"It's important that researchers have many different tools available to study people's lives and the cultures we live in. I think oral history is a most needed and uniquely important strategy."

Patricia Leavy

Oral History Collection


The Library’s Oral History Collection opens a door to the voices of our community, past and present. The lives and stories captured in over 100 interviews provide a glimpse into both the changes and the constancies of our towns, natural environment, neighbourhoods and communities.

Discover more about our three Oral History collections and listen online: Capturing Community Memories, Speaking of the Past and Blue Gum Forest Oral History Project.

Capturing Community Memories

Background

The ‘Capturing Community Memories’ collection is the latest series of oral history interviews recorded by the Library. The collection contains a trio of interviews around the theme of 'Festivals'.

Many Blue Mountains towns have annual festivals and the diversity of these festivals reflects both the unique origins of each festival and the diversity of our community. Three events were chosen for the 'Festivals' project: the Blackheath Rhododendron Festival (a flower festival held annually since 1953); Katoomba’s Winter Magic Festival (a bohemian festival originating in 1994); and the Australian Gnome Convention (a quirky event which commenced in 2005 as a part of Glenbrook's Australia Day festivities).

The personal nature of oral history can reveal different perspectives on the same topic. The 'Festivals' project sought the perspectives of the respective founders of the Winter Magic Festival and the Australian Gnome Convention, together with the perspective of a life-long Blackheath Rhododendron Festival attendee. In this manner, the interviews provide insight into not only how festivals originate, but also what significance they hold for their local communities.

It is intended that more interviews on other themes will be added to the Capturing Community Memories collection in the future.

The Interviews

The interviews were recorded using digital recording equipment. The original audio files were then converted into MP3 files and made accessible via the Library website. The interviews are accompanied by timed summaries intended to enable researchers to locate references to particular people, places or events. The decision was made not to create full transcripts, as the printed word fails to capture the depth of meaning conveyed by the human voice. Instead, researchers are encouraged to listen to the marvellous voices of our wonderful interviewees.

Search the Capturing Community Memories collection



Speaking of the Past

Background

The 'Speaking of the Past' project was conceived with the objective of encouraging people who had lived, worked and holidayed in the Blue Mountains to have their reminiscences recorded, so that present and future generations can learn about the events, lifestyles and changing social conditions that have characterised our community.

Impressions of childhood in the Mountains, of holidays spent here, or of work experiences are all of historic value. All aspects of the tourist industry, from guest houses to walking tracks, the many schools and colleges that have flourished in the region, as well as the impact of such cataclysmic events as the recent bushfires, the Great Depression and the two World Wars, are all facets of our past that many people will remember. In fact the contemporary nature of oral history provides an opportunity to understand our recent past in a way that is not otherwise possible.

The Library began the project with a twofold concept: that the information collected would be of value to the historian and that it would also contribute to the community gaining a better understanding of itself. The latter purpose has been sharpened in perspective as the project has proceeded and, indeed, we have come to view the project now as historical in nature and hopefully of use to the historian, but not in itself as primarily for the historian.

This focusing of emphasis upon the community use of the oral history has been due in large measure to the response that has come from individuals and groups within the community. The collection has become a creative resource from which a variety of people have fashioned their own interpretations of the Blue Mountains' past through the mediums of music, drama, art and film. In this way the Project is perhaps contributing, in a creative way, to better community understanding.

The Interviews

Until now this treasure trove of memories, spanning hundreds of hours, was only available to listeners on aging cassette tapes stored in the archives, whose existence was known from an aging card index. However over the last year library staff have converted more than 90 interviews to MP3 files that can be played with a tap or a mouse click and even streamed to mobile devices.

Matching summaries and transcripts have also been scanned and all can now be searched and downloaded from the online library catalogue. Many of the people who spoke to us of their times and shared their memories have now passed away, but their voices live on; and in ways they never imagined, they can speak to a new generation of listeners.

Search the Speaking of the Past collection



Blue Gum Forest Oral History Project

Background

The community group Friends of Blue Gum Forest was formed in 1992 to provide volunteer support to the National Parks and Wildlife in its management of Blue Gum Forest in the Grose Valley, Blue Mountains. The forest became famous in 1931-32 when action by bushwalkers and others saved it from possible destruction, and has been a popular destination for walkers ever since.

The Friends recognised that some priority should be given to conducting an oral history project, focusing on the experiences of bushwalkers in the early days of Blue Gum Forest and - most particularly - the recollections of any surviving bushwalkers involved in the saving of the forest.

Andy Macqueen volunteered to seek out likely candidates for interview and undertake the interviews. Many interviews were eventually held, of which seven were taped. The task became so absorbing that he went on to produce the book Back from the Brink—Blue Gum Forest and the Grose Wilderness. Important material in the interviews was used in the book.

The Interviews

The project presents the original seven taped interviews, now available as MP3 files, complete with full transcripts. All the interviewees were keen walkers in their time and all but one was a member of a bushwalking club. Hence the interviews tend to range over bushwalking topics beyond Blue Gum Forest.

The reliability of memory is always a question when it comes to oral history. Indeed, the intellectual condition of one interviewee in this project was so deteriorated that the value of the interview is questionable. Nevertheless, in every case a great love for Blue Gum Forest or traditional bushwalking in general shone through, it is that essential flavour that made it all worthwhile. For Andy Macqueen, it was a great privilege to help bring their fond memories to life.

Search the Blue Gum Forest collection



Copyright Conditions of Oral Histories

Copyright status: In copyright
Copyright holder: Blue Mountains Library
Rights and restrictions information: Download available for research, personal use and public use.
Please acknowledge: Blue Mountains Library