Throughout working with the Jessie Street National Women’s Library I have reflected on how we tell women’s history and the stories that get told and those which remains only as memories. Precious to a few, but not important enough to be recorded as more than family heirloom.
With the Jessie Street National Women’s Library I worked alongside the wonderful and friendly volunteers on the Tapestry project. This is project surrounds women’s stories. The Library holds a series of short memoirs , all written by women either about their life, or that of a family member or loved one. These stories vary drastically, covering many time periods are are written by women of all walks of life. Tapestry allows for women to write their own story. They are not focused on writing for an audience but write to honour the people in their lives.
I helped the volunteers make changes to the website to help make the Tapestry stories more discoverable and easier to navigate. I worked alongside them, suggesting ways to improve the website and making social media content to increase the profile of the Tapestry project.
In addition, I created promotional material for this project as it is incredible valuable and I wanted as many people to get the change to read some of the Tapestry stories. These stories provide so much detail into the social history of Australia, from so many diverse points of views. Tapestry allows for family histories to be recorded and for other the learn of the experiences of women.
History is not just what we record, but how we chose to record these stories. The Tapestry project allows for women to be the center of their own narratives. I think this is a method of storytelling that deserves more attention. It is empathetic and empowering. Allowing people to speak about whatever aspect of their life that they think is most critical to history.
There is a vast divide between these self recording histories and larger historical narratives. Tapestry helped me understand why that gap existed, and focus empathy in my historical work .
Driving along New South Wales’ country roads, you’re bound to see dozens of local museums. Given there are so many dotted around Australia’s regional communities, it can be easy to think that these museums must surely all become the same after a while, merely offering their spin on local bric-a-brac like farming equipment, clothing and décor. My project argues that this view ignores the unparalleled insight that regional organisations like Port Macquarie’s Douglas Vale Historic Homestead and Vineyard offer into the ways we embed ourselves in historical communities, and above all, use the past to create meaning in our lives.
Douglas Vale—which began its life as a vineyard in 1859 and was reborn as a volunteer-run museum and winery in 1995—is a testament to the ways that history-making is a life-affirming activity for many of us. For example, one of Douglas Vale’s gardeners, Mike Smith, told me that he decided “with the head not the heart” to move into an apartment in Port Macquarie for retirement, but that his work at Douglas Vale is a meaningful “replacement for the greenery I left”. As my project argues, stories like Mike’s are resounding evidence that History does not only live in the classroom, but also in the quiet resilience of volunteers who show up three days a week to tend to an aging homestead and the delicious taste of wine made from 19th century grape vines.
Digitising Douglas Vale’s Physical Collection
In making this argument, my project drew on two types of sources. Firstly, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, Douglas Vale has an outstanding collection of physical sources. These objects provide visitors with a tangible entrance into Douglas Vale’s past, so I decided to digitise some of them. It is notoriously difficult—and expensive—to set up an online catalogue, meaning that while Douglas Vale had an excellent physical catalogue, there was no trace of its collection online for potential visitors, researchers or donors to peruse.
So, I proposed that we create an account on eHive: an internationally-recognised museum database that helps organisations easily and freely digitise their collection. I included visitor information, my own photos of the site and a description of the collection in the profile to boost interest in visiting Douglas Vale. You can find Douglas Vale’s eHive profile here and see a screenshot below.
Then, in collaboration with Ian Cupit (the site’s excellent curator) we chose three of Douglas Vale’s most interesting objects for me to catalogue. I attached photos and descriptions of the objects’ provenance and historical significance, trying to highlight the uniqueness of the collection for potential visitors.
Recording the Volunteers’ Oral Histories
However, I doubt I would feel the same pull towards Douglas Vale’s physical sources if it wasn’t for its volunteers, which is why I sought to record their oral histories as part of my project. They told me countless stories about the collection and how it had evolved since they rescued the site in 1995. Even the volunteers who declared they had no interest in the site’s history beamed with pride as we spoke about the organisation’s past, present and future. Indeed, Mike told me he wasn’t an “avid historian” and had “no” connection to the site’s past but then spoke eloquently with me for 40 minutes about the role he played in conserving Douglas Vale’s heritage.
In total, I conducted three interviews with a diverse range of volunteers: Mike Smith (Douglas Vale’s gardener), Claire Smith (Mike’s granddaughter) and Merrel (Douglas Vale’s Vice President). From these interviews, I created three short clips, each corresponding to one of the three objects I digitised. Over the summer holidays—Port Macquarie’s peak tourism season—I intend to work with the Douglas Vale PR coordinator to publish each clip with a link to the relevant object on eHive as part of a marketing campaign to attract more visitors. I also hope that these materials can help Douglas Vale apply for state heritage listing and grants in the future. In the meantime, however, I’ve included a sample of one of the social media posts below!
We often hear that Douglas Vale is one of Port Macquarie’s best kept secrets. So, we thought it was high time we let you in on some of the magic behind our bamboo entrance. This is why we’ve started digitising our historical collection: we want everyone to enjoy our unique taste of history!
We’ve kicked things off with this 1884 photo of the Francis family and their pet kangaroo next to the homestead garden. Thanks to the hard work of our current volunteer gardener Mike Smith and his granddaughter Claire Smith, the garden looks pretty much identical to this photo over 100 years later. You can find out more about this photograph by following this link to the digitised record, but we thought who better to let you in on the secrets behind the garden then Mike and Claire themselves? Have a listen here!
FYI: The clip will be embedded in the social media post as a YouTube video, rather than a Google Drive link.
I initially thought that my project would benefit Douglas Vale by filling key business needs, such as boosting visitation numbers. However, I quickly realised it also filled the need to recognise Douglas Vale’s volunteers for their outstanding history-making efforts. These volunteers make Douglas Vale their entire world, working tirelessly to put up netting, organise open days, clean the homestead and maintain the vegetable patch. This work deserves to be celebrated in equal measure to the sophisticated exhibitions and slick interactive tours of Sydney’s museums. Therefore, I’ve realised that my project’s true significance lies not in its potential financial benefit, but in its advocacy of Douglas Vale’s unique taste of history and the hard work that goes into safe-keeping it.
For my HSTY3902 unit, I completed a two-episode podcast series for Autism Spectrum Australia, also known as Aspect. In this podcast, the history of the organisation was discussed with four other individuals who were previously and currently connected with the organisation: Adrian Ford, Jacqui Borland, Dr Trevor Clark and Thomas Kuzma. Both episodes were 27-30 minutes long. The first episode includes a general history of the organisation and the second episode discusses the future directions for Aspect.
My overall argument with the project was to appreciate and value the work Aspect has done for the Autism community and respective families. As a sibling with a brother with Autism who went to Aspect’s Vern Barnett school, I’ve heard from my parents about the autism-specific teaching that was provided for Harry and how their early-intervention strategies immensely helped my parents. However, upon discussions with my interviewees, I became more educated about the work that still needs to be done in the community and how Aspect must stay aligned with the interests of the Autism community.
What’s important about this project is that it brings together different individuals from different areas of the organisation to reflect on Aspect’s role within the community and its achievements. The podcast provides a space in which the interviewees could freely discuss Aspect’s history and draw out any specific developments and movements during the organisation’s lifetime. For me personally, if I didn’t do this podcast I would’ve never learnt about how the organisation is pushing for more Autistic voices and how neurotypical individuals sometimes forget and misplace the importance of giving Autistic individuals the power to ensure their community’s wants are being met.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity Aspect has granted me to create these podcast episodes and for the new knowledges gained by speaking to my interviewees. They all taught me new developments, changes and shifts that are occurring within the organisation and the Autism community. Furthermore, they showcased the amazing work being done by Aspect to continually meet the needs of Australia’s Autism community.
2023 marks ten years of RESPECT— a program run by Outloud dedicated to educating primary school boys in Canterbury-Bankstown about domestic violence and healthy relationships through rap. My project involved writing a section for Outloud’s website entitled “10 Years of RESPECT: History and Highlights” that speaks to the value and significance of the program.
I also conducted two group oral history interviews for Outloud’s archive, documenting the experiences and perspectives of RESPECT facilitators and participants. The section I have written for the website primarily draws from these oral histories to capture the distinct voices of those who have been involved in RESPECT’s short yet rich history.
In 2022, Outloud extended the RESPECT program to engage alumni, now Year 10 students in high school. As part of the alumni program, these students are trained to facilitate primary school workshops as mentors to younger students. A highlight of my project was documenting this exciting development.
I had the privilege of interviewing two students from Sir Joseph Banks High School who are currently participating in the RESPECT alumni program. These young men are leaders in their community who made a commitment to values of respect, equality, and nonviolence in Years 5 and 6 through their first encounter with the RESPECT program and have sustained this commitment ever since. Now in Year 10, their stories are a testament to the long-term impact of the program in shaping young men’s visions for their future and producing empowering connections within and across Canterbury-Bankstown school communities. One student shared:
“I want to be a domestic violence counsellor. I thought, when I was in Year 6, that I’d like to be a future ambassador. And doing this program in high school, I think it makes me one, doesn’t it?” – Year 10 student
The student interviewees also shared their strongest memories of RESPECT during primary school. These stories were incredibly moving. One student spoke of his experience performing at the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service Conference in the Sydney CBD in 2018:
When I hear about RESPECT, I remember the bonds and the brotherhood that we made through the program. I also remember when we performed in the city and seeing the impact we had on the crowd. There were women crying in the crowd and people cheering. It was just one of the best moments.
After we performed in the city and our message touched the hearts of the audience, they came up and wanted to shake our hands and just tell us we did a good job and that the message was spread properly.
It made me see myself as someone who stands up to domestic violence acts. When I did the performance and those ladies came up to us after, I was really proud. It was a good moment for me and my boys to share to the rest of our primary mates.
I am immensely grateful to these students for sharing their experience of RESPECT, as well as to Craig Taunton and Van Nguyen— without whom this project would not have been possible. I came away from these interviews having observed the power of RESPECT to create positive change in the culture of school communities and open conversations about domestic violence across Canterbury-Bankstown more broadly. The impact of RESPECT is felt strongly by all involved, and I hope to see the program continue to thrive in the future.
In his authoritative work Why History Matters, John Tosh observes how communities “are confronted by the paradox of a society which is immersed in the past yet detached from its history.” Tosh’s contention profoundly underscores both the genesis of this project, as well as the fundamental importance of its very purpose.
I was fortunate to be accepted by the Prince Henry Hospital Museum based in Little Bay. On my first day as a volunteer, I was tasked to itemise old registration records of nurses from the former hospital when I eventually came across two particular nurse’s records included documents and photographs pertaining to their services during the Second World War. My immediate impression was that this could potentially form an entirely original project by presenting an apparently untold piece of Australian war accounts – from an enlisted nurse’s perspective. This concept was mainly due to an inherent belief that the general consensus of Australian army nursing, particularly during both world wars, at least, was relatively unknown or entirely remote altogether. Moreover, to focus primarily on a specific individual’s history in this regard would also be extremely unlikely as to have any previous form of official historical publication.
Hence, the implicit argument of Profiles in Valour is how the role played by Australian army nursing in twentieth-century’s cataclysmic events has been highly underplayed or historically unappreciated within this historical discourse. Names such as ‘Bessie’ Pocock, Margaret de Mestre, Vivian Bullwinkle, and Muriel Knox Doherty should be included alongside those annals of the Australian military iconography, next to Gallipoli, John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey, the Rats of Tobruk, and the Kokoda Track. Jan Basset’s exordium in her monograph Guns and Brooches somewhat confirmed this suspicion accentuating how the historiography of Australian army nursing has been unilaterally neglected by most historians until the 1980s. Fortunately, her work, along with notable other studies by Catherine Kenny, Peter Rees, and Rupert Goodman have crucially filled gaps within its historiography which otherwise may have been lost forever. Therefore, this project relies exclusively on such secondary materials in order to create, as per Bassett’s dictum, an ‘impressionistic’ historically profile of an individual ANZAC nurse to arguably illustrate their own wartime experiences.
Crucial sources such as diaries or letter correspondence are usually extremely rare, and interviews conducted years, even decades, later can potentially lend itself to a degree of containing slight inaccuracies (usually of minor details within the broader picture). Therefore, with the absence of the former, I have relied mainly on primary sources, including war records and contemporary newspaper accounts, as the core basis for a biographical history. Whilst Catherine Kenny’s extensive interviewing accounts on the Australian POW nurses in Malaya and elsewhere is indeed a valuable asset, in this area, I have consulted instead the Sydney Morning Herald and Women’s Weekly contemporary accounts and interviews conducted immediately after their release in September 1945. The Prince Henry Hospital Museum importantly also showcases on display their former Coast-Prince Henry nursing staff and graduates that had served in wars and conflicts abroad. Originally, this project was to convey the histories of at least four nurses from the former hospital. However, both Nora Kathleen Fletcher and Muriel Knox Doherty were reluctantly eliminated mainly due to exceeding word count limits thereby inhibiting other important detailed aspects: also, the former had worked entirely with the (British) Royal Red Cross and St. John Order throughout the First World War; whereas the latter had already extensively written about her experience from her own exemplary seven hundred page letter correspondence (as a United Nations rehabilitation nurse at the Belsen concentration camp in the aftermath of the Holocaust) which has also thus been expanded by the authors Judith Cornell and Lynette Russell. By these inclusions, it would have therefore somewhat undermined this project by negating the all-encompassing ANZAC element, as well as forgoing the crucial aspects from those necessary unpublicised accounts.
Henceforth, the fundamental themes are a sterling appreciation for cherishing Australia’s national heritage through an inherent understanding of its national identity forged through the ANZAC spirit of ‘mateship,’ and commemoration of its war legacy. By illustrating these war nurses’ biographical profiles, it serves as the fundamental need as a memorial towards the Prince Henry museum itself and the overall general public The museum will, hopefully, proudly identify within its own history how it had become inexorably linked with the ANZAC legacy in which it can inviolably claim its own contribution to its story. For the public, it will hopefully serve as a continuing additional layer of storytelling about the ANZAC legend that is subconsciously ingrained within the Australian psyche and cultivated by its national pride. It also further helps us to bring this historical past into our own present understanding of our Australian identity. As Anna Clark stipulates in Private Lives, Public History, it allows a means of “map[ping] that historical space not only as disjuncture but also as a possible intersection.”
My project involved exploring the curatorial processes of the National Maritime Museum for the acquisition proposal of a diary into the Museum’s collection. Currently, there are copyright and ownership issues which restrict me from sharing close details and images of the diary. However, its contents explore the voyage of an individual who was onboard the Lusitania for a voyage from Sydney to London in 1879. He pursued this migration for postgraduate education and training in Medicine. His departure from Australia for the purpose of medical training was highly unique and allowed me to work on original themes which the Museum had not previously engaged with. Furthermore, the ability to work with a personal diary was significant to understand diverse modes of historical writing and testimony. His account improved my understanding of the possibility of historical writing to be highly diverse and take variable forms to express significant experiences and emotions connected with maritime travel.
The main goal of the project was to convey the significance of the authors experiences within his journal and ultimately, acquire his manuscript within the Museum’s collection for display. My project argued the large value of personal journals and diaries to illuminate important details of maritime travel and the conditions of Australian work and education during the 1800s. While working on the project, I was continually reminded of the long-term scarcity of historic personal accounts. Especially considering the journal documented travel departing from Australia to the UK, the ability to have access to the experiences of individuals who have left Australia is highly rare. Discussion with the Head of Knowledge at the Museum, Peter Hobbins, informed me of the large disposal of old manuscript due to individuals being unaware of its historical significance, in conjunction with challenges regarding the authenticity and sensitivity surrounding the publishing of journal details. In light of the difficulties of both accessing and working with diaries, the project largely argued the historical significance and importance of preserving the contents of the 1879 journal.
The project focused on the theme of emigration from Australia. Within the Museum’s collection, diaries and journals are largely centred on the experiences of individuals travelling to Australia for work or starting new lives. The dominant narrative focuses on immigration to Australia to strengthen the national identity and convey the positive experiences of life in Australia. Herein, the journal is important to challenge the dominant theme of immigration to Australia and rather convey the dynamic movement between the British colonies for professional advancement. The authors voyage exposes the limited nature of clinical and medical education in Australia in the 1800s, where his pursuit for improved training in Scotland and England conveys the frequency of travel away from Australia. Hence, the voyage is significant to reveal the agency of Australian citizens to utilise the opportunities available to them within the Empire and subsequently, pursue improved working and education conditions away from Australia. Furthermore, the journal makes large reference to theme of maritime travel. Throughout his account, the author details the multitude of vessels spotted during his travels. The diversity of vessels such as, a schooner, cargo and mail steamships and Arabian dhows convey the high frequency of sea travel in the 1800s.
The project engages with the role of public history in facilitating diverse modes of communicating history. The unique journal manuscript challenges traditional forms of academic history writing and rather privileges the voice of unique individuals to communicate maritime travel in the 1800s. This public history work encourages the use of creative modes of communication that is more inclusive of diverse perspectives. While certain biases may be present within the personal account, the project illuminates how journals can provide unique interpretive and research potential that may not be accessible through traditional primary sources. This is highly important as it can allow modern audiences to also engage with historical writing. Expanding different historical perspectives can encourage diverse individuals to contribute their valuable perspectives and participate in the construction of history, as exampled by the 1879 diary.
I hope that the diary is acquired into the Museum’s collection for the long-term preservation and sustaining of its unique contents. Further, I hope to work with the Museum in the future to transfer the research I conducted in the acquisition proposal to a more accessible form of communication such as, a blogpost for their website or an article in the Museum’s magazine. My experience working with the Maritime Museum and the curatorial, conservation and library team was highly rewarding and informative of the various details involved in public history works. The unique skills learned, and connections made through the Museum allowed for a positive completion of the project.
My public history project is an interactive QR-coded walking tour of the Bankstown C.B.D. area in collaboration with the Bankstown and Campsie Library. Throughout the production of my project, I worked closely with the Local Histories Librarian, Jennifer Madden. I have been working closely with Jennifer over the past few months. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to help my local library with the reorganisation and refiling of archival material and images for their possible new pictorial database. Their current system for their pictorial database (Pictorial Canterbury) had many issues with duplicates, missing images, irrelevant files, and their quality. I helped sort through and deciphered which images needed to be deleted and which ones had missing numbers, and I reassessed the quality of the photos. We discussed the significance of presenting Bankstown’s rich local history in a new and innovative way to reach a broader public audience. We concluded that an interactive walking tour was the most appropriate for my project and (most importantly) the organisation’s needs.
During the production and research process for the historical walking tour, I realised that many sites around the area had historical value. Although I have lived in the Canterbury-Bankstown area my whole life, I never knew about the rich history some of these sites possessed. I would regularly pass by them on the commute to work, my daily walks, and even on the way to grocery shopping. In that sense, it would be perfect for highlighting the unrecognised historical value of these sites most people in the community pass by daily.
My main argument for this project was to highlight the importance of showcasing local histories in new and engaging ways to prove that history can be taught beyond the bounds of the classroom. Sites around your local community area all encompass rich and long past. They tell stories of past communities, interactions and social hubs and show how History can connect people outside the classroom.
Some of the recurring themes within my project include the importance of relaying local histories and making them accessible and inclusive for a broad audience. In addition, the non-static nature of this project allows for local sites and the evolving history of different places to be recorded and displayed for the future.
I have chosen to present the walking tour via PowerPoint presentation due to the timeframe of this assessment and the rigorous process of receiving approval from Council officials. Therefore, my project is presented in a PowerPoint presentation with external links to different pdf files, which will be saved onto a USB. Initially, I wanted to publicise this walking tour online on an external website for easier access. However, this format was chosen because of Canterbury Council’s restrictions with promoting information under their name. This file will be given to the Local Histories Librarian I am working closely with and will serve as an example for future project proposals for interactive walking tours to be approved by Council officials. This project aims to be open-ended and remain dynamic as more sites can be added in the future.
This walking tour is unique due to its innovative presentation. It focuses on the local community’s inclusivity by adding different translations of information in the four primary languages of the Canterbury Bankstown Council (English, Korean, Arabic, and Vietnamese). This was, unfortunately, out of my area of expertise, so my final project does not include this aspect. However, my presentation for the library is intended to be not static and remain an open-ended project. More sites could be added in the future, and audio recordings of the tour would be added for broader accessibility and to suit the needs of people with disabilities. Its fluid format (given the approval of this proposal) is transformed from a project pitch to Q.R. codes displayed on signposts next to each site of interest, allowing people to enjoy this immersive experience in their own time.