Al Thomson reflects on OHV Symposium

I love so many things about oral history.  I love the fact that people from so many different contexts and backgrounds do it – community historians, workers in museums and cultural organisations, professional and freelance historians, advocacy workers and care workers, students of many different kinds, and even the occasional academic like me – and that although we do oral history in different ways and for different reasons, we’re all animated by an enthusiasm for recording and working with people’s life stories.

I love the fact that oral history can make a difference. That ‘small stories’ can change how we understand the world, past and present; that telling your own story can be affirming and empowering; that hearing stories like one’s own – or not like one’s own – can be transformative.

I love the fact that the world of oral history seems to be populated by so many fine, fun, generous people, which may be because good oral historians are good at listening, and are interested in other people and their stories and interests (a Mexican friend once told me that she thinks it may also be because the vast majority of oral historians are women!).

I love the fact that oral historians are good collaborators. By definition we cannot work alone, and we often collaborate not just with people and their stories, but also with a range of institutions and voluntary organisations.

All of these qualities and passions were on show, in abundance, at today’s OHV symposium about Culture, Community and Oral History: Stories of Diversity, Conflict and Resilience, at MUSEO Italiano in Carlton (many thanks to the museum!).

In the opening sessions on Immigration and Australian Communities, Moya McFadzean from Museum Victoria talked us through the approaches and issues involved in making museum exhibitions about migration, culture and diversity – in a wonderful keynote opening to the day. Melissa Afentoulis explored the values and challenges of a community oral history project with Greek migrants from Lemnos, which is also the basis of her PhD; and weaver, artist and community activist Anneli Rickards explained her life’s work of recording and documenting Finnish migrants to Australia.

The second session focused on Organisations and Oral History. Gretel Evans (with Jodie Boyd) spoke on behalf of several colleagues about their Young Christian Workers’ oral history project and what they learnt about power of an activist faith, with colleagues and interviewees joining in an illuminating discussion. Marie Nunan introduced her oral history project with people who have worked and volunteered with Barwon Health, and highlighted both the value of the project and the ways in which some stories are difficult, if not impossible, for people to share.

The final panel session was about Telling Community History through the Individual. Melissa Walsh explained how the Big Issue Classroom enables people who have been homeless to narrate their life stories to groups of mostly school students, and how this social enterprise benefits the ‘guest speakers’ (who get paid) and informs young audiences about homelessness. Big Issue Classroom guest speaker Julian Ogle talked frankly and thoughtfully about his own experience of developing and performing his story. Narrative researcher and graduate student Elena Balcaiti used her narrative work about passionate sports fans, and her work with her ‘contributor’ Lee, to introduce issues about the ‘magical’ work of co-creating personal narratives and using them to make sense of bigger issues. The panel – and the symposium participants – then enjoyed a vigorous discussion of several issues from the session that also connected to earlier presentations: What are the challenges in eliciting and recording people’s life stories? What are the challenges in presenting and interpreting people’s life stories? How is life experience articulated though personal narrative, and how might that story-telling impact upon the narrator? What is the value of these types of oral history work?

I came away inspired by the diversity and value of oral history practice, and by the activist engagement and generosity of spirit of oral historians – in all our varieties.


OHV Events Still to Come in 2016

Our event program for the remainder of 2016 has workshops for new practitioners as well as sessions which provide new perspectives for experienced practitioners.  In late August we offer a second Introductory Workshop with Sarah Rood, and in early September an Advanced Workshop on Interpreting Memories with Al Thomson. Our AGM in October will include the presentation of our Innovation Award to the winners and to round off the year, in November and December our Members’ Showcase will be on display.  Details are posted soon on our 2016 Event Calendar.  We look forward to you joining us!

A call for new committee members

We’re looking for Oral History Victoria members who would like to join our committee after the AGM in October 2016.
When I agreed two years ago to serve as President of Oral History Victoria, we decided to reinvigorate the committee. I’ve been delighted to welcome a host of new faces, as well as experienced hands, who have worked hard and effectively to rejuvenate oral history in Victoria.
Several committee members have now decided to move onto other challenges. I have agreed to nominate for another term as President. We are keen to encourage new people to join our committee. We meet every two months in the RHVS office in central Melbourne. We share the workload, with roles including coordinating the website, social media, running events, editing Rewind, membership secretary; (and we’re looking for a new Treasurer). It is not onerous, and it’s a fun group to work with and from which to learn more about oral history.
If you are interested in joining the committee please do contact me
Email, phone 0452-221589.

Rewind – June 2016

Symposium registration reminder

Reminder that one of Oral History Victoria’s premier events is coming up very soon! The 2016 Symposium – Culture, Community and Oral History : Stories of Diversity, Conflict and Resilience – aims to explore opportunities and challenges for oral history and the use of interview across the cultural, arts, literary and academic sectors. The keynote speaker is Moya McFadzean who has been the Senior Curator of Migration and Cultural Diversity in the Humanities Department at Museum Victoria since 1995, having previously worked in the local museum sector.

Other papers to be presented in this year’s symposium include:

  • North Aegean Greek Islander migration to Australia from the 1950s to the 1970s
  • Formation in the oral histories of the Young Christian Worker community
  • Voicing the human rights and imaginative capacity of marginalised communities
  • Challenges in documenting community and culture testimony
  • The strengths and limitations of oral history in the medical setting
  • Oral history as social enterprise

The Symposium will again this year be held at Museo Italiano, 199 Faraday Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, from 9:30am to 4:30pm, and registration fees are as follows:

Members $50; Student/Concession $25; Non-Members Full Price $90; Non-Members Student/Concession $65

A registration invitation was emailed to all members on 1 June, and full program details can now be downloaded via the OHV website:


Podcasting Oral History

OHV’s second workshop for 2016 was also the first Podcasting event the Association has programmed. OHV President Al Thomson was there:

“We had a full house in Emerald Hill for Bethany Atkinson-Quinton’s OHV Podcasting Workshop in April. As an experienced and award-winning radio maker and podcaster, Bethany introduced stimulating ideas and hints about this expanding media to 16 participants who comprised family and community historians, care workers, journalists and students.

“In short, a podcast is an audio production that is presented online – and of course it’s a wonderful media for oral history. Online podcasts are generating new producers and new listeners, and new ways of accessing and using audio recordings – which might include interview material along with music and sound effects and a narrator voice-over. Bethany explained the recent history and background of podcasting, and the legalities of media production (take care with defamation; podcasters generally regard verbal consent as sufficient).

Much of Bethany’s suggestions about audio recording would have been familiar to experienced oral historians, though I loved her advice about warming up your voice, about adapting the acoustic surroundings (the blanket studio!), and about using headphones to ensure good quality recordings. For the narrator, Bethany offered storytelling techniques and advice about scripting for the ear. Perhaps most usefully, she outlined tips for using the free audio editing software Audacity – some of us agreed that this was worthy of a longer workshop in its own right – and free music sites such as ‘Podington Bear’!

“I think we could also have done with more time to review options for uploading completed podcasts through Itunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher, about creating an engaging website to showcase your productions, and about how to promote podcasts so people hear about them and then listen to them. To that effect, OHV is in discussion with Bethany to run a follow-up workshop focusing on these technical skills.”


Australian Generations oral history theme issue of Australian Historical Studies

The latest theme issue of Australian Historical Studies (AHS), edited by Katie Holmes and Alistair Thomson, features seven articles by members of the Australian Generations team in which they use the project’s oral history interviews to illuminate a range of topics in Australian social history, and to discuss innovations and issues in oral history. The open access online editorial on ‘Oral History and Australian Generations’ by Katie and Al introduces the project and the articles:

Katie and Al also discuss the articles in a video clip on the AHS Facebook site:

The following link provides access to all the articles (but note that if you are not an AHS subscriber you will need to view through a local, state or education library, or pay for access):

The individual articles are as follows:

Class, Social Equity and Higher Education in Postwar Australia (Christina Twomey and Jodie Boyd);

Talking about Mental Illness: Life Histories and Mental Health in Modern Australia (Katie Holmes);

Australian Generations? Memory, Oral History and Generational Identity in Postwar Australia (Alistair Thomson);

Telling Families and Locating Identity: Narratives of Late Modern Life (Kerreen Reiger);

Creating an Oral History Archive: Digital Opportunities and Ethical Issues (Kevin Bradley and Anisa Puri)

Oral History in the Digital Age: Beyond the Raw and the Cooked (Michael Frisch)

The Radio Documentary and Oral History: Challenges and Opportunities (Michelle Rayner)

This journal theme issue is the major academic outcome from the ARC-funded Australian Generations Oral History Project, a collaboration between historians at Monash University and La Trobe University and colleagues at the National Library of Australia and ABC Radio National which produced 300 life history interviews with Australians born between 1920 and 1989. Early in 2017, Monash University Publishing will publish Australian Lives: An Aural History by Anisa Puri and Alistair Thomson:

This book uses interview extracts to illuminate the lived experience of Australian history across the 20th century, arranged in chapters on Ancestry, Childhood, Faith, Youth, Migrations, Midlife, Activism, Later Life and Telling My Story. The book will be published as a paperback and e-book, and e-book users will be able to listen to each interview extract as they read – an ‘aural history’ first!.

You can also listen to ten Australian Generations radio programs produced by ABC Radio National:

or access the interviews via the Australian Generations website:


Tell History

Tell History is a startup encouraging greater participation in gathering personal memories from people from all over the world and uploading them onto its public website. As an organisation it wants to promote the value and diversity of oral history in deepening our understanding of the past. Its members are starting to create a comprehensive database of oral history projects – which is now available, online!

Finding the Australian Generations Oral History Project online prompted the Tell History group to make contact with OHV President Al Thomson to advise that it was including that project on its database.

The full database can be found via the following link:

Alice Tow of the Tell History group noted that she had thoroughly enjoyed researching the numerous oral history projects around the world and was delighted to include the Generations project on the list.

If there are any other projects OHV members may be aware of that could be included on the Tell History database, they should contact Alice Tow:


Membership Renewal reminder

Oral History Victoria members are thanked for their support over the past twelve months and reminded that their membership for the 2015-2016 year expires on 30 June. Accordingly, members are encouraged to continue their support for OHV by renewing membership for the following year (July 2016 – June 2017). This year OHV has moved from paper to electronic applications to make renewing easier for all. The renewal link was provided in an email from the OHV Membership Secretary sent to all members on 10 May – or members can copy the full web address below into their web browser to initiate the renewal process:

Membership fees for 2016-2017 are just $40 for individuals ($30 student/ concession) or $65 for institutions.


Oral History Victoria Committee

As indicated in the most recent letter from the OHV President emailed to members last month, several members of the existing OHV Committee will be stepping down at the end of their current term of office in October. Any OHV members interested in joining the committee are warmly encouraged to contact the President (email: or phone: 0452 221 589) ahead of the next AGM. In seeking new nominations, Al’s email noted that the committee workload is shared so that it is not onerous, and that it’s a fun group to work with and from which to learn more about oral history. What’s not to like?


Victorian Oral History Practitioners

Quick reminder also that Oral History Victoria is assembling a register of members available for employment on oral history projects. Members wishing to be included on this Register of Oral Historians, to be posted on the OHV website, need to fill out and return the form emailed to all members on 20 February. Completed forms can be returned either by email: or post: Secretary, OHV c/- RHSV, 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne 3000


Members Mailbag

Reminder again also that if OHV members have specific oral history-related queries or news items that they would like to canvass or share with others, these can be sent to: for inclusion in future editions of  REWIND.

This edition of Rewind, is now available for download here.