Introducing our President – Ariella Van Luyn

Hi from Ariella Van Luyn, the Queensland branch president:

Dear members,
At the AGM in November 2010, I was voted President, taking the reigns (or rather the microphone, quite literally) from the lovely Lena Volkova. I’m very pleased to be in this position and look forward to working with you all.
I’ve been a member of the Association for three years. I joined when I began my PhD investigating the fictionalising of oral history. I first discovered the thrill of hearing someone telling their life story during a vacation research program at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), when I interviewed four Sisters of Mercy at the Mater Hospital. The compelling qualities of their stories struck me, as an emerging writer, as something more powerful than anything I could ever invent.
The next year I began my honours thesis, hungry to hear more stories and hoping to draw on my own skills as a fiction writer to make oral history transcripts more accessible. I interviewed my Grandma, Beth, who as a child had contracted poliomyelitis while swimming in a pool in Northern Queensland. Beth woke up one morning and called out, ‘Mummy, I can’t move my leg.’ Her Mother threatened to give her a dose of cod’s liver oil, but it soon became clear that no amount of this cure-all was going to fix the problem; Beth’s left leg was paralysed. She was taken from her home, quarantined at the Mater and then placed in Montrose Home in Corinda, an institution for ‘crippled children,’ as one newspaper of the day called it.
I interviewed Beth about her experiences at Montrose, and then ‘fictionalised’ the transcripts, inventing scenes, details, characters and themes, and altering certain aspects of the story to create a more unified narrative. I paid careful attention to Beth’s storytelling strategies and vocabulary, mimicking her voice in the work. I produced a 10 000 word novella and accompanying exegesis, documenting the theoretical aspects of my projects. At the end of the year, I felt like I’d only scratched the surface of oral history methodology and theory and embarked on a PhD in 2009.
My practice led PhD consists of a novel, based on ten oral history interviews I’ve conducted with Brisbane residents about their memories of the place, and an exegesis. When I say I write fiction, I am sometimes hear comments like, ‘But history is about facts. You can’t make things up.’ I respond simply, ‘I’m not writing history.’ However, historical elements are important in my process; I want my fiction to feel authentic, filled with details about the past often only found in oral sources. My work would never replace traditional historical accounts, but instead explores the past through imagination. That is why, for me, it is very important to ensure that, in the process of fictionalising, the original oral histories on which I draw are preserved and made accessible. For example, when my short story, based on an oral history was published this year in One Book Many Brisbanes 5, I published the transcript on my blog (
Throughout the last two years, I’ve also worked with Associate Professor Helen Klaebe on The Business Leaders Hall of Fame, and other oral history and digital storytelling projects.
I attended the OHAA Conference in Launceston in late 2009 (thanks to a generous grant from the Queensland branch); The Talk about Town conference in 2009; the Australian Historical Association conference at the Sunshine Coast in early 2009; The International Auto/Biography Association Conference in Brighton and the International Oral History Association conference in Prague in mid 2010. These conferences have given me a stronger grasp of the state of the field, which I bring to the role of president.
My article, ‘Fictionalising Oral History: Narrative Analysis, Voice and Identity,’ was peer reviewed and published in the OHAA journal in November this year. I have since taken up the role of chair on the journal’s editorial board.
During my presidency, I want to ensure that oral histories are collected and (re)presented according to the best set of standards available, and in an ethical and responsible manner. I see the Association continuing to work with the State Library of Queensland to ensure that this is the case.
I have also put together an online set of resources for those working with oral histories via the online social networking site, Delicious ( The login details are available in the members’ only section of our website ( or you can contact me for assistance. I would love to add your projects to this our site so other members can read what you’re doing. If you have online details of your project, please send me the links ( and I’ll put it up for you.
I’m also dedicated to supporting the running of a series of high quality workshops on conducting an oral history project, which will run throughout the year. The Queensland branch has a truly amazing group of people on the committee, dedicated to ensuring that these workshops—and indeed, every one of the branches’ activities—run smoothly: Lena Volkova, Suzanne Mulligan, Kate Roberts, Karen Barrett, Helen Klaebe, Jen Barrkman, Sue Pechey, Marsali Mackinnon, Lesley Jenkins, Anne Monsour as well as many other enthusiastic members who have offered their invaluable help.  I would like to thank all these people for their truly amazing efforts.  
I welcome any members to join our committee meetings at any time. I value all our members’ thoughts on any aspect of the Association’s work. Details of meetings and our other activities are posted on the website and also on our Facebook account.
I’m keen to hear about your projects; the difficulties you’ve encountered; the successes you’ve enjoyed; and the journey you’ve had along the way. I’m always ready to have a chat, point you in the direction of resources and offer advice based on my own experiences. I’d also like to know if you have any suggestions or thoughts about how you would like to see the Association run. Please feel free to contact me:
I wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Photo caption: Ariella in Prague attending the International Oral History Association Conference, July 2010.


Death of last World War I Soldier

This article from a British newspaper tells of the death of the last WWI soldier and how these last survivors of that terrible conflict were turned into living memorials.  As their numbers declined in the last 10 years they were increasingly sought after and perhaps pressured to “perform”.  The journalist speculates that those memories may have been “polished” for public consumption.  It’s a well written and thought provoking article.  To read click here.

National Oral History Conference – Bursaries

One of the OHAA (Qld) Committee’s main functions is to provide support to you in your work in the field of Oral History.   To that end, the Committee would like to offer three bursaries of $500 to help members attend the 2011 National Oral History Conference being held in Victoria 7-9 October 2011. We would like to stress that at least one of the bursaries will be allocated to a regional member as part of our continued endeavours to provide adequate support to all areas of Queensland.
To be eligible for the Bursary, please provide the OHAA – Queensland Committee with the following information:
1. Half a page (no more than 250 words) about yourself indicating your involvement and/or achievements in oral history
2. Overview of your current oral history project
3. Community benefit: describe how your project will benefit the community (a sentence or two)
4. Describe how your project will enhance the development of oral history in our state (a sentence or two)
5. How are you going to acknowledge the OHAA – Queensland chapter?
6. Did you seek funds anywhere else?
If your application is successful you will be also required to contribute an article about the conference to our Newsletter/Blog. The article should be submitted no later than two months after the conference.
Although the number of bursaries are limited we strongly encourage you to apply.
Please send your applications to our Secretary, Suzanne Mulligan, on no later than 10 June 2011. Applications from unfinancial members will not be accepted and we would appreciate receiving your membership renewal (which will be due on 1 July 2011) with your application please.
Good Luck!

StoryCorps 9/11 Stories

The Los Angeles Times has recently published a story – “StoryCorps’ Audio History of 9/11” – about StoryCorps and its contribution to the oral history of that terrible day in September 2001.  This story focuses on Beverly Eckert who lost her husband that day.  She recalls her telephone conversation with him until he died.  You can listen to her story through the link attached to the word “recalling”.  This story demonstrates the value of StoryCorps and we are pleased that we now have an equivalent in Australia – The Story Project.

Oral Histories may be subpoenaed

This is a very interesting newspaper article from the New York Times which discusses the possibility that oral histories collected in the 1990s may be subpoenaed by the British government.  They were collected on the understanding they would not be published till after the death of the interviewees.  The article raises an issue that some interviewers may need to be aware of when doing interviews of a particularly sensitive nature related to some historical events.  Your comments are welcome.  See New York Times  Here is another article on the same topic which says if the subpoena is successful, all other interviews may have to be destroyed to prevent them being subpoenaed, click here. As at 18 June 2011 there is more on this story with a radio interview, click here.

War Widows Program – ABC1

Sunday night’s ABC1’s “Compass” program at 10.10 pm 24/4/2011 will feature interviews with some of the “forgotten” people who are not always thought about on ANZAC Day – war widows.  One of the women featured is Olwyn Green who tragically lost her husband in the Korean War.  I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Olwyn in 2004.  She has devoted much of her life to ensuring Australians don’t forget the so-called “forgotten war”.  She has interviewed many Korean War veterans and written a book about her husband – The Name’s Still Charlie

You can see my interview with Olwyn on my oral history Blog and you can also look at Olwyn’s Blog.

Suzanne Mulligan

Why Use Oral History?


Oral history preserves the past in a unique way. Although initially used to record the memories of influential people, it soon became a technique for recording the experiences of ordinary people, particularly those whose voices have been ignored or silenced.

Oral history recordings not only preserve memories but also voices. Every interviewee shares stories in their own words. The tone, the inflections and the emotions in each voice are captured, adding depth and meaning to their words.

What is Oral History?

“Oral history is a picture of the past in people’s own words”. Beth Robertson, The Oral History Handbook, 2000

Oral tradition, stories and memories have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. However the modern definition of oral history refers to tape recorded interviews. The term was coined in the 1940s by Columbia University historian Allan Nevins.

  1. Oral history interviews are recorded using question and answer format.
  2. A well-prepared interviewer has knowledge of the subject to be discussed gained through background research.
  3. The person interviewed shares memories from personal participation or knowledge of the subject.
  4. Potential subjects for oral history interviews are boundless, however most have historical interest and value.
  5. Practitioners of oral history are encouraged to make the results of their interviews available to other researchers.