Oral History NSW
Giving Voice to the Past
Giving Voice to the Past

Indigenous Oral Histories Seminar

by | July 3, 2017


Saturday July 29 11am-12.24pm at History House, Macquarie St. Details and bookings here.

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Find all the details here.

Acoustic engineer Louis Challis recognised in Engineering Heritage Sydney OH program

by | July 1, 2017


The Engineering Heritage Australia Oral History Program interviewed 194 of Australia's preeminent engineers, one of whom was acoustic engineer Louis Challis. 

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Louis Challis – brilliant acoustic engineer

Louis Challis AM, who had a reputation as Australia's leading acoustical engineer, spent his life making unwanted noise and vibration inaudible and making good noise crystal clear. He provided outstanding acoustical designs and advice for some of Australia's most important and prestigious buildings. Louis recently passed away and one of his legacies was an interview recorded under Engineering Heritage Sydney’s oral history program.

The program was conducted from 1991 to 2006 and recorded the personal history, experiences, knowledge and accomplishments of 194 eminent engineers. Thanks to the program we now have firsthand accounts from people such as the designer of the AMP Tower; developers of the first major wind tunnels and computers in Australia; the designer of sand and gravel pumps sold worldwide; consulting engineers who established well-known practices; a man who worked with Freysinnet - the inventor of pre-stressed concrete before the technique came to Australia; major players in projects including the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme, the Eastern Suburbs Railway, government engineering authorities and large construction companies; the Australian chemical engineer who was awarded the US Medal of Freedom for his service in tropical warfare; engineers involved in establishing and managing the Australian Atomic Energy Commission's Research Establishment at Lucas Heights; leading academics in various fields including architectural and design science and so on.

The tapes from the program together with documents associated with the interviews were all donated to the State Library of NSW where the tapes have since been digitised.

Unfortunately, funding for the program ceased in 2006. However, engineer oral history programs are still being conducted in Newcastle, some other states and by Engineering Heritage Australia.

Read the Sydney Morning Herald obituary for Louis Challis here.


                                                Louis Challis, 2007. Photo: Brendan Esposito, Sydney Morning Herald.

Lost voices in Callan Park - Outdoor Exhibition for National Trust Heritage Festival 2017

by Roslyn Burge | July 1, 2017


Lost Voices in Callan Park, an outdoor exhibition held as part of the National Trust Heritage Festival 23 April-7 May 2017, was public history and oral history in practice.

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Outdoor Exhibition @ Callan Park & Broughton Hall for National Trust Heritage Festival 2017, 23 April to 7 May 2017

Lost Voices in Callan Park represents a fraction of the myriad voices and layers of emotion, dread or memory of Callan Park and Broughton Hall. 

Lost Voices in Callan Park was public history and oral history in practice.  Presented by Friends of Callan Park (FOCP), the oral history extracts and images of individuals interviewed for the Rozelle Hospital Oral History Project were dominant features of this exhibition; and audio extracts were played during guided tours.  This is the first exhibition at Callan Park or Broughton Hall based on oral history interviews with former patients, workers or children who grew up there.  It’s the third outdoor exhibition since 1999 which FOCP has mounted at Callan Park and Broughton Hall and comprised 35 panels installed in 13 different locations across 61 hectares.

The potential publicity provided by the Heritage Festival for community groups such as FOCP is invaluable:  it presents opportunities for strategic advocacy and the encouragement of broader understandings of the collective cultural landscape that is Callan Park and Broughton Hall.  The exhibition also had international exposure; coinciding with World Parks Week at the beginning of May, it was one of two events in Australia registered on www.worldurbanparks.org

Callan Park is complex, and so too the curation of an exhibition with its political understorey and creation by committee.  Initially it seemed a very straightforward notion to simply reprise a range of panels from exhibitions in 2010 (at Callan Park) and 2015 (in local libraries) and incorporate three new panels.  However, preliminary decisions about panel selection and matching oral history extracts to relevant physical locations was necessary in tandem with negotiating with four tenants and one stakeholder to install panels on land they use under lease or agreement with NSW Health. The Office of Environment and Heritage (the government agency which has managed Callan Park since July 2015) also needed to approve the installation.

Because the exhibition was mounted outdoors for two weeks it needed to be visible, weatherproof, secure and without public risk.  Images and text were printed on A1 coreflute panels, attached by cable ties to star-posts (lent by Leichhardt Council) which were installed at sites relevant to the context.  No panel was attached to vegetation.  A two-page catalogue (map, acknowledgements and genesis of the exhibition) together with a coloured brochure describing FOCP and its objectives (the reintroduction of mental health services and establishment of a Trust for the site) were distributed during the exhibition.

The exhibition was self-guided and accessible 24/7, so impossible to staff fulltime. Weather-proof ziplock bags containing flyers and catalogues were attached to the star-posts for people to help themselves and bags were regularly restocked.  FOCP staffed a table at the Main Gates on six days (for about five hours each time) distributing flyers and engaging with passersby and visitors to the exhibition. 

Most panels presented people’s stories and it is these that spoke particularly to visitors.  Interviewees recalled their work (With mental health you’re always going to have a lot of variety … your day is never dull - Julie Gover), or care while patients at Callan Park (Seeing the grounds and the views.  It was all therapeutic - Peter Gray), and others spoke nostalgically about growing up there (The whole of Callan Park … that was our playground - Paul Gilchrist). The immediacy of their voices at locations to which they referred prompted a potent reinterpretation of the site for many visitors. 

Other panels highlighted the physical beauty of the landscape and its arboreal riches; reproduced the objectives of the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002; gave a brief history of the original Callan Park House (now the NSW Writers’ Centre) and Broughton Hall (a burnt out shell since the 1980s); or highlighted significant, indeed unique architectural features such as the two war memorials or the modernist buildings, surrounded and unified by their architect’s original landscaping, now occupied by the University of Tasmania.  Two tenants contributed stories, We Help Ourselves (WHOS) and Glover’s Community Garden.

Hundreds of people pound the Bay Run each week and FOCP hoped some might stop to look at panels along the foreshore, while other hundreds who play on the ovals nearby might be momentarily distracted from single-minded fitness to also consider different aspects of this site.  Every week a couple of thousand people come to Callan Park and Broughton Hall.  Some work with the NGOs and NSW Health entities on site, study at the two universities, or attend the NSW Writers’ Centre – and then there’s the army of regular dog walkers.  All these groups are destination-driven, work in silos, and some never visit opposite ends of the site.  This exhibition enabled tenants to wander throughout the site during lunchtime tours with colleagues. 

The only means of assessing the reach of the exhibition are personal comments and the uptake of flyers.  Many of the two thousand catalogues and brochures distributed during the fortnight via the ziplock bags, or handed out personally at the table, were shared between couples or groups.  It would be a conservative estimate that approximately two thousand people saw the exhibition.

Public responses were overwhelming.  Despite a close familiarity with the site for two decades, FOCP (and I) were astonished at visitors’ reactions to these interpretive panels.  Dog walkers who exercise regularly, or the mother from Orange looking for somewhere safe for her ice-addicted son, paused to read and look about them with a renewed interest and were intrigued by the oral history recollections.  One described the exhibition as a community service, and other regular users were surprised to discover how much more there is to Callan Park than most people realise … no idea a space the size of Callan Park exists so close to the city.  Even as the exhibition was being removed people expressed regret to see the panels go. 

Whilst environmental conditions were not ideal for playing audio extracts on tours they did augment the panels, and Peter Gray, a member of FOCP, speaking about his experiences as a patient at Callan Park in the 1970s was a bonus.  One tour specifically for a group of men in the residential therapeutic program offered by WHOS at Broughton Hall, was among the most heartening.  Perhaps because they lived on site with time to appreciate its features, their perceptive questions about the history and people of the site reinforced the curiosity and eagerness people continually have - to know more!

Roslyn Burge curated the exhibition, and is a member of the executive committee of Friends of Callan Park.

The Australian Golf Heritage Society Oral History Project

by Carol McKirdy | July 1, 2017


The 'untold history' of golfing in Australia is captured in oral histories that interview greats of the game and explore the provenance of artefacts held at the Australian Golf Heritage Museum.

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The Australian Golf Heritage Society Oral History Project

Since 2013 I have had the great privilege and pleasure of recording oral histories for the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum. Although I come from a family of golfers with the ensuing garage full of golf equipment and amusing familial boasts of golf expertise and ability, my handicap is closer to snow-capped than scratch but I love the sport and the people involved in it.

As an oral historian working with the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum, my aim is to work with them to record ‘the untold history’ of the game by interviewing prominent people in Australia’s golfing world. We aim to record the personal stories behind great golf and as well we try to uncover the stories behind golf artefacts housed in the museum.

The world of golf is superbly documented in Australia. Excellent records have been kept of facts and figures. The museum uses oral history to learn even more about the game including charming vignettes into times gone by. Who would have thought that in the past golfers had to be wary of a train interrupting play as it passed through the course (champion golfer, Margery McWilliam), or that house bricks served as putting holes on a major Perth golf course, or that lessons were taught by a golf pro with his rifle beside him that he sometimes fired to warn off ball thieves (golf professional, Dan Cullen, interviewed in his 99th year)?

Initially the oral history project was established as a one off project to learn more about the provenance of some of the vast collection of items in the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum. The Australian Golf Heritage Museum used the oral history narrative to check the provenance of some of the artefacts at the museum. Donations to the museum do not necessarily come with specific details. Oral history narratives can also be confirmed according to established factual, historical background such as the known dates, facts, documents and figures of museum artefacts.

The narrators were asked very specific questions about golf equipment, clothing, golf course design and maintenance, the type of grass used, caddies, clubhouse usage, training methods and the organisation of Australian international tours and prize purses among others. Today we’re aware that golf playing champions win enormous prize money for tournaments but in the past winnings were very modest.  Frank Phillips played for Australia in the 1950s and 1960s and competed against Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus – the best three players in the world; Frank was ranked fourth. He won 3,800 pounds in 1957 (top of the money list) after winning numerous major events and made the headlines. Today a winner can earn more in a tournament than a professional of Frank’s stature won in a lifetime of playing golf.

The project is now ongoing and the same specific questions to support museum items’ provenance are asked but as well the golfing lives of the narrators are focussed upon. The Australian Golf Heritage Museum interviews are digitally recorded, usually in the narrator’s home, sometimes an aged care facility or at a golf club. All the standard oral history collection methods are followed. Some champion golfers have scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and memorabilia and these details are passed on to the museum in case they can be included in the museum’s collection or to gain access to.

Ultimately, the most important factor in oral history is the audio narrative but the Australian Golf Heritage Museum audio interviews are supported with a very comprehensive and detailed written summary of several thousand words for each recording. All the oral histories are uploaded to the museum’s website. Apparently the interviews are very popular and listened to often. Oral history is a powerful method of recording history, especially individual life stories and recollections. The interviews with golfing champions have been especially illuminating because they provide fascinating insights into the mindsets of some of Australia’s and the world’s most celebrated players. What does a champion think about as he or she approaches the 18th? Listen to his or her oral history to find out and as you listen, experience the pleasure of hearing the champion’s own voice. It’s even more enjoyable than getting a hole in one, or in my case, sinking a two-centimetre putt!

For the narrators, oral history has been a relatively easy way for them to record their knowledge of the game. For some, writing a record would not be an option.

Listening to a golfer retell a life in golf with the accompanying vocal tone, accent, pronunciation, inflections and nuances of speech is wonderful; the appeal of listening to and learning from a significant and real story is generally appreciated and valued. Most people love listening to stories, especially those that are true, unique and personal. Like a knowledgeable caddy advises his player, oral history speaks to us. The oral histories can be listened to at:


Carol Mckirdy has worked as an oral historian for 10 years. As well as interviewing for the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum she interviews for the Australian Golf Club, family histories, library collections, organisations and for a series of interviews with immigrants from the different people who have made the Sutherland Shire their home. 

IOHA conference June 2018 - scholarships available

by | June 5, 2017


The 2018 IOHA conference, 'Memory and Narration', is being held in Finland. The closing date to submit proposals for conference papers is August 31 2017. Those whose papers are accepted may apply for a scholarship; closing date for scholarship applications is December 30 2017. Read about the conference here and download details about the scholarships, including application form, here.

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Download information about the scholarships here, and for details about the conference visit here.

A Cultural History of Sound, Memory, and the Senses

by | March 13, 2017


An exciting new title co-edited by OH NSW past president Paula Hamilton and Joy Damousi

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For details and to take advanatge of a discount offer, click here.

Hazel de Berg Award 2017

by | March 13, 2017


Nominations for this prestigious award now open. Details on the Awards and Grants page.

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Call for nominations open now. Nominations close June 30. Check the Awards and Grants page for details

New audio available - 'Painful memories' seminar, Dec 3 2016

by | January 6, 2017


The final OH NSW seminar for the 2016 was'Painful memories - interviewing survivors of trauma'. The three speakers were insightful, thought-provoking and engaging. If you couldn't be there, there's no need to miss out- you can listen to the audio of the event right here

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The final OH NSW seminar for 2016 was'Painful memories - interviewing survivors of trauma'. The three speakers were insightful, thought-provoking and engaging. If you couldn't be there, there's no need to miss out - audio of the event is right here

OHA Journal indexes now available - an invaluable resource

by | January 6, 2017


From 2017, Oral History Australia's annual journal will be published online only. Comprehensive and useful indexes to the content published throughout its hard copy life, from 1979-2016, are now available here.

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Oral History Australia's annual journal was first published in 1979. From 2017 it will be available online only.

Indexes to all the material published in the journal throughout its hard copy life - articles, reviews, reports and peer-reviewed papers - are available here. These are an invaluable resource, well worth exploring. 

2017 Oral History Australia Conference - video welcome

by | December 20, 2016


View a short welcome video from Dr Indira Chowdhury, one of the 2017 Oral History Australia Conference's Keynote Speakers, on the conference website here.

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View a short welcome video from Dr Indira Chowdhury, one of the 2017 Oral History Australia Conference's Keynote Speakers, on the conference website here.

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