Historians on the airwaves

Way Back When has had a lot of experience working in oral history and interviewing people about their lives and memories. In nearly all the commissioned projects we work on, we use oral histories to complement our research. We sometimes turn those interviews into short audio documentaries or digital stories to provide another gateway into the history. We've also produced a number of radio documentaries, some for ABC's Hindsight history show (links can be found here). So when fellow professional historian Nicole Curby contacted us to be interviewed for her radio show, a summer history series on 3CR, we were excited to help out.

Last week, Katherine and I went down to the 3CR studios in Collingwood to talk about working on the history of the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men's Health Centre. It wasn't until we were in the studio and found ourselves on the other side of the microphone that we actually started to feel nervous and realised how intimidating it can be to be interviewed. It was an interesting experience for both Katherine and I and it certainly gave us insight into how out of control it can feel to be an interviewee. Nicole expertly handled the situation, asking insightful and guiding questions. The show she created from our two hours of interviews, in just two short days, is impressive, as is the entire summer series Nicole produced. After the whole experience, I'll certainly understand more about how our interviewees feel the next time I've got the headphones on. 

You can listen to the show here.

Lucy Bracey

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Sephardi Community History Day

On Sunday 23 February - the day after White Night - Sarah and Lucy, along with photographer Catherine Forge, met with members from Melbourne's Sephardi Jewish community to photograph and record stories around objects of significance.

'Sefarad' in Hebrew means 'Spain' and 'Sephardi' or 'Sephardim' traditionally refers to Jews who came from the Iberian Peninsula (as compared to 'Ashkenazi', which means 'German' and refers to Jews from Eastern Europe). The Sephardi community these days refers to a much broader geographically diverse group of people from areas including North Africa, Iraq, Syria, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, India and Singapore. 

On Sunday we chatted with people who grew up in Egypt, Singapore, Constantine in Algeria, and Mumbai (Bombay), India. Many had grown up living side by side with Christians and Muslims, speaking Arabic, Hebrew and French. Most had arrived in Australia after being forced to leave their homelands but others had emigrated after hearing about life in this distant country. The objects they brought along often reflected the rushed or desperate circumstances that led to their departure. A Sidurh Farhi (prayer book), written in both Hebrew and Arabic and published in Egypt in 1917, survived the journey, and a silver serving tray from an Egyptian coffee house with five ornate silver forks also made it to Australia. These are just some of the many objects we were shown on the day. The stories behind them were even more fascinating and engaging than the objects themselves.

It was a heartwarming and emotional day for all of us, and a really great way of capturing personal oral histories. We will be creating a website for the Sephardi Association with these stories and images so that they can be easily shared with many more community groups, family members and other interested individuals. So stay tuned!

Lucy Bracey

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 All images by Catherine Forge Photography, 2014  (c) 

All images by Catherine Forge Photography, 2014  (c) 

Oral history, community & 'tin kettling'

For the past few months, we’ve been regularly travelling down the Mornington Peninsula to speak to people in the local community as part of an oral history project with the Mornington Peninsula Shire.

From the ups and downs of the lives of generations of farming families to the fond memories of regular holiday makers and the passion and dedication of those running local businesses, we have uncovered many fascinating stories and documented the significant changes that have occurred on the Peninsula over the years.

There is an urgency to the collection of these oral histories, as the generation with links to the early history of the area is disappearing. Our interviewees, many of whom have lived in the area their whole lives, have been selected by eight historical societies involved in the project, and come from a variety of areas along the length of the Peninsula. They have all been extremely generous with sharing their memories and their deep connections to the Peninsula with us.

One story that we were particularly struck by was told to us by a couple that recalled the charming tradition of ‘tin kettling’. When a newly married couple returned from their honeymoon, a welcoming party of locals would sneak quietly to their house and once they had it surrounded, they’d yell out and bang on tin pots, pans and kettles (hence 'tin kettling') they’d brought with them, and generally make as much noise as they possibly could. Once the couple had recovered from their surprise and realised what was going on, everyone would be invited inside for a drink and some supper. The idea was to welcome the couple home to their new married life (after scaring them into one another's arms). To us, this story represents the strong community spirit that exists on the Peninsula and we wonder if it might be time to revive tin kettling for a new generation of newlyweds!

The interviews have been both audio and video recorded, forming a fantastic oral history collection for the Mornington Peninsula Shire that they can continue to build on. It is an absolute pleasure and an honour to record these stories as a valuable resource for future generations in the Peninsula community.

Fiona Poulton