2019 Oral History Australia Biennial Conference

10-13 October 2019

State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Conference report

With the theme of ‘Intimate Stories, Challenging Histories’, the 2019 Oral History Australia Biennial Conference sought to tackle some of the challenges facing oral historians in their work today.

Chief amongst the challenges identified were those involving oral history and indigenous communities, but the conference also canvassed issues such as dealing with interviewees with dementia, confronting family myths, intersubjective interview dynamics and remembering painful events.

Oral History Australia (OHA) and Oral History Queensland jointly presented the conference in partnership with the State Library of Queensland from 10-13 October 2019 coinciding with both the Year of Indigenous Languages and the 40th anniversary year of OHA.

The location, the State Library of Queensland, in the north-east State capital of Brisbane was on Yuggera Country. The venue and surrounds by the Brisbane River nicely complemented the conference theme bringing together relevant aspects of indigenous and colonial history, the importance of place and community, new technology and the vital role of museums and archives in the future of oral history.

The conference opened with a Welcome to Country by Gaja Kerry Charlton followed by a keynote address from Canadian academic Dr Katrina Srigley who spoke of her work as a non-indigenous historian working with the Nipissing First Nation in Northern Ontario.

In both the opening and closing plenaries, delegates heard of the need for oral history practitioners to better appreciate the ethical issues involved in working with indigenous communities and to properly acknowledge the knowledge-holders sharing their stories.

International delegates included Paul Sandul, Lisa Bentley and Linda Reynolds from the United States who presented some fascinating papers on recording the memories of a range of minority groups –  atheists and agnostics, moonshine producers and African Americans – in their conservative, home region of East Texas. New Zealand delegate Elisapeci Samanunu Waquanivala notably led a Fijian farewell song to end the conference.

In addition to the plenaries and concurrent sessions, the conference featured workshops on podcasting and interpreting memories, an Oral Histories of the Future forum, lightning presentations and several performances based on historical stories. There were also two excursions – one to North Stradbroke Island and the other featuring an interpretive bus trip to Logan City – and a presentation to former OHA national president Rosemary Block – the 2019 recipient of the OHA Hazel de Berg Award for Excellence in Oral History.

As part of its commitment to the environment and local communities Oral History Queensland provided conference bags made from recycled fabrics and employed a local social enterprise, Eritrean Australian Women and Family Support Network, to cater for the welcome function at the Queensland Maritime Museum.

The next OHA Biennial Conference will be held in Launceston, Tasmania, in 2021. The next International Oral History Association Conference is scheduled for 22-26 June 2020 in Singapore.

Conference report and photo by Judy Hughes