Oral history @ the library

Oral history is the recording of memories of people’s unique life experiences. Often the only way to find out about the past is to ask someone who knows about it. Through oral history the past comes alive.


Since 1997 we have interviewing people to capture their memories of living and working in the area in earlier times. Interviews are conducted by volunteers, local history staff and oral historians that are funded through Leichhardt Council’s Local History Grants programme.  At present 120 interviews are held in digital format and will be going online later this year.


The Oral History Collection covers all parts of the Leichhardt local government area, which comprises the suburbs of Annandale, Balmain, Birchgrove, Leichhardt, Lilyfield and Rozelle. Between 1968 and 2003 the suburbs of Glebe and Forest Lodge also came within the Leichhardt area, so the collection includes interviews relating to those suburbs undertaken between 1997 and mid-2003.


Interviews have mostly been with people who have had a long association with the area. Some of them grew up in the area and went to school here and tell about their memories of childhood and growing up. Others worked in local industries and remember their working lives, working conditions, etc. Some owned small businesses in the area. Many interviewees have useful and interesting comments to make about social conditions in the area during the Depression, about jobs and industries which have now disappeared, and about local businesses and corner shops which are no more.


Hearing the voices of people who actually experienced the times they are describing makes history come alive in a unique and fascinating way. Their reminiscences greatly add to our understanding of the social history of the Leichhardt area, and in many instances, if these memories had not been recorded they would now be lost forever. People can often be much more interesting than documents, and they often have anecdotes to tell which will not be found in the formal records.

Oral history interviewees Molly Mc Sullea, Peter Flaherty and Howard Horwood


The Fishermen of Iron Cove

A collection of 12 interviews undertaken by oral historian Annette Salt in 2006 with the Italian fishing community of Iron Cove

Rozelle Hospital Project

11 interviews undertaken by oral historian Roslyn Burge in 2008/9 with former workers of Rozelle Hospital and its parent institutions Callan Park Mental Asylum and Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic.

Transforming the Local

20 interviews  by oral historian Paula Hamilton and community volunteers on social and cultural changes in the Balmain area since the 1960s. Interviewees included long-term residents and those who moved into the area in the1970s and 80s. More information on this project can be found at www.transformingthelocal.net.au

Leichhardt’s Environment

10 interviews undertaken by the library’s local history staff and community volunteers on environmental change. Interviewees included bushcare and community garden volunteers, local environmental activists and Leichhardt Council staff such as planners and engineers.

With My Heart On My Sleeve – the Weroona Life Stories Project

11 interviews with residents of Weroona Nusing Home, Lilyfield.

Saving 2.6

Our current project exploring the experiences of local residents who fought to save Ballast Point  -a 2.6ha headland in Birchgrove- for community open space.

For more information on our oral history collection and projects contact us at localhistory@lmc.nsw.gov.au or telephone 02 9367 9266

Oral history going to press: how to publish – a seminar

ORAL HISTORY GOING TO PRESS:  How to publish from the interviews

Join members of the NSW branch of the Oral History Association of Australia on Saturday July 31 for their next regular seminar with Laila Ellmoos, historian, Government Architects’ Office, author and winner of a State Library Scholarship in 2007,  who will talk about Island of Peter Pan or Island of the Damned?: writing a history of people with an intellectual disability resident on Peat Island, NSW and Jo Kijas, historian, author and National Trust cultural heritage awards winner on her recent award-winning oral history project Lighthouses of Northern New South Wales for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. Her talk is entitled Lighthouse Keeping : a partnership.

 In the afternoon, Rosie Block, curator of oral history at the State Library of NSW will conduct a practical workshop on doing oral history. More details can be found at www.ohaansw.org.au/page/activities.html

Picture of the week

This artwork was donated to Leichhardt Council by Reg Richardson of Security Self Storage, Annandale. In the 1990s Security Self Storage worked out of Beale’s Trafalgar Street building, where the painting had formerly hung in the foyer.

Signed “Smith and Julius Studio” the painting would have been produced in the 1920s. In 1906 Ure Smith joined with fellow artist and friend Harry Julius to form Smith and Julius Studio in Bond Street, Sydney. Drawing on contacts in advertising and with printers, the Smith and Julius Studio set high standards in Australian advertising. Clients of the studio included David Jones, Anthony Hordern and ‘Home’ magazine. A hub for Sydney’s art community from the early 1900s, Smith and Julius employed such artists as Lloyd Rees, Margaret Preston, Roland Wakelin and Thea Proctor.

The largest piano factory in the Southern Hemisphere, Beale’s Pianos were known for their fine craftsmanship – in 1908 they won every award in the Franco – British Exhibition held in Paris. Operating for over 60 years in Trafalgar Street, today Beale’s Piano Factory building is an apartment block listed on the register of the National Estate.

Sydney's Italian Fruit Shops..

Reminisce and celebrate the cultural and historic contribution made by Italian fruiterers to Sydney’s social history when Co.As.It., (Italian Association of Assistance) in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Public History (ACPH) at the University of Technology, Sydney, present this major photographic exhibition. Photographs of smiling fruiterer families eager to present a picture of respectability, family unity and migrant success, belie the 18-hour days, physical labour, and social sacrifices that had to be made for their ‘shop full of dreams’ to succeed. These shops changed Australian eating habits and made a tangible impact on the cultural landscape of our streets and suburbs.

 This exhibition extracts the cultural significance of the Italian fruit shops in Sydney from the turn of the twentieth century, and will leave a lasting record and legacy for present and future generations.

The exhibition runs from Sunday 23 May to 8 August 2010 Monday to Friday, 10am-7pm Saturday to Sunday, 11am-4pm Customs House, Level 1 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, Sydney NSW 2000 Ph: 02 9242 8551

Nick Origlass: Local Exception or Prophet for the 21st Century?

Nick Origlass (1908-1996) is credited with introducing ‘open council’ and championing ‘public participation in planning’ on Leichhardt Council in the 1960s.  On April 14th as part of our  local Heritage Festival programme former Leichhardt councillor Hall Greenland spoke on the rich legacy of these ideas pioneered by Nick and his comrade Issy Wyner – whether the ideas worked; and “does, in fact, the good men and women do, live on after them?” You can download Hall Greenland’s talk here (Adobe PDF reader required).Origlass_Heritage Week talk

Nick Origlass - defending local interests in the Leichhardt area, 1970s

Heritage Festival, 2010

2010’s Heritage Festival programme was a huge success with a great range of events held in our local area. The Balmain Association’s ferry tour on board the historic Radar of former industrial sites was a sell out and accompanied the Association’s exhibition Balmain Locals help to make our Nation at the Watch House on Darling Street .

In Leichhardt our walking tour ARCHITECTUS – held on a breezy Sunday morning- was well attanded with people coming from as far as Sutherland to discover some of Norton Street’s architectural highlights.

Former Leichhardt councillor Hall Greenland presented a stirring overview of the  life of long-time local activist and Leichhardrt alderman Nick Origlass to a packed crowd at Balmain Town Hall meeting room. Our friends at Heritage Group of Leichhardt District, meanwhile, launched their eagerly awaited book Exploring Leichhardt Heritage at Leichhardt Library.

Balmain Association's ferry tour on April 11th

Shake your family tree on February 23!


Everyone has a history. The National Archives may have some of yours.To encourage more Australians to unearth personal treasures, the National Archives is hosting a Shake Your Family Tree day in each of its capital city offices.

The NAA holds information in their vast collection about many Australian families – quite possibly your own. If members of your family migrated here in the 20th century, served in the defence forces, or worked for, or had any other dealings with, the Australian Government, it’s  possible they will have something to interest you.

Each Archives office will offer a range of activities including talks, preservation workshops, demonstrations and introductory research training. With expert family historians on hand, visitors will learn how to locate treasures such as letters, photographs, service records, immigration and citizenship applications, employment records, copyright registrations and other government records.

A highlight of this year’s open day is the launch of the NAA’s new book Keeping Family Treasures, which gives tips on how to preserve your family’s heritage while taking a peek at what other Australians treasure. For all the details see: