Sydney Oral Histories online

Roslyn Burge reports on the launch on 30 October by Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Robyn Kemmis, of the City of Sydney’s Online Oral  History Collection.

It’s a wonderful collection of interviews based around six themes –  Open all Hours, Shelter Shared Terrain, Belief, Art and Culture, and Our City. About 60 interviews are accessible online.  This is an interface with the City that will interest tourists, locals and scholars alike. The City of Sydney is to be congratulated in presenting it so elegantly. Cr Kemmis praised all the History Unit team at the City of Sydney, thanked the web design wizards and particularly acknowledged the work of the City’s Oral Historian, Margo Beasley.  Extended applause at this point, and again when Margo was presented with a bouquet, spoke of the warm affection for her.   Lots of interviewees attended, including one who had specially made the round trip from Lithgow. The evening was a chance not only to catch up with fellow practitioners in the history-related spheres (in the Customs House atop the former changing tidal lines) but also a happy occasion to celebrate this achievement.

The website is brilliant!   Simple, clean, only two colours, no darting, jumping icons, no ads, no fuss:  the people, their stories and voices need none of that; and the immediacy of the recollections allow the City to take on a whole other shape.  Stories represented under the theme of Belief include the Mission to Seafarers, Quakers, Theosophists and the Communist Party.  Accessing these stories is straightforward:  a click on one of the themes takes you to a series of photos of interviewees, click again on a photo and you arrive at a précis of the interview, an extract and a link to the audio and transcript (always an advantage when searching for a particular topic).  Under the theme of Shared Terrain, Judith Christie’s gory tale of the ivy, the rat and the hawk in Forest Lodge caught my attention.

Among the mix of potential users Cr Kemmis referred to was the ‘casual browser’. All too soon that browser will be a devotee.  This collection is a rich resource and sets a new benchmark indeed for the presentation not only of Sydney’s history but also the practicalities of delivering an oral history collection.