Exploration of local history in the Upper North Shore

This semester, I undertook two separate projects to assist the Hornsby Historical Society. Firstly, I wrote two 1500 word entries on the history of two of Sydney’s Upper North Shore suburbs – Beecroft and Cheltenham. This was part of a collaboration for a book on the local history of suburbs from the Hornsby shire. Secondly, I assisted in the society’s digitisation process by digitising severalaccession registers from the years 1994 – 2004 onto excel, as well as photographing artefacts for the register.

The entries on Beecroft and Cheltenham were strictly informative, with the aim of peaking interest and relevance to its readers. Nathan Tilbury, who invited me to work on the project, described it as a read which could be “completed easily over a morning cup of copy by interested locals”. These two entries argued towards the importance of local history by providing a quick overview of the development of local suburbs in an accessible way. I strived towards covering a range of local relevant topics, rather than focusing for too long on one aspect in order to capture the overview of the suburbs and made it as relevant as possible by providing present day evidence of locations and institutions discussed.

Nathan provided me with a sheet of possible topics to discuss. The guide mentioned institutions such as schools, sports clubs, churches and shopping centres as suggestions, all of which were included (where applicable) in my entries. I used secondary sources in order to gain an understanding of institutions and events, however also consulted primary sources (which I found in Hornsby library’s local archives) to reinforce important events. As the majority of the primary sources I used were newspaper clippings, they matched my writing style as they summarised important factors, rather than delving into a deeper analysis of the topic (as was done by some secondary sources). While books such as ‘Beecroft and Cheltenham: The Shaping of a Sydney Community to 1914’ by the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group were helpful for providing a consistent overview of information for Beecroft, I consulted a range of online sources such as the Hornsby Shire history page for information on Cheltenham. I also used images from the Hornsby Shire Recollect website, which provided me with visual information, which I thought would also be interesting for the readers.

This project is significant for local residents of the Hornsby Shire, as it will provide easy access to quick information about local suburbs, islands, national parks and landmarks. It will be useful and relevant to local residents, not just those with a background in literature or history, as it is descriptive rather than analytic, as well as quick and easy to read. The expected audience is made up of older residents who have lived locally for a number or years or have community involvement or interest. The format of the work – through short entries over a range of topics – will also effectively interest and capture the attention of the target audience.

I sent the entries to Nathan as a Word Document, and over the phone he explained to me that the work would be fact checked by an expert in those suburbs, and have the format edited to be consistent with the other suburbs by a co-writer of the book. The book is set to be published by the Hornsby Historical Society mid December 2020, and will be advertised at the local library, through Facebook and to local members of the society.

I also worked with Hornsby Historical Society representative Mari Metzke in assisting with the digitisation process for the museum accession register. Mari provided me with a USB containing scans of the accession register from the years 1994 – 2010, from which I managed to complete years 1994 – 2004. I additionally assisted in photographing some of the artefacts in the museum, which would later be included in the digital accession registers. In the provided scans, it was often difficult to interpret the handwritten component, either due to handwriting or a missing section in the scan (specifically in between the pages). I chose to be cautious when transferring and bolded any words I was unsure about so that Mari could double check my work. It will have a long term benefit for the Hornsby Historical Society, as existing data is much easier to find and organise in a digital format. I transferred the work from the scan of the register book, onto excel. From excel, Mari plans on transferring it onto a software which organises the societies accession registers.

Mari expressed her need for assistance with the digitisation process, and the volunteers at the society are often pressed for time. The work I have done on excel with be held privately by the society and will further be expanded upon as more accession registers are digitised. Due to time restraints, I have not been able to successfully finish all the accession registers which have been provided to me by Mari (the total amount exceeds the requirements of the Capstone Project).

Overall, the work done in this unit will be displayed both publicly (through the publication of the book) and privately (within the accession registers) and has benefitted the Hornsby Historical Society.

Hornsby Historical Society – rediscovering local history

Tucked away behind the trees in Kenley Park sits the Hornsby Historical Society. Many residents of the Hornsby and surrounding areas are unfortunately unaware of the hidden gem which sits in their backyards, and the historical treasures and significance it holds. The society contains very thorough records of the local area and valuable information about a range of different topics, such as local buildings and families. It additionally contains a small museum, full of local artefacts, which is open on Tuesdays and often hosts tours for school students. The students are given the opportunity to step back in time, and be transported to a shopping stall, laundry and kitchen from the early 1900s. With real artefacts from the era and experienced staff, the museum provides a deep understanding to locals of how different the world was only a century ago. The society is home to many local artefacts and archives, and its members are constantly working on local history which is published by the society’s magazine ‘Local Colour’. Overall, the society plays a key role in the community through history as it holds important records which relate to local affairs and is extremely valuable to the local community.

Entrance to Hornsby Historical Society

During my trip to the museum and based on various phone calls and emails, I got acquainted with two key society members. Vice president Nathan Tilbury, who also works as Councillor for the Hornsby Shire Council, is an active local history member and has written publications on local history such as ‘Man Made the City but God Made the Bush’. His position within the Hornsby Shire Council has been influential in the council’s involvement with local history. ‘Hornsby Shire Recollects’ is an online platform which displays over 4000 local archives, including photographs, documents and maps. The archives can be easily viewed by anyone on: https://hornsbyshire.recollect.net.au/. While the council has been actively engaged with displaying local history through an accessible platform, key society volunteer members such as Mari Metzke play a key role in gathering, organising and presenting artefacts and archives. Her former job as a teacher has also given her experience in working with children and makes her an exceptional guide for the museum during school tour groups at the Hornsby Historical Society. These two individuals are very passionate about history and are important members of the community and vital in recording history and making it accessible for locals.

I was impressed by the level of familiarity which I experienced when I visited the museum and read through some of the articles of ‘Local Colour’. As a history student, engagement with history – including photographs, documents and narratives – is something I am familiar with. However, experiencing local history with the guidance of local experts made history feel more intimate. I will be working with the society to write a publication on the history of local suburbs and will be working on Beecroft and Cheltenham. My work will be edited prior to being included in the publication. Being involved in this process is something I take very seriously, as it would be my first time being involved in written history work beyond the classroom. Additionally, having local ties with Beecroft and Cheltenham, an added dimension of familiarity will enhance my work. Supported by a dedicated team of historians on a topic which is intimately more familiar than previous academic work, I have high hopes for the outcome of the Major Project.