A reasonable account otherwise unrecounted

After a day spent browsing cluttered filing cabinets and listening to snippets of oral histories in the Wonthaggi Historical Society (WHS) archive I happened across a 1960 report from the then local newspaper, The Powlett Express, which recounted a speech delivered by my grandfather, Arthur Quilford to the local Rotary club. Despite the headline (a crass editorial grab for attention), the sentiments he – an elderly white Welsh immigrant and former coal miner talking nearly sixty years ago – express heartened me, it spoke of a desire to learn about the local area and its history, focusing specifically on the indigenous family structures and habits of the Bunurong people. What really leapt off the page was a comment about his process for documenting history:

Author Unknown, The Powlett Express, 04/08/1960, p.3.

My grandparents founded the WHS with some friends in the late 1950s after concluding that the history of Wonthaggi and the surrounding area – which has come to be known as the Bunurong Coast – was worth telling. My mother is the current WHS President and I too have started spending time there, exploring the archives and artifacts. Recently, I was chatting to one of the volunteers who, for more than a year, has been diligently cataloguing cabinets full of unsorted documents and she admitted that she was making up the process a little – I like that, it reflects my repeated experiences working with archives. As Ross Gibson suggests, “Imagination is needed when one encounters evidence that is in smithereens. I try to keep this in mind when confronted with the dishevelled scenes and archives and collections that are so representative of contemporary Australia”[1]. As important as the contents in of the WHS archive are, it is its people and their stories that make it special. It’s both orderly and completely disorganised. Personal and subjective, it’s an ecosystem of memory, artifacts, personalities and documents.

Gibson’s quote comes to mind when I reflect on my grandfather’s comments about the history of Wonthaggi. “In the power station you had a lot of time to waste on thinking,” he said and that had been thinking about the history of Wonthaggi for a long time. People had told him from the time he first arrived that a history didn’t exist prior to the founding of the State Coal Mine – a 1909 government enterprise that led to the founding of the town. Arthur concluded that attitude was a “load of rot” and that the history of the town and the surrounding area was a local history worth telling.[2] In response to this urge, Arthur, my grandmother Nell, and their contemporaries established the WHS to document and preserve that history, to produce accounts of happenings that would otherwise pass unrecorded and untold.

The Otherwise Unrecounted project is a response to this sentiment, it is a series of accounts of, and reflections on, happenings from Wonthaggi and the Bunurong Coast that would otherwise pass unrecorded and untold. It is a suite of digital reflections on the fragments, echoes and titbits that have grabbed my attention during my time spent in the archives and landscapes in this area.  

[1] Gibson, R., 2015, Memoryscopes, UWA Press, p.16.

[2] WHS oral interview with Arthur Quilford, recorded 17/10/1985, see 1:21:00.