuesday morning, it had made a significant impact on their lives more holistically. While the aim of the group is to improve students’ English speaking skills through conversation groups, the underlying experiences of self-growth and cross-cultural understanding is something that is not recognised enough and is an important aspect to highlight when celebrating the ECG’s ten year anniversary. I am excited for the ten year anniversary of the ECGs next year and my hope is that all students and helpers will be able to read this booklet, realise the difference that they are making and continue to work hard and be involved in such a worthwhile organisation.

Week 4-Speaking with staff

This week, I was able to get the museum twice to speak to different staff members. After talking to Naomi who runs operations for the office, I was able to sit down with Aviva who runs the overall operations of the building. She was more environmentally conscious than I would have anticipated. She has timers going for lights in the building, in which the majority shut off after hours, but still leaving dimmed lights for the cleaning staff. All of the materials that she buys in the cafe are recyclable, and she is currently working on brining in bamboo plates. She had their counterpart in utensils, but she said she eradicated them after receiving many complaints about the taste that it would leave behind. We spoke about paper towels in the bathroom and how electric dryers, while they do eliminate paper use, still leave a burden in energy costs. Additionally, paper/recycling was a big topic of conversation. While the museum does recycle all of its paper, there is an issue within the country as recycling is getting tossed as rubbish, since the Chinese will not accept Australia’s recycled materials anymore, so it’s nearly a nuisance at this point.

After our conversation, she introduced me to man named Roy who runs the accounting office. He was able to provide me with invoices of the products that they are buying, which will allow me to compare these products with others that might be more environmentally friendly. I will be able to compare prices and look at the ethics behind these companies as well. Furthermore, I should be able to calculate the amount of paper that they use on a monthly basis, an area that everyone in the office has told me is a huge issue.

Finally, I am going to speak with the IT department later this week to figure out if I could potentially make the backbone of an app that would display a map of the different locations of the museum in order to reduce paper use. As of now, I my main project will be a 3-5 year sustainability action plan for the SJM. More to come!

Week 3-Meetings at the Museum

This week, Breann and Roslyn wanted me to have the full experience of the SJM to see how their operations run on a daily basis. They paired me up with a class that was touring the museum, so I got hear from some of their great curators. Afterwards, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Kitty, one of their Holocaust survivors that speaks their on a regular basis. Environmentally, I got to observe the trends of the both the museum along with the visitors to see where they help to make some changes. One idea that I had was to create a mobile app that would have a map of the building and its key sites/locations instead of passing out pamphlets to everyone that walks into the building. After experiencing what a typical visitor would, I talked with with Breann, along with members of the Marketing and Operations teams as well. Most importantly, I was able to gather data on how much paper they use, the prices for them, and the company that supplies it as well. Moreover, I got all of the information on the products that they use within the office, and next week I am meeting with another member of the Operations team to gather information on the resources they use elsewhere in the facility along with the events that are held there as well.

I spoke with some of the individuals about my thoughts for longer-term projects, in which we came up with the idea to try and implement an Elkay bottle-filling station to ensure the elimination of paper cups. This is an expensive product, but we have already started looking into how we could pull this off. Moreover, I am looking at nearby museums to hopefully have give our Green Team someone to reach out to and to observe their trends as well. The Australian Museum just created their own Sustainability Action Plan, something I am hopefully going to be able to create myself as well.

Week 2-Creating the Outline

This week, I worked to create an outline of the more specific goals that I wanted to accomplish for this project. I started with changes that could happen immediately, the first being determining the institutions carbon footprint. I have asked help of those I have met at the museum to learn more about how the employees commute to work, the events that they hold, and their shipping trends as well. This will allow me to figure out gaps in where the SJM is falling behind. Secondly, I am looking into using their resources more efficiently, including cups, plates, straws, utensils, and more. I am researching wooden utensils, paper straws, and water bottles for the staff members as well to figure out pricing for the products. Moreover, I am looking into what some other local museums are doing as well, mostly the Australian Museum which has taken a big stance on environmental change. Additionally, I am helping to arrange an energy audit, which I am continuing to educate myself on the advantages of this report. Next, I have been speaking with Breann and Roselyn about co-heading a Green Team to educate the employees and to help inform the public as well. I have already worked to create the first project with the help of the marketing team. We want to put signs up in the bathrooms and by the drinking fountains to remind employees and visitors of the impact that they have when they use a paper cup or a paper towel. The longer-term projects I am continuing to work on and will be highlighted in a later post. I sent this outline to Breann and Roslyn who are both very excited about the direction that I am taking. They also both liked the mock-posters that I created to help point them in the right direction.

Scholar Talk: A Soldier’s Life on the Penal Frontier

With Tamsin O’Connor

Location: State Library of New South Wales

Metcalfe Auditorium, Ground Floor, Macquarie Street, Sydney

The well-documented convict cargo was accompanied by a far more elusive group of involuntary arrivals – the soldiers. We know much about the various regiments that served in New South Wales, but far less about the enlisted men who gave them form and force.The focus of this study is the frontier penal station of Newcastle, where the soldiers were charged with a double remit – as the agents of expansion and as the enforcers of confinement. This dual military function is examined through the story of two wooden boxes, including the Macquarie Collectors chest. This is curated as a National Treasure, an early example of Australiana and as an artistic colonial collaboration. My analysis relocates the chest in its military and penal contexts where it begins too look more acquisitive than collaborative – the incidental spoils of a frontier war and the perks of an exploited labour force. A second and more humble wooden box focuses upon the experiences of enlisted men, who felt themselves to be as trapped and tormented as the convicts they guarded. Relationships between convicts and soldiers were characterised by a tension between conflict and cooperation, between class commonality and regimental discipline and between the complex loyalties of religion and ethnicity. This paper, while seeking to negotiate these micro-geographies of class, race, gender and power on the penal frontier, also aims to reveal that the soldiers, were less tangential to the construction of convict society (as opposed to the destruction of Aboriginal society) than the monolithic archive of the Colonial Office would have us suppose. Indeed some soldiers crossed the regimental rubicon and joined convict bushrangers and pirates.

And everyone loves a pirate! So do come it’s on November 5th. Melbourne cup day or Guy Fawkes – depending on your cultural reflexes!

Remember Remember the 5th November!

Tamsin O’Connor is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney. Her thesis entitled, ‘All those Places of Condemnation’: Power Relations and Convict Resistance at the Penal Stations of New South Wales 1804 – 1842,’ focuses on the settlements at Newcastle and Moreton Bay, which existed on either side of the Bigge Report. She has published her research in a number of edited collections.

For more information see: https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/events/scholar-talk-soldiers-life-penal-frontier

Source: Macquarie’s Collector’s Chest, SLNSW, showing the open drawers, specimens and the painted panels

A History of Mental Health at Reachout

I’ve spent a long time wondering how the two completely different elements of my degree, history and psychology, would end up ever relating to one another. Both have seemed to be fantastic in their own little worlds and the closest I had ever been to bringing the two together was studying Sigmund Freud’s work in the 20th century (which isn’t so great the 5th time around). Although I had come to accept that, this project has finally brought together these two topics I love in a way that perfectly highlights both.

ReachOut’s Logo

I started volunteering at ReachOut in February this year and have continued to be involved in the community there since then. The organisation is a not-for-profit mental health service focused entirely online, and has been going strong for close to 20 years now. They feature articles ranging from how to relax, and HSC advice to serious mental health topics, with plenty support and advice for everyone. Although they’re a relatively young organisation based online, the sense of community I feel every time I visit makes me feel so connected and at home while I’m there. Their forums and teams bring ReachOut to life, with fantastic community events and support across the country. For the months I’ve been a volunteer, I’ve specifically been writing articles, researching, creating databases and I’ve even had my photo published in a visual article. Even with this variety of different projects I’d been involved in, I didn’t feel as though any would let me use what I’d learned in the past years of history at university.

Danny boy in casual wear smiling with university building and courtyard behind him
My photo for the Thoughts about the Future article on the ReachOut website

When I visited the ReachOut offices last week, I spoke to the head of the research team, Hilary. We both chatted about what kind of work would be relevant and useful to them while also allowing me to finally follow this psychological-historical dream. After some discussion about what she was looking for, we decided that a potential research grant would be a fantastic way to go about it. Mental health services have been difficult to reach for rural communities, which ReachOut has been focusing greatly on. By using the resources present, oral histories and stories from interviews in other articles and pulling data and studies from how mental health has changed through the years, I think I can make something that would benefit ReachOut greatly. After settling on this idea, I’ve been able to search through books, recordings, photos and articles for stories that I would otherwise never have been able to look at. I’ve even had a look at some stats and graphs, factual information that I think will really ground this work.

Volunteering at ReachOut has been a wonderful experience in the past, and finally being able to give back in a way that lets me use all the skills I’ve learned at university feels fantastic. This is an organisation I feel privileged to be able to support, and I’m very much looking forward to see how this project ends up going and what I’ll learn as I go!

The Blue Mountains Historical Society

The local community organisation I have chosen to work with is the Blue Mountains Historical Society (BMHS), a small but well-funded and resourced history group undertaking personal-interest histories through its society’s members. I was unaware of the existence of history societies in the Blue Mountains. Having grown up here my entire life and having been a History major living there for the past 4 years may have led me to an awareness of such an organisation. Such was not the case. This semi-rural suburban community has a fascinating history, yet I have no vivid memories of learning local Blue Mountains history during my school years. This project felt like the perfect opportunity to erase this absence and contribute something back to my local community.

In thinking about an organisation to work with, I began with the desire to do something that would enhance both my own and the community which I hail from’s knowledge and understanding about place. It made sense to enquire about local history organisations, and quite easily I came across BMHS. Established in 1946 and based in the Upper-Mountains suburb of Wentworth Falls, the land on which the society functions, and now owns, was inherited from benefactor Beryl McLaughlin, the daughter of John McLaughlin, a wealthy solicitor who bought the property on which Tarella Cottage stands as an escape from the heat of Sydney summer.

Having acquired the now heritage-listed Tarella Cottage in 1988, the society has since built another property on the land which serves as the office location, museum space, archives and work space. From this site, the society publishes a bi-monthly newsletter playfully titled Hobby’s Outreach, as well as member-authored books, all of which are available on their website. Monthly meetings engage community members to become involved with the work of the society, work which is invaluable to the community, and readily available for anyone willing to pop by.

Passion Project: 140 Years of the Nowra Town Band

Community history is personal history. All history is made up of stories, but the stories of communities, whether they be physical or imagined, occupy a different space than academic books and essays. There is something of a heart to it, to the connections between people that come through far more than the bare facts and statistics.

The Nowra Town Band is one of Australia’s longest continually playing brass bands, coming up on its 140th anniversary in 2020. It’s something I’ve been involved with since childhood; I joined the program that was run at my primary school at the age of 8 and have been playing with them since. The band is open to anyone, regardless of skill level, and is a staple of many local events around the Shoalhaven.

The Nowra Town Band at Nowra’s Anzac Day March, 2014

Much of the band’s history is preserved in photographs, newspaper scraps, and two plastic storage boxes full of miscellaneous documents found on top of a filing cabinet in the storeroom. It’s not that no one wants to preserve the history; there’s just a limited amount of time and resources that can be put towards it. The efforts that have gone into the preservation and organisation of these have been impressive, but are reliant on members using their free time to do so. This has resulted in some great work, done by people out of passion rather than obligation, but there’s only so much that can be done.

When visiting home over the break, I used that time to drop in to the band and work out what we wanted to do. I was shown the boxes of records, containing all sorts of things from 1925 onwards- attendance records, building plans, trustee declarations, a mish-mash of records that one of the members had cleaned out and made sure were stored somewhere carefully. She asked if I could start by scanning them, pointing out that if the hall were to burn down, that nearly one hundred years of records would be lost with it.

As we progress further and further into the digital age, it’s becoming easier to preserve these things, but for small volunteer organisations such as the band it can be hard to find the time and resources to do so.

I was also given a copy of a book put together for the centenary in 1980: Nowra Town Band in the City of Shoalhaven. It’s only short, 60 pages, but it goes through the history of the band from the earliest mention in 1880 through to 1980. It gives a timeline of the band, of major events, competitions, rises and falls in membership, but what made it particularly notable to me was how personal it is. The dates and facts are intertwined with anecdotes from members and photographs, not only professional group shots but candids, infusing it with a sense of compassion that is rare in more academic works.

The “Hula Girls”- a group of bandsmen in the 1950s who “enlivened many of the Band’s Concerts”

This is what makes working with the band so important to me. It’s personal to me, of course, having basically grown up in the band, but the nature of the community that has formed over the past 140 years is what makes up the essence of its story. The Nowra Town Band is a 140-year passion project that wouldn’t exist without its members and their families going above and beyond, and that’s what makes it special.

Education and Evacuations: Sydney Jewish Museum

When I returned to the Sydney Jewish Museum last Wednesday, I didn’t think I’d be experiencing my first museum evacuation. As a budding history student and museum worker, I naturally panicked over what objects to save when the overhead speakers blared “Please proceed to the nearest exit.” As I madly scrambled to grab everything from the theatre collection I’ve been studying, I was told to leave it behind and evacuate immediately. I was quite perplexed by the relative calm of all the staff, and the fact that no one was carrying objects that they’d saved.

Later of course I discovered that this is a semi-regular occurrence at SJM, and that every time it’s because someone had burnt their toast. However, as we were standing in the park across the road, I was also struck by the friendliness of all the staff, and their strong bonds with the volunteer survivors.

Front entry of the Sydney Jewish Museum on Darlinghurst Road.

The Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) in Darlinghurst was established in 1992 by Holocaust survivors who had created a local Jewish community after emigrating from war-torn Europe. The museum is split into three sections across three levels: Australian Jewry, the Holocaust, and human rights.

What makes the museum unique is their policy of putting voice and living history first. After volunteering there already for six months, and returning almost a year later, I was reminded of the passion of the volunteers and staff, and their dedication to education and remembrance. SJM has several school tours every day, runs regular public events about their exhibitions, and functions on donations rather than funded acquisitions. Their commitment to educating future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust teaches children about empathy and understanding. Additionally, students and adults who visit the museum can witness the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, highlighting the importance of oral history for museums moving forward.

My project with the Sydney Jewish Museum is to complete a virtual exhibition or online collection to be launched with their new Teacher Membership program in late November. The exhibition will centre around the Theatre for Children established by English-Jewish citizen Rosemarie Benjamin in Sydney in 1937. The theatre ran for twenty years, until Benjamin’s death in 1957. The collection includes 25 children’s costumes as well as a small suitcase worth of documents. The collection also includes 13 of the plays edited by Benjamin and performed by the company, photographs, a scrapbook, production logs, and letters from the children. SJM would also like me to type up the scripts so that teachers in regional areas can have access to the plays and perform them at their schools. This will continue their theme of the importance of widespread education, and teaching children about the value of empathy.

A photo of a performance of The Reluctant Dragon, one of the plays performed by the Theatre for Children.

Growing up in high places

My childhood photos are scattered through with pictures of myself and my sisters wrapped up in puffy parkers, comically large goggles and tiny mittens; traipsing around in the snow or traversing tiny “slopes” in tiny skis while our parents watch on. Other photos from these family holidays show us running amok in a cosy, albeit slightly run-down living room, complete with a roaring fire to toast marshmallows on. Some of my fondest memories reside on those snowfields and in that living room.

A collage of photos from the writer's youth. Clockwise from top left: a group of children roasting marshmallows at a fireplace; a group of children in snowsuits sitting amongst snowgums in the snow; and a group of children building a snowman on a balcony.
Clockwise from top left: roasting marshmallows with friends as my parents watch on (I’m the toothless one on the right); posing for a photo post-igloo building (I’m the squinty blondie in the all-red ensemble); and building a snowman on the balcony (I’m in the centre, with the awful sunnies that my mum, for some unbeknownst reason, thought to put on me).

Since being born, I’ve been lucky enough to have a home away from home – one that I gladly share with about 85 other people. Caloola is a lodge located nearly 500km south-west of Sydney, in the Snowy Mountains.

Nestled in the bowl-shaped valley of Smiggin Holes (or Smiggs, as it is colloquially known), Caloola serves as the home of the Caloola Ski Club, whose website describes it as:

“a non-profit club lodge dedicated to the pursuit of Snow Sports.”

Caloola is mainly made up of Sydney-based families who have all joined via their friendships with the original members. Upon birth I inherited membership through my mum, who in turn inherited membership from her parents, who themselves were close to founding members back in the late 50s, just a few years after they escaped from Croatia (then-Yugoslavia) and started afresh in Sydney.

My home away from home: Caloola, in the Snowy Mountains village Smiggin Holes.

When I became a fully-fledged member upon turning 18 in 2015, I gained the responsibilities of club maintenance, mainly achieved through summer work parties. Being a rather scrawny individual, I’ve been thinking of ways I can better apply my skills to Caloola. When this unit came along, it was a perfectly serendipitous moment of two worlds colliding as I realised how much I would love to delve into the history of a place where I – and my mum, and in part my grandparents – have grown up.

See, whilst I have grown up at Caloola, there’s a lot that I still don’t know about it. The first person I turned to was my mum, who admitted to me:

“Everyone has different ideas about who did what and how the lodge came to be. There’s no singular, entirely accurate record.”

There are contesting legends surrounding our ski club: who designed the logo, the plaques on each bedroom door, the lodge itself; and how exactly it all came to be. I’ve always heard that Caloola is an Indigenous word (I’m not sure from which nation), meaning High Place. I’ve also always heard that the lodge was born from a group of Northern Beaches-based couples who square danced together in the late 50s.

I’ve never thought to fact-check this – but, as my mum tells me, only two of the original eight members are still alive (or three – she isn’t sure). Now seems like the right time to research our ski club’s rich history, and document the people who brought it to life.

The current Caloola website, created by my dad.

Through this project, I’m hoping to digitise Caloola’s history. My own dear dad created a website for members a few years ago, but it is under-utilised by the membership – nearly all of whom have decided they prefer the Facebook group. I would love to create a new website that is more accessible and appealing to members, and one that contains a more thorough history of the club.

From the moment I considered approaching Caloola for this project, I’ve been incredibly excited about the ways I can contribute to the organisation that has been such a vital part of my own life – and I’m now very keen to dive in headfirst and get started.