Discovering and using Bondi’s history

On my last post I discussed the importance of an expansive view in regards to Australian history. I will be first to admit that I have, in the past, discarded the significance of Australian history. But now that’s history! In my last post I stressed the importance of accepting every aspect of the past as history, even the most mundane and innocuous details. History should not be viewed as series of dates on a page, rather it is something that people have lived. I think that’s the biggest take away from my community work and this course.
For the past few months I have been working with the Waverley Library and Council in their local studies department. The Waverley library has quite an extensive archive, especially regarding Bondi Beach and its surrounding suburbs, so it was a great experience to work within this format. My task was to document some materials that came from the Bondi Pavilion, and make accession numbers for them. The accession numbers are there so if other people want to locate the materials I archived, they locate the number, and then they can find the appropriate box in the archive room. Filing and documenting material may sound dull, but it was actually a really interactive and fun way to work with history.
One of the biggest things for me when dealing with these materials was that I was one of the first people to view these objects as having a shred of historical significance. Many of the materials were everyday objects that had just been piling up at the Bondi pavilion. Although this was extremely interesting it also made it difficult. As I was the first person to conceptualise these objects as historical artefacts, there was no real framework on how to view them, no past papers, no outlines. I had to personally decide what they meant. This in itself was extremely fun because I could ascribe what I thought was significant about it. This process that I undertook fits into the idea of appreciating everything from the past as important history. The materials I was archiving were posters, stamps and swimsuits from the turn of the century. These objects don’t seem that old but their utility obviously was. What’s more is that as time goes by their historical significance increases. Even now you can tell how dated the swimsuits are. Will they come back into fashion? Who knows.
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Above: This photo was on the tag of one of the swimsuits displaying what it looks like. photo credit Xavier May.
Since the completion of my archive work I have been consolidating the photos I took of the process, and been looking further into the archives to find more information about the contemporary history of Bondi. These archives mainly consist of newspaper clippings and council statements, but they have told me a lot about Bondi’s recent history. Recent redevelopment plans regarding the Bondi pavilion are highly controversial, but I have found this is not an isolated event. Roughly every twenty years the council has made an effort to reinvigorate the Pavilion. A lot of the newspaper clippings also debate the gentrification regarding Bondi. I have always thought that Bondi was a pretty affluent area, however I have discovered that it has a very grungy past. This has been a controversial point in the literature regarding re-development plans and expansive commercial ventures. The debate around gentrification and commercialism is still on going and so it is important to be aware of these problems. These examples show how history is not finite and how problems that were happening a few generations ago are still occurring. That is how public history can be useful, so people can be aware of what happened in their local past so they can better shape the future. I hope that my work in the archives enables others to learn more about Bondi and more importantly, their own history.

Australian History

Throughout my education, from high school to university, I have always discarded Australian history. For me it had always been dull, only punctuated by a few daring expeditions into the outback and two world wars. What I wanted in history was what I wanted in a narrative. I wanted a start and an end date, a protagonist, an enemy, ideological clashes and a sensational turning point that separated nations and brought together its people. I focussed on the macro, and ignored the micro. This course in particular has made me question why this is so. Perhaps it was a simple unawareness of what Australian History has to offer, or a misinterpretation of what history is meant to be. In either case I have learnt to appreciate Australian history, while my understanding of the history discipline has been shaped.
For me now history is not something of the past studied in books, rather it is something lived and carried out through the day to day. I have reached this rational through this course. I have learnt that historians, and the public in particular, still have the ability to shape what history is projected, or even forgotten. The public has a massive role in deciding what type of history is propagated, mainly for its ability or inability to preserve the history. It should be then important for historians and the public to conserve and study anything to do with Australia’s past. What was mundane in the past is now a historical artifact, and so too might be any irrelevant object in my living room.
It is dangerous to punctuate history with end dates and turning points. For example, the civil rights movement is over, but the fight for racial equality is not. A lot of academic historical framework runs this danger of pigeon holing issues into to separate boxes, casting history into black and white. History runs the risk of describing a resolution when it was not achieved. Understanding the continuity of history, helps understand the continuity of society. This is an important point because as Australians we must remember our past, good, bad or mundane. What happened in the past may well continue to happen but we must recognize how society has changed or has not changed. So now when I look at Australia’s history I don’t only see the ANZACs in the trenches, but also throngs of swimmers at Bondi Beach in summer, Italian shopkeepers closing up, An Aboriginal hundreds of years ago eating a salty oyster, a woman reading in a park, and even my life is part of the greater Australian history.