Last updated:

December 22, 2020

Welcome to the 2020 issue of Provenance. This issue includes seven articles that employ in-depth research of original historical documents to explore new and deeper understandings of our past and present, and the linkages between them. They highlight the potential for researchers to take primary sources in new directions, to illuminate new areas of inquiry and to discover fresh insights or a greater understanding of a particular topic or point of view.

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) holds public records deemed to be of permanent value to the state of Victoria. However, as Andrew J May, Helen Morgan, Nicole Davis, Sue Silberberg and Roland Wettenhall remind us in this issue, in many cases these records were not originally intended for general public consumption. The gap between the context in which records were originally created and the ongoing uses, meanings and legacy that they have for current and future research and understanding is a theme underpinning the articles in this issue. In exploring methodological issues associated with particular records or record collections for historical research, we are reminded of the interrelationships between current researchers of public records, the people that they are researching and writing about, and present-day families and communities.

Two peer review articles explore parts of PROVs wide collection of maps and plans in detail for their potential to reveal significant information about the past and present, although for very different purposes and in very different contexts.

Barbara Minchinton looks at the history and significance of a single plan located in PROV’s Historic Plan Collection, widely known among heritage researchers and urban archaeologists as the Bibbs map, using in-depth research to analyse and date the map. What is now called the Bibbs map was originally created to facilitate the construction of Melbourne’s water supply system in the 1850s, and is now a valuable source for decoding the built fabric of Melbourne’s gold rush era development. Through fresh examination of the complex development and context of the Bibbs map, Minchinton highlights the significance of the map both at the time of its production and for researchers in the present day. A fresh examination of this significant record, documentation of Minchinton's journey through the archival research process and identification of similar maps in the PROV collection, will no doubt be of great interest to many researchers and historians of inner Melbourne.

John Burch, Ian D Clark and Fred Cahir argue that a more nuanced reading of parish plans, in particular cadastral plans of surveys relating to the control and alienation of Crown land in Victoria, present new opportunities for understanding the ways in which the traditional owners of the Mallee back country region of north-western Victoria inhabited the land both prior to, and immediately following, the arrival of non-Aboriginal people in the area in the 1830s and 1840s. In the absence of other documentary and oral evidence of Aboriginal land use in this area dating from this time period, the use of new methodologies and record series to uncover this information is a valuable contribution. The authors present a methodology and case study to demonstrate the potential for examining and interpreting the plans in the context of Aboriginal land use, and provide a strong argument for further detailed research of the parish plans for this purpose. The article highlights the value of this type of record for similar research in other parts of Australia.

‘Untimely ends’ is a fascinating exploration of the richness and scope of inquest records for exploring both individual and community stories. Through the use of case studies, May et al. confirm the value of inquest records as archival sources for illuminating human and individual details, but also embrace the methodological issues associated with the creation and use of these records. What sorts of questions do researchers need to ask of their sources, in which context were they created, and what can they reveal or not reveal? May et al. demonstrate the ways in which these records can be interpreted and ‘read’ on many levels to reveal information about race, class, gender, family relationships, life and death both in and through the record.

In ‘Deleting freeways’, Sebastian Gurciullo expands on histories of community resistance to freeway proposals in inner Melbourne in the context of an overarching emphasis on roads and freeway construction within transport planning, a priority that continues to the present day. Through a detailed investigation of the archival record associated with Melbourne’s 1969 Transportation plan, and the proposed F2 freeway to connect the inner north with the south-east in particular, Gurciullo argues that a changing demographic of educated inner city communities and associated politically aware activism in the mid to late 1970s were pivotal in challenging this ascendency and giving voice to community and environmental issues in transport planning in the inner city. While the anti-freeway campaign successfully contributed to an abandonment by the Victorian Government of the planned F2 freeway, such ‘deletion’ has not diminished the broader focus on road construction to ease congestion in favour of public transport initiatives that meet growing demand.

In each of the three articles in this issue’s Forum section, we witness the power of archives as evidence about people that can reveal not only basic facts about their lives but also their character and motivations.

In ‘Witnessing the familial’—a companion article to ‘Untimely ends’ co-authored by Helen Morgan and members of the Melbourne History Workshop—Morgan demonstrates how inquest and court records can be read carefully to tell us about the family relationships and more of those giving evidence. Close readings of evidence given by her great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Morgan leads her to investigate the other deponents who gave evidence. By doing so, the evidence given in depositions is placed in the context of the known facts about the person giving the evidence to elicit the motivations for what they said or did not say in those depositions.

Virginia Blue embarks on a mission to dispel the rumours and popular myths that have posthumously clouded the reputation of Howard R Lawson, a progressive Melbourne architect who made innovative use of recycled materials. Seeking to redress the reception of his work and the unwarranted disparagement of his status as an architect, Blue researched Lawson’s application for registration as an architect submitted to the Architects Registration Board of Victoria as required by the Architects Registration Act 1922. The application, correspondence and associated documents relating to Lawson’s bid in 1923 to be formally registered as an architect not only reveal aspects of Lawson’s personality but also the circumstances that saw his application ultimately fail, and, consequently, the events that led to the sullying of his reputation as a noteworthy architect.

Darren Arnott re-examines the events surrounding the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Bartoli, an Italian prisoner of war, while he was allegedly attempting to escape from the Rowville internment camp on 30 March 1946. Records about the incident are contained in a number of series created by the Australian military, many of which are now held in the Victorian office of the National Archives of Australia, and in depositions from a coronial hearing that are held by PROV. Giving evidence before a military court of inquiry, commandant of the camp, Captain John Walker Waterston, claimed he shot Bartoli while he was trying to escape. The inquiry exonerated him but reports had already reached Minister for the Army Frank Forde that contradicted this finding and prompted him to pursue the matter further, leading to a judicial inquiry and court martial. Through a thorough examination of the correspondence, reports and court martial files, Arnott’s thoughtful and sensitive narration of Bartoli’s untimely death and its aftermath ultimately raises more questions than it is able to answer. They are questions about Waterston’s motivations and conduct, but also questions about how he evaded any significant consequences for his actions when his initial version of events were clearly refuted and some kind of wrongdoing was evident.

Tsari Anderson and Sebastian Gurciullo

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples.