A wonderful story emerges!
I first came into contact with the Willoughby Girl’s 50 year school reunion when I saw an advert in my local newspaper. My initial idea for the community project was to create a podcast with interviews from the women at the reunion on their favourite school memories. In my mind, this project would be a quaint little audio collection of women reminiscing on happy days at school.
However, after a few weeks the Willoughby Old Girls, very sweetly, approached me with some subjects for enquiry that they had always been curious about but had been too shy to investigate, and wanted to take this perfect opportunity (how often does a willing historian come a knocking?) to get to the bottom of. Dipping my figurative research fishing line into local libraries and internet sites, I did some initial research into each suggested avenue with varying levels of success. But finally the hook snagged on something so substantial that my whole project trajectory has been subsequently completely re-orientated.
As is true of most stubborn curiosities and long-lasting concerns, this area of interest revolved around the people we once knew. One of the Willoughby Old Girls was very interested in Pallister Girls Home, the local corrective institution that housed some Willoughby students, and more importantly, the stories of the girls who once lived there.
The great snag that caught my research line was an unassuming office in the city called the Anglican Deaconess Ministries Office. I presented myself, unannounced and unbooked, to the office and was warmly met by the lovely staff at ADM, Ken and Sarah. Here I was shown files upon files of archived primary sources referring to Pallister Girls Home. I was given access to original photos, girl’s case study evaluations before and after they went through the home, daily routine schedules, admittance criteria, sheets of rules, incidences of ‘moral danger’, the matron’s handbooks and donor lists.
With so much untouched information on Pallister, I intend to change the main thrust of the podcast to be about the stories of the ‘Pallister Girls’ that these women went to school with.
The Willoughby Girls 50 year reunion last Monday was a wonderful opportunity to compliment my archive research with oral descriptions of eye witness memories of the girls from Pallister. But more than that, being with the women themselves (my ‘clients’), raised a question in my own mind; why are school reunions significant? Why do people attend them? And what is the nature of the conversation at such events? Whilst my community project will compile into a podcast my findings (supplemented by the women’s memories) on the Pallister Girl’s Home, my major work will additionally present my findings on these latter questions too.
Here’s to a twisting plot and surprising turns, and a special thank you to the ADM office for letting me into their archives, and the Willoughby Old Girls for letting me into their memories.
(Photo courtesy of ADM archives. One of the girls in the photo was recognised and named by the Old Girls at the Willoughby School reunion)