OHAA National Conference – Exploring sensory rich memories

‘The land smelt different to home’ – exploring sensory rich memories in oral histories of migrants from England’s North East.

3.30 pm 22 September 2013.

Annmarie Reid
PhD Student, University of South Australia

Resize of Annmarie Reid3“An orange is sunshine on a branch”. Sensory experiences need made sense of, sensory experience and memory.  Annmarie looked at the way objects can trigger memories through touch, smell, sight.  She began with her grandmother’s chest at the end of the bed which contained many objects.  She enjoyed engaging with the objects belonging to her grandmother and therefore linked to her life in the north of England.  Rugmaking tools brought back memories.  Have other migrants experienced a similar sensory overload when with objects from the past. 

Annmarie arrived on rugmaking day for her interview with Miriam.  There were other women there.  Interview began at a desk after the other women have left.  Miriam lives at Milton, NSW.  It is important to interview in the interviewee’s own place.  The interviewee is then surrounded by a number of sensory rich memories.  Interviewee Rob lives at Clayton Bay, South Australia.  He remembers the joy of eating Nice biscuits with apple slices on top.  He shows Annmarie his mother’s coffee set.  We remember our experience of eating food as children.  Rob placed a lot of importance on boating and fishing on a beautiful day.  These experiences take him back to being on a boat in England as a child.  All this is part of his sensory memory.  Music was important in Rob’s family life.  He sings with a Durham accent but does not speak with one. 

It is important to relive sensory experiences with interview participants, so we need to study more sensory uses with oral history.  We can learn from anthropology etc. and use the senses as a route to knowledge.  Annmarie’s project includes sound files, recipes, photos etc.  Interviews became more conversational rather than a structured oral history.  Annmarie has learned to make the rugs as her grandmother did and showed the audience examples of her work.
Suzanne Mulligan