Searching Catalogues Effectively: National Archives of Australia

Rectangular building with horizontal stripes. In between the stripes are the windows.

State Library of Tasmania in Hobart. This photo is undated but it looks like it could have been taken when the building had just finished completion. Photo courtesy of State Library of Tasmania flickr collection.

While in Hobart I have been spending a lot of time in the ‘History Room’ at the State Library. This is where researchers can retrieve items from the state and national archives that are held in Hobart. In my book I want to include stories of soldiers from each state in Australia and also look at their pre-war experiences, hence my Tasmanian research.

As usual I am encountering the problem of records that were never kept at the time or are difficult to find through existing catalogues. I have needed to delve deeply and creatively into various catalogues. I thought that many of you would have encountered similar problems researching your family history, trying to complete assignments etcetera, so I thought I would share a little of what I have learned.

Each archive and library has its own way of organising their catalogues, filing their material and explaining how to find items. Sometimes items or collections may not even be mentioned in electronic catalogues or they may be on card catalogues which have not been transferred onto a computer yet. Other items in the collection may never have been catalogued in the first place because of shortage of staff.

The catalogue on the website of the National Archives of Australia only describes about twenty percent of the items they hold. So how can you find out about the thousands of boxes of archival material that are not mentioned in the electronic catalogue? Continue reading

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My Mother the Computer Programmer

My mother did the traditional thing when she married in 1963. She left work to raise children. She did housework and in her spare time enjoyed embroidering. She even exhibited her embroidery. But underneath this conventional exterior my mother did things differently.

Mum decided to complete year twelve when I was a baby. Her mother-in-law approved of her studying.  “She was pleased to have a daughter in law that had a mind above housework”, recalled my mother. My grandmother had gone to university herself and worked in London and Paris in the 1920s. My mother appreciates the fact that her mother-in-law encouraged her and looked after me while my mother did her year twelve exams.

My father got a new job so we moved away from our family in Melbourne and settled in Hobart. I remember at dinner my father would invariably ask what my mother had done that day. As a seven or eight year old I disliked the question because I knew the dreary response that would come from my mother. “I washed the clothes and hung them out, then I vacuumed the stairs and upstairs….” Zzzzzz. As a child I recognised how deadly dull my mother’s life was and felt sorry for her.

Of course I didn’t say anything to her about that at the time but years later Mum told me how much she dreaded that habitual question from my father. However, my father was listening. “He saw I was bored”, she said. An advertisement in the newspaper attracted my father’s attention. It was about studying at university. He encouraged my mother to apply.  This would have been 1972 or 1973. Continue reading

Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

Do you remember becoming separated from your parents by accident as a child?  That moment when you realised that you could not find your parents and were lost in a strange place was terrifying.  You may have been rooted by fear, or madly dashed around. You probably called out for them in between sobs.

Perhaps you have lost one of your own children.  My husband recalls the panic he felt when the tram he had just boarded started moving and he realised that our five-year old was still at the tram stop.  He yelled at the tram driver to stop but the tram kept going.  Hubble left the tram at the next stop and vividly remembers his mad sprint down the road to the tram stop where our daughter was still standing.

Fortunately for most of us that moment is transitory.  Parents find their children after a couple of minutes or kind strangers take the child to the store manager or police who find their parents.  Parents and the child resolve to be more careful in future and life resumes.

The nightmare for five-year old Saroo and his mother was not transitory.  Saroo was lost on the streets of Kolkata and his desperate mother was unable to find him.  The separation became permanent. Yet while kind strangers were unable to reunite the child with his mother they were able to provide the care he needed. Now an adult, Saroo Brierley tells his story in A Long Way Home. Continue reading

Thistle Thoughts

ute full of thistles

Our family’s harvest of thistles. Photo by Alan Perkins.

Today I was inspired while weeding.  This was not the dainty weeding that one does in a household garden bed.  No, one afternoon on my Christmas holidays I spent the afternoon with the rest of our family pulling thistles out of an infested paddock on my brother’s farm.  When I wasn’t pulling thistles I was chief thistle spotter and bag puller.  As you can see from the photo we filled one ute tray with thistles and there’s still more to be done.

Top half of a flowering thistle plant.

A photo of a thistle is better than the real thing – no prickles! Photo by Alan Perkins

So I suppose you are thinking that given we were weeding on such a large scale that my inspiration must be similarly large, maybe even momentous.  You may be right.  In fact my inspiration was so compelling that I have passed on a game of scrabble to share my inspiration with you.

It all started with a simple question.  Why, oh why, did Tasmania’s early settlers feel so compelled to transport such a dastardly prickly plant thousands of kilometres from its home in Scotland and plant it in the antipodes? Continue reading

Significant Historic Australian Education Collections – Deakin University, Geelong

Entrance to Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library

One of Australia’s most extensive collections for the history of education – the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University, Geelong.

While working on the Teaching Reading in Australia project I had the opportunity to work in some of the best archives in Australia for the history of education.  These archives are significant repositories of Australian history.  Some don’t get the attention they deserve, others are well recognised but their education collections are little known.  In this, the first of a series of occasional posts on education archives in Australia, I share with you the delights of one of the most extensive education collections that I know of in Australia.  It is held by the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University in the city of Geelong, Victoria. Continue reading

Know Your Database

If you are interested in reading more about digital humanities, check out my other blog at http://stumblingfuture.wordpress.com

Over the last week I finally got a chance to try out the tools that Wragge (aka Tim Sherratt) has devised to mine digitised historic Australian newspapers accessed through Trove. This post is about the results of applying his tools.  If you want to do this yourself check out Wragge’s posts, Mining the Treasures of Trove (Part 1) and (Part 2). Firstly let’s look at Wragge’s graph of a topic that I have been writing about this year – floods.

Graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers, from the early 19th century to the late 1950s

Wragge's graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers since the early 19th century.

Wragge has produced the graph above  showing the occurrence of the word “floods” in Australian newspapers digitised and accessible on the Trove website.  As we would expect the word is mentioned more in years when there was severe flooding such as 1893.

Continue reading