This blog post was written by Marilyn Kenny, Public Record Office Victoria volunteer, and was originally given as a speech at the December 2015 PROV Volunteer Event.
What a great intimate gathering this is. Just the place to share a few secrets.
The first is that my friends don’t understand me. “You go where?” they say. “You do what??” they add. “Why???” they question. “You should get out more, travel, have adventures, relax, meet new people, explore.”
They then proceed to tell me about all the wonderful folk they met in that New York Hospital whence they were taken after experiencing those chest pains on the plane over. How tranquil and delightful the Whitsundays are when viewed from their hotel room hence they were confined for a week with that bad bout of gastro. About the cute and interesting little bars, cafes, taverns, hotels, wayside stops, restaurants and eateries they visited as they hobbled their way across Spain – forced to sit and rest every 30 minutes after injuring their ankle in Turkey. And of course there is always that life affirming experience of being robbed at knife point in Rio.
I sigh and want to say “but I do travel, experience new cultures immerse myself in the moment, meet a hundred new people a day.” But, to say more would be to reveal my – our – second secret.
We travel, but in time, for we have a time machine.
Down in North Melbourne in a bland, unremarkable building is “THE ARCHIVAL REPOSITORY DEPOT INFORMATION SERVICE ©.”
Like all good time machines it is bigger on the inside.
Every week I descend to the depths, greet my fellow travelers, settle myself in my chair, adjust my equipment and take off.
I learn how to govern an embryonic colonial settlement, experience life and death in a Chinese camp on the outskirts of a goldfield. I see the first visions on paper of grand buildings. I stand behind the counter of a pawn shop and enumerate the possessions of the poor and desperate. I peep behind the scenes at the double dealings of the land boomers and look into the faces of some of their victims, men building the Spotswood pumping station, digging out a square yard of clay for ninepence. Their sons and daughters will be our ANZACs and in another life I will have travelled with them across the seas to Egypt, Palestine, the Dardanelles, France, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain and back home. Our time machine takes me, with them, to our Victorian hinterlands as they battles for their farms.
I share in their many troubles, tragedies and triumphs. My fellow travelers tell harrowing tales of what happened to those who fell by the wayside into the jaws of the great kraken, the Repatriation.
I don’t only travel backwards in time but forward. I see the future being made. Those paper plans translated into great buildings that we enjoy today. The infrastructure on which we depend being constructed – the extension of the railways; the underground, the great dams; the O’Shannassy, the Silvan, the Maroondah; the sewerage system.
During my off duty moments I get a free cup of tea and a biscuit; bright conversation from my multi-talented travelling companions, a glimpse at yesterday’s newspaper and a chance to recycle old batteries.
We appreciate the pioneering of those first generation volunteers who undertook epic journeys and explored the galaxies of the Shipping Indices, the La Trobe correspondence and Land Records. We learn from them the lessons that all good time travel teaches. Order will emerge from chaos, persistence pays off, water will wear away a stone…We who are undertaking shorter journeys through Bills of Sale, Inquests and Land Records take heart from this. This wisdom is a lifeline for those still voyaging through Project Albany, Historic Plans and of course Land Records.
Ours is a rare and privileged volunteering opportunity.
And we thank the staff for plotting our course across the time space continuum, fueling up the machines with records and protecting us from feral files and alien handwriting systems.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that one half of the world does not understand the pleasures of the other. I – we – are very grateful to have a place in this our half of the world, protecting and preserving the collective memories of our Victorian community.
Learn more about our volunteer program here.