Place, Memory and Narrative: Recollections of Life in Australian Mining and Industrial Towns
This paper reports on the first systematic historical study of an Australia-wide sample of mining and industrial towns. Using oral and written sources the project aims to study historical patterns of exclusion and inclusion around the fault lines of class, gender, ethnicity and place. In exploring the social history of such towns I was struck by the way in which local memories were infused with place and place-specific knowledge. Textual and quantitative evidence was less successful in communicating these elements of local experience. In reconnecting with regional historical experiences, I employ a historical methodology that encounters the past through more than just ‘text’. The towns I study are, for the most part, overlooked or marginalised by a literary culture that is overwhelmingly capital city focused. There is not a plethora of cultural products to analyse and deconstruct. Instead memories of place are present as a kind of counter history, presenting hidden stories that are not well represented in national history. In a modest allusion to an ethnographic tradition, I also visited these towns. Here I found that the past sits heavily in the very landscape of these places. To enter them is to enter into a present overwhelmingly shaped by the past. Unlike the filling density of rolling suburbia and the luminous new office towers of capital cities, these towns change slowly. This is not entering the past through text alone, though textual sources are still important, but through connecting with local culture and the physical remnants of local place. At the intersection of place, memory and history, lie a series of challenges surrounding methodology, disciplinary practices and interpretation which are the subject of this paper.
Keywords: Oral History, Memory, Narrative, Interview Techniques, Regional History, Local History
Prof. Erik Eklund
Head of School, School of Humanities, Communications and Social Science, Monash University