1 Step Forward 2 Steps Back: It’s all history!

You don’t always know where you’re going, what you’re looking for or what you’ll end up with, but even more so, it’s sometimes hard to stop looking! It’s an exhilarating, ironically non linear ‘choose your own’ adventure where anything could happen, so many tracks to go down. You go on tangents and find things you never expected to, or wild goose chases where nothing turns up. Sometimes records are missing or literally eaten by rats, or a perhaps a paper shortage! But how fabulous is that! The gaps keep you coming back, it’s a thirst for the whole picture. You get to know the ‘characters’, imagine their lives, feel a strange connection and a sense of responsibility to finish what you started. I am doing a history of ordinary people, who lived in a ordinary house, but ordinary for me is what makes this type of history so exciting. Anyone can become history and anyone can find it. History is part of family life, the community, the future.
TD 2102 117 a.jpg
(Certificate of Title: Henry Wardrope 1910 Vol 2102 Fol 117 http://images.maps.nsw.gov.au/pixel.htm )
Mr and Mrs Wardrope are my centre point from which my study spreads. This project spawned from an enquiry from their ancestor, their beautiful sepia portrait and their house between the old Town Hall and Blue Mountains Echo (later ‘Daily ‘paper). I still do not know the end result, but the experience has been invaluable. I feel attached to their story, even if it is not exceptional it serves as an insight to the lives of migrants, the experience of family and work in the early 20th century, the township of Katoomba and the legacy members make serving the community.
It is also an interesting look at the evolving urban environment. Still seen to be as a large Township, Katoomba has grown from a mining town, a touristic centre, a medical escape to a vibrant multicultural hub for all types of people and business still serving some of the functions it once did. A study of this property, the changing size and shape it took over time, the amalgamation, transformation and destruction serves as a larger analysis of the growth of settlements and urban expansion. Further, it is interesting to understand how history meets heritage and how a study of the people and places are key to preserving aspects of the past for our future. And while a car park stands there now and much of Katoomba has been reshaped since its earliest developments, respect of the past lived experience is crucial, even starting from the smallest house squeezed between two key buildings.
As I do not wish to give too much of the story away, I will leave you here, hopefully keen to learn more about the voyage of the Wardropes across the world to the unknown, settling in the inner west before finding their community in the Blue Mountains, about the agricultural to urban evolution from the first land grant to the car park for Civic video which stands there today. Local, small scale history is important as it is relatable, it as an unseen aspect of our past and past community members which have contributed to our lives today.

History Does Matter – especially when it’s in our backyard

We have all been a little apprehensive, scared even, about what the hell we are meant to be doing here! But we have been assured, by amazing public historians and former students that it will somehow come together, someone will get back to us, somehow we will know what to do and some great history will be produced….. After getting no other responses from other organisations and getting nowhere on this blind journey in the previous weeks. I have been convinced after my visit to the Blue Mountains Historical Society that local history is in everyone’s reach.
What an absolute blast! I must have seemed like an excited little puppy, repetitive in my oo’s and ahh’s, blown away by the resources, photos, volunteers, the ‘technologies’, the artefacts, and the guns! I won’t deny I was nervous, I drove in to find a few people tending to the grounds, heading inside there were about 10 other people working on their various projects. I felt a little intimated by their age and therefore wisdom, wondering what I could offer, wondering where to start. Many had been in the society for years, and a few members I met had published books, but didn’t seem eager to wave them around which was an interesting observation. Everyone was so welcoming, I really learnt so much even if this time around I probably couldn’t offer much back.
You don’t realise how amazing history can be when it’s close to home, when it’s close to your heart. Growing up in the Blue Mountains I was keen to get back and learn about the history as well as the Historical Society. It’s extraordinary to see parts of your life, your community reflected many decades ago in sepia photos showing the pub you drink at standing alone with horse and carts out front or the swimming hole you still go to the site of a men’s swimming carnival in the 1940’s.
I was given a tour, shown how and where to find everything, was passed onto various members to show me what they do. Of particular interest was the Tarrella Cottage Museum which was a holiday house of the McLaughlin family of Sydney, built in 1890, situated on a hill overlooking the Western plains, it holds an extensive range of 19th and 20th century household items. The donated gun collection made a great display and the quirky objects like one of the daughter’s winning fancy dress outfit which was a newspaper printed gown made for a fascinating visit.
Of particular interest was the ‘house histories’ they do for a donation which tracks the history of a property and its owners from the earliest council and state records to the present day. This is literally like a historical treasure hunt! Using microfiches of council records, the NSW historic land records http://images.maps.nsw.gov.au/pixel.htm ), maps ( https://six.nsw.gov.au/ ), and cross referencing with Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages ( http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/ ) and potentially newspapers for further information ( http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/ ). I was shown parts of how they do this and a finished product. This kind of task can take days because sometimes document trails lead you astray or simply disappear. Bruce, who predominately does these, explained to me that there is so much to take into consideration when on this history hunt such as owners who may rent and property merging. I look forward to getting my hands on some more microfiches and seeing what I can or cannot find.
I felt proud of the Historical Society having only been there an hour or so, you could see the years of preservation on the walls and in the files. Decades of hard work and painful documentation have built an extensive collection for all to utilise and enjoy. The society also puts out a bi-monthly newsletter ‘Hobby’s Outreach’, with the last issue covering the hunt for the Cox’s River Aboriginal name, a book review on The Girl Who Stole Stockings by Elsbeth Hardie a ‘well researched and well written story of early life in the colony’, particularly revolving around female convicts. Further, the issue has a Presidents report, news of upcoming meetings, lectures and excursions and a letter of appeal for anything relating to the society’s 70 year history.
I was inspired by the work everyone does there and all that has been done before them. I think it’s sad many of us are so disconnected from out local history and disregard public history as amateur or unimportant. The preoccupation with national and international history misses the point that local stories and experiences make up the national narrative and are just as important as dramatic events on a macro scale. I implore all who read this to get out there, see what your community has to offer, get involved and learn from the people restoring, preserving and documenting the past and present for the sake of the future.