Celebrating the 300th oral history recording
Our 300th oral history recording made quite an impact thanks to a promotional competition organised with 666 ABC Canberra to select the 300th interviewee. The winner was Quentin O’Keefe who had worked in the Provisional Parliament House as a casual bar attendant in 1974. An excerpt from the interview attracted more than 150 comments on the museum’s website and also made its way into three online oral history newsletters.
There were some very interesting entries. My favourite, next to Quentin’s, is the woman who in the 1970s took on the task of catching the many cats that bred in the hedges around the tennis courts and taking them to the local vet for de-sexing.
The Provisional Parliament House was central to so many people’s working lives, and touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of others who visited the building from interstate.
Today, the 300th recording will be celebrated by a gathering of former and current interviewers and Canberra-based interviewees.
The collection has been the accumulative work of dozens of people over a 15 year period. The first interview was recorded by the then General Manager of the building, Max Bourke, and the vision for an oral history program was pushed along keenly by Administrative Assistant, Marie Wood, who has recently been interviewed. Well-known journalist, Ken Begg recorded six interviews in 1996.
Since then, the oral history collection has advanced thanks to past and present key staff such as Michael Richards (who gave oversight to the program from 1999 to 2012 and recorded 25 interviews), Julia Roberts, Guy Hansen, Di Tapscott, Phil O’Brien, Joy McCann and Libby Stewart, and several volunteers who have helped by chasing up ‘paper work’, typing summaries of interviews and also recording interviews. The interviews recorded by volunteers have taken place with appropriate training where necessary, and some valued recordings have entered the collection in this way.
Since 2007 I have worked at the museum as an historian, mainly on the oral history project and have listened to, and recorded, many fascinating stories. A prized element in the collection is a cooperative project administered under a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Library of Australia: ‘the Old Parliament House Political and Parliamentary Oral History Project’. It commenced in 2009 and over the past three years, 70 interviews have been recorded for this project. Interviews with former federal parliamentarians are substantial and range from four to 15 hours in duration, and take the life story approach while emphasising political careers.
Most of the museum’s recordings relate to the building itself: interviews with individuals who worked here in many capacities. I think we would have most of the occupations represented: journalists, staffers, Hansard staff, Parliamentary officers, Clerks and Deputy Clerks, waitresses, chefs, dining room managers, attendants, librarians, stenographers, switchboard operators, police, Cabinet officers, gardeners, carpenters, maintenance workers, chiefs of staff, technicians—a ministerial driver and a hairdresser.
The recordings cover a period spanning Parliament House and political history from the mid-1920s to the 1980s.
As we use the best available digital recording equipment, the interviews in the collection should be available a hundred years into the future—and beyond! And we now embark upon the next 300…