As readers may not be aware your Secretary Librarian is a keen student on bus, railway, shipping and tramway history and I’ve been a regular contributor to a number of journals. In preparing an article on, for example, bus services in Box Hill during the 1950s to 1970s I would often refer to the collection. I’d use it to source information regarding the development of the suburb that supported or influenced the growth of bus services in the area. Sources include established histories of Box Hill and surrounding suburbs and articles published in historical society journals
We also have a vertical file of ephemeral material such as brochures, maps or guides that, for example, would be too small to easily house within the collection. This collection provides another source of invaluable information about a specific area that may not have been included in a book or article. Images are also very important in helping create an impression of what a suburb or town would have been like during a particular time. The PMI Victorian History Library is developing a small but significant collection of images gathered from various sources. For example, the image above is taken from the Bus & Coach Society of Victoria’s CD collection of Victorian bus body builders from the 1920s to the 1980s. Here we see a GFM-071 a Ford with A. E. Grummet & Son bodywork from the early 1950s at Wattle Park. The bus belonged to F. H. Rennie & Son which operated a tram feeder service from Burwood tram to Box Hill station via Wattle Park tram. Note the wonderful detail of the shopping centre in the background including signage for the State Savings Bank of Victoria and Street’s Ice Cream, and the arrangement of the tramway wiring including the green lighting housing powered from the tram wires. Furthermore apart from the bus there is only one other car in the picture.
These sorts of street scenes provide much needed and rich sources of information to the historian when writing about a locality.
To avoid the misappropriation that local histories can appear to be dry and uninteresting, the use of ephemeral material and images where possible will dramatically improve the appeal of the definitive history of whatever town/area is being written about.
The Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Victorian History Library (PMI) was recommended to me by a fellow archaeologist as a “treasure trove for anyone doing any historical research related to Victoria”. I thought this statement was probably a bit overblown, but, when asked to do a historical background research for a heritage report, in a little-known location in Gippsland, I found my way to the PMI and realised that the statement was in fact quite accurate. The breadth and range of the collection that included so many local historical society publications, heritage studies and published books in one place and with all volumes present, was a revelation to me. And it made my job so much easier and the results more comprehensive.
My study was focused on a former pub and later post office building in Fulham, and the resources for this were quite limited. The report was originally commissioned as a heritage documentation of the historical weatherboard building, dating back to the 1870s and 1890s, but we were asked to include more detail about the historical background specific to the building itself.
The PMI has a very comprehensive collection of historical books, heritage studies and local historical society newsletters relevant to the Fulham area near Sale. The PMI collection allowed me to draw upon local published local histories for the area to understand in detail when the Princes Highway and Sale-Melbourne rail line were created, as well as details about local inhabitants from the 1860s – 1950s and the nature of occupation in Fulham during that time period.
My research also required information about the railway line and details about when a particular (and very minor) railway station was opened and closed and the fact that the Australian Railway Historical Society (Victoria Branch) was located in the PMI was really helpful and Steven Haby the Secretary Librarian at the PMI was a fountain of knowledge.
The photocopier on the premises was also very useful and the ability to borrow local council historical studies is also extremely helpful.
The peaceful and well-appointed reading area/workspace meant that I could make notes, look up additional information on Trove or other online databases whilst there and cross-check information with ease. I felt very comfortable and able to work in the PMI space and wished I could have spent more days there! The offers of cups of tea and use of the kitchen as well as the very friendly staff made my experience using the PMI even more enjoyable.
I have since used the PMI for research on other heritage projects and found the rates books, historical directories and other online resources an amazing asset.
I’ll definitely be back to the PMI for more research in the future!
Former Fulham Pub