Oral History NSW is offering a grant of $1200 AUD to support an OH NSW member's attendance at the 2018 Oral History Society (UK) and Oral History Network of Ireland Conference ‘Dangerous Oral Histories’, to be held in Belfast on 28 and 29 June 2018. See the Awards and Grants page for more information and the application form.
Visit the Award and Grants page for all details.
The final of our three reports from recipients of an OH NSW bursary to attend the OHC 2017 conference, from Dr Joanna Kijas.
‘Moving memories: oral history in a global world’
Perspectives on the Oral History Australia Conference, 2017
Dr Johanna (Jo) Kijas of Kijas Histories has been an independent professional historian since the turn of this century, working for National Parks and Wildlife Service, local councils, museums, government departments, the State Library of NSW and was one of the Generations interviewers. She lives in Lismore on the Far North Coast of NSW.
Seated in the Grand Lodge of the Sydney Masonic Centre (SMC) Conference and Function Centre in downtown Sydney, with trains rumbling overhead and wry reminders of the auditorium’s past, we began three days of engaged and stimulating presentations. I’m a consultant historian from Lismore, Northern NSW, and was lucky enough to gain one of the Oral History NSW bursaries to attend the conference. My professional work in environmental, Indigenous and community histories has nearly always included oral histories. However, it was my long-term voluntary work at the New Italy Museum on the Far North Coast that drove my desire to engage with colleagues this year and think about intergenerational memories as they impact story telling at the Museum. My other trail to follow was the practice of oral history, especially in the digital age.
Picking one’s way across the conference terrain is always a challenge for me. Happily, of course, the start of each day’s journey was clear with the plenary sessions. We were generously welcomed to Country by Uncle Chicka Madden and introduced to the array of themes by the OH NSW president, Anisa Puri. The next two days’ plenary sessions were powerful and challenging, where different ways to understand and read silences in oral history testimony about trauma, loss and remembering across generations were particularly evocative. Dr Indira Chowdhry explored tensions between silenced memories of Partition and the national focus on celebrating Indian independence, while among her devastating stories of Eastern and Central Europe, Professor Dalia Leinarte suggested that sometimes silences occur because there is nothing to say. She discussed ways she has tried to use oral history for social change, particularly amongst ignored and silenced women.
The final plenary panel looked to future directions in oral history at home and abroad. Professor Alistair Thomson reminded us of some of the revolutionary moments that have led to our confident professional practice today and where the 'sensory turn', 'embodied histories' and the 'history of emotions' might take us into the future. One of the key challenges that he raised regarded future-proofing our interviews, where he argued that the national and state libraries are probably the only really safe places into the long-term future. Sarah Rood took us through a high-energy Prezi presentation on new technologies and oral history. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to grimace in recognition at her early career memory of poorly recorded interviews, where the focus was on content and not on sound production. Today the landscape has changed radically as we upload the voices of our interviewees to the web, meaning that high quality sound production is now essential for us all. Dr Siobhan McHugh cheerfully offered podcasting as the solution to most things, when it comes to continuing the oral history tradition of democratic, accessible and discoverable story telling. She pointed out the intimacy of podcasting as, usually wearing headphones, the story is directed straight into one’s ear as a personal encounter. Hamish Sewell closed in locating stories in place, describing projects conducted with often vulnerable people where they can have agency. He then returned to the concern of safeguarding interviews, sharing stories of audio archives that have disappeared, even from large institutions. This dominated much of the discussion that followed as comments turned to bit rot, unusable digital files and redundant technologies. Ethical practice and adapting and expanding professional standards as new technologies democratise oral history recording were also discussed. Despite the many challenges ahead, the concluding remarks centered on the exciting prospects that have opened as we present oral histories in new and ever changing ways, and to new audiences across the globe.
Once the plenary sessions finished each day, a road map was needed. Unavoidably, there were many difficult T junctions and unbridgeable parallel paths. My most enjoyable day was Friday, where my journey focused on the practice of oral history in its diversity. I was thoroughly engaged by Ass Prof Janice Wilton’s roundtable romp through teaching and learning oral history. Janice had gathered an eminent and varied panel from academia (Dr Sue Anderson), the National Library (Shelly Grant) and consultant oral historians (Elaine Rabbit and Sarah Rood). Each person was asked to provide two issues of significance to them when teaching oral history process. They included dealing with the digital revolution, ethics and responsibilities, maximising the sound environment, cultural differences and protocols, the importance of research and listening skills, understanding how memory works and the constant need to reflect on one’s own practice. Lively discussion emerged around the differences between oral history interviewing and journalism, the essential requirement of consent and different ways to get it, preparing interview questions, the reasons for doing interviews and what one plans to do with them. Strategies were swapped. I wanted some help on strategies in conducting our open-ended, life-story interviewing style, while also managing to elicit the snappy podcasting gems. Anyone offering a NSW workshop?
After lunch, I attended the thought provoking session ‘Being an interviewer and an interviewee’. Dr Jodie Boyd, now a practicing oral historian, reflected on her experience of being on the other side as an interviewee and the disquiet she felt in the aftermath of the interview. She noted that little has been written about the narrator’s experience of the interview process. Despite having volunteered for the project and enjoyed a convivial interview, her disquiet emerged on reflection about her place on the outside, where the power of the interview remains in much part with the interviewer. Her experience led her to acknowledge the inequality of the interview process and she is now working through how that impacts her current practice as an interviewer. Kelly Navies from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture reflected on her journey as an undergraduate to uncover the story of her great-great-grandmother who was born into slavery and lived to over 100 years old. Kelly interviewed relatives across the US, leading to a career which has included interviewing hundreds of African Americans about their histories. She reflected on how her own position as an African American woman has influenced her oral history collecting and telling.
The variety of papers and people across the diverse ‘oral history community’, nationally and from abroad, made for a lively and motivating conference. I promise never to conduct an interview in a café and I’ll think differently about silences. Thanks to a great conference team: Anisa Puri, Dr Scott McKinnon, Virginia Macleod and Dr Paula Hamilton.
The winner of this prestigious award was announced at the opening event of the OHA conference. Hazel de Berg's daughter Diana Ritch was there to present it and gave an informative and also touching speech about her mother and her mother's work, speaking both as a fellow professional oral historian and a daughter. Dr Karen George was the recipient of the award this year and Kevin Bradley received a certificate of commendation. The judges were Paula Hamilton, Paul Ashton and Roslyn Burge. Read the citations for both awardees on the blog.
The Hazel de Berg Award 2017 for Excellence in Oral History
Awarded to Dr Karen George
Dr Karen George’s extensive career exemplifies all that is inspiring about working in oral history. She has spent many years amplifying the voices of those normally overlooked or forgotten by others and has participated as an oral historian in some of the most important national projects in Australia, such as the ‘Bringing Them Home’ Oral History project (1999-2002) and the ‘Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants Oral History project’ (2009-2012). These two projects underline her strong commitment over time to Indigenous people and children vulnerable to abuse in state institutions.
Karen developed important relationships working with Indigenous South Australians through her research for Link-Up SA on the history and records of homes into which members of the Stolen Generations were placed as children. As a measure of trust, she has also been employed by Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia over the last few years and carried out 30 oral histories to write a history of their community centre. In relation to children, Karen has worked for the South Australian section of the Find and Connect Website where she was made a Research Fellow from 2011-2014. From 2005 to 2007 she worked as research historian and writer for the South Australian Government’s Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry.
As a professional historian and researcher, Karen has given papers at national conferences, and published widely utilising oral history research for her many projects. She also worked as the Oral Historian for the City of Adelaide from 1993-2001. Finally, as a long-time volunteer member of OHA South Australia, she has served as president and committee member for over 20 years, regularly presented workshops on oral history ethics and practice, generously sharing her expertise and mentoring others. Karen George has spent much of her working life and time volunteering over the last two decades, tirelessly promoting and building the profile of oral history both in South Australia and nationally.
The Hazel de Berg Award 2017 for Excellence in Oral History - Certificate of Commendation
Awarded to Kevin Bradley
This Oral History Australia certificate of commendation is awarded to Kevin Bradley in recognition of his role for many years as Oral History Curator at the National Library of Australia, and his dedication to raising the profile of oral history in this country. First, Oral History Australia commends his implementation of several large and important projects which have helped to amplify the voices of those traditionally unable to speak in public and have contributed to public debates about social issues. Second, we commend his farsighted leadership in preservation and archiving at the national library, which has ensured that oral histories are preserved and accessible now and for subsequent generations. Finally, we acknowledge his advocacy for Oral History Australia conferences over a number of years.
Below: OHA conference opening night September 13 - (L-R) Award presenter Diana Ritch, Kevin Bradley, OH NSW president Anisa Puri, National Library of Australia's Margy Burn who opened the conference, Dr Karen George, then-OHA president Sue Anderson.
Check the blog for the second of three reports on the recent OHA conference by the recipients of OH NSW bursaries. This one is by Dr Cheryl Ware, who presented at the conference as part of the Gender, Sexuality and Trauma panel.
‘Moving Memories’: The Oral History Australia Conference 2017
Dr Cheryl Ware is an oral historian with interests in histories of health, HIV/AIDS, and sexuality. She currently teaches in the School of History at Australian National University.
I was fortunate to attend the Oral History Australia Conference was held in Sydney from September 13-16. The conference was an incredibly thought-provoking experience. It brought together oral historians working on memories of trauma, migration, activism, family histories, and digital histories, among other areas. The diverse range of speakers and research topics led to three days of meaningful discussions about working with communities, ethics and informed consent, key themes in oral history, and innovative ways to communicate these histories to wider audiences.
The conference was true to its theme, ‘Moving Memories: Oral History in a Global World’. Presenters demonstrated how memories can move across time and space, with papers that explored stories of migration, seeking refuge, belonging, and individuals’ connections to place. The panels on family histories and intergenerational memories were particularly striking reminders of how memories move across generations (Alex Dellios' conference report provides a important overview of the sessions on family memories). ‘Moving Memories’ also reflects how we are emotionally moved by the memories that emerge during oral history interviews. I presented alongside others who were also exploring individuals’ memories of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Scott McKinnon’s analysis of the connections between gay men’s memories of HIV and AIDS activism and more recent natural disasters, and Robert Reynolds’ and Shirleene Robinson’s discussions of the valuable work of volunteers during the HIV and AIDS epidemic were especially touching.
I was also intrigued by discussions about the significance of silence, which was a key theme across many of the individual papers, plenary sessions, and performances. Such discussions were apparent from the very first session with Dr Indira Chowdhury’s keynote address. Dr Chowdhury spoke of both the silence regarding the Partition of India in 1947 and how this silence was challenged with the emergence of oral history interviews in the 1990s. She also raised concerns that the Partition will be, once again, wiped from public memory in favour of histories of Indian nationalism. Nien Yuan Cheng has provided an insightful examination of Dr Chowdhury’s keynote and the discussion that followed.
Professor Dalia Leinarte’s keynote about her work on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Committee was especially engaging. Focusing on ‘silence and amnesia’ in the biographical accounts Eastern and Central Europeans in aftermath of World War Two, Professor Leinarte explored reasons why interviewees may remain silent: the pain of reliving traumatic experiences, stigma which prevents individuals coming to terms with their experiences, and interviewees’ deliberate efforts to hide these memories. Oral historians continually deal with silence in interviews. Together, Dr Chowdhury’s and Professor Leinarte’s keynotes presented compelling assessments of identifying, analysing, and challenging these silences.
The use of oral history as testimony was most clear during the panel: ‘The Power of Storytelling: Listening and Writing for the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse’. Pip Newling, Ruth Melville, and Sally Zwartz spoke about their experiences as writers for the Royal Commission. With the permission of the survivors, they listened to the recorded discussions with commissioners and wrote de-identified narratives based on these oral testimonies. These narratives will feature in the Royal Commission’s final report that will be delivered to the Governor-General in December. The panel raised important points about how individuals bear witness as speakers, listeners, readers and writers. They also reflected on the choices they made as writers, especially regarding what parts of the testimonies they include and what parts they leave out. The panel led to important discussions about the choices individuals make when turning oral testimonies into written documents.
The idea of choice was perhaps a more implicit theme that ran throughout the conference, especially regarding discussions about methodology: who we choose to interview and which questions we choose to ask. We also make careful choices when we disseminate research findings, be it through films, interactive websites, podcasts, or in academic writing (or conferences!)
Another important theme was the role of activism in oral histories. The roundtable discussion by Scott McKinnon from Oral History NSW, John Witte from Rainbow Voices Hunter, Shirleene Robinson from Pride History Group, and Sarah Rood from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives was a testament to how community groups have utilised oral history to bring previously unheard voices, and histories, to a wider audience. Having listened to oral history interviews collected by some of these groups, I was really interested in hearing about their ever-expanding collections and innovative use of technology to communicate these LGBTIQ histories to the public (PridePod and Daylesford Stories are especially notable examples!), and plans for the future.
Other panels, including ‘Activism and Advocacy’, ‘Gender, Sexuality and Trauma’ and ‘Community Development’ also dealt with various forms of activism. Victoria Gwyn delivered a deeply moving paper whereby she interweaved her personal experiences working at the Australian War Memorial with a broader commentary on how oral history can aid advocacy and inclusion for minority-identifying individuals. Oral history and activism also emerged in different ways. Lynette Shum from the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand recounted providing oral history training to individuals affiliated with 79-day occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui in 1995. As Lynette mentioned, the area made international headlines earlier this year when the Whanganui iwi won a longstanding battle to have the Whanganui river (pictured) granted the legal rights of a person.
The conference not only provided an important platform to share research findings, but it also created a supportive space to discuss the practical, methodological and ethical issues that can arise when conducting and analysing oral history interviews. Storage was another key issue that emerged. This was addressed most explicitly during the final plenary session titled ‘New Directions in Oral History’. The presenters, Alistair Thomson, Siobhan McHugh, Hamish Sewell and Sarah Rood, with Paula Hamilton as the chair, reflected on new uses of oral histories and factors to consider when we explore the most suitable ways to preserve oral history interviews. This will be an ongoing discussion as we deal with new technologies that make interviews accessible to wider audiences while abiding by the restrictions interviewees place on the recordings. The important message, however, was to work with communities to ensure the interviews are preserved and accessible in the years to come.
Finally, I would like to thank Anisa Puri, Scott McKinnon, Paula Hamilton and Virginia McLeod for organising such a rich and engaging conference.
Below: Whanganui River, which gained legal personhood under the Te Awa Tupua
(Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017.
Published with the permission of the photographer, Oliver Strewe.
The newly elected president of Oral History Australia, replacing Sue Anderson, is Alistair Thomson, Professor of History at Monash University in Melbourne and a pre-eminent oral historian in Australia and internationally. In his first communication with members in his new role, he shares his views on what he sees as priorities for OHA and its national committee.
From Oral History Australia President – First Thoughts - 23 September 2017
I’m both honoured and delighted to be elected President of Oral History Australia at the recent AGM. First of all I want to pay credit to Sue Anderson for her stalwart work, in many capacities including President, over the last several years. As our journal editor and international representative Sue will continue to play a key role.
I thought I’d use this first email to highlight my first thoughts about OHA priorities over the next year or so. These thoughts are underpinned by my passion for oral history; my enjoyment in the diversity of our practice (community groups, professional historians, cultural institutions, academics from many disciplines, media workers, artists and performers, and so on); the thrill of the imaginative ways we record people’s stories and create histories in many ways and forms; but above all the fact that we all like asking people to tell us their story and then making those stories into extraordinary histories that make a difference.
First, I’d like to help the national OHA COMMITTEE to be a fun, effective and collegial group which works together to make things happen. Perhaps our main role is to support the state and territory oral history associations, and their members, who are the heart and soul of oral history activity around the country. By working together we can ensure that each association benefits from and contributes to the others, that we don’t all reinvent the same wheel. We can do that through the national committee and by communicating effectively with state committees; and we can do that through our website, journal and biennial conference – and perhaps in news ways using emerging means of communication. We are all volunteers on Oral History committees, and all have other hats, so I’m mindful of ensuring that none of us is over-burdened or over-stressed by our OHA voluntary work.
Second, I’ve always believed the BIENNIAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE is a essential event, and by rotating in turn around the states and territories we share the work but also ensure that each region gets a chance to showcase its work and boost membership and enthusiasm for oral history in the host state. At the recent AGM it was agreed that national committee needs to make a significant financial contribution towards the state-run conference, but also that the national committee will help coordinate a national conference program committee that will develop the conference program and work alongside the state host association which manages local arrangements. I am very much hoping our Queensland colleagues will agree to host the 2019 conference, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to help out and make it a success. Just a week or so after I returned from England to live in Australia ten years ago I attended the last national oral history conference in Queensland (in Brisbane), and for me that was a wonderful home-coming to the vibrant and welcoming Australian oral history movement. I look forward to returning in 2019!
Third, we’ll work with our new national web officer Judy Hughes (a coopted member of the national committee) to improve the NATIONAL WEBSITE, to coordinate the links between national and state websites, and to consider ways of generating a more dynamic and participatory online presence for Australian oral history.
Fourth, we’ll support Sue as best we can to increase submissions to and raise the profile of our ORAL HISTORY AUSTRALIA JOURNAL.
Fifth, where appropriate we’ll be a NATIONAL ADVOCATE FOR ORAL HISTORY, for example if a state collection or institution is threatened, or by showcasing and celebrating wonderful and innovative Australian oral history work. A few months ago the national committee agreed to initiate two Oral History Australia prizes, a book award and a multimedia award. We’ll now work on the process and criteria for the awards with a view to presenting inaugural prizes in 2019.
Finally, those of you who attended the fantastic recent OHA conference in Sydney – thanks OHNSW! – may have heard me talk in the New Directions session about the risks and challenges of FUTURE PROOFING ORAL HISTORY. We all know that our analogue oral history reels and cassettes are slowly dying, though we’re perhaps not quite so alert to the risks for digital (or digitised) interviews. In short, even digital records are fallible, and as digital platforms evolve old digital formats can become unusable. In recent years I’ve begun to believe that only the major state and national archival institutions can future-proof oral history collections so they will last for hundreds of years, if not for ever. For the most part, only they have the resources, expertise and stability to ensure the long-term future of digital records. I’m also aware there are many wonderful oral history collections around the country (in local history societies, in local libraries, with community groups, in academics’ studies etc) that may be lost. I’d like to start working towards an Australian Voices project - ‘Saving Australia’s Oral History Heritage’ - based upon an equivalent current project in the UK, that will bring together key stakeholders (national, state and local) to raise funds, to identify at risk oral histories, to develop plans and protocols for their survival, and to ensure that oral histories recorded in the future have the best chance of survival. I’d like to imagine that in 10 years we will look back and say that Oral History Australia helped make that happen.
Exciting times! I look forward to working with you all.
Alistair Thomson, President, Oral History Australia
What a great conference it was - stimulating, engaging, friendly. Visit the OH NSW blog for the first of three reports on the event by the recipients of OH NSW bursaries, which provided financial assistance to help them to attend.
Global voices? OHA Conference 2017
CHENG Nien Yuan is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies. Her research explores the idea of oral history as performative in Singapore, and questions the assumptions of empowerment in oral history in this context. Ultimately she hopes to find a socioculturally appropriate way of subverting the state’s top-down oral history practice at home. For this conference she presented on ‘embodying’ the transcript with moving memories, derived from a forthcoming article in the Oral History Review (2018).
The conference was opened by OH NSW President Anisa Puri, who spoke a few words before introducing our first keynote speaker Dr Indira Chowdhury. Ms Puri remarked that what’s so wonderful about an oral history conference in Australia is the diverse group of people in attendance: academics, family historians, activists, librarians, and everybody in-between. As I looked around the room, one thing I did notice was the number of women in attendance who encompassed all these roles and more, from professors like Dr Violet Johnson, who would later give a gut-wrenching and inspiring paper about migrants from Sierra Leone in the United States, to performers like Lillian Rodrigues-Pang who breathed life into its main gathering space by installing a podcast exhibition called ‘A Mile in My Shoes’, which beautifully showcased ‘shoe stories’ from members of SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance for Refugee Families).
Indeed, Dr Chowdhury set the ‘key note’ to what would be one of the most enriching conference experiences I’ve had in my candidature so far. I had heard Dr Chowdhury speak at the International Oral History Association conference in Bangaluru the year before. The locale and cultural milieu of that conference had spurred a lot of discussion about oral history beyond Anglo-American contexts, and I’m glad that Dr Chowdhury brought this discussion to Sydney. She gave an illuminating talk on the Partition of India in 1947, and its stories of displacement and dispersal, weaving in her own family history as well. While it was a talk about a specific moment in South Asian history and its ramifications, many issues resonated with the people in the room, as the Q&A session indicated: oral history pedagogy in an age of conservatism; memory and dementia; nostalgia (normally dismissed) as resistance to state narratives; the connections between oral history and literary studies. It was a great way to get the conference going.
The beautiful thing about oral history conferences is the promise of some storytelling in every panel and every room, no matter which session you choose to go to. Importantly, this storytelling is never couched in uncritical or apolitical terms, or steeped in the false belief that storytelling is emancipatory in itself – so-called ‘giving voice to the voiceless’. The presenters that I saw were very aware of the institutional, national and cultural contexts of their stories, and often were reflexive about their approach. In this context I’d like to highlight an incredibly illuminating panel in the conference’s second day, on “Being an Interviewer and an Interviewee”. There were only two talks in this panel, one for each aspect. It was well-attended, and rightfully so: interviewing and being interviewed is the crux of our practice.
First was Dr Jodie Boyd’s contentious and timely paper on what her experiences of being an interviewee taught her about the politics of interviewing. Approached to be part of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Life Stories Oral History Project, Dr Boyd, reflecting on the interview, was uncomfortable on several levels: being ‘catalogued’ as a ‘lesbian’ in the collection’s archive, as if that were the only thing defining her identity; being steered during the interview to conform to the classic ‘coming-out’ story; becoming cognisant of the hetero-normative, institutional frameworks which underpinned such a oral history project. Dr Boyd was very careful not to criticise the interviewer and the oral history project per se, placing responsibility instead on problems in the field itself, or what she calls the ‘myth of equality’ in oral history, between the interview and the interviewee. To be fair, this myth has been called out many times, for example by feminist oral historians in the now-classic Women’s Words (1991), or in anthologies such as Oral History Off the Record (2013). But I have never come across it put so clearly from the perspective of an interviewee, who admittedly can only voice her concerns because of her very complicity and privilege within oral history institutions - which gave her not only a platform in this conference, but also the academic wherewithal to be what she called a ‘critical interpreter’ of her own interview. Many of our interviewees do not have that privilege. What then? How do we ameliorate this issue? This was a question we were left with after her talk.
Dr Kelly Navies, museum specialist from the Smithsonian in Washington DC brought us to a very different geographical and conceptual space from the perspective of the interviewer. How did her lived experiences as an African American woman with a rich family history of storytelling shape her career? Her experiences were very appropriate to the conference’s theme of ‘moving memories’, for her work has brought her from California to North Carolina. Dr Navies’ Berkeley professor refused to give her a recommendation to go to North Carolina for her graduate studies, perceiving it to be 20 years behind in terms of its treatment of African Americans and their history! That said, UNC Chapel Hill and the Southern Oral History Program has been such a strong presence in oral history in the United States, with people like E. Patrick Johnson and Della Pollock in the forefront pushing for more innovative and socially responsible representations of oral history (namely, to understand oral history as performance and performative). Navies’ work in particular has made her a champion for African American voices in the country’s capital and political centre at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
This panel was just a taste, a microcosm if you like, of the diversity of viewpoints expressed at this conference. For instance, I personally did not expect - at a conference based in Australia, organised by an Australian association ‘ to meet fellow Southeast Asians like Kevin Bathman (‘The Chindian Diaries’) and Hanis Diyana Kamarudin (from the newly-established Malaysian Oral History Association) doing work so close to home. After presenting my paper I received feedback that I could immediately apply to the article I was working on. It is this face-to-face immediacy as well as the camaraderie I experienced (at no point was I awkwardly alone in the corner, even though I came not knowing anyone!) throughout, that made this conference special. These are the good points of a globalising oral history field. Nonetheless, we must also acknowledge the inequalities of such a phenomenon. I thank Oral History Australia for the much-needed bursary that allowed me to attend, but conferences like this are often prohibitively expensive for people from a less privileged background. These are some concerns that, in a field championing the voices of the marginalised, we must address for oral history in a global world.
Below: Nien (right) and Hanis
A second call for papers has just been announced for the 20th IOHA Congress, to be held from June 18 to 20, 2018 in Jyväskylä, Finland. The deadline for proposals has been extended until the 2nd of October 2017. The theme of the conference is Memory and Narration. All the details here.
Details about the conference and the call for papers are here.
The International Oral History Association's website has been hacked. The IOHA has issued the following notice:
A false website claiming to be for IOHA has appeared under the address iohanet.org. We don’t know who created this site, or why. For your own protection please do not share any information with this site. Our site is secure at ioha.org and membership functions and paypal have not been compromised in any way. We apologize for this situation and will continue to investigate. Thank you for your patience as we work to improve IOHA.
A false website claiming to be for IOHA has appeared under the address iohanet.org. We don’t know who created this site, or why. For your own protection please do not share any information with this site. Our site is secure at ioha.org and membership functions and paypal have not been compromised in any way. We apologize for this situation and will continue to investigate. Thank you for your patience as we work to improve IOHA.
The recent OH NSW AGM was preceded by a presentation from Dr Evans: 'Swimming with the Spit: Feminist oral sport history and the process of 'sharing authority' with 20th century female swimming champions in Sydney'. The audio of this can now be heard here.
For more details and for audio of Dr Evans' presentation, visit here.
The OH NSW AGM was held on August 9 at History House. For those who missed it, OH NSW President Anisa Puri's report is now available in full here in this blog post. There were some changes to the committee for 2017-8 - Paula Hamilton and Catherine Freyne were farewelled with thanks, and Isabelle Barrett-Meyering and Minna Muhlen-Schulte welcomed in their stead. The committee is listed in full here.
2016-2017 Financial Year
It’s been a busy year for the Oral History NSW Executive Committee. We have focused on offering a wider range of seminars and workshops to cater for our diverse group of members, on expanding our reach, and on laying the groundwork for some new and exciting initiatives which we will introduce in the 2017-2018 financial year. 38 new members joined Oral History NSW in the 2016-2017 financial year.
In November 2016 and April 2017, Vice President Scott McKinnon and I ran two short seminars titled ‘An Introduction to Oral History’, in partnership with the Royal Australian Historical Society. These seminars served as a precursor to our popular Capturing Memories workshops. Both events were very well-attended, by people who were new to oral history and were eager to pursue it. It was great to see Oral History NSW reaching a wider audience.
Our biannual Capturing Memories workshops remain an important, practical, and popular offering. This year, these workshops were expertly run by Janis Wilton and Andrew Host in October 2016, and by Pauline Curby and Andrew Host in March 2017.
In December 2016, we ran a seminar titled Painful Memories: Interviewing Survivors of Trauma with the State Library of NSW. In this session, Associate Professor Robert Reynolds from Macquarie University, Alison Wishart from the State Library of NSW, and social geographer Dr Christine Eriksen from University of Wollongong shared how they have navigated the difficult terrain of interviewing survivors of trauma. If you missed the seminar, you can access the audio recordings here: http://www.oralhistorynsw.org.au/oral-history-papers--audio-recordings.html We also held a Christmas Party at History House in December. It was a lovely evening, and will now become an annual fixture in Oral History NSW’s events calendar.
This year, we continued to run oral history training for other organisations. In March, professional historian Kate Waters delivered a workshop on interviewing indigenous Australians to indigenous staff members at the Office of the Environment and Heritage in Broke, NSW. In April, past President Virginia McLeod ran an introductory seminar on using oral history to discover local history for Woollahra Library in Double Bay.
In June, we invited internationally renowned oral historian Professor Alistair Thomson (Monash University, and President of Oral History Victoria) to run an advanced workshop on interpreting memories. This event, held in partnership with the State Library of NSW, booked out almost instantaneously and was hugely successful. Attendees described the day as “100% engaging” and “fantastic”. The enormous enthusiasm for this workshop has highlighted members’ interest in advanced-level workshops, and the committee is now working on developing more advanced offerings.
In the new financial year, this July, Oral History NSW ran a seminar on Indigenous Oral Histories at History House. Activist and academic Dino Hodge, and archivist Kirsten Thorpe who leads the Indigenous Services team at the State Library, delivered insightful presentations to a packed house – and session chair Kate Waters also shared some of her learnings from conducting oral history work with indigenous communities. After the seminar, several members expressed an interest in attending further seminars about Indigenous oral histories, so we will be offering another seminar on this topic in 2018. I also hope that this seminar was one step in Oral History NSW continuing to develop a relationship with the Indigenous Services team at the State Library of NSW.
On 9 August, before the AGM, we will be holding a lecture by Dr Tanya Evans (Senior Lecturer, and Director of the Centre for Applied History, at Macquarie University). Tanya will discuss the process of creating her last book, Swimming with the Spit, 100 years of the Spit Amateur Swimming Club, and reflect on feminist oral sport history, and the act of ‘sharing authority’ when writing a community history.
The 2017 Biennial Oral History Australia Conference is fast approaching, as we move further into the 2017-2018 year. The conference will be held from 13-16 September 2017 at the Sydney Masonic Centre. The Conference Committee has worked hard to put together what we anticipate will be a rich, varied and inspiring national conference on the theme of Moving Memories: Oral History in a Global World. I encourage you to book to attend, if you have not already registered. The conference will be an excellent opportunity to learn about oral history work currently being undertaken across Australia and overseas. It’s a chance to catch up with old friends, build new relationships, and to hear about how oral history is being used in different ways in families, communities, archives, libraries, museums, universities, historical consultancies, and more.
Conference highlights include:
- presentations by Keynote Speakers Dr Indira Chowdhury and Professor Dalia Leinarte;
- a plenary panel on New Directions in Oral History – in which Siobhan McHugh, Sarah Rood, Hamish Sewell, and Alistair Thomson will explore new trends in oral history drawings from their work using oral history in podcasts, sound walks, social change movements, websites, documentaries, and e-books;
- a verbatim community theatre performance titled Remembering Palestine, which explores the lives of Palestinian immigrant women who have settled in Brisbane;
- an oral history cello performance by Stephanie Arnold titled Across the Water.
For further details, visit the conference website: https://dcconferences.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/ohac17/cs
There are a number of new initiatives on the horizon for Oral History NSW, which we will be rolling out in the 2017-2018 year. These include establishing a book club, revitalising our blog, and running events in western Sydney. I also plan to develop new relationships with other history organisations and further strengthen existing partnerships. As always, I invite members to contact me if you have any ideas that you would like the committee to take on board.
I would like to thank Executive Committee members Bruce Carter, Catherine Freyne, Paula Hamilton, Andrew Host, Scott McKinnon, Cheryl Ware, and Sally Zwartz for all their hard work on the committee this year. As President, it has been a pleasure to lead such an energetic, dedicated and collegial committee. Thanks also to Francis Good, who has continued to do a remarkable job with our monthly newsletter Network News, which keeps members up-to-date about oral history activities across the world. I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to my fellow 2017 Conference Committee members – Scott McKinnon, Virginia McLeod, and Paula Hamilton – for the time and energy they have dedicated to ensuring a smooth and successful conference.
Two members of the 2016-2017 Oral History NSW Executive Committee will not be re-nominating at the 2017 AGM. Immediate past President Paula Hamilton stepped down in April 2017, and committee member Catherine Freyne will step down at our upcoming AGM. Paula has made an immeasurable contribution to Oral History NSW in recent years, and Catherine Freyne has efficiently served as Oral History NSW’s delegate on the National Committee and as Public Officer for the National Committee. I know I speak for all members when I thank them both for their years of service to Oral History NSW. While Paula and Catherine are formally resigning from their positions on the Executive Committee, I am delighted that they both intend to remain actively involved with our organisation.
Finally, I’d like to thank our members for their continued support and involvement.
Anisa Puri, President, Oral History NSW, August 2017
An exhibition at historic home Lindesay (in Darling Point, Sydney) had oral history at the heart of its celebration of the National Trust's Women's Committee.
Having a Voice, the theme of the National Trust’s 2017 Heritage Festival, was a boon for oral history collections, with the very obvious potential to showcase voice and history. On 20 May the Women’s Committee of the National Trust presented a one-day exhibition at Lindesay, the 1834 domestic Gothic style house at Darling Point in Sydney and home to the committee since 1963, based on its oral history collection.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Women’s Committee has achieved extraordinary results since its formation in 1961: influential, commercial - exhibitions, tours, house inspections, publications. Its first exhibition in 1962, No Time to Spare! combined the photographic eye of Max Dupain with the National Trust’s call to save heritage buildings. More than 8,000 people visited David Jones Art Gallery in just nine days to view the exhibition and the potency of its title remains undiminished: two months ago the Trust President signed off his report with that phrase.
The Women’s Committee has curated and overseen many exhibitions, but The Voices of the Women’s Committee was different: the first exhibition about the Women’s Committee, highlighting its achievements and significant contribution to history, heritage and the work of the National Trust.
The idea for the oral history project began in 2011, after the Women’s Committee’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Rosie Block was consulted, and the connection with Oral History NSW continued with Sandra Blamey. Since 2012 I have assisted with support, research and recording the last interview in 2016, and Jill Auld and I curated the exhibition.
Jill, a member of the Women’s Committee, conducted all the interviews – a simple sentence that masks uncertainties, slight terror and a very steep learning curve from a standing-start! Jill is not an oral historian but she attended training at an Oral History NSW seminar and bought recording equipment. Ellen Dyer operated the recording equipment, edited the audio and prepared abstracts and CDs for each interview. Eleven interviews were recorded between 2013 and 2016, and the professionalism of the collection is impressive.
Creating an oral history collection is one thing; what to do with it prompts a new conversation, sometimes a challenge when the options are unknown. Since its formation in 1961 the Women’s Committee has raised approximately $20 million for the work of the National Trust, contributing to the conservation of Trust properties across the state and Lindesay. The committee is highly organised, highly professional and quietly, modestly, entirely voluntary. Never has it tooted its own trumpet!
The committee recognised its oral history collection was important but was unclear how it could fit within its traditional work or the imperatives to fundraise and increase visitor numbers at Lindesay. So, the idea of a very small exhibition linked to the Heritage Festival’s theme seemed not only too great a chance to miss, but also an obvious way to highlight the collection.
Previous exhibitions at Lindesay included furniture or silver, items which could be placed in different rooms, appropriate to Lindesay’s presentation as an elegant house museum. What would an oral history exhibition look like, and where to present it at Lindesay? Nothing must be hung on interior or external walls, or under the marquee, nor interfere with the morning tea tables. What about the cellar, around the circular driveway or A-frames in the garden beds?
Little more than a few paragraphs about the work of the Women’s Committee appears in formal AGM reports of the National Trust and even at the time of its 50th Anniversary the chair of the Women’s Committee wrote only a two page report which she read out at the celebratory luncheon. Working around the Women’s Committee’s reticence about being the focus of the exhibition was essential, and discovering the extent of the committee’s work led to too many words. Whilst my initial suggestion of just four panels seemed very doable, the resulting exhibition became 13 panels.
Memories of the National Trust’s efforts in 1988 to sell Lindesay, the ensuing Supreme Court case and florid media were still sharp. Contextualising these momentous years between 1988 and 1990, The failed attempt to sell Lindesay, required parenthetical themes: Beginnings (1961-62 formation of the committee); Lindesay (gifted in 1963 to the Trust for the Women’s Committee); and Work of the Women’s Committee (merchandising, exhibitions, special events, house inspections and country weekends). Two panels were devoted to interviewees, their photos and additional extracts, and a catalogue was provided.
The only commercial aspect of the project was the design and panel production by Wombat Grafx, who were extraordinarily generous. Each panel is A1 x 5mm thick white coreflute, lightweight, easy to move, store and reuse, and eyelets in each corner facilitate installation in a variety of settings, indoor or outdoor.
Interviewees and family members were invited to the exhibition launch on 21 May. The day threatened rain so plans to exhibit in the garden were abandoned and instead panels were displayed in the entry way to the marquee. It was heartening to observe the interviewees’ excitement and close engagement with their own and each other’s stories, while members of the public with no association with the Women’s Committee were astonished by its successes.
The metamorphosis of the voices of the Women’s Committee Oral History Collection to something tangible, an exhibition, has energised the committee. The panels could readily become a pop-up exhibition at many of its events, or extended and reproduced in a modest publication. The committee has always understood the important role it plays for the National Trust, but the oral history collection and this Voices exhibition have legitimised pride in, and celebration of, its achievements and asserted its educational role.
… the first important exhibition … made a lot of people in Sydney generally realise that there was actually heritage that needed to be saved. So in those days the Women’s Committee … were the educators of the members … and they have gone on doing that.
Diana Hazard OAM interviewed by Jill Auld and Roslyn Burge, 3 November 2016.
The Engineering Heritage Australia Oral History Program interviewed 194 of Australia's preeminent engineers, one of whom was acoustic engineer Louis Challis.
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.
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.
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 '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.
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.
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.