Uncovering the stories in our history collections

Really, just ask a librarian! Or an archivist!

Research is an essential part of writing a good memoir or non-fiction book. My second book will explore my O’Neill family history and the indigenous population they unsettled when they “pioneered and settled” the Karangi and Orara area in the 1880s. But where to get accurate information? We’d had a family reunion twenty-odd years ago and there was a booklet put together about the O’Neills but what about the Gumbaynggirr people? I wasn’t getting very far with my desktop research so I contacted the librarians at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and Libraries.

What a good choice that was! After clarifying what I was interested in, Debbie Campbell connected me with Coffs Collections, a digitised treasure chest of photos and documents from the Museum’s collection, sent me other documents on file and links to relevant information, and also put me in touch with Richard Widders, the Aboriginal Planner and Liaison Officer, who gave me the contact details of a number of Aboriginal elders and people with local knowledge.

Early Karangi History 1929, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection item 10.203, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/65490

I live in Sydney and was very excited to be travelling up the Pacific Highway to pursue these leads. I met with Debbie Campbell at the Museum and she laid out books and articles that contained information about the O’Neills and also took me to the Museum archives where Nerida Little, Digital Cultural Collections Specialist, presented a fascinating little black book on Karangi, with notes on the area written by William Maston in 1929. One of those notes was about my grandfather, “First store built early in 1927 for Alf O’Neill (opp. Orara Rd. turnoff). Later bought by George Kelly.”

Early Karangi History 1929, Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection item 10.203. Shown on 26 February 2021

I really appreciated the professional knowledge and skills of those I met and their enthusiasm, helpfulness and expertise in uncovering useful information. So, wherever you might be up to with your research, really, just ask a librarian!

A comment from Coffs Collections’ staff

Since we launched the new Coffs Collections service six months ago, we’ve added more than 3,000 items to our repository of 15,000 resources relating to the history of the region. These are the raw materials which we have made available for everyone to explore, to be inspired by, to uncover their heritage in.

When an artist, or a student with an assignment, or an author comes along, and is able to publish their story or develop a new idea after tapping into these resources, we know we have achieved success. We’ve helped to create something bigger from the collections assembled over many many years.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Betty O’Neill for writing this post.

Betty O’Neill examines an item in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum,      26 February 2021

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