Plotting History: Steven Haby: How I use the PMI Victorian History Library collection

Plotting History: Steven Haby: How I use the PMI Victorian History Library collection

bus

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.

Steven Haby

Secretary Librarian

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Plotting History: Michelle Negus Cleary

Plotting History: Michelle Negus Cleary

Michelle Negus Cleary Mernda 2017

Treasure Trove

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!Perspective_DPC_01

Former Fulham Pub

Plotting History: Amanda Witt

Plotting History: Amanda Witt

Amanda

I use the PMI collection for research and information for the historical walks that I do with my friend Simon along closed train lines, both in Melbourne and in the countryside.

Many books about the suburb/town show maps of the original line and alignment. These are essential because most lines have now been closed and have houses or factories built on it, or are walking/riding trails.

Simon also downloads the 1880-90’s era parish maps from the State Library, and we compare the landscape and alignment with the present environment.

I have been interested in trains most of my life, thanks to my late father who came out here from Germany in 1952, with a job secured on the Victorian Railways. A portion of his wage was deducted to pay for his ship fare.

As a child in school holidays we would ride the different lines, I’d ridden on the entire suburban network by age 12, and we would also go to the old Spencer Street station, standing on the bridge, watching the trains in the yard.

Victoria has one of the biggest network of former lines converted to bike/walking trails. Some of these that I’ve walked, and used materials from PMI to research over the last two years include:

Port Melbourne and St Kilda – now tram lines

Hawthorn-Kew

Lilydale to Warburton

Trentham – we discovered the former racecourse here

Mornington

Red Hill- Merricks

Wonthaggi and the former coal mines

Inner circle – Fitzroy/Carlton

Outer circle – the Alamein line is the remnant of this, that originated at Oakleigh

Rosstown  – went from Elsternwick to Oakleigh

Ballarat- Buninyong

Korumburra

Queenscliff

Williamstown pier station – closed in the 1980’s

Sometimes it’s educated guess work as to where the railway did run. Simon looks for ‘industrial archaeology’, such as remnants of wooden sleepers and/or metal, now rusted, dog spikes in the ground. Or where the alignment might have gone, if no other traces remain and grass/trees now grow over the area.

Many of these outer suburban and country lines were used primarily for transporting coal and/or wood for freight, with a single passenger car added onto the train almost as an afterthought. Many of the books on all these areas have photos of trains ‘in the day’, loaded with wood, fruit, coal, etc.

We have also noticed two main groups of years when lines were closed.

  1. The 1890’s bust, when land in East Malvern/Waverley areas was not built on because people couldn’t afford it, so the Outer Circle line was not used.
  2. The 1950-60’s, when cars became more common, goods were beginning to be transported by truck,  and items like logs/wood and coal were slowly going out of fashion.

Some sections of the lines have since reopened as tourist railways, which is great. These include: Puffing Billy at Belgrave, Mornington, Daylesford, Healesville and Queenscliff.

Ursula and Steven know that this is what I borrow the books for, and I am always asked where my next walk will be, based on what I am getting each time. Then I am also asked about the previous walk, what was seen and learned.

Steven shares an interest in trains which can be a dangerous thing – I think I’ll pop into PMI to get my books, and sometimes end up talking for half an hour about train related things.

 

Plotting History: Judith Buckrich

Plotting History: Judith Buckrich

JudithEach month in a segment called Plotting History we will share a story behind a PMI Victorian History Library member’s use of the library. This month award winning local historian, and PMI Vice President, Judith Buckrich tells her story.

In this truly quiet space, I have now researched and written half of my published histories and biographies. I began using the library during the 1990s when my career as a historian began with Melbourne’s Grand Boulevard: the Story of St Kilda Road. It was the PMI commissioning  Design for Living: a History of Prahran Tech, that brought me to the library (then in High Street) on an almost daily basis. The Prahran Tech archive had been brought there from Deakin University and I was assigned a table ‘out the back’ to get on with the work. After that I found that it was, by far, the most comfortable and useful place for my work.

My books are all about Melbourne people and places, so apart from the necessity to look at material in other collections such as the State Library, Public Record Office or the University of Melbourne, there was no need to go elsewhere. The PMI already held almost all of the references I was using and by the 2000s so much material that I would once have had to see in ‘hard copy’ in other collections was available digitally.

It was not just the books, journals, newsletters and online resources such as the Sands & McDougal Directories that made the PMI so comfortable and stimulating as a workspace, but the well-informed staff and their willingness to discuss whatever I was working on and to help me seek further source material. I felt it was important for me ‘to give back’ so I joined the Committee of Management and became a judge of the annual Short History Prize as well as part of the PMI Publishing committee.

The move to the new library at St Edmonds Road in 2015 facilitated an increase in the number of books and journals on Victorian history, Australian art and Australian biography, all of which are useful to me in my work. An auditorium for book launches and talks has enabled me to give talks about Australian art and its use to historians, as well as a much expanded program of talks for me to attend.

I have just begun work on a history of nearby Greville Street and of-course the PMIs relationship with the Stonnington History Centre has already been invaluable. I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend so much time in any other library, or that any other library could give me the support I have received for my work.

Finally my latest work, Acland Street: The grand lady of St Kilda,  is currently at the printer. It includes the kaleidoscope of the street’s life since before European settlement to the present day. Unique in the cultural variety and social and economic extremes of Melbourne’s history, it has provided a home and place of business for everyone from millionaires to the poorest, migrants, artists, sex workers, the LGBTI community, and for a while, the most powerful men in government and business. The PMI was the key base for my research on this fascinating street.


Dr Judith Buckrich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1950 and emigrated to Melbourne in 1958. She has edited and published extensively. She has several entries in the Encyclopedia of Melbourne and was an image researcher for the project. She has curated exhibitions for the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the Museum of the Port of Melbourne. Her penultimate book, The Village of Ripponlea won a 2016 Victorian Community History Award. Judith has written her own one woman shows, short stories, feature articles and essays and worked as an editor and translator. She has taught writing at Deakin University, the Victorian Writers’ Centre and Melbourne University Union. She regularly speaks about her work.

Judith is the author of:

  • Melbourne’s Grand Boulevard: The Story of St Kilda Road  State Library of Victoria 1996
  • The Montefiore Homes:150 Years of Care Melbourne University Press 1998
  • George Turner: A Life (the subject of her doctoral dissertation) Melbourne University Press 1999
  • The Long and Perilous Journey: A History of the Port of Melbourne Melbourne Books 2002
  • Lighthouse on the Boulevard: A History of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Australian Scholarly Publishing 2004
  • Collins: Australia’s Premier Street Australian Scholarly Publishing 2005
  • Design for Living: A History of Prahran Tech Prahran Mechanics Institute Press 2007
  • Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club The First 150 Years MUBC 2009
  • The Making of Us: Rusden Drama, Media and Dance 1966-2002 Lauranton Books 2015
  • The Village of Ripponlea Lauranton Books 2015 – Winner of the 2016 Victorian History Prize for a small run publication.
  • The Political is Personal: A Twentieth Century Memoir Lauranton Books 2016
  • Acland Street: the Grand Lady of St Kilda ATOM 2017 (to be launched in November)

You can visit Dr. Judith Buckrich’s website at judithbuckrich.com.