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Community history, global interest

September 23, 2013

Reading Ellis’s biography of Lachlan Macquarie, I was struck by a disparaging remark he made about the quantity of “Twitter” passing among the various ships in his flotilla, referring to the large amount of flag communication taking place.  This particular shade of meaning of the word is not picked up on by the OED, but it has a neat resonance with today’s popular meaning.

Manly surfers ndAnother passage which also struck me recently as worth sharing comes from Harvest, Jim Crace’s new Booker-shortlisted novel: “We’re used to looking out and seeing what’s preceded us and what will also outlast us.  Those woods that linked us to eternity will be removed by spring if Master Jordan’s saws and axes have their way.  That grizzled oak which we believe is so old it must have come from Eden to our fields will be felled and rooted out.  That drystone wall, put up before our grandpas’ time and now breeched in a hundred places, will be brought down entirely and replaced either with an upstart thorn or with some plain fence, beyond which flocks will chomp back on the past until there is no trace of it.  We’ll look across these fields and say, “This land is so much younger than ourselves.”  This allusion to the essential connection between a place and the collective memory of its inhabitants, should strike a chord with lovers of history.

Two nuggets worth sharing, but how?  One solution nowadays is to post them up on a blog.  Manly Library has run a blog for three or four years now which ties in to our Local Studies collection, and as Local Studies Librarian, I am in the fortunate position of being able to add to the blog tidbits of local history, or items picked up from wider reading, as often as I want.  It is like a big patchwork blanket, getting bigger and shaggier every day.  So far the blog consists of about 300 posts, and there is no shortage of potential material, particularly now that Trove contains so much to quarry from.  A very short news story found on Trove, for example, was the following.  The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 12 August 1914: “A baby boy, about 3 months old, was found on the edge of the cliffs at Blue Fish Point, Manly, about 8pm on Monday.  It was without a stitch of clothing.”  The chances of someone finding a baby on a cold winter’s night at that precipitous location would have been very slim.  What became of the infant?  What became of his mother?  Over to you, novelists of Australia!

Harbour pool at ManlyWhat has come as a surprise, though, is how widespread the audience is.  So far, people from all the states and territories of Australia have visited, and nearly all the states of the USA.  People from places as unexpected as Estonia, Venezuela, Laos and Botswana have been in and had a look. Visitors from more than 70 countries have dropped in on the Manly Local Studies blog.  Of course, Manly has the advantage of a cosmopolitan population, and foreign workers in the hospitality industry, overseas investors, and students at the language schools and College of Hospitality and Tourism are all part of the mix.  This all means that while some of the content which I post is of narrow local interest, it helps to be aware of the potential audience from much farther afield than the Manly local government area.

Although ours is small beer compared to some blogs, it has had over 70,000 page views and pulls in a steady 1000 visitors a month.  The stories attract comments which are often helpful and flesh out what we already know, and the blog has attracted donations of photographs and other material to augment our collection.  The mystery to me is that more local studies blogs don’t exist.  The best I have seen, eye-popping in terms of photographic content, is that of Kensington and Chelsea Library in London, and there are several good Canadian examples.  Perhaps we will start to see community-operated history blogs if libraries and museums do not take the plunge.

John MacRitchie, Manly Library

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