Telling Granny Peg’s Story

This semester I completed an oral history on my grandmother, Peg Merriman, for the Boorowa Historical Society and Museum. While sharing Sharon’s (the society secretary) birthday cake during our morning tea break when I first visited the museum, we began talking about my grandmother, Peg Merriman, and Sharon excitedly asked me to do an oral history on her as one of Boorowa’s matriarchs. Currently, the Boorowa museum have no or very little oral history resources. Their main business comes from their family history research service which allows the non-profit museum to keep running, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown. My oral history project will add to their local family history resources and hopefully enrich aspects of their collection by providing a local memory on different topics.

Peg feeding her neighbour’s cat during our first interview.

Initially, I was apprehensive to complete this task and unsure of my ability to do justice to my grandma’s story. However, after hearing from Emma in our week 9 seminar, going through the readings for that week and looking at other oral histories, I gained confidence in my project and became quite excited. Emma’s emphasis on creating a comfortable environment and allowing the conversation to flow stayed with me throughout my interviews which I completed from the comfort of Peg’s sunny, front veranda. I arranged two trips home during the semester to complete the interviews with Peg. In the first interview, I wanted to record stories from her childhood, growing up on a property in rural Queensland, up until she married my late grandfather, Bruce Merriman, and moved to Boorowa to raise her children. In the second interview, I asked more about her memories of Boorowa, such as sport, changing businesses and the town show. I was conscious of not tiring her out and we occasionally took breaks, once when we were interrupted by her neighbour’s cat and stopped to feed it and hang out the washing.

Sharon stated in an email to me that “the Merriman’s are a very big part of our town and therefore their history is important to us.” Family history has always been important to me and it felt empowering to be able to capture Peg’s story as a member of the family. Our relationship as granddaughter and grandmother was significant for this project as it allowed me to capture stories that she maybe wouldn’t have told to someone else. It also meant that I had preconceived knowledge about the aspects of her life that I wanted to ask about, but I never could have anticipated how much I would learn about my grandmother. Through hearing her story in such detail, I developed a clearer understanding about the experiences that shaped her into the person she is today.

Peg and Bruce on their wedding day.
Young Peg Merriman.

In recording Peg’s story, my oral history project gives value to her experiences and argues for the importance of remembering the past. I created a primary source through my project in drawing solely on Peg’s knowledge and memories. While transcribing the recorded interviews, a few themes became very apparent to me based on the stories that she often returned to or her particular memory of events, such as her friends around Boorowa, the mouth-organ-playing cowboy from her childhood who saved her life, and her family. Her personality and the values important to her are reflected in her stories which, at 97 years old, are more detailed and told with more flare than I ever could. By allowing her stories to be immortalised, my project represents the importance of Peg and her memory to our community. I hope that my oral history will encourage the production of more with other local identities in order to preserve their memories and enrich the proud history of Boorowa.

The Boorowa Museum and their local family history resources will benefit from this project and add to their collection on the Merriman family. The stories of Boorowa told in Peg’s interview will be useful to anyone wanting to know more about the experiences of locals at this time. This oral history will interest anyone keen to learn about Peg’s story, such as family members, locals from the Boorowa district or people connected to her through the sheep industry (as Peg married a merino stud farmer). I don’t expect a high level of engagement with my project, but I believe that those who do will engage deeply with it.

Sharon asked that I record the interviews and provide her with the audio as well as a written transcript. I decided to take this one step further and also create a podcast as a more interactive form of the project. The podcast is an edited and condensed version of the interviews that allowed me to curate the oral history and be creative in selecting the stories that I believed locals and family members would find most fascinating. My decision to do this was inspired by my love of interview podcasts such as ABC’s Conversations and the ability of podcasts to allow the listener to visualise the stories being told and connect with them in a unique way. I hope that my podcast will be a more accessible and interactive aspect of my project as the condensed length and simplified arrangement might be more enticing to those interested in the life of Peg but not willing to read through a large transcript.  

Peg and her youngest son George at her 90th Birthday Party in 2013.

Sharon has informed me that Peg’s oral history will be publicly available at the Boorowa Museum to anyone asking about the Merriman family and won’t be removed from the museum. This is important to me as it should be looked at within the context of Boorowa and an understanding of the Merriman family. I also aim to privately distribute the podcast among family members and her close friends so that they may learn something interesting and come to better understand my grandmother, Peg Merriman.

Boorowa and District Historical Society and Museum

The Boorowa and District Historical Society and Museum is an organisation located in my hometown of Boorowa. Boorowa is a small rural community located 3.5 hours south-west of Sydney in NSW’s south west slopes. Growing up in Boorowa, the history of my town was taught to me at a young age and is vividly displayed on our streets in the conserved old buildings, the stories shared by locals, and the shamrocks lining our footpaths telling the history of Irish settlement. The museum inhabits a prominent position in the main street, attracting tourists and locals alike. I fondly remember going on excursions to the museum in primary school where we saw colonial dresses of the Hume family, learnt how the first refrigerators and phones worked, and realised the extent of my community and family’s rich contribution to the merino wool industry. Being surrounded by a community that actively honours and examines its history has possibly sparked my own passion for it. I have always been immensely proud of and intrigued by the history of Boorowa, as many other locals are, and I believe the museum to be the product of local pride and Boorowa’s rich collection of history.

The Boorowa and District Historical Society was founded in 1974 with the aims to “promote the study of local history in the Boorowa local government area; to preserve items of local historical significance consistent with the acquisition policy and accepted ‘museum good practice’; to operate the Boorowa museum; to mount displays of local and special interest; and to encourage research into the recording of local history[1].” The society consists of a group of passionate volunteers who offer family history research and actively document, preserve and interpret local histories. They have accumulated an impressive and diverse collection over the years, receiving frequent donations from locals who have been clearing out their storage or come across significant artefacts.

The society members are enthusiastic about the contribution of their work to the community. I believe that a shared history ignites local pride, and it is the stories and artefacts in the museum which educate the community on their history and keep their stories alive. The elders in my community are highly valued for their knowledge and memories of the town which contextualise and enrich the museum’s collection. When I visited the museum and spoke with the society members at the start of the month, they requested that I produce an oral history on my grandmother and local identity, Peg Merriman, for my project. Most visits to my grandma’s involve listening to endless stories about local personalities, town gossip and Boorowa legends. I find these stories intriguing but struggle to remember the details or correctly recall them when retelling. This made me think about the significance of recording and documenting my 97-year-old grandmother’s stories and memories so that they can be remembered throughout history and hopefully assist others in recalling events or people from the past.

[1] ‘About Us’, Boorowa and District Historical Society and Museum,