South-West oral historians meet for first time since 1995

Bunbury Oral History Group chairman Brendan Kelly, Vasse MLA Libby Mettam, historian Bill Bunbury and Busselton Oral History Group chair Colleen Liston. Image supplied.

Bunbury Oral History Group chairman Brendan Kelly, Vasse MLA Libby Mettam, historian Bill Bunbury and Busselton Oral History Group chair Colleen Liston. Image supplied.

Oral history groups from around the South-West met in Busselton on Friday for the first time since 1995 and were treated to a presentation from former ABC broadcaster and historian Bill Bunbury.

Mr Bunbury played snippets of interviews he conducted during the preparation of his book Invisible Country and discussed the importance of belonging to land.

He has interviewed farmers and Noongars about the impacts of climate change, saying while science existed, one of the interesting things about oral history was the personal testimonies of how people recalled change.

"There is something spiritual about trees and their connection to the South-West which is felt by Noongars and farmers," he said.

He said oral history had relevance, and while it was not scientific, it was observational and we were now apprehending how to think carefully about the future.

"Most people have something extraordinary to say," he said.

The event was attended by history groups from Busselton, Bunbury, Augusta, Capel, Dunsbrough and Margaret River.

Bunbury Oral History Group chairman Brendan Kelly said their group had conducted 640 oral interviews which were there for prosperity.

Mr Kelly said the interviews documented how Bunbury was built socially and economically.

"We have pieces on how the harbour and broad water were developed, I cannot get enough of it," he said.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam also attended the event and said It is wonderful to have an opportunity to speak at the South-West Oral Historians' Symposium.

Ms Mettam said the battle between oral histories and written histories was longstanding and for too long in both academic circles, and in the community, written histories have held more weight than oral histories.

"Especially the oral histories of Aboriginal Australians, and early European settlers," she said.

"Many academics still say that our oral histories should be dismissed as they only go back a few hundred years, but that is simply not true.

"They go back to the edge of memory, which in the case of Aboriginal Australians, is thousands and thousands of years.

"Here in our small corner of the country, we have an oral history going back thousands of years through the Wardandi people, together with a 200 year old written history following European settlement.

"There is no denying that the South-West region has one of the most amazing histories as any in WA."

Ms Mettam said only in the last 20 years have historians begun to revisit these oral histories and realise the important information they hold about the Australian landscape and its ancient people.

Ms Mettam said Mr Bunbury's project Oral History and Climate Change which combined factual research with personal insights and life experiences of people involved in caring for and living on the land were so important.

"It provides the opportunity to provide a much needed balance to the climate change debate by revisiting our oral histories, which hold so much information about our Western Australian landscape and our ancient peoples," she said.

"Perhaps it is time to draw equally from the oral histories of our Indigenous Australians and our European settlers, and learn the lessons from the past, in order to embrace the future."