Abstract for my Talk at Dragon Tails
Trash or Treasure: reconnecting our past
There is a growing recognition of the value of family history in fleshing out our collective historical memory. The commemorations of the centenary of the First World War have given life to many community historical societies across Australia. These commemorations have provided many with the impetus to bring out from the cupboards the medals, photographs, and diaries from the war. And it is this context that provides this ephemera with a currency and an identity often lost for other inherited objects. For families grappling with such historical material the difficulties in assessing their significance means that much of this ephemera ends up in the landfill of the junk shop, the sale yards, or the local tip. This is particularly so when dealing with distant connections severed by the death of relatives who can provide the context of such material, and especially so when inheriting material that appears at first foreign, and yet is intimately familiar. This paper considers the role of this ephemera in Australian history. It does so through the lens of the collection of one family in Tingha in northern New South Wales whose collection enriches our understanding of the significant role played by the Chinese in the regions in which they lived. This paper concludes that we are at risk of losing important historical material due to the difficulties in assessing the value of inherited objects, especially those from non-Anglo communities disconnected by language and culture. It highlights the need to establish broader links between academic historians and the communities in which they research.