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.

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.

History in Colour: Parramatta’s Multicultural Heritage

For this unit, i have decided to create a walking tour, focused around the immigrant and multicultural community of Parramatta, alongside the Parramatta Heritage Library. Since early 2019, I have worked with them as a volunteer research assistant on projects relating to honour rolls, World Wars and the meaning behind street names in the local government area. This organisation, which operates jointly with the Parramatta Council’s Visitor’s and Information Centre, provides community-focused services related to history, including archival research, family histories, local histories and education materials.

Outside the Parramatta Heritage Library and Visitor’s Centre

This tour will emphasise the historic and present multicultural community. Additionally, visual content and transcripts in multiple languages will be provided to broaden the reach and immersion, disseminating a sense of belonging and inclusivity to previously underrepresented communities through history. This is reflective of the Council’s philosophy according to their acknowledgement in the ‘Waves of People’ project and its emphasis on community-building: “It captures stories of the … people who came from across the world as displaced people and migrants to make a new lives and homes for themselves here”.[1]

The tour, conceived in accordance with the Library’s needs, will emphasise  biographical narrative, as well as visuals and location to bring histories to life. I will also conduct interviews with locals on multiculturalism and select quotes to embed within my script, to reflect Parramatta’s present community. Walking tours are an unfamiliar terrain for me however. I will communicate and consult with tour guides for guidance in presentation and delivery. I aim to mirror their format, whilst introducing aspects of interactivity and discussion, and a greater emphasis on inclusivity given tour’s multicultural target audience. Additionally, I aim to emphasise historicity and academic research to maintain a truthful and honest representation of Parramatta’s past, whilst retaining the contemporary narrative of inclusivity and diversity. I will also need to consider the obstacles in Parramatta’s extensive construction projects, as well as cultural sensitivities.

The impact and benefits of this tour can be summarised in two notions: promotion of Parramatta’s historical community organisations, such as the Heritage Centre, and highlighting the multicultural roots of this city. Sparking an interest in their past will undoubtedly see higher levels of participation from the community in their history.

A Night-Time View of the Centre from Across the River

[1] Bans, S. and Mar, P. 2018. Waves of People. Parramatta: City of Parramatta Council. p.4.