2002 Conference – Introduction


Lorraine Stacker, Information Librarian, Penrith City Library

Well, here we are! Our first history conference. This is a big affair and rightly so. We come here today sharing an interest in the history of the City of Penrith, and will leave I am sure, well informed, entertained and rewarded for a good day out. We can thank John Mitchell for today, as he sent me an email in January this year regarding his and his wife Dorothy’s visit to Australia, and to Penrith. He offered to give a talk on his Appledore family at Castlereagh. The short window of opportunity fell on just a few days, and so the idea was born to spin a conference on the history of the region, around his visit. John was quite surprised when I suggested we organise a conference with our drawcard – an international speaker!

As it has unfolded we also have an interstate speaker – Laura Player from Perth. Laura is a very passionate historian and was only too willing to fly across from Perth and to speak here today. Our speakers are a mixture of known and undiscovered historians. I am sure most of you here, know of, or have heard of, the indomitable Lorna Parr, but we also will discover today other passionate local historians in Rhonda Hunter and Neil Cram. Neil’s article in the Star this week has brought to light many railway devotees. Our railway history is the new interest of this region, especially as we will, in May this year celebrate the 140th anniversary of the arrival of the railway line to St Marys and to Penrith in January. We will be celebrating in the Library with displays, children’s activities and I hope further talks by Neil.

European settlement began along the Nepean River and South Creek 200 years ago and today 200 years later, it is time to reflect, reinvestigate and challenge our written history, not just accept it. We have been fortunate to have had dedicated local historians like George Bunyan, Arthur Street, Bert Evans and the Stapletons who paved the way and wrote down our history. But, we cannot just accept what they say, we must go on and reinvestigate it from original sources and see for ourselves what they say to us, today. Our interpretation of our history is crucial to our time in history, just as it was in the past.

But, we must also record and preserve our research, not hide it, as it needs to get out there to the world. This is where we, in Research Services, at Penrith Library, come in. We think of ourselves, and we would like you to think of us as well, as the Hunters and Collectors of our city’s history. An example is the St Marys family of Samuel and Harriet Andrews. Kris Wood from Brisbane donated a copy of her family history to the library. Within hours we had someone asking to look at it, and just the other day we had a request from a library in Brisbane for an Inter-Library loan of her book. There has been a great interest in her research, because other researchers have been able to find it, through our Library catalogue – on the Internet.

We are the most accessible point within the city, and beyond. We are constantly communicating with people from around the world regarding people, places and events, which relate to us in some way. Recently, I received an email from a woman living in London, who grew up in Leonay and found my Leonay web page. She said it made her reminisce of her childhood and she thanked me for the page. Another person was looking for a lost relative, another a friend. A person in Llandilo in Wales emailed me to say hello and asked to share web links on our respective web pages. An architectural historian from Canberra contacted me regarding a very unique building in our city, the only one in Australia as he wanted to come and see it, we found it, and gave him some information about it – are you are wondering what building it is? Well, Alison will reveal all, during the day!

As I have just indicated we receive many contacts from people around the world. How do we help them? We do it with your help. We are the purveyors of information on the city, the hunters and collectors and in return we reassemble it, catalogue it, put it on the Internet, index it and preserve it. It is the point of access to our history.

We index the local newspapers, current and old. Two volunteers, Sue and Pat, who are here today are comprehensively indexing the Nepean Times, including the advertisements, court reports and local news, births, deaths and marriages. Our indexing includes our vertical files of newspaper clippings, council reports, research notes, just about anything which contributes to the history of the area. We have a collection of over 50,000 photographs, old and new. The most recent are the 1600 Olympic photographs and the 600 St Marys munitions factory photographs, now made available to any researcher.

We have a responsibility to the city and to those interested in its history, to provide easy access to all. At present, we are converting from one computer system to another and our indexes are temporarily unavailable to the public via the Internet, but they are accessible in the Library and through us.

I ask everyone to remember us, when it comes to preserving our history. We do not replace or compete with other local historical groups, but support, refer and give due deference to them as the keepers of local knowledge. I thank them for their support here today. And also State Records, for we are truly blessed to have the Western Sydney Repository and Reading Room in our city limits, there are no grumbles here that Kingswood is way out West near Penrith, at what it seems to some, the ends of the earth.

As Alison has mentioned, we have had to reorganise our schedule slightly before the Mayor can get here, so we thought we would provide you with a few snapshots of our history, which we now have on cdrom. Technology has come a long way, and we must keep up with the times. Those historians among us today will certainly testify HOW GREAT IS THE INTERNET, EMAIL, CDROMS, AND SCANNED IMAGES. Treasured mementoes, which we can all share, record, catalogue and duplicate in innumerable copies across the globe, are now accessible to everyone.

What a great time we are living in. I hope you all enjoy today.