The City of Sydney Council’s ever-expanding oral history collection has recently gone online. A new website: showcases some the City’s many oral history interviews and makes them readily available to the dedicated researcher and casual browser alike.

The City’s History Unit has been conducting interviews since the 1980s as a part of a vigorous program of publication, research, websites and exhibitions. The creation of a permanent oral historian position three years ago signalled the City’s commitment to oral history as a stand-alone and ongoing project that makes a rich resource available to the general public whilst simultaneously enhancing other areas of the unit’s work.  Web delivery has replaced older library-based services, and now makes the collection available to all who have internet access.

The structure of the website follows dedicated collecting themes that allow for genuine historical enquiry whilst broadly aligning with the City of Sydney’s strategic vision (Sustainable Sydney 2030). Themes are: ‘Shared Terrain’ (urban ecology); ‘Open All Hours’ (work, commerce and industry); ‘Our City’ (precincts and special projects); ’Shelter’ (housing and associated issues), ‘Belief’ (secular and religious belief systems) and ‘Art and Culture’ (public art, arts practitioners, cinema, theatre, community-based cultural activities).

Digitisation of equipment and recording outputs has rendered recent interviews in targeted oral history projects of good sound quality. Older interviews, some conducted more than twenty years ago in informal circumstances for varying research purposes, are less polished.   The History Unit’s philosophy is that all interviews, of whatever sound or dialogue quality, are primary historical sources; their usefulness will be determined by the people who access them. We make no judgements as to what constitutes a ‘good’ interview worthy of web delivery and restrict access only if the interview is inaudible, or for reasons such as privacy, legality or similar.

In general, each interview is presented in two formats: as an edited extract in both audio and text versions; and as the complete interview also as both audio and full transcription.  This allows the website to be browsed quickly by the casual user interested in accessing brief ‘stories’ about the City’s local government area;  but it also means that the dedicated researcher willing to spend some time can access the complete historical document.  Availability of both audio and text formats also conforms to the City’s commitment to web accessibility for both the hearing and vision impaired.  The website currently showcases around 60 interviews but there are more than 400 in the wings, and the collection of interviews continues.  will ultimately be a very large oral history site.  will be launched officially at the end of October 2013 but in the meantime we encourage anyone to jump online and check it out.  The website is still in its early stages so constructive feedback is very welcome.

Dr Margo Beasley, Oral Historian, City of Sydney

Tel: 92567540;





  1. I’m glad you have shared the talk you gave on Saturday through this blog Margo. I like the fact that you don’t make a judgement of the worth of an interview, you share all of them where you can to create an online archive.

    I listened to one interview and read a bit of a transcript. It made me think about the relationship between history and journalism. A journalist also uses the interview technique, but the item only gets published if the journalist or publisher decides it is in the public interest or entertaining or of particular relevance to their readership. The journalist would edit the interview.

    However, the historian would also edit to demonstrate the particular point they wish to make. They also want to capture the reader’s attention. The excerpt they use needs to be relevant. Like a journalist the historian may be communicating to the general public or they may be communicating with a particular group.

    In publishing all the interviews you are taking an archivist’s approach.

    The various professions do not have clear cut boundaries.

  2. Great work, Margo. It would be good to see local studies librarians at council libraries learn from this.

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