2019 Biennial Conference of Oral History Australia: a report

The 2019 Biennial Conference of Oral History Australia  was held at the State Library of Queensland in October.  The opening plenary session, Gaa Bi KidwaadMaa Nbisiing/The Stories of Nbisiing: Relational story listening and storytelling on Nbisiing Nishnaabeg territory was presented by Katrina Srigley, an associate professor in the Department of History at Nipissing University in North Bay, Canada. Dr Srigley highlighted the importance of working from heart as well as mind and thinking of long term consequences for the information being collected this way. She used the seven grandfather teachings as a framing for her work and encouraged people to do their oral history work with love, or zaagidwin

Dr Srigley has been working with Nbisiing elders and the stories she shared were with their permission. She worked with the Nbisiing Kwewak, home makers group . Some of these women were activists as part of their homemaking and other work.  This research highlighted the importance of recording stories of sport and home making (and making sure other questions were asked to help explore topics such as local activism). There is a very interesting video to watch about The Nipissing Warriors.Photograph showing Maria Savvidis, Bruce Carter and Anne Hocking

Colleagues at the State Library of NSW Bruce Carter, Anne Hocking and Maria Savvidis shared their research into how our oral history collections are used. They explored requests, and interviewed some of the oral historians, interviewees and the readers/end-users/researchers to find out more about the impact of the interview and how they ended up using it. Through their recordings we could hear the voices of the researchers and the impact the oral history material had on them.

Dr Elaine Rabbitt highlighted the importance of encouraging people to tell the whole story, not just the happy bits, and the importance of letting people talk, not always keeping them ‘on track’.  You may not know what will come from the interview, and you need to let the silences happen, not rush in to fill them.  People need thinking time. This project to record the stories of Ann Street Reserve in Broome resulted in oral histories turned into songs. One of the oral history recordings Dr Rabbitt played included wonderful bird songs.

Dr Alexandra Dellios used oral histories from the National Library of Australia for her research about post war migrants. One of the collections used was Unwanted Australians. Dr Dellios highlighted the information gap in some oral histories with some women of Greek ancestry who were activists, but were not asked about this, the questions stayed on their work and their families.  It is important to give people the opportunity to say more.

Through the conference the concept of reciprocity kept getting raised.  Oral history should not be theft. There were many other useful and interesting sessions. The closing plenary session included Dr Sadie Heckenberg reminding us that when interviewing we should think how you would interview your grandmother, in terms of the respect you show them.  Dr Heckenberg used the idea of yindyamarra, a Wiradjuri term to describe people feeling culturally safe.

The next conference will be in 2021 in Launceston, Tasmania. If you are looking for an interesting oral history conference next year, the International Oral History Association is holding its annual conference in Singapore 22 to 26 June 2020.