Hi from Ariella Van Luyn, the Queensland branch president:
At the AGM in November 2010, I was voted President, taking the reigns (or rather the microphone, quite literally) from the lovely Lena Volkova. I’m very pleased to be in this position and look forward to working with you all.
I’ve been a member of the Association for three years. I joined when I began my PhD investigating the fictionalising of oral history. I first discovered the thrill of hearing someone telling their life story during a vacation research program at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), when I interviewed four Sisters of Mercy at the Mater Hospital. The compelling qualities of their stories struck me, as an emerging writer, as something more powerful than anything I could ever invent.
The next year I began my honours thesis, hungry to hear more stories and hoping to draw on my own skills as a fiction writer to make oral history transcripts more accessible. I interviewed my Grandma, Beth, who as a child had contracted poliomyelitis while swimming in a pool in Northern Queensland. Beth woke up one morning and called out, ‘Mummy, I can’t move my leg.’ Her Mother threatened to give her a dose of cod’s liver oil, but it soon became clear that no amount of this cure-all was going to fix the problem; Beth’s left leg was paralysed. She was taken from her home, quarantined at the Mater and then placed in Montrose Home in Corinda, an institution for ‘crippled children,’ as one newspaper of the day called it.
I interviewed Beth about her experiences at Montrose, and then ‘fictionalised’ the transcripts, inventing scenes, details, characters and themes, and altering certain aspects of the story to create a more unified narrative. I paid careful attention to Beth’s storytelling strategies and vocabulary, mimicking her voice in the work. I produced a 10 000 word novella and accompanying exegesis, documenting the theoretical aspects of my projects. At the end of the year, I felt like I’d only scratched the surface of oral history methodology and theory and embarked on a PhD in 2009.
My practice led PhD consists of a novel, based on ten oral history interviews I’ve conducted with Brisbane residents about their memories of the place, and an exegesis. When I say I write fiction, I am sometimes hear comments like, ‘But history is about facts. You can’t make things up.’ I respond simply, ‘I’m not writing history.’ However, historical elements are important in my process; I want my fiction to feel authentic, filled with details about the past often only found in oral sources. My work would never replace traditional historical accounts, but instead explores the past through imagination. That is why, for me, it is very important to ensure that, in the process of fictionalising, the original oral histories on which I draw are preserved and made accessible. For example, when my short story, based on an oral history was published this year in One Book Many Brisbanes 5, I published the transcript on my blog (http://ariellavl.wordpress.com/research/interviews/interview-informing-evelyn-on-the-verandah/).
Throughout the last two years, I’ve also worked with Associate Professor Helen Klaebe on The Business Leaders Hall of Fame, and other oral history and digital storytelling projects.
I attended the OHAA Conference in Launceston in late 2009 (thanks to a generous grant from the Queensland branch); The Talk about Town conference in 2009; the Australian Historical Association conference at the Sunshine Coast in early 2009; The International Auto/Biography Association Conference in Brighton and the International Oral History Association conference in Prague in mid 2010. These conferences have given me a stronger grasp of the state of the field, which I bring to the role of president.
My article, ‘Fictionalising Oral History: Narrative Analysis, Voice and Identity,’ was peer reviewed and published in the OHAA journal in November this year. I have since taken up the role of chair on the journal’s editorial board.
During my presidency, I want to ensure that oral histories are collected and (re)presented according to the best set of standards available, and in an ethical and responsible manner. I see the Association continuing to work with the State Library of Queensland to ensure that this is the case.
I have also put together an online set of resources for those working with oral histories via the online social networking site, Delicious (http://www.delicious.com/). The login details are available in the members’ only section of our website (http://www.ohaaqld.org.au/) or you can contact me for assistance. I would love to add your projects to this our site so other members can read what you’re doing. If you have online details of your project, please send me the links ([email protected]) and I’ll put it up for you.
I’m also dedicated to supporting the running of a series of high quality workshops on conducting an oral history project, which will run throughout the year. The Queensland branch has a truly amazing group of people on the committee, dedicated to ensuring that these workshops—and indeed, every one of the branches’ activities—run smoothly: Lena Volkova, Suzanne Mulligan, Kate Roberts, Karen Barrett, Helen Klaebe, Jen Barrkman, Sue Pechey, Marsali Mackinnon, Lesley Jenkins, Anne Monsour as well as many other enthusiastic members who have offered their invaluable help. I would like to thank all these people for their truly amazing efforts.
I welcome any members to join our committee meetings at any time. I value all our members’ thoughts on any aspect of the Association’s work. Details of meetings and our other activities are posted on the website and also on our Facebook account.
I’m keen to hear about your projects; the difficulties you’ve encountered; the successes you’ve enjoyed; and the journey you’ve had along the way. I’m always ready to have a chat, point you in the direction of resources and offer advice based on my own experiences. I’d also like to know if you have any suggestions or thoughts about how you would like to see the Association run. Please feel free to contact me: [email protected].
I wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Photo caption: Ariella in Prague attending the International Oral History Association Conference, July 2010.