Illuminating Histories

There is no denying that history has an illuminating power; an ability to shine light on aspects of the past that have largely remained in darkness. However, it has become increasing clear this week – especially when reflecting on the works of Louise Prowse – that there exist some histories that have been written with fragmented lights, resulting in a marginalised documentation of the past. Regrettably, this is especially applicable to Aboriginal and indigenous histories.
One would imagine ‘Local History’ would be at the forefront of celebrating and exhibiting evidence of local peoples of the past. Yet what struck me most profoundly about Dr. Prowse’s article was that Local Historical Societies have, in fact, for the most part of the twentieth century darkened any evidence of local Aboriginal existence. While this, of course, changed from the 1960’s when Aboriginal rights were, to a large extent, ‘popularised’, it leads me to ponder whether there are other histories that remain in darkness waiting to be illuminated by future ‘popularity’…

These were my diary entries from Week 3 of HSTY3092: History Beyond the Classroom wherein I questioned whether ‘new history’ could be seen as a series of histories that have recently been ‘popularised’. While this hypothesis is undoubtedly up for debate and deliberation, it does provide an interesting segway to thinking about the nature of the project we are to complete for our community organisations. Have we chosen our organisations because they are deserving of this ‘popularisation’ or because we believe they need aspects of their history illuminated in order to create a sense of historical significance?
I am working with Cooma Little Theatre Incorporated (CLT), a community group based in the rural town of Cooma NSW (the capitol of the Snowy Mountains). I chose CLT because of my personal connection with the theatre, a connection based on the fact that most of my history has been spent waiting, watching, working, helping, and performing inside the walls of this quirky old mess hall. My personal history at the theatre is one like so many in our small town: “We grew up there” – in so many ways. Indeed I would argue CLT is one community group that is today functioning *because* of its history. The various members of the theatre each have an historical connection which inspires them to volunteer their time to make sure the theatre is still functioning as dynamically as it did 50 years ago.
While Cooma Little Theatre is operational today because of its history, its historical narrative quite literally lies in the darkness of the storage unit, deep in the back of the theatre. This history needs to be illuminated. Not only for the people who know its worth but also for the people of the wider community whom would surely welcome its historical significance to the greater Monaro region.
Who’s to know – maybe by illuminating this history, it may popularise a revival of local historical enquiry throughout the community…
I plan to open the can and watch where the worms wander…

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