Exploring My Own Backyard

When I was younger, my parents took my family on a “surprise holiday.” My brothers and I climbed into the car without a clue as to where it would take us. Were we off to the snow? The airport? Embarking on a long road trip to Queensland?
40 minutes later, we’d already arrived at our destination: Liverpool Street. In Sydney.
At first, we thought it was- must have been, a joke. We rolled our luggage into the hotel lobby and scanned our parents’ faces for hints of where we would really be heading.
Twenty minutes later, checked into our room and gazing at a slightly obstructed view of the Sydney Tower, we finally came to terms with the fact that our surprise adventure meant simply travelling from our home in the west to a hotel in the CBD.
My mum gave us a mischievous look. We were certainly surprised, I’ll give her that.
“It’s important to explore your own big backyard,” she insisted.
The holiday turned out to be wonderful; scenic, exciting and full of fascinating traces of history I’d never previously realised existed. I had a great time wandering about the city that was at once familiar and full of secrets.
Since this initial introduction to the idea of “exploring your own backyard,” I’ve seen it splashed everywhere: in travel magazines, on lifestyle websites, blogs, think pieces, you name it. Discovering one’s own city, country, neighbourhood, street… going local continues to be promoted, and rightly so, as an eye-opening and enriching experience.
Taking this history unit this semester has further emphasised the concept for me. As someone who has mostly studied history from an academic perspective, taking most of my previous courses on all that “exciting” stuff- namely European wars and revolutions, learning about local and public history has been a welcome change. I’ve discovered there are over 500 clocks hiding away at Central station, a burial ground underneath Town Hall, a collection of colourful first fleet characters buried in Parramatta and a bunch of exciting and creative ways to bring the past into the present.
As I begin to work with my community organisation- the Blacktown and District Historical Society, I’m excited to be discovering the history that’s right on my doorstep, or more specifically, at my back fence. The house behind mine is heritage listed- once home to the first president of Blacktown Shire. I spent my childhood staring at my neighbours’ gorgeous old chimneys, peering at their Victorian veranda as I swam in the pool in summer and taking in the picturesque line of its roof, long driveway, and jacaranda tree as the sun set in the afternoon. I always felt lucky that my house backed onto theirs and found that it encouraged my imagination to run free and ponder scenarios from “the olden days.”
I now have the opportunity to research this house, among others, through my community engagement, and am very much looking forward to where this exercise of (literally) exploring my backyard will take me.
History sure has its superstars- its famous figures, its celebrity cities. But I’ve been delighted to realise the importance of pulling myself away from the dramas of Bolshevism in order to plant my feet firmly on Australian turf, walk them outside and see what’s waiting for me.

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