Galston’s past: the value of local history

Working with the Dural & District Historical Society to explore the history of Galston has certainly been eye-opening, and allowed me to discover the history that’s been practically in my backyard my whole life.

From the Dural & District Historical Society archives.

In order to respond to the increasing population and new residents in the town of Galston, located in the Hornsby Shire, the Council requested the Dural & District Historical Society produce a booklet about the history of Galston, to familiarise new residents with the area. My volunteering with the society coincided with the Council’s request and so the task was given to me to complete. Along with a booklet, the society asked for me to produce a template which they can follow for further suburbs. The project has taken shape as the booklet, the template, and a social media plan for the society.

Some of the most interesting work was in researching the World War I soldier profiles. I went straight to the primary sources, taking the names of the sixty soldiers listed on the Galston Cenotaph and researched them through the Australian War Memorial and the National Library Archives. The sources available include Embarkation Lists, Enlistment Records, and award recommendations which provide fascinating details of the brave actions of soldiers during the First World War. By including these profiles, I believe it shows while Galston was its own unique community, it was affected by the same events which impacted the whole of Australia; Galston acting as a case study of the early years after Federation during which Australia ‘came of age’. 

Excerpt from the booklet

The general aim of this project is to inform residents of their local history, implicitly arguing that it is important to know where we came from, and that local history holds incredible worth for both personal and community identity. I believe this project has reinforced one of the main lessons of this unit, which is the value of all stories, from all walks of life. While the story of a two-hundred-year-old town in the north west of Sydney with a population of 3000 might not traditionally attract the attention of university academics, this project provided the opportunity to give voice to these narratives which are important on a community level. 

Anna Clark’s book on public history put forward, drawn from her interviews with youth and younger Australians, that it is when we grow older that history becomes more important to us. She said it was a combination of factors like a lack of connection to the events, the changing shape of Australian society, and how Australian history is taught in schools. Sometimes it’s hard to connect the places where you grew up as ever having historical significance or an untold past. I’d argue that the events don’t have to be earth shattering or life changing to demand our attention. The simple fact that it’s the unique collision of millions of independent factors to end up with the places and communities we have today should be enough to warrant respect of the past. I don’t think we can ever disregard the mind-boggling nature of how many minute and seemingly unrelated ripples in the water led us to where we are now. 

This semester has forced me to think more than ever about the nature of history, and at times, made me question why I even study it. Local history allows us to think, even if just for one moment in the day, that someone stood where we stood, ten, fifty, one hundred, three hundred, a thousand and more years ago. I believe history is about recognising all those moments that led to this point. Sometimes the sheer scale is hard to comprehend but I think local history is a way to chip away at the marble block which is the past. I don’t know what the final sculpture is, but we can read the grain of the rock and chisel in the right direction, the form revealing itself to us as we uncover more about bygone times, and in the process, ourselves. 

Dural and District Historical Society

After the first couple of History Beyond the Classroom classes, I racked my brain to think of somewhere to work with that would yield projects as interesting as some of the past examples we were shown. I remember in a separate unit as an icebreaker, we had to think of something special, or a historical fact, about our area. I thought there was nothing to say about my suburb.

I found the Dural and District Historical Society through a quick search for historical societies in my area. I went to the society’s headquarters during their opening hours on a Sunday to introduce myself and offer my help. The drive out to the History Cottage makes you feel much more than 50 minutes away from the CBD. Despite a lot of new development in my suburb and surrounds, a bit further out in the Dural/Galston area, it still feels quite rural. Situated next to the community park and swimming pool amidst the bush setting of Galston, is the History Cottage, refurbished in 1998 as a visitor centre and museum for the Dural district. 

Some of the History Cottage’s exhibits. Source: Dural & District Historical Society website.

I met Ken, Barbara, and Norm, who were surprised but excited about the possibilities of putting a university student to work on unfinished projects and organisational tasks. We talked about some of the things that the society has looked at over the past few years such as, regarding the centenary of World War I, where they worked on producing profiles of the names on the memorial cenotaph of Dural. I was surprised by the amount of archival material and photographs, extensive books, newspapers from over the years. The first visit seemed very promising. 

The next arrangement was a meeting with the committee of the society to discuss in which areas I could help out. I met the president Michael, and other committee members Judy, Diane, Pauline, Michael, and Ken and Barbara once again. Lots of ideas were batted about, with many projects already springing to the minds of the committee members – I had to remind them that first I am there to help them out. They were excited about the prospect of free labour! After being made an honorary member of the society, I was shown the ropes of their computer setup and library system. An official motion was put forward that I work on a history of the ‘township’ of Galston, to be given to new residents to familiarise them with the area, a project that the society had had in mind for a while. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the resources at my disposal, I left the meeting happy that the society could see a good use for me. 

My first session of actual research involved a lot of reading to determine which sources would be useful. The society keeps a lot of publications that are specific to some very small niches – so this involved sorting through many documents and self-published books and pamphlets to find information. I’m hoping to be able to help in other areas, particularly relating to making the treasure-trove of information the society has more accessible. My research has already deepened my knowledge of this area. At a picnic on a recent sunny spring Sunday at Fagan Park, I was able to tell my friends just how we are able to enjoy the expanse of themed gardens and greenery (this is land that Bruce Fagan gave back to the Crown to be preserved for use of the public as a park).  I’m looking forward to finding many more nuggets of information, and to have an answer to the question, ‘What makes your area interesting?’