History Does Matter – especially when it’s in our backyard

We have all been a little apprehensive, scared even, about what the hell we are meant to be doing here! But we have been assured, by amazing public historians and former students that it will somehow come together, someone will get back to us, somehow we will know what to do and some great history will be produced….. After getting no other responses from other organisations and getting nowhere on this blind journey in the previous weeks. I have been convinced after my visit to the Blue Mountains Historical Society that local history is in everyone’s reach.
What an absolute blast! I must have seemed like an excited little puppy, repetitive in my oo’s and ahh’s, blown away by the resources, photos, volunteers, the ‘technologies’, the artefacts, and the guns! I won’t deny I was nervous, I drove in to find a few people tending to the grounds, heading inside there were about 10 other people working on their various projects. I felt a little intimated by their age and therefore wisdom, wondering what I could offer, wondering where to start. Many had been in the society for years, and a few members I met had published books, but didn’t seem eager to wave them around which was an interesting observation. Everyone was so welcoming, I really learnt so much even if this time around I probably couldn’t offer much back.
You don’t realise how amazing history can be when it’s close to home, when it’s close to your heart. Growing up in the Blue Mountains I was keen to get back and learn about the history as well as the Historical Society. It’s extraordinary to see parts of your life, your community reflected many decades ago in sepia photos showing the pub you drink at standing alone with horse and carts out front or the swimming hole you still go to the site of a men’s swimming carnival in the 1940’s.
I was given a tour, shown how and where to find everything, was passed onto various members to show me what they do. Of particular interest was the Tarrella Cottage Museum which was a holiday house of the McLaughlin family of Sydney, built in 1890, situated on a hill overlooking the Western plains, it holds an extensive range of 19th and 20th century household items. The donated gun collection made a great display and the quirky objects like one of the daughter’s winning fancy dress outfit which was a newspaper printed gown made for a fascinating visit.
Of particular interest was the ‘house histories’ they do for a donation which tracks the history of a property and its owners from the earliest council and state records to the present day. This is literally like a historical treasure hunt! Using microfiches of council records, the NSW historic land records http://images.maps.nsw.gov.au/pixel.htm ), maps ( https://six.nsw.gov.au/ ), and cross referencing with Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages ( http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/ ) and potentially newspapers for further information ( http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/ ). I was shown parts of how they do this and a finished product. This kind of task can take days because sometimes document trails lead you astray or simply disappear. Bruce, who predominately does these, explained to me that there is so much to take into consideration when on this history hunt such as owners who may rent and property merging. I look forward to getting my hands on some more microfiches and seeing what I can or cannot find.
I felt proud of the Historical Society having only been there an hour or so, you could see the years of preservation on the walls and in the files. Decades of hard work and painful documentation have built an extensive collection for all to utilise and enjoy. The society also puts out a bi-monthly newsletter ‘Hobby’s Outreach’, with the last issue covering the hunt for the Cox’s River Aboriginal name, a book review on The Girl Who Stole Stockings by Elsbeth Hardie a ‘well researched and well written story of early life in the colony’, particularly revolving around female convicts. Further, the issue has a Presidents report, news of upcoming meetings, lectures and excursions and a letter of appeal for anything relating to the society’s 70 year history.
I was inspired by the work everyone does there and all that has been done before them. I think it’s sad many of us are so disconnected from out local history and disregard public history as amateur or unimportant. The preoccupation with national and international history misses the point that local stories and experiences make up the national narrative and are just as important as dramatic events on a macro scale. I implore all who read this to get out there, see what your community has to offer, get involved and learn from the people restoring, preserving and documenting the past and present for the sake of the future.

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