The Collective Memory of a Community

... Keeping cultural memory alive

Children from the Bloomfield River region, n.d.

While archives such as the State Library of Queensland are the repository for so much of Queensland’s history, it is not enough to preserve these artefacts and narratives, they need to be regularly ‘dusted off’ and re-released into the community to which they belong and return them to the public memory.

We recently had the opportunity to review the OH55 Bloomfield River collection of oral histories and photographs, to facilitate the transcription of the interviews via Amplify, and enable the migration of the photographs to the library’s new platform.

The collection which was donated by Camilla Darling in 1995 includes over 300 photographs; many of the images are under-described - with little information or provenance.

Images from the collection; at left: Freddie Yougie and his son Terrence; center: Shirley Nandy/Doughboy, Eleanor Baird, Micky Kalka and Conderina Friday; at right: not yet identified, June 2020

Looking for help we contacted the historical society in Cooktown - and were greeted with a delighted offer of assistance to enlist their enthusiastic team of volunteers, several of whom are old residents of the Bloomfield area.

One of the group saw that some of the images were from her mother's own album [photos of photos] - the manager of the Museum, is the daughter of one of the interviewees - and other images have been identified as being from a personal collection held by linguists Hank & Ruth Hershberger who studied and published works on the Kuku Yalanji language.

This is what happened next ...

The generous staff of the Cooktown & District Historical Society organised a morning (including tea and cake) at the museum, to host a number of women so they could better view the images on a large screen. They included members of the Wujal Wujal Justice Group, and the Wujal Wujal Language Group led by Lucille Cassar, who is the daughter of Bob Harlow [an interviewee] and Vivienne Ross-Kelly, whose photos are included in the collection.

Lily Yougi, Doreen Ball and Linda Walker standing in front of a photo of the hostel they lived in when they were young girls, located at Middle Camp, Bloomfield, North Queensland.

There were many surprises - like the one above - or a photo of the Museum manager’s parents before their marriage that she had never seen before.

Lily Yougi is standing in front of a picture of herself as a young woman

The work continues, some images were taken back to the community for consultation and museum staff are collating the results of their labours.

By ‘milking’ the collective memory of a community best qualified to release the mostly forgotten stories of these photographs and interviews, their narratives can also be returned to the public memory, showcasing the amazing people who live and work in far north Queensland.

Notes and references:

OM55 Bloomfield River - photographs
Cooktown History Centre
Kuku-Yalanji dictionary compiled by Henry D. and Ruth Hershberger
Land and language in Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf County by Jean-Christophe Verstraete and Diane Hafner

Many thanks to Bev Shay, Museum Manager & Marge Scully, Research and Archive Officer, Cooktown & District Historical Society

Marg Powell | Metadata Services | State Library of Queensland

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