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.

History Matters – Challenging the Biomedical Paradigm

Mainstream medical practices in Australia are largely based on hypothetical deduction, with healthcare professionals treating symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation and surgery. Conventional medical advice is therefore heavily influenced by Western values. This starkly contrasts the traditional medical practises used by Indigenous cultures that instead, appreciate a balance between the physical and spiritual being, relying on traditional healers, bush rubs and naturopathic medicines.[1]

Data released in the Australian Bureau of Statistics March 2020 report, however, indicate that the health status of Aboriginal Australians was amongst the worst of any group in developed nations.[2] The report revealed a higher prevalence of ill health and disability and a reduced life expectancy across the Indigenous community. A proposed explanation for this is derived from the lack of synergy between Government funded health initiatives, largely based on Anglo culture, and Indigenous constructs of health. Therefore, re-shaping our healthcare system to include services considerate of Aboriginal health beliefs has the potential to be immensely effective.

Consequently, the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) Redfern was established in 1971, partly to overcome the neglect and racism systemically engrained throughout Australia’s mainstream health services. The organisation was the first Aboriginal community-controlled health service in Australia, initially basing itself as a shopfront in Regent Street before moving to land donated by the Sisters of Mercy on Turner Street.[3] The service initially relied on volunteer doctors, nurses, nuns and medical students, however, it is now serviced by numerous paid healthcare professionals, including dentists, mental health specialists and general practitioners.

The AMS, however, is tightly funded and has access to limited resources which have been stretched to their limits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Less crucial elements of the organisation, such as their community administrative efforts, have understandably suffered. This is most evident when navigating the service’s website, which lacks information about the AMS’ current goals and historical relevance. For my project, I would therefore like to create a web page that reflects the positivity and progressiveness of the AMS and their significant contribution to Redfern’s local Indigenous community. To capture this, I want to coalesce the organisation’s public history, demonstrated through the inclusion of timelines and infographics with their more personal impact, shown through oral history interviews and profiles on key figures such as Mum Shirl, the service’s first Welfare Officer. At the current stage, it has been relatively difficult to maintain a consistent line of communication with the organisation, however I am hopeful that as I continue to build my rapport, conversations will flow more naturally and enthusiastically.


“Indigenous Health”. 2020. Australian Bureau of Statistics. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/ViewContent?readform&view=productsbytopic&Action=Expand&Num=5.7.10.

“Our History”. 2020. Aboriginal Medical Service Cooperative. https://amsredfern.org.au/.

“Traditional Healing And Medicine – Cultural Ways”. 2019. Australian Indigenous Healthinfonet. https://healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/learn/cultural-ways/traditional-healing-and-medicine/.

Foley, Gary. “Aboriginal Medical Service 1971-1991: Twenty Years of Community Service.” Aboriginal Medical Service Cooperative (1991): 1-12.

[1] “Traditional healing and medicine”, Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, 2019. <https://healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/learn/cultural-ways/traditional-healing-and-medicine/>. Accessed 23 October 2020.

[2] “Indigenous Health”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, March 2020. <https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/ViewContent?readform&view=productsbytopic&Action=Expand&Num=5.7.10.> Accessed 23 October 2020.

[3] “Our History”, Aboriginal Medical Service, 2020. <https://amsredfern.org.au/>. Accessed 23 October 2020.

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.

A trip down memory lane: Erskineville Public School

The organisation I have chosen to centre my project around is Erskineville Public School. After writing an email to the school, and then having a follow-up call, I was told the school was not interested. However, after speaking to Sophie, I was told it would be okay for me to create a project about the school without their contribution or direct engagement as I was an alumna of the school. Although I am disappointed that I won’t be able to volunteer and work directly with the school I am sure that my connections with past and present members of the school community will still allow me to create an engaging and worthwhile project. 

After speaking to family and friends in my local community of Erskineville, I understand there is a wealth of resources and historical archives available concerning the school and its history. Given the abundance of these resources, as well as the strength and resilience of the Erskineville community, I feel a multi-media video will best relay the important history of the school whilst simultaneously giving a voice to members of the local community.        

Founded in 1882, Erskineville Public School has a rich history. In particular, I would like to draw attention to the strength of the Erskineville community and their relationship to the school. In March 2001 (a few years prior to my enrolment) it was announced by the then education minister John Aquilina that the school would be closed. However, the Erskineville Public School Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) obtained Freedom of Information documents which revealed that a year earlier the NSW government was already planning to close the school (amongst others) and failed to officially notify parents. Over a year later, and after the closure process had “politicised average mums and dads into becoming activists” as the P&C’s president Jeni Mulvey put it, it was announced by the education minister at the time, John Watkins, that the school would remain open. Since the closure had been announced, the school’s enrolments had fallen to 29, seen in the above photo. However, as seen in the photo below, during my time there the number of school enrolments had risen dramatically and were continuing to do so. I would love to interview some of the students and parents who were part of the struggle to keep the school open and see how they viewed and view their experiences and relationship with the school’s history. I would also like to interview those who arrived after this historic moment and helped to strengthen the school community.                    

An article published in 2002 describing Erskineville Public School’s victory

The school underwent numerous landscape changes during my time there, including the creation of the garden amphitheatre and the rainbow serpent sculpture under the guidance of Tom Bass. It would be highly rewarding to interview those who helped implement these changes and whether they felt they were actively contributing to the school’s history. 

The Rainbow Serpent, which I any many of my fellow students helped build, under the guidance of sculptor Tom Bass. Image: https://www.tbsss.org.au/galleries/commissions/f1000028/

There are a few challenges I will have to overcome while undertaking this project. Firstly, I must pinpoint the parts of Erskineville Public School’s history which are the most important and relevant to both myself, and past and present members of the school community. I will also need to develop my skills in video and filmmaking, as this is an area, I have little practice in. However, I know previous history students have written about the software they used to create multimedia videos in their blog posts and so these will be an extremely valuable resource on which to draw on. Rather than benefiting the organisation as a whole, I believe this project will benefit the school’s community members on an individual, familial and/or relational level, allowing people to critically engage with history and what it means to them, their family and their friends.

Upstream: The Cooks River Alliance

The Cooks River holds a special place in my heart. I strongly feel that I grew up alongside its cluttered depths; elusively beautiful, in that sometimes it glittered blue and other times smelt like rubbish, I made some of my first ever friends at the Ewen Park playground which sits next to the river. My first birthday parties were had at the BBQ areas and picnic tables that were anchored alongside the river, and even my father, an artist, has painted extensively about exploring the Cooks River area as an immigrant.

Source: ‘Take Me To The River’ Oil on Canvas by Dmitry Kuznichenko, accessed: https://dmitrykuznichenko.com/cooks-river-theme/#bwg2/37

That’s why I chose to reach out to the Cooks River Alliance. The Cooks River Alliance is run by all the councils who share the land with the Cooks River. They are an informational and educational resource for the community to become aware and up to date on the environmental issues the Cooks River has. They also run events and talks with notable community figures such as Ian Tyrell and Jennifer Newman, an Indigenous educator. The website also features extensive Indigenous oral histories and published research papers on the Cooks River Catchment’s Aboriginal History. I believe these resources will be a great starting point for me in capturing the legacy of the Cadigal and Wangal peoples who were the first inhabitants of the Cooks River.

Cooks River Alliance’s website also features a call to action to help the river with ‘ten ways you can lower the environmental degradation of the Cooks River’, as well as multiple community groups you can join including the ‘Mudcrabs’ who do rubbish pick-ups along the river. Much to my dismay when I was growing, up my mother used to drag me to ‘Mudcrabs’ meetings. As I grew older though, I became to appreciate the community spirit and the practice of acting locally for the sake of global environmental change.

When I went onto the Cooks River Alliance’s website, however, I could feel a distinct lack of a page that details its historical roots. That’s why I felt that I could help them assemble a section of their website dedicated to the uses and community perception of the river over time.

I felt so blessed when Catarina Fraga Matos, the Cooks River Alliance’s Communications Project Officer, mirrored my enthusiasm and could see a need for displaying snapshots of the river’s history. We agreed on a live webpage that succinctly captures the history of the river, detailing how the community used and responded to the river over time.

It’s difficult in that there are already a few timelines of the river available online. I want to make mine unique in that it has multiple purposes: to educate, to inspire and to capture the attention of the viewer. Aesthetic awareness is important to me – so I hope to include an artistic element to the webpage. I would love to have a watercolour drawing of the river running down the page as you scroll, changing shape as you move over time and having new symbolic elements pop up as you continue, leading to more information.

It will be interesting to see how the project takes shape and whether I will be able to actualise what I envisage. I will end with Anna Clark’s sentiment which inspires what I want to capture in my project: “Place literally locates our individual and collective historical consciousness in the world around us. Family, community and national narratives are bound by the places in which they play out.”[1]

Source: City of Canterbury Library, Earlwood’s Past 2014 accessed:

[1] Anna Clark, Private Lives, Public History (MUP, 2016), p. 117.

Manly Museum and Art Gallery

Sydney Harbour Exhibition 2021 (Children’s Exhibition Trail)

The organisation that I am involved with is the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (MAG&M). They are a regional Sydney harbourside art gallery, located in Manly Cove. MAG&M is the self-described “centre for arts and culture on the Northern Beaches.” It is also the oldest metropolitan regional gallery in Australia, opening in 1930, since then being known for visual arts and “beach ephemera.”

Manly Art Gallery and Museum

MAG&M exhibitions consistently showcase the talents of Australian artist (especially in NSW). It makes the effort of archiving Australian artists that it hosts and preserving its own history and the history of the Manly regional area. Additionally, MAG&M also attempts to try and reach a wider audience, so it can highlight its talents and histories – this is evident through MAG&M online and previous children’s exhibition trails that it has created.

West Esplanade Bandstand by Robert Hay Robertson(1924)

For my final project, I will be creating a children’s exhibition trail for the Sydney Harbour Exhibition in 2021. It will have 8 paintings by different artists from the exhibition – with a variety of activities and interesting historical facts accompanying each painting. This booklet will help to generate interest in a younger population (ages 7-12) with the exhibition, regardless of whether they are from the Manly regional area or elsewhere in NSW. It is my aim to make it both educational and fun – as I want to be able to generate interest in art and history at a young age. This project will highlight the values of MAG&M i.e. community engagement, showcasing Australian talents and educating the population. I believe that this project will lead to young people getting more involved in art exhibitions, and engaging with the history of Manly’s community and the history of Australian artists.

Gleebooks: A Microcosm of Australia’s Book Industry

Gleebooks is an independent bookstore located on Glebe Point Road, a short walk from the University of Sydney. It first opened as a second-hand bookstore in 1975 and became known as a “godsend to intellectuals and those who want new books as soon as possible after they are published.”[1] It now has stores in Dulwich Hill, Walsh Bay, and Blackheath, and continues to be a popular location among inner-west locals and the university community, while also being considered a must-see site for visitors to Glebe. 

Along with selling books in-store, Gleebooks operates an online store and was recognised earlier this year for providing home delivery services to customers by bike during the COVID-19 lockdown.[2] They are also the stockist for the annual Sydney Writer’s Festival.

Image: https://www.timeout.com/sydney/shopping/gleebooks

Another noteworthy aspect of Gleebooks is the popular literary events which they host (so popular that last year, scalpers were reselling tickets for up to six times their original price).[3] Their space in Glebe has been the location of many book launches, panels, and conversations, often discussing progressive political ideas. Academics from the University of Sydney have also frequently been involved in events at Gleebooks and held book launches there, being a testament to the ongoing relationship between the store and university staff and students.

I chose Gleebooks as my organisation, mainly because I’ve enjoyed shopping there in the past and knew that they had been in the Glebe area for several decades, hence I assumed they would have a rich history. What I didn’t realise was how influential they have been within the larger Australian book industry, especially as advocates for independent bookstores.

During the mid-semester break, I met up with David Gaunt, the owner of Gleebooks, to discuss my project. He described the business as a “microcosm of Australia’s book industry” and informed me about a couple of their major actions over the years. Firstly, Gleebooks in the 80s was known for having unlawful but fast access to American-published books. These were typically cheaper and more diverse than the British-published books that Australian sellers could lawfully purchase. In 1989, they fought for the scrapping of these restrictions in the importation divisions of the Copyright Act, resulting in all booksellers having access to American editions. Then, in 1999-2000, Gleebooks played an active role in the campaign against the inclusion of the GST on books, which would significantly increase their retail price. While ultimately unsuccessful, the campaign continued a tradition of activism and defiance.

Image: https://www.timeout.com/sydney/shopping/gleebooks

Despite ongoing threats, such as restrictive legislation and competition from corporate giants, Gleebooks remains a favoured location among Sydney readers and has continued to survive when other independent bookstores have not. My research so far has highlighted to me the important role of independent bookstores in Australian communities. They foster connections, share ideas, and inspire audiences.

For my project, I’m planning to create a podcast mini-series telling the story of Gleebooks’ history within the context of the Australian book industry. To do this, I have been going through online archives to collect relevant sources and will be conducting an oral history with David Gaunt in the near future. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the topics mentioned above as well as other aspects of Gleebooks’ fascinating history.

[1] Maurice Dunlevy, “Buyer’s rights lost in the world rights carve-up,” The Canberra Times, May 9, 1987, 2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/118302792?searchTerm=gleebooks%20copyright.

[2] “The bookshop bicyclist – Nerida Ross,” The Hub NRMA, https://thehub.nrma.com.au/community/bookshop-bicyclist-nerida-ross.

[3] Jason Steger, “Shock, horror! Scalpers at a book shop event,” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 9, 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/shock-horror-scalpers-at-a-bookshop-event-20190806-p52eg3.html.