The Shady Origins of our Suburbs

HSTY3902 comrades!

Home stretch is here and I can almost see the finish line! As I scramble to put together my final research project, I thought I would give a rather honest opinion of my experiences so far…

I keep having these really frustrating dreams about my project. I wake up with heart palpitations and sweat beads down my face (okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but still).

I have been working with the Whitlam Library in Cabramatta. They have a fabulous team of heritage officers who do all sorts of great local historical research, such writing books for local clubs, conducting oral interviews, much of which is in collaboration with the Fairfield Museum.

My project is to find the OFFICIAL date of establishment of each of the 27 suburbs under Fairfield Council (south-west Sydney). There are banners in each of the suburbs which state the “date of establishment”, but unfortunately, some of these dates are wrong. I have to go find primary sources showing the “real” dates and give the the info to the Fairfield Council (which is also my final project).

Historians love dates. They are our little comfort pillows; they slip complex situations into simple time frames. Ah, how lovely! How sweet! How romantic!

But I never imagined it would be so hard to find a single date.

I have spent hours wading through newspaper clippings, council records, advertisements, maps. You name it, I’ve looked. And yet, it has taken me hours to find one little piece of information.

I feel like the gods of history have been toying with me. I feel like a mouse being cruelly chucked around by a cat: lulled into a false sense of security, only to be once again snapped up in its deceiving paws.

Take the suburb of Edensor Park. There is heaps of information available through newspaper archives and private letters. Edensor Park was mostly isolated farmland up until the 1950s. But, it did have post office and telephone line (predicament #1: does that mean it’s “officially” established?”). However, it didn’t reach its suburban peak until the 1970s when a huge land release occurred, and much of the area became residential (predicament #2: is this the time of “official” establishment?). And on top of this, I can’t find a single document which explicitly states the date of proclamation. So many documents, but so little information. And Edensor Park is one of the least of my worries.

It’s times like these when my inner historian is really put to the test. I have learnt that you need creativity and you REALLY need to think for yourself. There are no history books to tell you what to think (so that’s what lecturers meant when they kept saying “critically and independently” analyse! Who would’ve thought?). At the end of the day, if I can’t find a date IN a source, I have to come to some conclusion, given the sources I do have. Maybe Edensor Park was established in the 1920s and maybe it was “reborn” in the 1950s? Perhaps I will give the Council both dates instead of just one.

Nevertheless, I have also had some breakthroughs (cue triumphant orchestral music). When I found a newspaper clipping which explicitly stated that Wakeley was established in 1979, I almost cried with joy. I felt like I was looking at my first child. So many emotions after such a long labour.

So, my comrades, BE BRAVE!

I used to think love was a battlefield, but you know what? History research is a battlefield, especially if you’re dating it (pun absolutely intended).

If there is one thing I have learnt, it’s that history isn’t a beautifully bound book written by some famous historian. History is the many tedious hours of research, scouring through barely legible newspapers, maps and photographs, only to find yourself exactly where you started. And when you do find that one magical piece of information, it’s about knowing what to do with it.

One thought on “The Shady Origins of our Suburbs”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    Hmmm a challenge indeed! You’ve probably already seen this and I’m not sure if it will be of any help but the SLNSW are digitising their historic subdivision plans of Sydney suburbs. They contain mostly real estate agents’ advertisements or surveyors’ sketches created between the 1880s and 1930s as large estates were broken up and sold. But they may have some clues…?
    http://guides.sl.nsw.gov.au/content.php?pid=184734&sid=5594635
    Nicole

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