A Cup of Tea with a Side of History…

This week saw me venture on a six hour train journey to Tamworth, NSW. Not only was it great to see my family, but it was lovely to be surrounded by fellow history lovers from the local community. My chosen organisation is the Tamworth Historical Society. They have a core presence in the Tamworth community and are a part of many historical events throughout the town, for example the recent Tamworth Bicentenary of explorer John Oxley (the first European to reach the area).
My first meeting involved a cup of tea, and another, and another. I was surrounded by many older locals who had been a part of the society since the early years. This particular group was the Collections Committee, who are tasked with collecting donated items, assigning provenance and its historical significance to the area. That morning there was a couple who had dropped in a trophy from the local Business Awards in the ’80s, and were asking about a mysterious sewing device they had, many ladies had ideas of what it was and resulted into a google search, yet it still remains a mystery. After chatting away, one lady named Audrey had brought up a past memory of her and her friend throughout WWII. They both would go to the 102 General Hospital in town and help wounded soldiers write letters for home, and then frequent the Town Hall for weekend dances. There was a warmness to her memory, even through the harsher times. ‘It was just what everyone did’, seemingly simplifying the day to day harshness of war. This reminded me again of Anna Clark’s research into the play between memory and history, and the benefit that nostalgia can bring to people.
My second meeting with the society was with the Library and Archives Committee. I spoke with the ladies about my potential project and there was mention of me completing a brochure for this particular committee. They are assigned with the archiving all of the historical documents that come to the Society. Whether it is published research or a member’s sketch of a local historical site, they will archive it. From this meeting I had the opportunity to begin the process of sorting the archives of the local newspaper, the Northern Daily Leader. This paper had begun in the late 1870s and had changed names throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, until finding its current title. Our job across the day was to chronologically stack the bundles of broadsheet newspapers into their names. We sorted them up until 1910, then moved onto the smaller tabloid bundles from 1980s through to the early 2000s. A challenge was finding the bundles themselves as throughout the moving process the Council had neglected to stack them the way they were previously archived. Also some older bundles that were wrapped in paper had the wrong dates placed on them. We packed up for the day and were covered in dust and grime from the prints. Reflecting upon this experience, it was incredible to be reconnected to a lived community, one that still enjoys the comfort in having a cup of tea and chatting without distraction. You could sense that there was a real passion for the local history amongst the society and I am honoured to be welcomed back into that space.
Although it did not seem like that much work was done, I found it rewarding to be surrounded in so much local history. I aim to continue helping with the archives as well when I return home. Hopefully, I will be able to go through some of the papers too, flicking through their tarnished issues to find some ancestors nestled in their pages.