History in my Community

Working with the Ku-Ring-Gai Historical Society has so far been an absolute joy.
History, of course, is one of my strongest passions. Growing up, it was not only major events in history such as wars and politics that intrigued me but also the “little things” of history; ordinary people, doing ordinary things; which is what I believe to truly define and make history. Things like exploring random historical houses or reading stories of certain soldiers during the wars has always fascinated me.
But of course, history in university and at an academic level always focusses on the big picture events, people, and eras. This is why this course seemed perfect for me- a chance to see how history plays out with these ordinary people.
My local history has also been so fascinating to me- I have numerous books that are full of stories and pictures of my local area in times gone by- and I love to spend hours at a time going through these just in awe at how things have changed for the people of Ku-Ring-Gai over the years, including the shocking sight of just a single car on a dirt Pacific Highway many decades ago! After all, it is these people, rather than the politicians or the elite, that have shaped my area and made it the reason it is today.
However, to my absolute joy, these stories may not be well known or famous by any means but are definitely far from forgotten! The Ku-Ring-Gai Historical society was first created in 1963 by the councils mayor, growing to over 600 members throughout its first 50 years. The work it does for our community is unparalleled; studying the history and times of the area with a massive collection of information, photographs, and other significant documents all available because of the dedication and hard work of the members. I had always known of the group, as they have a small display of local history images and stories on display at my local Gordon Library- a heritage building itself that use to be a school! And being the history nerd I am, I loved checking out this small exhibit every time I was at the library (usually to pick up a history or historical fiction book!), and even when the exhibit remained unchanged for months at a time, I still loved to look at it.
Thus, I contacted the group via their website and was extremely happy with the response. A lovely member, Neil, was keen to meet up with me and so we did, with another member, and I was very excited to meet another young person who was active in the group for their own historical interest- and the society was definitely very excited to have us, and their member base is predominantly older as you can imagine. We went over the course, and they were very insistent that I select my project first and they would comply with whatever I chose!
So the next week I started going Tuesday morning to get a better idea of the society. Here, I watched the team in action and saw how their standard Tuesday worked. I was shown their archives, photo collection, and both very classic technology as well as new technology, including a google-earth-type website which gave information on land allotments and allowed you to compare birds-eye-view of your street, or anywhere, with a 1943 image of the same (when my house was just bushland!). Another woman was using these images and archives in a personal mission to save a few historical houses in the area- such an amazing example of the Society in action in our community!
I am so impressed with the group- who have, after less than a month, completely shaped my understanding of history in the community; it is not just people’s personal interest but the society’s services are used by residents and businesspeople, as well as the council, to understand and learn more about the area and in particular, the Family History wing of the Society.
A major interest of mine is the World Wars; being a source of great pride of our nation, as well as something I feel needs to be forever remembered and in everyone’s scope of awareness. The Society is well sourced on that- Neil showed me some amazing books that members had put together; 4 volumes of books commemorating the service of Ku-Ring-Gai residents throughout World War I. Of course, my project will ideally be something that is highly beneficial to this group too; I am thinking either along the lines of WWII history or rather the history of the less-obvious people active in WWI and WWII- such as women, children, and others who found their own ways to serve on the home Front. I will discuss this, along with some other ideas, with the members this Tuesday and see how we go
I am still figuring out if a project like this would be adequate, or if I should be focusing on more the history of the society itself- but so far so good, and even though this course has been challenging so far I am learning so much along the way; I am so encouraged through the society’s work that I think this will push me to continue when it gets more stressful, and it is so worth it! I see a long future ahead for me and the Society.