My Local History

The Sutherland Shire Historical Society Museum, 23 East Parade, Sutherland.
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I have decided to work with the Sutherland Shire Historical Society who were more than happy to take me on and made me feel very welcome. The society is made up of over 130 members who work together to preserve the history of the Sutherland Shire. In conjunction, the society runs a museum located in Sutherland. The museum’s collection, “A Journey Through Time”, walks through the history of the Shire. It begins with information on the Dwarahal people, the Aboriginal tribe who inhabited the area before white settlement. The collection then moves to the landing of James Cook, the explorers, pioneers and settlers, war preparations and post-war expansion. The museum hosts an impressive collection of items which are engaging and thoughtfully presented.

Unfortunately, the museum is currently under threat. The building the society occupies is the Sutherland Memorial School of Arts building. The Sutherland Shire Council, as part of a larger refurbishment of the local Entertainment Centre, is refurbishing the school and not maintaining the space the museum holds. The museum is being forced to find another space to display the collection. The society already struggles to promote the museum and this will be made even more difficult by the movement to a less desirable location. It is heartbreaking that the Society will struggle so much with such a disruptive change when they have really made the school their home. The Society also tries to outreach to the community. There are regular seminars, open to the public, held on many different topics. The museum is also open to working with local primary schools. They offer a museum box service in which teachers can request items from the collection to make learning more interactive within the classroom. They are even happy to tailor the boxes to suit the course content. Membership for the society is also open to the public.

The Sutherland Shire Museum, featuring a recreated Aboriginal canoe

Personally, my interest in this society came from the desire to learn more about the history of my home. We are often taught the overarching narrative of Australian history but never the story of our own local communities. I am excited to work in conjunction with the society to explore what I can learn and present my findings. As well as the museum, the society also has endless records containing newspaper clipping, photos, maps and letters that have been donated over the years. I look forward to delving into the records to see what I can find.

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?’ 

Initial Thoughts

My organization is the Sydney Jewish Museum, which focuses on the history of the Holocaust along with Sydney’s ties to the Jewish religion. They are educators, helping to teach their visitors about the rich culture and religion of Judaism through both permanent and feature exhibitions, memorials, collections, events, and even through local survivors. I was interested in working with the SJM because I myself am Jewish and it is an essential part of my identity, upbringing, and ancestry. I have taken a few Religious Studies courses and one on the post-rhetoric of the Holocaust which still may be the most interesting class I have taken to date. I enjoy studying the Holocaust and have been to many museums, monuments, and memorials in Germany, Israel, and Washington D.C., and I was curious to learn how Australia, and specifically Sydney, was impacted by this period of time. Moreover, I knew I wanted to work with this museum, because while we toured the institution during class, I thought the place was beautiful, the curators were incredibly intelligent, and I was emotionally moved by much of what I saw while I was there. I genuinely think it is an exciting place, and I am excited to work with them. 

When I showed up to my meeting with Breann and the Head Curator Mrs. Roslyn Sugarman at the Sydney Jewish Museum, I was excited to see which avenue of Judaism and/or the Holocaust I would be pursuing for the remainder of the semester. When they informed me that they wanted me to create a campaign surrounding the museum’s internal sustainability, I was hesitant to say the least. After hearing them out though and doing some initial work of my own, I realized just how big of an impact I can have on this museum in the short time that I am able to work with them. Mrs. Sugarman was telling me about a conference she recently attended in which the two of the biggest trends in museums currently are ideas surrounding accessibility and environmental sustainability. She told me that museums are leaders in helping to set a precedent for change, as people view museums as moral and ethical institutions. 

My plan is to write a proposal to the Board and to create a presentation to educate and pitch to them the changes that I would make. My goal is to show them the impact that they can make without reaching deep into his pockets, and to get him to sign off on the changes that I am proposing. Simply, I am acting as a consultant for the Sydney Jewish Museum. To tie this into the study of History, I am going to take a Museum Studies approach by evaluating what some of the other local and international museums that are helping to lead this environmental campaign. Some of my initial ideas include: calculating the museum’s Carbon Footprint, creating a Green Team, setting goals for the near and distant future, and to help educate the staff. 

Teaching English, Learning about China

The organization that I have been volunteering with is Hurstville City Uniting Church’s English Conversation Groups (ECG). The conversation groups run every Tuesday from 10am to 12pm where volunteers teach English to students in small groups of two or three. The main focus of these groups is on conversational English so classes tend to be more interactive as students are encouraged to talk about their weekend and other activities they participated in during the week.

I began volunteering at ECG in April this year after seeing an advertisement on SEEK. My initial surprise was that the demographic of both the volunteers and students was on the older side. The majority of teachers were retired teachers who were continuing their passion for teaching upon retirement. When I joined, there was only one person younger than me who had just graduated from high school and was taking a gap year.

The students were mainly, if not all, Chinese migrants from either Mainland China or Hong Kong. They were divided into two distinct generations: my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation. Those in their late sixties to early eighties had come to Australia to rejoin their children, most of whom initially migrated to Australia as university students but were now living here as permanent residents or citizens. In contrast, the younger generation of parents mostly consisted of mothers who had come to Australia to accompany their child as they entered and studied in Australian high schools.

Personally, the reason why I enjoy teaching at ECGs is because I feel like I am constantly learning more about my family and my heritage through the students that I meet. The students have so many stories to share and often their experiences of living in China reveal parallels with the experiences of my own parents and grandparents, sparking deeper conversations with my own family. I remember during one class, I was talking to one of my students who was only a few years older than my parents and she was telling me how she had always had an extremely anxious personality. When I asked her if she had always been so anxious, she told me that she hadn’t been so when she was younger. However, during the Cultural Revolution, her father had been persecuted and was later found dead in a river and she had suffered relative nervousness since that event.

When I was growing up, I had an old brick phone which meant that I hardly used it and sometimes would forget to turn it on after class. However, whenever my dad would try to call me and I wouldn’t pick up, he would call again and again in an urgent manner, scared that something had happened to me. For me, I had always found this behaviour strange as he was not an overly protective parent in general. Once I discussed this with him, and after sitting down and thinking about my question for a while, he answered saying that it was probably something that stemmed from his childhood. My grandfather was a political figure in their county which meant that during the Cultural Revolution, he was either persecuting members of other factions or being persecuted himself, depending on the way power switched in the top levels of government. Hence there would be periods at a time where my grandfather would disappear and be on the run without his family knowing where he was. My dad explained that this was the kind of anxiety he felt when he couldn’t get in touch with me and how he had developed a natural tendency to imagine the worst.

I have found it extremely insightful to listen to the experiences of older generations of Chinese migrants who attend the ECGs. Not only is it a window into what China was like during the Mao era, but it is also extremely important in order to gain a deeper understanding of my parents’ upbringing and the fears and motivations reflected in their behaviour.

Getting to know Addi Road

22nd September 2019

Forget whatever you had planned for Saturday morning, I’m here to tell you where you should be going. Take yourself over to Addison Road Community Centre, better known as Addi Road, who I’ll be working with in the next few months. On Saturday morning take a walk though the gates, following the smell of quality coffee and competing voices. Find yourself a sun-safe hat, a cheap book, fresh produce or a one-of-a-kind piece of…something…from reverse garbage. This is the weekly ‘Marrickville Markets’, and is only the beginning of what Addi Road has to offer.

Addi Road was won for community use in 1976 and now fights for social justice in diverse ways, providing affordable food at the food pantry, being active in environmental justice through community gardens, composting and programs such as ‘War on Waste’, as well as a variety of community programs for support, solidarity and socialisation.

Food Pantry Manager Damien Moore and Addison Road Community Centre Organisation CEO Rosanna Barbero in the Food Pantry at Addison Road Community centre. Picture: John Appleyard

I have been lucky enough to be taken under the guiding wing of Mina Jones, the Museum Coordinator, and a passionate supporter of the community. After some discussion, I have begun to find my groove and potential contribution through the ‘Honour Roll for Peace’. The Honour Roll for Peace acknowledges those from all around Australia that have contributed to peace through activism, poetry, music, literature, politics etc. Currently 90 people are acknowledged on this roll, an endless number that decorates the gates of your entry to the Centre. These individuals are no confined by standard conceptions of achievement or national agendas, and are acknowledged for challenging the status quo and humanitarian crises. I am working on collection information on these valued names, and commemorating these names on an online platform, to be accessible for all.

Honour Roll for Peace, entry into Addi Road Community Centre. Photographer: Sabine Pyne