But What Is My History?

I have always been fascinated by history, leading me to choose as much elective history as possible throughout high school, and only naturally resulting in a major at university. This fascination probably stems from the fact that I have always been surrounded by history. My grandparents would tell me enthralling stories, I’ve long watched my Dad passionately piece together our family tree, and my Mum constructs our immediate family history in scrapbooks. Yet, my interests have always extended far beyond Australian or local history.
While I tell myself I am so interested in WWII and post-war European history because it’s my ‘family’ history (a great-grandfather and grandfather who served in WWI and II respectively, and ancestry from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany), is it really ‘my’ history?
With every session I have with my community organisation, Manly, Pittwater and Warringah History Society (MWPHS), I become more and more aware of just how unknowledgeable I am about the rich local history of the area I have lived my entire life – the Northern Beaches.
The popularity of local history, exactly what MWPHS strive to collect, preserve, and circulate, has exploded in recent years. Graeme Davison puts it clearly and simply – “Local history, which links our aspirations for community to a sense of place, our fragile present to a seemingly more stable past, has a strong claim on the contemporary imagination”.
So, I guess rationalising my attraction to European history is justified, as my family history has very much impacted my life today, linking my “fragile present to a seemingly more stable past”. But how then do I explain my lack of connection to the history right on my doorstep? (This isn’t an exaggeration. A quick walk into the bush near my house, and you’ll stumble across Aboriginal rock carvings). The history with which I should resonate, given my physical relationship, “a sense of place”.
I’ve always assumed my local area lacked an ‘interesting’ history worthy of my attention, but I’m continuously being surprised as I come across documents in MWPHS’ archives (like newspaper advertisements for Manly Ferries from the early 1900s, or photographs of one of the many farms that once existed in my suburb). Why has it taken this long for me to be exposed to this information? If I had been exposed earlier, could I have a stronger sense of belonging to my local community?
History, whether it is public, local, national, Indigenous, female (the list goes on), is very much about identity making. The power of history lies in its ability to educate about the past, in order to make sense of the present, and inform or progress the future. This happens at all levels (community/local, nations, transnational), but most basically for individuals. HSTY3902 students – who knows what little known information you’ll uncover and publicise? Whose identity may your work help shape in the future? You have the power, use it wisely.