Using Trove: Family and Local History Workshop

Trove Workshop at the Gunning Library, 17 June 2016
Gunning is a village in the Upper Lachlan Shire, situated about half-way between Goulburn and Yass.
Gunning marks the starting point of Hume and Hovell’s expedition that enabled settlement throughout the Murray region and established an inland route from Sydney to Melbourne. Up until that time, Gunning marked the limit of settlement, and in 1875, the end of the railway line from Sydney. As a major sheep grazing area, Gunning has had many periods of wealth, and this is reflected in the outstanding colonial and federation architecture in the village. The Gunning Library is one such example. Originally the Gunning Centenary Literary Institute, opened in 1925, the Gunning Library remains a community hub and a venue for the many community groups.

The Gunning Historical Society is an active group of committed locals with an interest in local and family history. Recently, the ABC program “Who’s Been Sleeping in My House” featured an episode on a local residence that is the former police lock-up, complete with underground cells. Keith Brown, a local author and former Deputy Official Secretary to the Governors-General Sir Zelman Cowan and Sir Ninian Stephen, recently published The Day Dunkley Died: Murder and Retribution in Colonial Gunning, the story of one of the more chilling incidents in Gunning’s history investigated on the ABC program. Brown’s work uncovers the facts and the myths surrounding Dunkley’s wife and her lover, Dunkley’s man-servant, who brutally murdered the settler while he slept, and were hanged and reportedly buried standing up “so they may never rest in peace”. Brown’s work continues a long tradition of historical scholarship in the region that includes an early history of Gunning by Mrs Flora Timms, whose article ‘The Centenary of Gunning’ and related journal submissions are now held in the Mitchell Library at the State Library of NSW. 

Last year, I was fortunate enough to acquire a lovely federation house in the village of Gunning, and discovered the history of the house from the time of the sale of the original town lot in 1878 to the building of the house in 1926. The National Library’s Trove database enabled me to discover that the first owner of the block of land was a journalist who later went bankrupt, and that the house was built by the local undertaker and his family. After joining the Gunning Historical Society, I met many others in the village who shared my passion for history, and given the long-established scholarly tradition and the encouragement of the Gunning Historical Society, I put together a workshop on using Trove to assist others in researching local and family history. The Gunning Library was a natural place for such an event, and after almost two decades of living in Canberra and being sheltered from the services offered by a traditional local government, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Gunning Library has a computer room with internet access and access to numerous databases including Trove and

On Friday 17th June 2016, I ran two workshops on using Trove and for family and local history research. Both workshops were fully booked out and the team at Trove and ABC 666 in Canberra were interested in what we were doing at a local level. Participants were encouraged to bring along their own research projects, and after a brief introductory session on each database, I shared some of the tips and tactics I have gleaned from my many years of research using databases such as Trove.

I am happy to report that each participant found something interesting and relevant to their respective research projects, and there is demand for additional workshops using Trove and other services such as the National Archives of Australia collection and the Australian War Memorial’s war service records. It is pleasing to find that these fine national institutions are accessible in regional Australia, and with the superb facilities provided by the Gunning Library, the local community has a wonderful
resource for historical research.

In closing, I would like to make some observations about the symbolic importance of the Gunning Library and others like it. When the original Literary Institute was opened in 1925, the then member for Eden Monaro, Sir Austin Chapman, in his opening address, mentioned how Canberra would provide many opportunities for tourism in and around Gunning, while also using his address to chastise the Victorians for their opposition to the proposed location of the national capital. Trove can help to unearth many such stories throughout regional Australia. And recently, just before this workshop commenced, Labor promised to restore funding to Trove if it was elected. It would seem that despite their small stature, libraries like those at Gunning play an active role in community development. With appropriate engagement from the local academic community, citizens in rural and regional communities can continue to enjoy the country lifestyle, while at the same time playing an active part in the federation through access to the many first-rate national institutions. Indeed, Trove is one such institution, and I trust that our recent workshops have helped to perpetuate Gunning’s well-established scholarly tradition.

If you haven’t been to Gunning before, the local Lions Club runs a community market on the last Sunday of each month and it is well worth a visit. The village has a hotel, two excellent cafes, an art gallery and other stores selling arts and crafts, gifts, antiques and collectibles.