In the 1990s the Leichhardt Library acquired microfilms of three local newspapers from the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The Balmain Observer spanned 1884-1889 and 1902-1907; the Leichhardt & Petersham Guardian covered 1886-1893 and was superseded by the Standard covering 1893-1897. In 2006 it was discovered that the British Library held a microfilm of the Balmain Observer between 1896 and 1903 so we ordered these from London partly filling the gap of missing issues. Taken together these newspapers cover the period 1884-1907 – nearly a quarter century of news and events of people in the Annandale, Balmain and Leichhardt area.
A newspaper is only useful as a historical resource for those who know the date on which some event occurred, or who are willing to read through many issues in the hope of coming across the information they need. In 2004 a volunteer commenced a long-term project to index this valuable resource. Every issue must be read carefully, and significant items indexed. The Balmain Observer has been completed (apart from the additional years acquired recently from the British Library), as has the Leichhardt & Petersham Guardian. Work on the Standard is underway, with completion expected later this year. Several more years will be needed to index the additional years of the Balmain Observer and incorporate them into the existing index.
The work is already bearing fruit. Research for the recent book Annandale 1907-2007 Place is People by Mary Haire made use of many references to the history of Annandale which would not otherwise have been known of. Because the activities of many individuals were reported in the news columns (local officials, marriages, deaths) the indexes are also proving useful for family history researchers that visit us.
Leichhardt Library hosted the launch of a publication by writer/historian/performer Mary Haire on Wednesday, 9th April. UTS journalism student Dan Bishton attended the launch and posted this report for LOCAL NOTES:
Local historian Mary Haire launched her new book to a packed Leichhardt library on Wednesday April 9th. The event opened with a speech from fellow actress and author Judith Nunn. Haire; an historian, actress and 23 year Annandale resident took on the project with a $5000 grant as one of five local history grants awarded by Leichhardt Council last year.
Place is People – Annandale 1907/2007 presents a colorful cast – leaders, ghosts and chimney-sweeps feature in twin portraits of a suburb a century apart. Haire reveals uncommon knowledge of a mild suburb in her obvious delight for untold stories – two examples being Annandale’s sudden secession from Leichhardt Council and Sydney’s bubonic plague outbreak – complete with the district’s own rat catchers.
Born in Perth, Haire moved to Annandale in 1985. She cites the inspiration for her forays into Annandale’s past as her discovery of the story of Esther Abrahams, a Jewish convict who arrived in Australia on the first fleet and eventually became first lady of the colony. “I discovered Esther at the Jewish Museum, I’d never seen her name in Annandale – I was fascinated, and from that moment I decided I wanted to bring her back to Annandale.”
Esther’s story became the basis of a guided walk started by Haire in 1999, which covered important sites in Annandale’s development from estate to municipality. The success of the walks led into a successive set of local history projects that have culminated in the publishing of Place is People.
Haire’s Annandale projects aim to provide a reference point for current social developments by drawing strong parallel between the two eras, for example the recent influx of wealth into the suburb that is comparable to its 1907 status as one of the wealthiest in Sydney. Her motive in drawing this comparison is an attempt to regain an element she’s seen disappear. “I think we’ve lost our sense of community generally,” she says. “I want people to go away and be stimulated to think – not just have some entertainment and then close the book. I’d like to inspire people to be more community minded, and I’d like people to be inspired to do something themselves on heritage and history.”
Place is People: Annandale 1907/2007 is a limited release of 250 copies, and is available for sale through Leichhardt Library.