The Story of Gleebooks

This semester, I worked with Gleebooks to tell their history of over forty-five years of book trade and community engagement. To do this, I created a podcast episode titled “The Story of Gleebooks,” as well as an accompanying website.

I realised early on in my research process that Gleebooks has a long and fairly extraordinary history. However, this is not widely publicised and there is limited information easily viewable online. I also came to appreciate the depth of loyalty held towards the store by many of their customers. Yet, these same customers are often unaware about the details of the business’s history and its involvement with larger causes. The importance of uncovering marginalised or unknown histories in order to democratise the idea of history itself is something I have become acutely aware of this semester. Accordingly, I wanted to uncover Gleebooks’ history for its own community.

I chose to create a podcast because this is an accessible format for anyone with a computer or phone and internet access, meaning most members of Gleebooks’ community would be able to listen. The process for creating this episode involved going through online archives, interviewing relevant individuals, and gaining an understanding of the Australian book industry. I then wrote up a script based on my research, recorded myself speaking, edited this into one podcast episode, and inserted clippings from the interviews I conducted.

To create my script, I drew evidence from two main types of primary sources: oral histories and newspaper articles. I conducted oral histories on three people who have been involved with Gleebooks in different ways. The first was David Gaunt, co-owner of the business since 1978. Then I interviewed Dr. Zora Simic, an enthusiastic and loyal customer, and Dr. Ann Curthoys, also a long-time loyal customer, Glebe resident, and author who has launched books at Gleebooks. Each interviewee shared with me their personal stories and through these, I gained new insight into how Gleebooks’ has operated over the years, beyond what written sources could convey. Conducting these interviews and hearing about my interviewee’s experiences, I was reminded about the centrality of storytelling within history, and the fact that all stories are worth sharing.  

While the idea of a history podcast is far from original, I have not seen many podcasts about local history or individual small businesses. Rather, most tend to focus on either national or global histories. Furthermore, the idea of storytelling in an oral format is obviously not original and something that has occurred across different cultures for hundreds of thousands of years, as we were reminded in the Week 2 reading The Way To Rainy Mountain, a Native American story which has been passed down throughout generations.

In terms of the accompanying website, I want this to be like a database or hub for information on Gleebooks’ history; somewhere that the general public can easily find historical sources about the business. I want it to be a collaborative space, and I am encouraging viewers to get in touch if they have suggestions. I have included a page titled “Gleebooks Media Articles” which includes a chronological list of articles relating to Gleebooks.

The underlying question throughout the podcast relates to how Gleebooks has survived for over forty-five years. Those forty-five years have involved numerous external challenges such as restrictive trading laws, increased taxes on books, and the introduction of Amazon and its monopoly over the Australian book market. My answer to this question, outlined below, was informed by both background research as well as my interviews with David, Dr. Simic, and Dr. Curthoys, as I asked them all this same question.

  • Their location in Glebe, amongst a community who valued their products, ethos, and messages.
  • Their wide-ranging selection of books on a range of intellectual and political topics, which appealed to the local university populations.
  • Their community focus – especially their literary events and ideas programmes, which bring people together to share and discuss contemporary topics and ideas.
  • Their strong brand identity, which is associated with trust, knowledge, and expertise. They are also known for their involvement with the Sydney Writer’s Festival. These factors have contributed to their expansion across Sydney.
  • Their ability to continually adjust to the challenges facing them, whether that’s the threat of Amazon or the COVID lockdown.

My overall conclusion is that Gleebooks has survived for so long because of the loyalty of its customers and due to their desire for the business to maintain its success. This loyalty is a direct outcome of Gleebooks’ thorough understanding of their customer base as well as their continuous community engagement.   

Community Through History: Parramatta’s Multicultural Past

Students of history in Australia are privileged to be writing at a time when the exploration and, in some ways, emancipation of minority voices are encouraged. This diversity in the topics covered and ready to be covered is unprecedented, helping to bring the past one step closer to a more realistic interpretation. Whilst historians at the university and in academia benefit from this agenda from the top-down, and progress towards uncovering more minority perspectives is in full swing, local histories paint a different picture. This was the problem I faced when I began searching for a research topic: a modern council and society embracing multiculturalism despite glaring gaps in their white-washed past.

My mission, therefore, was simple: to complete the council’s agenda of fostering an inclusive and diverse community by unravelling their colourless history and understanding the development of multiculturalism in Parramatta. Implicit in this mission is the argument that Parramatta’s multiculturalism is one of its major strengths as a community, and engagement with this aspect should be encouraged, particularly by immigrants alive today. Additionally, this project is also a criticism and revision by presenting a version of history that contradicts the predominantly European narrative; in other words, by arguing that multiculturalism is present in the past.

In consultation with the team at the Parramatta Heritage Library, the idea of a biographic approach and presentation was adopted: to focus on the abstract notion of multiculturalism through the lives of real people and immigrants. Some figures included were already well known and well documented in local histories, such as John Shying or Mak Sai Ying, but most likely had remained unknown to new or recent immigrants as well as those whose English skills were not fluent. Additionally, I made a point to include the lives of less notable figures such as Lee Gumbuk Sing who, though well documented, have not been covered by public histories. Further, given the format of a tour, this project embraced the physical aspects of history by tying these figures and their lives, long past, to buildings or locations still visible today in order to reinforce the notion that these histories, though long past, still influence our present. Though this tour was originally intended to be multilingual via a transcript in visitors’ native languages, this proved too ambitious and given the time and resource constraints, could not be achieved. Nor were the intended interviews with local immigrant business figures, such as the owners of Sing Kee Grocery or Sun Ming Restaurant, able to be achieved despite their lives and stories being highly valuable to the biographic nature of this project.

Lee Gumbuk Sing, the cheapest grocer on the earth!
John Shying, grandson of Mak Sai Ying

Nevertheless, some of the major themes of this tour were successfully achieved, including the exposure of multicultural roots in the iconic Australian heritage locations of Parramatta. Such places included Elizabeth Farm or St. John’s Church and Cemetery which all were influenced by and attended to by immigrants. This theme of an underlying and suppressed multiculturalism, and the subsequent retribution in revisionist histories such as this, thus furthers my overall agenda of strengthening Parramatta’s diverse and inclusive identity by embodying a genuine commitment to multiculturalism by the dominant establishment. Furthermore, this tour hits the second key theme of community building through engagement as the rhetoric of harmony through contributions to community is littered throughout the tour, particularly in highlighting notably charitable immigrants like Lee Gumbuk Sing.

To support my argument, and to ensure that these histories are factually reliable as well as legitimate, I relied on many local histories as well as digitised documents. These can be divided into three categories. First are secondary sources which represent the majority of the sources used in this project. Many of these secondary sources, and perhaps unsurprisingly, were government produced as the local and state governments represents a major source of funding for historical projects in Parramatta. However, this results in a narrow variety of sources as many were commissioned for particular purposes, such as informing policy decisions or celebrations and anniversaries. Unfortunately, the scope for these histories were also narrow in terms of cultural diversity as the embrace of multiculturalism was relatively recent. The second category are digitised primary sources which are relied upon, where accessible, to provide a more nuanced picture of the past. Thirdly, visual sources comprise a large proportion of the tour in the form of supplementary materials. These images, including portraits of figures and historical buildings, help bring the past closer to reality by visualisation and humanise the lives of the immigrants mentioned.

Chinese Lunar New Year in Parramatta 2019

This project is highly significant in helping Parramatta become a truly multicultural city. By understanding the past through a more wholistic and accurate lens, current residents can appreciate the contributions of immigrant locals whilst understanding the importance of diveristy in shaping Parramatta. Furthermore, this tour, which targets the current immigrant population in particular, represents a major opportunity to access and engage with their past. This act of engagement can act as a form of community-building and inspire members of the community to continue exploring the past of their new home. Increasing the accessibility of history, therefore, remains a key strength of this project but, as mentioned prior, would greatly benefit from multi-lingual support to broaden the reach.

Further work on this project can be achieved through the Visitors Centre and Heritage Library, as new stops and stories can be added or the tour can be incorporated into existing programmes over time, rendering it highly sustainable. Marketing for this project, additionally, will not be necessary as the Council and Centre already offers a broad range of advertising for their tours.

Overall, this tour represents a step towards a more inclusive, more diverse and more multicultural Parramatta. I hope to be able to continue my work on this important mission in the future with the Centre, so that the multicultural past of Parramatta can finally be in step with that of its future.

Erskineville Public School: A History of Community Activism

For my HSTY3902 major project, the community organisation that I chose to work with was my old primary school, Erskineville Public School. Unfortunately, after writing to them, and then calling them, they said no to my proposal. However, with encouragement from the unit coordinator Sophie Deane Loy-wilson I was undeterred and decided to design and execute my own history project about the school. It was a massive undertaking, the likes of which I had never done before. I decided I wanted to create a multimedia presentation which would reflect on the attempted closure of the school from 2001-2002 and how the local community rallied together to save it. I had seen past student’s multimedia videos and found them to look professional and be quite engaging. I also thought that this would be the most efficient way to allow many people’s voices and stories to be heard.

After looking at the school website I also realised that there was no information about the school’s history presented there, and after talking to local community members I learnt that while there was an abundance of historical information and sources regarding the school, there were very few organised presentations.

With this project I hoped to portray what I felt was a very important part of both the school’s, Erskineville’s, and the local inner west’s history, as well as portray the importance of community to individuals. Next came the difficult part, I had to begin preparing interview questions, and seeking out local community members to interview. This is where my ‘insider’ position became really useful as I was able to get in touch with a wide variety of Erskineville Public schools community members. Included in this group were past students, past parents and P&C members/Presidents, past teachers and even a past ‘Erko’ Principal. I had planned to interview more people however some people were more difficult to arrange a time with. In the end it was probably for the best as I ended up with almost 4 hours’ worth of interview footage to use.

I also was given old interview footage (from local historian and ‘Erko’ parent Sean Macken) of a woman named Frances Cusack being interviewed about her involvement in managing to save the school which was very useful. These people all proved to be invaluable resources both in the personal stories and testimony they provided but also in many cases in the access to physical sources such as articles, letters, and photographs that they granted me. It took me hours and hours to sort through and scan the huge range of newspaper articles, reports, and letters that I was given. These primary sources have made up the majority of the visual aspects of my video, overlayed on the audio and video footage that I recorded.

One of the many newspaper articles I was given by past Erskineville Public School P&C President Jeni Mulvey

There are a few central themes which I addressed through the video. The most obvious one being a strong sense of community and why that is important to people. Another theme is the process of government-driven gentrification and how a small community resisted such. This project also alludes to broader themes of public education and the importance many parents place in supporting local schools.

Numerous posters and leaflets such as the one above were distributed to local community members and local shops in the fight to save Erskineville Public School from closure

I am hoping this project will benefit the wider Erskineville community in that it documents and preserves an important part of Erskineville, and the wider inner-west’s history. It is also a history that is often forgotten or just not taught, so I hope that by presenting the history in an easily accessible form it will reach a wider audience and be more effective in its delivery.

One of the more challenging aspects of this project was the actual construction of the multimedia video. As a history student I have much more familiarly with writing essays and so it really challenged my skillset and creativity. However, I really flourished in being able to create something so out of the ordinary and being able to experiment with various audio and visual effects. The program I used was Adobe Premier Pro. This program is quite advanced and so it took me an entire day of just watching YouTube tutorials and experimenting with the various tools in order to create only 2 minutes of my video (which ended up being around 26 minutes in length). Luckily as the days bore on, I became more proficient in my skills and the process became faster.

I have also sent the video to all the people I interviewed. By doing this I wanted to ensure that they were happy and felt comfortable with the way I used their interview footage, as well as ensuring my project creates some form of impact. All the people I interviewed were really interested and passionate about the history of the school and its attempted closure and so I hope that they will forward it on to other interested parties. That way more people will learn about the fascinating history of Erskineville Public school and its importance to the local community.

Arundel House Alumni Database: Fostering Community and Preserving History

‘Among the most powerful impulses behind the writing of local history has been the desire to know one’s own ‘place,’ to uncover its hidden stories, and to gain a greater appreciation of what makes it distinctive. Much of this endeavour… is driven by the desire for an ethical and emotionally satisfying sense of belonging.’[1]

Place, stories, distinction and belonging – these are the foundation stones on which the Arundel House Alumni Database (AHAD) is being built. This semester, I was challenged by the Arundel House Director (Mel Hanger) to begin the process of building the AHAD. The aim of the database is to foster an alumni community to celebrate the centenary of Arundel House and to support its sustainability by demonstrating its importance and value to stakeholders through oral histories. Arundel House is currently experiencing lower resident numbers and declining public visibility. Re-engaging alumni into the functioning of the house, the growth of its residents, and the promotion of its purpose, will be a significant step in addressing these challenges.

Arundel House: ‘our “Little House”’[2]

People are what make up Arundel House and so it is their stories that hold testimony to Arundel House’s success and its value alongside other on-campus residential colleges of the University of Sydney. The AHAD is a unique way of capturing history as it not only seeks to collate Arundel House’s history (through the alumni) but also recognises the utility of alumni in bringing Arundel House’s history into the present and employing it in the daily function of the college.

The AHAD is a collection of alumni details (years and roles at Arundel House) and alumni voices (through surveys), bound together in a web-like structure that enables family members, cohorts and alumni of similar occupations/countries/interests to be linked. I have worked with the Director to build a ‘flow’ system, which alumni will be added to once they have become re-connected with Arundel House. There are currently three steps: initial contact, level of engagement, and story collection. The first two steps are largely administration based (organising alumni according to their preferred level of interaction with Arundel House), and the last step focuses on engaging with alumni stories to promote Arundel House and to strengthen Arundel House’s community.

In her seminar on visual and oral communication in public history this semester, Emma Kluge posited that oral histories are important because they allow people to narrate history their own way. If history really is ‘the narratives we write about the past’, as Emma argued, then it is crucial that individual Arundel House alumni are the ones to write Arundel House’s history.[3] Stories also help us to interpret the past, and alumni, as the embodiment of Arundel House’s success and influence, play an important role in this process.

Building the AHAD required many conversations between the Director and I about how narratives are formed and who narratives are for. In many ways, this forethought will make the process of engaging with alumni more effective, as we are more aware of the importance and function of alumni narratives in promoting the larger Arundel House narrative. While the database itself is not a coherent narrative of Arundel House’s history, it is tool that will enable Arundel House to collect, build and communicate its narrative. Thus, the process of establishing the AHAD has involved an investigation into the Arundel House community and how its ongoing reinforcement is crucial for the long-term prosperity of the college.

“I found Arundel a welcoming and dear home.”[4]

Alumni voices are a crucial aspect of the AHAD establishment process. ‘Once you have achieved a sense of audience, you will know what kind of history you need to write’.[5] This statement has resonated deeply with me, as it validates the work I have been doing with Arundel House; it is valuable even though I was not working on the project I initially thought. While I have experienced several changes in the way I have carried out my project, due to various delays and differing priorities between the parties involved in this project, keeping my focus on the alumni (my audience) has meant that the direction of my project has actually kept more in line with the priorities and desires of the alumni themselves. In truth, I think it is more important that I spent this time getting to know my audience, to ensure that I both create a resource that is valuable for them and that I maintain a respectful and constructive relationship with them.

The next step for this project, is to actively pursue alumni engagement. I have sent surveys out to a number of alumni (the majority of whom are girls that I lived with at Arundel House) asking them for their thoughts and reflections on three main ideas: community, mission and vision. The aim is to identify if there are weaknesses in Arundel House’s community and mission as it currently stands; their voices will provide a gauge of how connected alumni feel to the house and to other alumni. At this stage, I have only had one respondent but, in time, these voices will be an invaluable aspect in shaping the database. In other words, I am currently at the beginning of a much larger and more long-term project.

For privacy reasons, the entire database itself will not be accessible to the alumni. Rather, it is the alumni’s level of involvement in the college and the eventual sharing of their stories (through the Arundel House website, on social media and in person) that will be the visible evidence of Arundel House’s community.

The centenary was finally launched on 18 December 2020 via Facebook, calling alumni to begin the process of re-connecting with the college, beginning with a simple registration form.

[1] Frank Bongiorno and Erik Eklund, ‘The Problem of Belonging: Contested Country in Australian Local History’, New Scholar: An International Journal of Humanities, Creative Arts and Social Sciences 3, no. 1 (2014): 39–40.

[2] CENEF Council, CENEF Minutes, vol. 2, 2 vols (Forest Lodge, Sydney: CENEF, 1993).

[3] Emma Kluge, ‘Oral Histories’ (University Lecture, Zoom, 29 October 2020).

[4] Lara Rayner, Arundel House Alumni Survey, Survey, 12 December 2020.

[5] Ann Cuthroys and Ann McGrath, ‘Who Is Your History For?’, in How to Write History That People Want to Read (Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales, 2009), 25.

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.

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.

Constitution Education Fund Australia: Telling a Good Story of the History of the Australian Constitution

For my history project, I am working with Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA), which is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to increase public understanding and awareness of the constitutional framework of Australia.  More specifically, the focus of CEFA is to create teaching and learning resources to educate students about processes of government, the history of the Constitution and its contemporary relevance.

One of the most notable achievements of CEFA was the establishment of the Australian Constitution Centre through its collaboration with the High Court of Australia. Other successful programs include annual Governor-General Prize Essay Competition, CEFA’s Constitutional Forum and school parliament program. The work of CEFA interests me because I realised that many pre-service history teachers, including myself, have limited knowledge about the Australian Constitution and how to teach it. Yet, knowledge about the Constitution is extremely important to students in empowering them to get involved in civics activities in the communities and becoming informed and active citizens.  

A screenshot of the offical website of CEFA, displaying the main achievements of CEFA

During my first meeting with the research director and chief executive officer of CEFA, I was informed that the primary goal of CEFA at the current stage is to create fifteen interactive lessons about the Australian Constitution and its six underlying principles. The main challenge that CEFA is faced with is selecting the most relevant and core content that students need to learn about in such a dense topic, and then creating resources and lessons around it that are meaningful and interactive. After knowing my background as a third-year history student and also a pre-service history teacher who is interested in technology integration in history, they expressed their interests in having me help CEFA create an educational video for Year 9 students about the history of the Australian Constitution, its contemporary relevance, and the operation of Australia’s federal system of government.  

The rich history of stale beer: Shoal Bay Country Club

There is something magical about the pub. Somehow the sweating condensation of the glass, the stale smell of spilt beer and the buzz of chatter all merge together to create an atmosphere that feels homely to all. Across the humble pub table there have been plenty of friendships forged, plans hatched and memories made. And as a result, pub walls have no doubt bore witness to some of the critical moments of history. Whether it be the Great Depression, the World Wars or even more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, pubs have played a pivotal role in linking the experiences of locals with the history of the international. To view this first hand, one need look no further than the Shoal Bay Country Club which is a restaurant, bar, cafe and live music space situated on the shores of Shoal Bay.

Miscellaneous photos of SBCC found at the site.

The venue was bought by new owners in 2016 and underwent major renovations that saw the weathered old pub transformed into the now dreamy ‘Watson’s Bay’ inspired space. For locals, it’s the watering hole and for tourists, it’s the chosen destination for afternoon drinks after a big day at the beach. Whilst originally a Fishing and Games Club, the site was transitioned to a pub in 1934 and has operated as such ever since. During this time it has been temporarily made the WWII headquarters for British and American troops, accidentally burnt down by a guest and more recently experienced extended closures due to the pandemic. Upon this framework hundreds of thousands of visitors have stepped through the Shoal Bay Country Clubs doors, bringing with each of them their own experiences that forge the other, just as important, local and personal history of the pub.

Yet all of this history is subject to be forgotten. New ownership and mass renovations have meant that one of the few historical archives- four large framed photos and accompanying historical descriptions of the SBCC- have been taken down and are currently collecting dust in the storeroom. The only written history at the moment is a two page summary of the previous owners of the pub which includes multiple wrong dates and limited information. Other odd bits and pieces were also thrown into this mix. One such item was a framed written poem from the parents and kids who stayed there over the 1978 holidays to the ‘entertainment manager’ named Rowley Jenkins. In their poem that thanked Mr Jenkins for “making sure we’re all contented” and “teaching us the Shoal Bay Shuffle”. Another was mounted advertisements for the SBCC that are written in a strange language that is not quite English but also not quite not. So what does all of this mean? What was the Shoal Bay Shuffle? Who is the audience of the strange language? It is questions like these that might be left unanswered if the history of the Shoal Bay Country Club is not properly addressed.

One of the advertisements. Whilst the titles are written in English, the fine print is (for me) unreadable. Was it a sample poster written in jibberish or a modified English language? Or is there an audience for this language?

My ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ project is a great opportunity to spend some time amongst these archives and create a written historical record of the pub which can be kept for future use or published on their website. I plan on also including a virtual interactive timeline which highlights the intersection of SBCC within international history. This project would be further complemented by conducting interviews with older locals, who might be able to clarify some of the more confusing elements of the archives.

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.

Arundel House: Looking Back and Looking Forward

On a family holiday in 1955, Rosie Pidgeon stumbled across the floral linocut (pictured below) in an Alice Springs art gallery.[1] The footnote read that it was created by Amie (Amy) Kingston from her window in the Girl’s Friendly Society (GFS) Hostel, 1933. Upon returning to Sydney, Rosie earnestly searched to obtain a copy, for ‘this linocut was [her] only connection to the GFS period’ – Arundel House was first called the GFS, then CENEF (Church of England National Emergency Fund) and now Arundel House. But after some time and numerous phone calls, it appeared that sadly there were no more original artworks.[2] Rosie told me this story when I asked her what she thought Arundel House’s mission is.

Geranium and St John’s, Glebe. Lino block print by Amie (Amy) Kingston, 1933.

This Christian residential college has been a home to young women for almost 100 years. Rosie (now retired) worked as both the Chair of the Arundel House Council and an administrative staff member for the college. I myself am an Arundel alumnus and lived at the college from 2017-2018.

I interviewed Rosie with the intention of building up a timeline of Arundel, beginning in 1920, and felt she dodged my question about Arundel’s mission; this story has nothing to do with mission and vision, I thought. Through some dusty archive digging and further conversations with alumni, however, I have come to realise that Rosie’s response actually reveals the very heart of Arundel’s mission: community.

A house becomes a Home:

For most girls that come to Arundel, they are only living under its roof for a very short time – on average, two to three years. Yet Rosie’s response captures the type of community that Arundel builds; it spans geographical terrains and across time but remains a community nonetheless by the shared experience of living, growing and sharing faith at Arundel. When a girl joins the house, she is not only provided a bed and a meal but she is given a lifelong community. This is particularly significant as many of the girls that join the house come from rural homes and have thus become disconnected from their childhood communities.

Ageing well:

In 2021, Arundel will be celebrating its centenary. The current Director, Mel Hanger, is in the early stages of building an alumni database with the hope of rekindling and strengthening the community that Arundel is. My initial work with Mel, my discussions with alumni and my own personal experiences, have grown in me a deep curiosity to understand how and why the college has nurtured and grown young women across time. I am curious to know how shifts in broader society have influenced the way Arundel has thought about its mission: to what extent is Arundel’s mission today different or perhaps more important than previously, and how can Arundel continue this mission into the future?

My project will focus on these questions of mission through the lenses of community and legacy. I will be engaging orally with alumni to capture their stories and questions on this topic, with the aim of collating their voices into a webpage on which Arundel can launch its centenary.

During my time at Arundel, I never really took much notice of the copy of Kingston’s small, floral artwork displayed in the Front Lounge. Now this artwork has become, for me, a symbol of my part in something bigger. Time has seen significant change but the house has remained the constant that connects us girls. I hope that by joining Mel in Arundel’s database project, and re-connecting alumni to each other and the house, that other alumni may experience this same feeling of re-seeing something with a new understanding and appreciation. I am excited to commemorate the numerous ways Arundel has nurtured and grown young women, and to celebrate the unique community we create.


[1] Amie (Amy) Kingston, Geranium and St John’s, Glebe, Linoblock print on cream wove Japanese vellum paper, 1933, https://artsearch.nga.gov.au/detail.cfm?IRN=37610&PICTAUS=TRUE.

[2] Rosie Pidgeon, “Arundel House History,” interview by Louisa Davidson, 12 October 2020.