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General Meeting  10.00 am Sunday 8 April 2018, Room 4A, 4th Floor, State Library of Queensland, South Brisbane.


History of the OHAA-Qld Branch (now Oral History Queensland)


The South-East Queensland Branch of the Oral History Association of Australia formed on 9 December 1981 at a meeting attended by approximately 30 people at the University of Queensland Library.


Staff from the university library and the State Library of Queensland were particularly supportive of forming a branch.  Names familiar to Queensland history were represented at the first meeting including the meeting chairman Dr Rod Fisher, former lecturer in history at the University of Queensland, Helen Bennett active member of the Brisbane History Group, heritage specialist Marjorie Roe, University of Queensland Library and Margaret O’Hagan from the Fryer Library.  Lesley Singh and OHAA life member Sue Pechey were also present. 


At the meeting, reference was made to a large oral history project taking place in North Queensland by Carol Edmundson, and the establishment of branches in other states; and so, the journey of a OHAA branch in Queensland was begun.. 


From the beginning the branch was active and ran many training workshops and seminars.  The first project undertaken by the new branch was to work with Louise Douglas, setting up an oral history project to produce material about the depression years for part of what became a major Bicentennial work Australians. A Historical Library¹


In 1990 Ros McCormack, a field officer with the John Oxley Library (JOL) joined the South East Queensland Branch of the OHAA. The following year Niles Elvery, a librarian, took over the field officer position when Ros resigned. The branch changed its name and its focus from “Southeast Queensland” to embrace the whole state and it became the Queensland Branch of the OHAA. In that same year, other milestones occurred with the branch convening the Oral History Association Biennial Conference and the Biennial General Meeting at the University of Queensland. 


Niles Elvery assisted the Queensland branch by “providing facilities for mailing questionnaires and storing information collected for what will be a Directory of Oral History Projects and Products in Queensland”².  When Niles commenced oral history work in 1991, the Library had one CP430 Marantz cassette recorder and one set of Sennheiser professional microphones to accompany the recorder.  After writing a report about the current state of oral history at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ), he received permission to visit the National Library of Australia and South Australia State Library to investigate their oral history programs.  He spent two days at each institution reviewing their collections, procedures and policies.  On his return, he recommended that the State Library of Queensland set up an oral history program. 


The recommendations that were actioned as a result of the report included:

  1. Encourage the donation of Oral History recordings to the John Oxley Library;
  2. Set up the loan of equipment to interviewers providing they agreed to donate a copy of the recording to the library;
  3. Mirror the documentation for the oral history program on documents in use at the State Library of South Australia and the National Library of Australia.


Niles, who now works at the State Archives in Brisbane, became an active president of the OHAA-Qld branch and this enabled him to provide the following services to the association:


  1. Branch meetings held in the JOL reading room;
  2. Weekend seminars in the reading room without cost to the Association;
  3. State wide conferences organised as part of his field officer’s role
  4. Developing a collaborative role with the Association which built networks and the collection.


Niles also ran workshops for the association; both on behalf of JOL and in his own time and these were not restricted to SE Queensland locations.  These workshops were undertaken at the invitation of community groups or libraries and partly funded by them.  Niles also became the state representative on national oral history projects such as the Once Upon a Wireless project, recording interviews with personalities from the radio industry.  He was also involved in the ‘Bringing them Home’ report and the National Library of Australia donated copies to the SLQ because of this relationship. 



The oral history program collected material with a Queensland focus but oral history was a small part of Niles’s job description.  There was always a backlog of tapes to be catalogued, with only one volunteer responsible for registering incoming donations and recordings did not find their way to the on-line catalogue so access to them was limited to those who knew of their existence. 


During this period, the Queensland branch benefited from the involvement of professional oral history practitioners such as Roberta Bonnin and Sue Pechey who sometimes taught and worked together.  In 1994, Lesley Jenkins became actively involved and took over the running of some of the oral history workshops.  She also successfully sought incorporation status and the branch had a name change that reflected this becoming the OHAA-Qld Inc; incorporation was sought because it protected the branch’s members and allowed the association to secure government grants.  For a while the association was enriched by the presence of Ysola Best, a member of the Yugambeh people, who was involved in recording the stories of the Kombumerri (many of whom were her relatives) of the Gold Coast.  Around this time Barbara Erskine became involved as the association’s far north Queensland representative. This was a voluntary position, but it extended the associations work in the region.  She combined this with her work as an oral historian and coordinator of the James Cook University’s oral history collection. 


In 2003, Niles left his position at SLQ and the oral history program became reactive; accepting donations of material, but with no ties to OHAA-Qld or to oral history project work taking place in the State or elsewhere. 


Diminished by the lack of support by the SLQ, the OHAA-Qld Inc found an alternative meeting space at a Bowling Club in New Farm and took on a more active training role.  Independent practitioners who passed on a percentage of the course fees to the association undertook this role.  In 1999, the association published Talking Together – A Guide To Community Oral History Projects, written by OHAA-Qld Inc member and former president Lesley Jenkins.  This book had been funded through a grant from the Gaming Machine Community Benefit fund and proceeds from the sale of the book added to the coffers of the OHAA-Qld Inc.


In 2007, Sue Pechey took over as President and the Committee organised a successful National Conference in Brisbane.  Following the conference, Lena Volkova became President and since then the Committee has organised several workshops, supported members with grant applications, purchased digital recording equipment with a grant from the Gambling Fund, and developed a web site, taking the association into the digital age.


Five years after support had been curtailed, the status of oral history in Queensland received a healthy injection: the appointment of Gavin Bannerman as SLQ’s first Oral History and Digital Storytelling Coordinator.  Gavin reached out to OHAA-Qld and within short period had re-established a good working relationship with the branch resulting in committee meetings and workshops being held at the State Library.  Attending committee meetings, Gavin’s input has been invaluable in helping OHAA-Qld increase awareness of oral history in Queensland. 


With this important development, the Queensland branch of the Oral History Association of Australia looks forward to a bright future.

[1] Gilbert & Inglis (General Editors) 1987. Fairfax, Syme & Weldon. Sydney, Australia. 12 vols.

[2] OHAA Journal, Number 13, 1991 p. 129



Lesley Jenkins

December 2009