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Putting the ‘story’ back into History

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Our Year 7 students have been learning about the importance of oral history, using their journalistic skills to interview grandparents and local nursing home residents to bring their stories to life in an e-book.

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Earlier this year, Year 7 spent two days working on the History Design Thinking Project, “Putting the Story back into History”. The students learnt about the importance of oral history, its role over time and how we can use the skills of an oral historian to interview others and create our own work of History.

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Students were given the opportunity to interview either their own grandparent, or a resident from nearby nursing homes and retirement villages. Over afternoon tea, Year 7 girls and their elderly guests spent an hour revisiting the past as the students were regaled with tales of adventure, struggle and life lessons. On the second day, the girls worked very hard to produce an interesting and attractive record of their interviewees’ lives.

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The results were impressive.

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Sienna, Tara, Charlotte and Briony met with Patrick who told them how a water lily had changed his life. As a young boy, Patrick said he'd never passed an exam or a test and "was basically a total disaster.” It wasn't until he chanced upon a book about waterlilies at the library and became enchanted by the flower that he started writing. It made him realise that he “wasn’t dumb, he wasn’t stupid, but he was actually quite intelligent.” Even to this day Patrick has a pond filled with waterlilies to remind him of what they symbolise to him.

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Jessica, Kaylyn and Matilda met the owners of a Melbourne Cup winning horse. Anne and John first invested in thoroughbred horses as a hobby, but were thrilled when they won The Golden Slipper in 2008 with Sebring and then the Melbourne Cup in 2013 with Fiorente!

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Georgie, Annie, Isabel and Jemima told Lyn’s story. Even though she’d gained a Bachelor of Arts from Sydney University and had enjoyed teaching music in both Sydney and Canberra, like many women at the time, she had to give up work when she got married at the age of 22. Her husband was the physiologist for Gough Whitlam, so Lyn had the good fortune to travel overseas with her husband when he accompanied the Prime Minister. One of  Lyn’s greatest claims to fame is that once she had tea with the Queen! She returned to work when her children were older, only retiring in 2016.

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Georgina and Sienna met Ginny, whose father was a vet at Taronga Zoo. One of her earliest memories was being allowed to ride on the back of the giraffe there. Ginny also remembers the monkeys. "She didn’t like the monkeys and they didn’t like her. They were scary.”

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This term, Year 7 had an opportunity to visit the nursing homes and retirement villages to present the residents with their oral histories, including St Paul’s Residential Aged Care in Northbridge. The girls and the residents had a wonderful time sharing their stories together.

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“I got the opportunity to talk to multiple people including a lady called Inger and read her the story and card,” said Abi. “She was really sweet, kind and funny and I hope I can visit her again.It was a great opportunity to learn about other people’s histories and was really enjoyable.”

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Ruby said, “Visiting the retirement home was such a great experience because it made me feel grateful for the home and family I have. When we arrived and greeted the elderly people they were so appreciative for their histories and it made me feel good to be giving something to them. After I read Frances’s story to her she felt very happy because I reminded her about her old family and home town.

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After Frances left another lady came up to me and we had an excellent conversation about both of our lives, I told her all about our school and she enjoyed our conversation. When we left, I felt sorry for the elderly people because they are not allowed to be with their family every day and are not in their own home. Overall the visit was fantastic and I learnt a lot.”

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Charlotte said, “When I visited the nursing home, I had a great experience meeting and talking with the residents. For my oral history project, I interviewed Mrs Mavis Crispe, but unfortunately, she had passed away recently so I took to meeting new people. I met a lovely lady who was as equally kind and lovely. We exchanged stories and I had a great time listening to them, and I would definitely come back again to meet more lovely people.”

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And Sybella said, “Thank you for giving me the great experience of going to the retirement home. I really enjoyed going as now they have taught us to be grateful for everything we have in our time at school compared to what they had at their time at school. It was a great connecting and learning how different our lives are compared to with ours. My person that I visited thought her life was “boring” compared to other elder women at the retirement home, but I didn’t find that as everyone is different and unique, which made her life story very interesting. Wilma and I talked and compared her life at school and my life at school now and talked about how different they are. Overall I had a great time seeing Wilma again and learning a bit more about her and being able to connect with older people. Thank you for the great experience.”

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Congratulations to the Year 7 cohort who not only worked incredibly hard to produce their own work of History, but who were also gracious and friendly hosts and visitors. And many thanks to the History Department and in particular, to Ms Seale for giving our students an opportunity to engage in such a wonderful project.