2007 Conference Papers

The Oral History Association of Australia held its biennial national conference in Brisbane, in September 2007 bringing together oral historians from around the country and overseas.The theme of the conference was: Old Stories New Ways.

A rich variety of more than 60 papers were accepted. The conference had a strong indigenous content, as well as an emphasis on community projects and memory issues. Keynote Speaker was Dr Gwenda Davey AM from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia with presenters from South Africa, New Zealand, Finland, India as well as from around Australia.

OHAA (QLD Inc.) has put together a selection of papers presented at the conference in this publication. Written permission from the authors has also kindly been given to publish the following papers on our web site. Other papers were published in the Oral History Journals for 2007 and 2008.

Abstracts of the papers contained within the PDF are outlined below.  In addition to its inclusion in the PDF, Bill  Bunbury’s presentation, Hear! Hear! For Oral History! is provided as a separate page to allow the reader to listen to the audio tracks which formed part of Bill’s presentation. You will need Adobe Flash intsalled to listen to the audio.

Please note you cannot download individual papers from this page (apart from Bill Bunbury’s paper).  You will need to download the complete book by clicking here.
[Please note, links in this document may not work as it was uploaded in 2008]
You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to be able to read this pdf file.


Chasing Whalers:  The Tory Channel Whalers Project
Picton Historical Society, New Zealand
brehauts@paradise.net.nz18 ex-whalers from the last whaling station in New Zealand were located and interviewed to capture their memories of a unique period in their lives forty years before.  Their feelings when whaling ended and their present attitudes to whaling are also examined.  The project will be discussed from the oral historian’s viewpoint.
Now freelance producer after 38 years working at the ABC in both radio and television and Adjunct Professor, Communications at Murdoch University.
bunburywj@westnet.com.au“Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air!”(From Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”).  All too often a similar analogy could be made for the treatment of Oral History – but in this case ‘seen but not heard’.  In this presentation I’d like to draw out and illustrate a rationale for Oral history as a heard medium.  In practice much emphasis is placed on transcribing spoken words back into written ones and, while that is self- evidently useful, it can dominate the way in which we think of oral history.  I suggest that it can fail to point up an important dimension of oral history, not simply its content but the way in which the listener can perceive the content, i.e. the mood or emotion that the spoken word conveys, which adds considerably to our understanding of what we hear.  Print alone can never fully convey this aspect.  There are ways of creating this dimension but they require a particular approach to the nature of questions we ask and the way in which we interview.  In the second part of this presentation I aim to examine ways in oral historians can interpret what they collect.  Sometimes the collection of discrete interviews alone marks a wasted opportunity.  As the historian Patrick Farrell suggested: – ‘There are shelves and shelves of unheard cassettes.  Subsequent historians might get around to using this raw data but if oral history is to provide a useful arm of history itself it would be valuable to do more in the way of analysing and evaluating what is recorded and presenting it in a finished form, whether written or as an audio piece.  This is what orthodox historians do and in this way it has more chance of becoming a valuable historical record.

Field Interviews In Iraq; An Example Of The Use Of Oral History In Contemporary Situations And Contexts
Madeleine CHALEYER
Australian War Memorial
madeleine.chaleyer@awm.gov.auIn April 2006 the Australian War Memorial commissioned Robert Nugent as Official Cinematographer to Iraq.  Nugent interviewed forty servicemen and women on active duty in Iraq.  The interviews focused on the personal trails that lead the individual soldiers to be in Iraq.  The context of the interview was at an endpoint, in the reality of Iraq itself.  A range of servicemen and women were interviewed, from commanding officers and senior NCOs to young Troopers, Gunners and Privates, in groups or alone in their barracks, in tents and in their tank, describing the personal experience of duty, mateship, courage and humour in the face of isolation and uncertainty.  Overall the interviews taken in the context of the Australian outposts in Iraq provide an insight into the day in the life of the modern Australian soldier.  They are seen and heard balancing professional ambitions; living up to expectations of what it means to be an Australian soldier with reflections on what led them here and their personal motivations.  The oral history counterpoints the actuality and immediacy of their world in Iraq. [Note – video of the interviews was shown during the presentation.]

Redcliffe Remembers
Patricia GEE
Redcliffe Library
Pat.Gee@moretonbay.qld.gov.auIn 2005 the Redcliffe City Library received a Queensland Stories Grant from the State Library of Queensland for a web site and companion DVD.  The web site and DVD were to complement a book produced the year before in 2004, Redcliffe Remembers: the War Years 1939-1949.  The book had been a collaborative project between the Redcliffe Historical Society and the Redcliffe City Library based on oral histories and we hoped to create a web site that would reflect the stories in the book and in some cases enlarge on the theme.  The final result is an innovative web site of which we feel very proud, and a two hour DVD.  The paper deals with the following:The way in which we worked with the community to produce the oral history material:

·         How the project evolved
·         The people involved
·         How we worked as a team to achieve the desired result
The way in which we interpreted the story – a discussion of the evolution of the three separate strands:
·         book format,
·         DVD format
·         web site
Addressing changing technologies:
·         Understanding that today’s generation want visual presentations and has the expectation that they should be able to find things on the Internet.

·         The use of film, photos and recordings to achieve a result using changing technologies.

Recording And Editing Audio In The Digital Environment
Suzanne GIBSON
Suzanne is a freelance social history producer whose work includes archival oral history projects and broadcast programs for ABC Radio National and Local Radio.
suzanne@sgcommunications.com.auA practical run through of equipment and concepts involved in recording quality sound, getting it into your computer and editing it.  Will work through equipment selection, computer set ups and the principles of editing.  There will be plenty of time for questions and answers.

The Peer Review Process For The OHAA Journal
Francis GOOD
An introduction to the rationale behind giving contributors to the OHAA Journal the option of having their offers peer-reviewed, the process to which papers are subjected, and an indication of the kind of criteria reviewers focus on.

Vernacular History And Radical Tasmania: Stories Of Resistance And Democratic Technologies

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities.  Truth isn’t.
Mark Twain, 1897.

Prove it.
Jack Wilson, 1953.

Radical Tasmania is thesis research asking subjects to articulate their stories for a history of the “arts of resistance” in Tasmania.  It critiques conventional academic historiography and seeks a popular readership; it also aspires to history as politics.  Two themes emerge:

1.      Critical history and vernacular history in a symbiotic dialogic for a radical Tasmanian narrative.

2.      The relationship of radical Tasmania to the problematic of historical “truth” (science) drawn towards a popular narrative (art).

There is a paradox in the rise of history “by, about and for the losers” amidst the History Wars and the so-called triumph of liberal capitalism after the Cold War.  Vernacular history, with its unashamed use of orality, radio, television, videos, DVDs and the internet as well as a broad popular press, autobiography, testimony and so on, is emerging as a key strategy for those who challenge academic history and/or official history. History from below is developing mega phonic narratives which speak louder than before to a popular audience and for democratic ideologies.  It directly confronts the archival obsession of traditional historiography and the anti-orality of high profile “white blindfolds” (for example, Keith Windschuttle).

Radical Tasmania is discovering a history of rebellion and resistance against a stultifying culture of repression in the stories from interviews with militant unionists, environmentalists, writers, anti-war activists, feminists, gay rights advocates, socialist agitators and, in very local types, even defenders of “shackocracy” and “trout activists” amongst others.

These are old stories for new ways in democratising not just Tasmania yet potentially also “mainland” Australia and beyond.  Through these stories is the historical narrative of a community struggling from the rear of the British Empire to the forefront of the politics of global concern.  This paper will detail examples of the oral history of an identity of place which once spurned its past, Tasmania née Van Diemen’s Land, then embraced changing technologies to champion its present in a struggle for a “patriotic” future.

Learning History From The Horse’s Mouth


This paper will showcase three ways in which oral histories have been incorporated into recent regional museum exhibitions in the NT, exploring some of the positives and some of the challenges which arise from wanting to use primary source materials in contexts where time/space is at a premium.

1.  “A Tennant Childhood 1932-1940: Kevan Weaver Remembers” – is an innovative multimedia presentation in which extracts from an oral history interview, family photographs, moving text and modern day sound effects are combined to tell the story of Australia’s last gold rush from a child’s point of view. This part of Megg’s presentation is now available on YouTube.

2.  Using 5-10 word oral history quotes like essay footnotes in a social history museum as a way of authenticating an outsider’s conclusions about the past to locals with strong, but not necessarily complete memories about daily life in their town, in a context where an authoritative secondary source didn’t exist.

3.  Using 1-3 minute oral history sound bites to interpret the collection of regional museum with lots of objects, very little storage space, no labels or text boards and no plans to throw anything out or re-vamp displays.

The Digital Commitment: The Successful Transition To Solid State Field
– Recording Equipment At The State Library Of South Australia

State Library of South Australia

Peter Kolomitsev has been a professional Audio Engineer for over 20 years, working as both a live and studio engineer.  He currently works in the audio preservation studios at the State Library of South Australia, managing its fleet of oral history recorders and the digitization of the audio collection.

Since the 1970s the mainstay of oral history has been the cassette.  Equipment ranged from domestic cassette recorders to professional field-recorders, and the media was cheap and easily available.  In the 1980s the State Library of South Australia purchased eight Marantz-CP430 cassette recorders.  The kits proved to be extremely popular and half of its annual intake was recorded using this equipment. In the 1990s SLSA purchased two Sony-TCD-10 DAT recorders.  Although digital, they were tape-based and very similar to the Marantz-CP430 in operation and management.  In recent years tape based recorders have disappeared from manufacturer’ product lines and have been replaced with solid-state recorders.  Consequently SLSA faced the challenge of committing to a new recorder and in 2005/06 purchased seven solid-state recorders, the Fostex-FR-2, now the main recorder for our oral history program.  This paper discusses the challenge in moving from a well known format to a very new technology, the decision making process,  the development of a user guide and training session for users, and the work flows implemented to manage the resulting recordings.  It will also look at some newer products on the market and suggest what to look for when purchasing a digital recorder for oral history.

Utilising The PAL Technique: The Power Of Traditional Storytelling To Encourage Oral History Responses – A Workshop
University of Newcastle

Julie is a Client Services Librarian with the University of Newcastle and became a professional storyteller in 1992, who still does paid storytelling regularly.  This workshop will illustrate the PAL technique with examples of stories used in a study of children and examine the evidence obtained in the form of the recorded responses.  Participants will be encouraged to share examples of stories from their own histories that come to mind during the telling.

New Ways Of Understanding DP Memory
University of Sydney

This paper examines memory and commemoration in relation to the 170,000 Displaced Persons (DPs) – predominantly Central and Eastern Europeans – who arrived in Australia as IRO-sponsored refugees between 1947 and 1953.  These DPs were the vanguard of the successful mass European migration programs to Australia, yet the way in which their experiences have been perceived, remembered and commemorated speak largely of dominant national narratives and personal biases.  Using an oral history methodology, new ways of teasing out themes of intergenerational and intercultural transmission are needed, with a new focus on integrating themes such as personal trauma and relationships with (in) family, culture and community with the wider themes of national narrative, memory and commemoration.

Yanks and Kiwis In The Pacific War
Bruce M. PETTY

In addition to doing archival research, I have interviewed Americans who spent time in New Zealand, and/or served with New Zealand forces in the Pacific.  I have also interviewed New Zealanders, both veterans of the Pacific War and civilians from the home front.  Both the archival research and the personal stories in this book will give a multidimensional picture of wartime New Zealand.  It will show how New Zealand and the United States came to know each other, not only as nations, but also as individuals.  With most of New Zealand’s fighting men in places like the Middle East and Singapore—soon to become POWs–the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought home to New Zealand a fear of invasion, a fear that was calmed by the sudden infusion of tens of thousands of American Marines and other military personnel.  Although many New Zealanders remember this coming of young American fighting men to New Zealand with some nostalgia, it is also the source of unhappy memories for others, which will be discussed in greater detail in the paper.  In many of the oral histories the war appears as little more than a backdrop to lives lived during that epic-making drama known as WWII. The stories are about family life, about loss, about newfound friends and relationships, life before, during and after the war, and how Maori and Pakeha viewed themselves relative to each other both then and now.

Searching For Adam And Eve: How Oral And Family History Contribute To Building Individual And Family Identity Across Intergenerational And International Boundaries

‘Where do I come from’ is a question common to the human experience, for answers we turn to those closest to us, our families.  Oral history plays an important role in the preservation and dissemination of personal and family history.  The passing on of stories from one generation to another strengthens intergenerational and familial bonds by increasing knowledge and understanding of ‘what it was like back then.’  Although many different races, nationalities and cultures emerge in family history research, all genealogical research leads to an Adam or Eve, the original man or woman who first arrived in Australia and planted the seed of the family tree.

Your First Oral History Project
Secretary of the Douglas Shire Historical Society

For the novice, beginning an oral history project can be a perplexing jumble of choices.  How do you choose the participants to suit your theme?  How do you work within your community without offending anyone by omitting them?  How do you conduct the interview?  What sort of equipment do you need?  What do you do with the interview once it has been completed?

This paper will face many of these puzzles from a layman’s perspective.  Research, transcribing, editing and funding will also be examined, providing a guide from the very beginning for individuals and community groups who are keen to start an oral history project but daunted by the prospect.

Recording Oral Histories In A Parliamentary Heritage Context
Barry YORK
Old Parliament House

The Oral History Program at Old Parliament House (OPH), Canberra, has recorded more than a hundred interviews with a wide range of men and women who worked at the place during the years 1927 to 1988 when it housed the Australian Commonwealth Parliament.  Oral history offers OPH the opportunity to create unique primary sources of information and impressions based on highly personalised recollections about the building and its immediate environs, the individuals who worked there, the daily routines of labour and leisure, about past Prime Ministers and parliamentarians, and the political processes that affected the nation.  In this paper, Barry York describes the collection and shows how oral history, as part of the OPH and Curtilage Heritage Management Plan 2007-2012, helps document and conserve intangible heritage values while allowing the known heritage values of the place to be enhanced.  He also discusses the new direction that has emerged for the Oral History Program as OPH has developed a major national research role with its new Gallery of Australian Democracy and Australian Prime Ministers’ Centre.