OHAA National Conference – Australian Generations Project

Resize of Al Thomson & Susan MarsdenAustralian Generations: an oral history of our living memory.

6.00 pm 20 September 2013, Allan Scott Auditorium, University of South Australia, City West Campus, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide.

Professor Alistair Thomson
Project Leader of the Australian Generations Oral History Project and
Professor of History and Head of School of Philosophical, Historical and
International Studies, Monash University, Victoria.

Alistair was introduced by Dr Susan Marsden, History Council of South Australia, and spoke about the Australian Generations Project (http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/australian-generations/) and its main parts:

  1. How the project was created and the challenges along the way; and
  2. How they will use the material.

Kevin Bradley from the National Library wanted to create a big social oral history project similar to one done in 1938 which covered the period from 1880s to 1920s.  Funds were received from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the project heads resolved to interview 50 people in each decade up to 1980s.  ABC Radio National was due to air the first interview on 27 October 2013 on the “Hindsight” program [will now be aired 3 November].  It will be similar to “The Century Speaks”, a British project involving 6,000 interviews (http://sounds.bl.uk/accents-and-dialects/millenium-memory-bank). 

Expressions of interest were sought for the project.  The interviewees were chosen after their expressions of interest were read.  Those choosing were able to get a sense of who would be interesting.  People who seemed to be advocating a particular cause were not chosen, neither were those with mental health problems.  Choices were sometimes based on hunches, wariness, demographics, and diversity.  Photographs were taken at the time of the interview – a head shot and in situ with objects etc. 

Audio – life story interviews can be up to many hours, averaging five hours, done in two hour sessions.  Both the interviewer and interviewee valued the time in between to reflect, and this benefited the next stage of the interview.  Various themes were covered including faith and belief.  The interviews looked at the changes in family roles.  There are multiple factors in lives including cultural and social changes.  Interviewees would focus on an area of particular interest and for the most part, they want to tell their story.  At the end of the interview we would ask “How did you feel about being interviewed?”  It can be a cathartic experience and can trigger forgotten memories, sometimes taking you into unexplored territory.

There was a training day for all the interviewers.  There are no transcripts, which forces people to listen to the interview.  Material is easily researchable and accessible; however some will be embargoed for 50 years.

Outcomes for the project include an anthology, e-book and link to audio on-line.  The project is about the past and the significance of that past, exploring undocumented lives.
Suzanne Mulligan

 

 

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