Download all 7 parts of this talk as a single PDF

At its March 2018 meeting Storry Walton, one of the founding members of AMOHG, gave a wonderful presentation on the work of the group over its 27 years, and of the industry over his career of nearly three times that time.

In his talk, Storry:-

  • covered some of the high spots and major undertakings of the group;
  • he outlined the careers and characters of a few of the outstanding individuals in the sector whom he had worked with and/or interviewed;
  • he discussed what made a good oral history interview – and how to get a good interview;
  • he made some very relevant comments and suggestions about the NFSA’s Search The Collection website, the point of access for the oral history researcher;
  • and he considered the various ways in which oral histories are used.

All this in one presentation!

Storry has been very generous in providing a written copy of his talk, and we present it here – in five parts. It’s a fascinating account of what the media industry has been about in the past half century, and what our group has been about in attempting to record it though the minds and memories of some of its practitioners, some celebrated, some little-known.

Undiscovered Treasure 1 – LOOKING BACK  

Storry Walton’s talk at the March 2018 meeting of AMOHG

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Storry Walton AM

It is 75 years since my first broadcast and 40 years since I recorded my first oral history.

This is the 27th year since AMOHG, formerly known as FBIOHG was formed.

This year the number of classified oral histories in the NFSA collection will reach 4500. 

With all this in mind, I wish to recall some of the important contributions made to the NFSA by the Group, and then, as is expected at these presentations by members, tell a few of many memorable moments that my own oral histories brought to light, and share a few tricks of the trade. Most of all, I want to ask some questions about the usefulness of our oral history work while for most people, it remains an undiscovered national treasure.

  • I think our national oral history collection is immensely valuable.
  • And hugely under-valued.
  • If so, there is a problem – hardly anyone knows it is there.
  • And if that is so, then it is not being used.
  • And if that is so, the work we do – staff and Group members alike – is useless.

How can we bear that thought?

  • I really mean valuable.
  • Look at the names of those we have recorded.

Consider the fields of activity they represent – from community broadcasting to executive management; from bit players to international stars; from every nook and cranny in which ideas are conceived and made manifest in films and programs; from the technology and techniques of production to their exhibition as the final product.

Recall that the span of knowledge and memory covers the period from the late nineteenth century to today.

  • Can we say that it should remain largely unknown and unused?

MY PLEA TODAY WILL BE FOR A SIGNIFICANT BOOST IN OUR NATIONAL ARCHIVE TO THE STATUS OF ORAL HISTORY AS A SEPARATELY IDENTIFIABLE RESOURCE, AND TO ITS VISIBILITY, ACCESSIBILITY, NAVIGABILITY AND USE.


 If there were to be an effects track to this talk, it would be of a lone voice, with some reverb as if from a vault, crying out softly Coo-ee’. Then two voices, four, eight, one hundred, one thousand, two thousand, four thousand… a choir of nine thousand voices, a choir of all those people who have been so diligently recorded by us and others, quietly repeating ‘Coo-ee’. As if to say, ‘Here we are. Can you hear us? Come and visit us. We have marvellous stories to tell you. Don’t forget us.’

A preliminary note: The Archive has been in a steadily intensifying crisis for a decade now, languishing for want of government funding and any sense of urgency to fix it.

It has been unloved and unsupported.

And the staff, including our Senior Curator, Bronwyn and her colleagues have borne the brunt of it while quietly sticking to their tasks – and in Bronwyn’s case doing what I estimate to be three or four peoples’ work and addressing some of the biggest curatorial problems. I acknowledge her skills and dedication to our collection. Not one word of what I will talk about this afternoon is shaped as a dart and aimed at any of the staff. Quite the opposite. Now a new Director is electrifying the place with vitality and vision and a sense of renewal and my reflections are in support of the Archive and its staff in the light of this new energy.

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A few highlights

It’s a common phenomenon.  “The mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain” said Kahlil Gibran with exquisite precision. It is useful to stand back from the work we have done to see it in perspective. We might not have made a mountain of recordings but we have made a decent hill.

From the outset the Group played an advisory and practical role for the Archive on oral history matters at a time when staff and resource problems had forced the Archive to severely curtail its oral history program.

  • Almost immediately, the Group sprang into action and provided the Archive with a carefully selected list of 400 names for interview. Then, because there were no available funds for oral history, members offered to assist the Archive by recording oral histories on a voluntary basis. In the following decade it put hundreds of recordings into the collection.
  • It maintained and updated a list of some 200 names for interview and devised a priority protocol, designed, among other things, to ensure that a balance was maintained between occupations, industries, fields of work, gender, influence,  and those people who distinguished themselves in any way.
  • In 1997/98 the Group engaged Graham Shirley with funds provided by the Archive to conduct a Film Interview Search. It garnered 200 film and broadcast industry interviews in private hands in New South Wales and organised their deposit into the Archive.
  • In 1994, the Group emphatically supported the then embattled Archive by producing a lengthy, lucid, balanced and wonderfully thoughtful submission to the Government’s Review of the National Film and Sound Archive. Today, 24 years later, it remains unnervingly relevant to today’s state of things.
  • It produced a unique Australian Film and Television Chronology, the research led by Roland Beckett and Julie James Bailey with the support of John Daniels, Tom Jeffrey and others. This had a number of revisions and was later known as Key Events in the Development of Australian Film Television and Radio 1895 – 1984 and has been updated, to 2009 I think. It is a considerable feat of scholarship. I know of no other extant detailed chronology of our Industries in Australia. It exists ONLY as a result of the collective memory and fine scholarship of the Group. It deserves to be updated, known and used. I commend this task to the Archive.
  • The Mistress List. When a count was made in 1994, the total of oral histories deposited in the collection by the Group was already 444. The number recorded to date as classified oral histories is, in round figures, 4900. The 444 histories emerged from the creation by Martha Ansara of what was known as the Mistress List: an intricate, voluminous and detailed List (re-gendered in title from its original Master List.) It was updated by the membership at every meeting. At some early point – (I know the figure but cannot date it) it had identified and listed 573 records of film intervIews in private hands in Australia and included, for the sake of completeness, some 250 NFSA holdings. The List included some often incomplete or raw data but was a considerable contribution to NFSA’s oral history progress. It was subsumed into MAVIS (the Merged Audio Visual Information System) and then to the current Mediaflex collection management system.
  • Balancing the record. A little known but significant aspect of this 1994 count was the Group’s analysis of the interviews. It was the first of regular checks in the years following.

Its importance?


“NOT JUST THE KINGS AND QUEENS”


Of the 444 interviews, it identified that:

  •   150 were directors and producers,
  •   40 cameramen,
  •   35 actors
  •   20 people in exhibition and distribution
  •   10 production executives,
  •    3 female cinematographers,
  •    3 electrix,
  •    3 production managers, (you see where this is leading…)
  •    3 continuity people,
  •    2 designers,
  •    1 boom swinger,
  •    1agent,
  •    1 props person,
  •    1 make-up artist…and so on…

The world over, it was recognised that the advent of oral history allowed the  life experience, skills and stories of the entire range of people working in the Industries to be saved for posterity: not just (to use Martha’s description of the  time) the Kings and Queens.

This 1994 audit was a sharp reminder to the Group of its founding principle of wide coverage of occupations and fields of work.

  • The Vale List. In its own way, the Vale list, noted at every meeting of the Group over 27 years is another priceless record. I wish we could get hold of all our Minutes and extract those lists for posterity, and have them accessioned by NFSA. They are another roll-call of our Industry community and, in its own way, our Honour Board. I treasure the Vale moment at our meetings because it is a graceful acknowledgement of people who made wonderful contributions to Australian sound and screen activity, many of whom slid quietly away without obituary or notice.

Undiscovered Treasure 2 – MEMORABLE MOMENTS in my own experience

part 2 of Storry Walton’s talk at the March 2018 meeting of AMOHG

Sir James Cruthers


TELEVISION BELONGS TO THE COMMUNITY’.


Sir James Cruthers was a gentle, unassuming giant among the first chief executives of the tough, no-holds barred, competitive environment of commercial television in Australia.  He was quiet and ruminative and used the word nice a lot.

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Sir James Crothers

Yet he was the only man who ever beat Rupert Murdoch to gain a television licence. Though there was animosity as a result, three days after his retirement, he had a phone call from New York. It was Murdoch inviting him to come and work for him.

Which he did. And brought Fox and BSkyB to the Murdoch stable.

He talked about his concept of ‘decent management’ and how he initiated a policy of community services policies for TVW7 that ran through all its management and administration – and all staff. He looked at me across the microphone and said: Television belongs to the community’.

I remember two things in particular: for all the corporate steel in his make-up, he had created quietly and slowly over his life the largest collection of the works of Australian women painters – this at a time well before women artists had found any serious recognition in State collections. He spoke about them with knowledge and reverence.

But the surprise for me was this: I knew of the Channel 7 Telethons that he had initiated in Perth, but had no idea that he saw them, not as a one off, turn it on and turn it off, one-day event, but as a deeply felt act of charity arising from ethical principle. He did not see it as a spin-off from corporate culture but integral to it. His staff members were encouraged to participate on-site or off-site, and to maintain a charitable stream in their own lives throughout the year.  To his Board’s consternation, he never allowed any commercials during the Telethons, and the station bore all the costs. That is true philanthropy. To use his favourite word, it is a nice example of what Kahlil Gibran meant when he said ‘Work is love made visible’.

Julie James Bailey


“MOTHER SIGNED THE CONTRACT”


I have known Julie for 46 years. Yet I realised in recording her oral history that I did not really know her at all. For all her drive and tenacity and achievement she is a modest soul and is not given to talking about herself. But even if she were a coffee table chatterer for all those years, I would still have not known her.

It has happened to me a lot in the last 20 years. It is to do with the fact that when we meet people as work colleagues in our busy late teens and twenties, our knowledge of them begins from that time. Yet I have found late, late in my life, how much it is that in the early years we often find the motives, influences, behaviours and experiences that shape our working lives. More of that in a minute.

Of Julie I was surprised to know – and so will everyone else that, although born and raised in Australia, she was the first woman ever to hold office in a British trade union – the ACTT (Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians). She was 23.

She was Chair of her School Council, grew up in an environment of strong women and political activism – her mother was novelist Florence James; they lived in a house with novelist/activist Dymphna Cusack, (they co-authored the 1951 novel Come In Spinner). Miles Franklin was a house-guest.

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Julie James Bailey

Julie published her first book at age 20 – Mother Signed the Contract , a guide to aspiring actors about the realities of weekly rep – a first step on a life-long involvement in working conditions, education, womens rights and social justice – all wrapped up in that one young, altruistic enterprise.

She was a pioneer of the first years of British live-to-air commercial television aged 23, often the only woman director in the production house.

Most astonishingly, she was a member of the then famous Women’s Caravan For Peace, a group of about 30 women led by Dora Russell, wife of Bertrand Russell on a tour behind the Iron Curtain. Having taught herself cinematography, she made a 35mm film of the tour. And every bit of this, and much more about her early life, foreshadows the themes of her broadcasting and political life!

Bill Fitzwater


A JOURNEY THROUGH A MIND ON FIRE


Bill Fitzwater’s oral history in notable for the sheer breadth of his television experience in Australia, Britain and Europe, his ceaseless experimentation, his left-brain right-brain fascination and mastery of technology and creative flair, his creative audacity, and a kind of tempestuous enthusiasm with which he has lived his life in television in drama, outside broadcasting (OB) and particularly in music and dance.

His value to the collection includes how often he broke new ground.

He was the first director in Britain to use green screen in live television.

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Bill Fitzwater

He spent his lifetime seeking new ways to fuse sound and vision that were unique to the medium of television as distinct from film; he united contemporary poetry, avant garde music, the lives of composers, the natural soundscapes in which they lived and worked – and brought to Australian and British screens new composers, new music as well as the old, always in forms that were entertaining to a wide public as well as to the cogniscenti.

He talked about his restoration of 28 Chaplin films, of restoring Earth (Dovshenko,) and creating a score for restoration for the BBC of Weiner’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari,

He spoke of his research for the restoration of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and how it originally toured with a full symphony orchestra playing excerpts from Debussy, Mussorgsky, Verdi and Schoenberg. He sought to reproduce this with a sound-track recorded with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but to his surprise, the BBC decided against this more traditional orchestral approach and opted for a sound track comprising a fusion of musique concrète and electronic effects of the kind he had worked so hard to introduce to British broadcasting for a decade.

Bill Fitzwater’s oral history is a journey through a mind on fire with pushing the technical and creative possibilities of the television medium to their limits – at a time when television was new and its creative possibilities were regarded as crude and deeply inferior to the art of the cinema. As such, like most age-old stories about experiment, I believe it will hold a new fascination to generations in 50 years time.

Frances Carr Boyd


THE FIRST – AND PERHAPS ONLY – SCRIPT ASSISTANT TO BE RECORDED FOR THE COLLECTION.


The term script assistant, coined quixotically and misleadingly by the ABC’s General Manager Charles Moses, was in fact a production assistant in television broadcasting.

The role in major productions like ballet, dance and drama involved a high order of complex skills – administrative, technical, and creative, including artist contracts, budgetary management, rehearsal schedules, location booking, endless requisitioning for wardrobe, staging, make-up and so forth, and the key studio function of controlling timing, the precise-to-the-second roll-in of film inserts, readying the camerascompiling all the post-production reports and reconciliation of the budget. The job was at its zenith from the beginning of television to about the early 80s when live drama disappeared.

Frances was the first and maybe only Script Assistant to be recorded.

  • Her value to the collection is that she gives a detailed description of the job, and the weekly routine leading up to the on-air production.
  • She also speaks of the role of women in the ABC at some length.
  • She also talks in detail about the early years of ABC Television in Toowong, Brisbane – and there may be little about Queensland television in the collection.

Her oral history is on the website but unfortunately the entry simply provides her name (unknown to anyone) and a line about discussing her life and times, but no summary of the content. So, unless that is rectified, no one will ever hear it.


Undiscovered Treasure 3 – A FEW TRICKS OF THE TRADE

part 3 of Storry Walton’s talk at the March 2018 meeting of AMOHG

InterviewingEveryone at this table knows the techniques of oral history interviewing. But, outside the established guidelines it is also a personality driven activity. So I will confine myself to mentioning six techniques that I would personally commend to a new interviewer.

1 Research

From my earliest years in documentary television I learnt this rubric: Research is the unstated contract you have with your audience that you know what you are talking about: It is about knowledgable enquiry.

Applied to oral history, it means that I can reassure interviewees that I have learnt as much as I can about the circumstances of their lives and occupations such that I can ask informed questions they might not have thought about: it is about facilitating memory.

My boss at the BBC where I made investigative social documentaries said that the program as a product is (and Lord knows how he had calculated the formula) 2/7th the visible program-to-air and 5/7ths the unseen research.

I do a lot of research. I start with the interviewees’ CVs and then get information on each part of them – on the organisations they worked for and the people who were prominent in their fields, on the main historical events of the time, both concerning the film or broadcasting field they were in, and also of the main contextual events of the times, and so on. Very occasionally, with the permission of the interviewees, I talk to people about an organisation or an event with which they were involved  – but never with someone with whom they worked.

The purpose is to always to have information ready to help the memory, but never, of course, to use in rebuttal or argument.

I say that thorough research is an obligation of the job.

2 Childhood and Youth

GSinterviewsDEGraham Shirley (l) interviews
not Storry Walton but David Elfick

I spoke about this earlier. I was surprised years ago, when Graham Shirley interviewed me that he spent so much time on my early years before television. But now I know (as I mentioned when I was talking about Julie James Bailey) that in these young years you can find the source of many aspects of the adult career – behaviour, interests, biases, fears, delights, attitudes, formative experience. It is a wonderfully potent thing to have laid down at the beginning of a session to return to when you want to ask a question that might connect the past and present.

3 Unmasonic signs

We all have our own armoury. I have looks that mean ‘Really?’ ‘I don’t quite understand’ (for when more explanation would be good); ‘unbelievable!’ for a further reaction; ‘That’s a pity’; ‘Can you expand?’ ‘I am thinking about that’ (the averted eyes). And the gentle silence.

4 The art of the afterthought


 A CLEVER DIRECTOR NEVER CRIES ‘CUT!’ AT THE END OF A SCENE.


Silence can be the sound of nothing. If so, stop the clock. But if, after the topic seems to have run its course into silence, I sense the slightest tension – good or bad, I hold the silence… thoughtfully… maintain the quiet tension… and occasionally you get a nugget in the form of an afterthought.

It is to do psychologically with mental release of your interviewee from the more considered attention of the interview situation. When the body and mind let go, sometimes the hidden thought flows out unbidden.

Filmmakers know this phenomenon in drama. A clever director never cries ‘Cut!’ at the end of a scene. An actor, working in the moment, with the mind still ticking over in character so that you can see in their eyes that the mind is still thinking, will continue to think in character if ‘cut’ has not been called. And that is where you often get the glance, grimace, smile, the whispered word that makes the scene memorable – or even makes sense of it.

Silence is awkward for most human beings. It has to be broken. Don’t be the one to break it.

5 Reflection

I always tell interviewees at the beginning of a session that I will leave 30 minutes at the end for reflection. This is a reassurance that if they happen to forget to mention something of importance, time has already been put aside to record it. I leave them alone or suggest they have a break outside the recording area to relax and think quietly, ‘Is there something or someone I really wanted to talk about, and forgot?’ or ‘Has something arisen in my mind in the course of this interview that I would like to express?’ The technique removes some anxiety at the beginning about getting everything down – and allows for the possibility that the interview process itself has given rise to thoughts they had never before given voice to.

6 Documentation

I always do the required summary – but long enough to capture all the main topics.

I provide the required log – but very detailed, with

    1.  timecode column indicating exact position of each topic and subject,
    2.  cross references within the interview for researchers to follow a line of enquiry,
    3.  highlighting of key words and
    4.  maintaining the old discipline of a right hand column in which difficult words are spelt for the transcriber.

I provide a timecode referenced index of topics and subjects, mainly people and events that are mentionedin cases where an interviewee has covered many significant events and mentioned many important people. It’s not compulsory to do an index but I do it.


. . .WITHOUT THESE CLUES, TREASURED INFORMATION IS LEFT ALONE, UNKNOWN AND USELESS


I do all this is because I put myself in the shoes of a researcher and know that without these content clues, and without the time to listen through hours and hours of recording they will have no idea of what lies within the interview and, as a result,  may move on, leaving treasured information alone, unknown, unused and useless.


Undiscovered Treasure 4 – WHAT NEXT? some modest recommendations

part 4 of Storry Walton’s talk at the March 2018 meeting of AMOHG

If we believe that the oral history collection has value, and that it needs a great  galvanising effort to lift it out of obscurity, then here are some thoughts about how to improve its status, visibility, access, navigability and usefulness.

Distinct value

IT GIVES HISTORY THE CONTEXT OF THE MINDS THAT MADE IT

If I want to give weight to my plea for increasing the status and use of oral history in the collection I remind myself of some – just some – of the compelling qualities that make it distinct as an historical artefact and worthy of a distinct presence on the website.

They include:

  • It has time on its side – there is absolutely no pressure on an oral history interviewer to speed to a deadline or to hurry the subject along. It therefore creates an environment that encourages informality and contemplation rather than formality and brevity.
  • it is descriptive not investigative; it is powered by memory and opinion, and not by the hard drive for factual precision and journalistic balance. It is much more about the why and how than it is about the what. The subject is freed from the burden of trying to get every factual detail recorded with precision. It is about their story, their side of the story, their views.
  • It emanates from a state of relaxation – or near-relaxation and therefore it can excite the sub-conscious. It lets off steam, gossips and pours fresh insights onto what we already know. It can even surprise interviewees with what lay below the surface of their minds.
  • It humanises and personalises history.
  • It gives history the context of the minds that made it, to place along what they did. How they were thinking to lie beside the facts of history.
  • To the extent that it provides a social and cultural context within which its subjects lived and worked, it helps make sense of history, illustrates the part an individual life has played in the grand scheme of things, and sometimes confers unexpected dignity and importance on otherwise ordinary lives.

HOW IS THE NFSA’S ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION ACCESSED?


Website Design – some general thoughts

I must leave it to others expert in the field to assess the value, if any, in what I offer as a user of the site and to make any improvements. It seems to me to be a good time in the NFSA’s life to be offering positive suggestions.

The new website is a huge improvement on the old. It is inviting and user-friendly.

nfsa-aboutIn this bright new format however, oral history is to my mind, hiding in a mis-named cubby. You must start by clicking the ABOUT button.

Most people would not start here.

ABOUT usually denotes Governance, Management and Mission details. ABOUT takes you to WHAT WE COLLECT. And here you can select a clearly marked panel for ORAL HISTORY and discover a one sentence definition of oral history and three excellent examples. But it does not direct you to ‘search the collection’ – which is what I most want to find.

I would find it more logical if the ABOUT button was renamed WHAT WE COLLECT, and that it directed you to Search The Collection.

Meantime in order to commence my oral history search, I follow the obvious and clearly indicated buttons COLLECTION >  NFSA COLLECTION > SEARCH THE COLLECTION. The main page (see Appendix Item 1) lists 9 categories, but does not include Oral History. You need to know – or explore, to find out that it is included, along with interviews, under SOUND RECORDINGS UNPUBLISHED. This is accurate, but I suggest that Oral History is so distinctly important as to have its own tick-box.

Having sorted that out I enter the Search the Collection site. My instinct is that it has evolved as a professional tool for librarians and other experts rather than as a guide to the Archive’s publics. Some of my problems may arise from my age and eyesight. I find it difficult to read, its fonts severely small and the site not easy to navigate – though I usually get to my destination – often rubbing my old eyes with eye-strain if I spend any time at the screen.

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But my search needs are minimal and I have time on my side to spend at the screen. If I were a 40 year old, I might not find these pages engaging, and I would be impatient at the time it can take to find things.

And further, if I was of an occupation outside film and broadcasting I might wish for more guidance by way of subject headings to find the detail of the topics of my professional interest.

I wish it was a bright, easy-to-find, and exciting site.

It would be marvellous if visitors to these pages could not only be satisfied with what they have discovered but also to have enjoyed the experience and been stimulated by it to return.

In this connection I recommend a visit to the oral history sites of Ngā Taonga (the New Zealand Archive of Film Television and Sound, and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Each is entered through a panel format and each is exciting, bright and easy to navigate.

Website: Some further thoughts.

A BOX OF ITS OWN

Separate identification:  I think that oral history is so distinctly important, being, among other things, specifically about the history of all that the Archive stands for – that, as mentioned earlier, it deserves a separate tick-box added to the nine on the introductory pages (easy search and advanced search) of the site. And there is a class of researcher that I think could be confused or misled by the bundling of oral histories and interviews. They are utterly different and serve different purposes.

INTRODUCTION TO ORAL HISTORY (A NEW PAGE) 

I would welcome, as a development of the excellent WHAT WE COLLECT page, a separate inescapable introductory page as a bright welcome to oral history – with

  • an explanation of what oral history is (including its difference from interview),
  • the purposes to which it can be put – examples.
  • a quick guide to how you can preview/ listen to it with a view to its use – first if you are in town, or secondly and very importantly, if you are in a rural or remote locality of Australia. Think of a teacher in Katherine or a researcher in Rockhampton. Our remote citizens are routinely forgotten by many organisations and services)
  • how to order the bits you want, and
  • links to conditions and fees.

Consistency of vital detail


VOICE OF A VISITOR: “I’VE FOUND THE ENTRY. BUT WHAT’S THERE? I CAN’T SPEND DAYS LISTENING TO HOURS OF VOICE RECORDING. GIVE ME SOME CLUES PLEASE, AS TO CONTENT.”


I find the information varied, anomalous and inconsistent. It is the result of 34 years of accumulating material with different protocols, including those the Archive inherited from the National Library of Australia in 1984. It’s something that staff, oral historians and the public have simply had to contend with – and current staff could never revise all the aberrant entries of past decades. My concern is with inconsistencies that relate to a lack of useful information for the researcher.

Some time I hope some of the inconsistencies of past accessions can be addressed – but from this point forward, it would be helpful if new consistent protocols on required information can be instituted.

Summaries and Holdings

I believe that it is vital that in all oral history entries:-

  • the summaries should, within reasonable bounds, be of whatever length is necessary in order to include mention of principal topics, subjects, people and events.
  • Under this heading, some summaries are non-existent, some just a few words, some fairly extensive, the length of the description seemingly not related to the importance or extent of the content. (Some summaries in the past were extensive – and very helpful. But there is no consistency of length or detail.) The summary is important because it is the first quick reference for the visitor to the range of content. (See examples in the Appendix)
  • the existence of transcripts, logs, indexes and duration should be indicated within the Summaries or under Holdings.

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Transcripts, logs, indexes and durations

  • I think it is essential for researchers to know whether there is a transcript – or not. It is a time and money question. If there is a transcript (and/or a log, see below), the search for useful content will be short. If there is no transcript, the listening time might be many hours.
  • Logs. Visitors need to know if there is a log because it provides a point by point indication of content range and depth. At least mine do because they are detailed.
  • I think detailed logs should be required of us with a column for timecode references for speedy location of the subject and a column for spelling check with all the words and phrases that a transcriber might have difficulty with.(In Bill Fitzwater’s case there are hundreds of such words) Within the body text, I provide some internal cross references where the interviewee has returned to the subject at a later time in the sessions.
  •  An Index is not required by the Archive. I include one where the interviewee has talked about many important events and people. Bill Fitzwater and Julie James Bailey for instance covered huge ground in their recordings. The index assists a researcher at a deeper level than the log. It draws together under one heading all the references to a topic that an interviewee has mentioned throughout the sessions. So it is a very quick way for a researcher to assess the value of all the mentions of a particular topic.
  • Durations are sometimes given, sometimes not. It is important for people to know how long they will have to listen, whether it be a short time guided by a reference to a log or a transcript (say a morning),- or whether it may be hours if there is no log to help them select certain passages (say up to two days). If they have to search on site they need to know how much it will cost at advertised rates – $120 for two hours or up to $600 for two days. I will mention fees separately later. (See Appendix for varying entries on duration.)

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  • Who should provide all this detail? We should. I know it is a time-consuming job to provide detailed summaries, logs and indexes in the form indicated earlier, but I believe interviewers should provide them. The Archive would always have the responsibility to edit them where necessary. Interviewers, knowing the material intimately, are best suited to the job.

Some examples

Below, with appendix references, are some examples of entries with varying degrees of detail.

  • Sir James Cruthers. (Appendix Item 2) Sir James covered many topics in a long influential career. However there is only a one-line Summary which mentions none of them. Neither the detailed log or the transcript is indicated. The Holdings show two items as paper but not what those papers are.
  • Shan Benson (Appendix Item 3), by contrast with James Cruthers, has a long Summary which, among other things lists important names, production houses and events. A ‘full transcript’ is mentioned in the summary but is not shown in Holdings. There is no duration.
  • Frances Carr-Boyd (Appendix Item 4) was chosen because she is a one-off: – the only script assistant (live television production assistant) in the collection. Her interview covered the role of women in live television, a detailed description of the working operations,her role in the ABC’s only strike and the founding years of ABC television in Brisbane. However the summary simply mentions ‘life and career’. The detailed log which was supplied is not mentioned. (There is as yet no transcript)
  • Julie James Bailey (Appendix Item 5) is another person like James Cruthers whose career covered big issues and subjects. There is no transcript yet but the detailed log has been provided and is not mentioned on the site. There is no summary at all so her reason for being in the collection is invisible.
  • Anne Britton (Appendix Item 6). This is an eccentric to the norm, but exemplary entry in my opinion. Here a detailed Summary has been produced, including timecode references – normally I think included with logs. However in the absence of a log, this is an excellent alternative and provides the researcher with a quick and efficient idea of contents.
  • Jock Levy, Norma Disher, Keith Gow. (Appendix Item 7) By contrast with the Anne Britton entry, this oral history contains no information whatsoever about its contents.

More about transcripts


THE WRITTEN WORD IS THE PRINCIPAL END-USE OF ORAL HISTORY


I really want to encourage a re-think about transcripts. There is a huge backlog and we must accept that many will never be done – and that some may not be worth prioritising.

An important first step towards tackling the backlog occurs quietly and without fanfare. Bronwyn, as Senior Curator, makes lists – sometimes of over 100 oral history titles, reviews them and, where they are relevant and significant, has each bundle digitised. It is an important contribution to the updating and accessibility of our collection and makes the recordings easier to transcribe when than is possible.

Meantime, we have been reminded often that voice recognition technology will eventually become available to revolutionise transcribing.

But I don’t think we can wait any longer and that while we wait the introduction of the new system we should reinstate transcribing – and as a top priority.

Why?

Two reasons:

First, because the written word is the ONLY efficient way by which a person can search an oral history.

The alternative is to spend hours listening and taking notes and hoping to record the right timecode references for the bits you may want. And under the current fee system, hours of listening could cost a hefty sum. Most clients will turn their backs on that sort of system and hundreds and hundreds of recorded voices remain mute and lost. It inhibits access.

Second, the written word is the principal end-use of oral history.  

Uses include books, theses, reports, essays, magazine and journal articles on the one hand, and on the other hand, exhibitions and museum displays, radio and television broadcasts, sound bites on websites, audio walking tours and audio guides at exhibitions.

My bet is that of all the end uses of oral history the written word comprises more than half.


 Undiscovered Treasure 5 – USING ORAL HISTORY

part 5 of Storry Walton’s talk at the March 2018 meeting of AMOHG

I think that our collection will never be used much by Australians until the Archive  has the resources for assertive pro-active projects. It is difficult to imagine that it will ever have funds for general campaigns. They are often a waste of money anyway. The way forward is almost certainly by concentrating (pro-actively) on niche markets, showing people what the Archive holds, declares, with evidence, how rich a resource it is, and suggests how they can use it. In any such projects I hope that the oral history collection will be strongly represented.

The markets are various because film and broadcasting are not ends in themselves but conduits – to all the major topics and themes of the nation’s culture.

So there are many professional markets beyond film and broadcasting – war, propaganda, advertising, trade unionism, politics, law, rural life, nature, widlife, philanthropy, gender issues, social history, indigenous studies, broadcast engineering, telecommunications, …

Education

I want to highlight one area that has been on the agenda for attention continuously since 1984 – education. I respect the caution with which generations of NFSA staff have viewed education as a market. But I think it is full of promise.

How big is the education population?

In 2017 there were, in Australia:

  • 3.8 million students
  • 9,444 schools
  • 43 universities
  • 50 groups of TAFE campuses
  • 169 media and communications courses, among which quite a few offered Masters degrees

That is a big population. I imagine that any NFSA projects would be whole-of-collection based and that oral history would be a component resource.

Primary and secondary schools

Generalising from my knowledge and observation of educationalists, I know it has been difficult to get extra-curricular material used in schools. Traditionally the publisher addressed brochures and books to Principals or Librarians. Principals passed the material to the Librarians anyway, and Librarians put the material on shelves.

Where they stayed.

But one enterprising publisher, knowing this from years of experience in schools, decided to direct his material directly to classroom teachers. More than that. His imagined buyer was a 28 year old teacher in a country school who was confronted with teaching -say- Richard II, and was at a loss as how to do it with country kids. He briefed his authors accordingly. And he ratcheted up the curriculum age range by one year in the belief that children ‘reached up’ – responded to challenge. It worked. His entire publication story – and success was based on this idea. It was however such a laborious job getting books to so many locations each year.

But…technology changes things, The Archive website is an exciting tool that can speak to any teacher anywhere and do in seconds what the publisher did in weeks of to-ing and fro-ing.

So while it is reasonable to be cautious about how much of our oral history content can be presented and used in schools the population of the market suggests that it is worth addressing. It could be said that the Archive’s mission obliges it to have a go.

Tertiary institutions


CANDIDATES ARE OFTEN DESPERATE TO FIND SUBJECTS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN COVERED BEFORE


It is the tertiary sector where I think the greater use of the collection could be used.

Undergraduate:

The most cursory glance at statistics suggests that there could be resonances between a number of the many fields taught at undergraduate level. The first job would be to identify them – not a difficult task. The second job would be to research the relevant courses and identify matches with NFSA holdings including oral history. The initial goal would be to start with a few well prepared presentations, featured on the website and at the same time targeted directly at lecturers and students on websites, and based on direct contact.

I suggest that one area that might reap a stronger response is teacher education courses – where the students are young and likely to be enthusiastic about exploring their subjects and delivery.

Post -graduate – the most promising field.

It is among candidates for post graduate degrees that I think the Archive might reap the greatest response. Another cursory glance at the fields covered in tertiary education suggests there are quite a number in which the NFSA collection holds potential riches.

My anecdotal experience as a lecturer and post graduate examiner suggests that, as the population of post-graduate students rises, and as the years roll by, candidates are often desperate to find subjects that have not been covered before.

And once found, they are usually eager to find unique evidence to support and illustrate their theses.

Aside from the obvious fields of media and communications, I suggest there are many ’topic and occupation’ fields in which film and sound holdings would be valuable references.

 Reviewing the quality of our work.*

* In delivering this paper I used the words ‘quality control’ and was quite rightly reminded that this denoted rigid rules and standards. Hence my re-wording in this transcript).

Some members recently noted that, as a Group we had not reviewed our own work in terms of quality. I think we should seize that notion and do something about it. It is really ought to be part of our professional procedure. Whether we do it with NFSA staff or not should be discussed, but we should do it anyway.

My suggestion is that groups of us listen to recordings with the interviewers and discuss quality, techniques and method.

Volunteering

Historically volunteering has been focussed on the move from voluntary interviewing to payment for interviews. I still wonder whether there is a place for volunteering in our association with NFSA. I have thought that AMOGH members might like occasionally to offer their services to the Archive, for instance in assisting the Senior Curator, and under her supervision, to review old oral histories for their quality and relevance, identifying from the vast backlog some of those that deserve to be digitised and transcribed. Part of that activity could be to identify where there is a need to update entries with Summaries and with mention of existing logs and transcripts. As an incentive to new and younger oral history members we could offer them time to sit with us and learn at firsthand about methods and standards – and hear some of the great histories that have been recorded.

Volunteering – the Oral History Records Rescue Group (OORRG)

SLWAI would like to mention an experience of volunteering that may well be known by most of you. In West Australia, a group of volunteers saved – that is digitised – 9,000 hours of at-risk oral histories over a period of about 4 years. Volunteers came from Friends of the Battye Library, the Oral History Association of WA, Royal West Australian Historical Society and the West Australian Genealogy Society. They gained a $800,000 sponsorship to do it, bought digitisation equipment and were trained to do the job. It is remarkable that it attracted sponsorship for oral history which is generally regarded as a not-so-attractive artefact for the showy requirements of sponsors. Maybe it’s just a West Australian thing. Maybe not…

Fees

On the question of fees for on-site listening, I understand the arguments for revenue but I go with the arguments about principle. My concern goes beyond the principles of charging for publicly owned materials which have been gifted to the institution to another matter. I do not think we (the body politic) should charge people fees for what we should have done ourselves. That is, charge people for hours to listen to recordings because we have not supplied logs and transcripts by which they could reduce their search time by more than half, and their fees by in some cases by a couple of hundred dollars. And having said that I still have reservations about asking people to pay fees just to listen to oral history recordings to see if they are of any use to their research at all. Under the current system fees for students can range from $120 for two hours, say a morning, to $360 and upwards for two days. My overall concern is that our fees may turn out to be the most effective deterrent to visitation we could invent.

Recruitment to AMOHG

I agree with members that we need to recruit new younger members.  It might be best to introduce them in twos, not alone, for mutual solidarity as young saplings in a forest of old oaks.

AMOHG, NFSA and autonomy

Implicit in all the above is my view that for all the discussion about greater autonomy for AMOHG as a constituted entity I think we should keep our close association with NFSA with, and for whom, we have worked and supported since our inception. It makes sense to me to keep a direct connection between our national archive and accession of our work to the national collectionI have supported all the discussion about  a more independent status. It has  encouraged me to examine for the first time our role, record, and future direction. I think the autonomy question should remain on the table. It should be allowed to re-emerge whenever the moment is right.

Meantime the discussion has led to some things that should be embraced:

  • The inclusion of new media in our recording priority as mid career interviews
  • The possibility of collaborating with other institutions where that is viable and useful.
  • The search for in-kind support for oral history which Malcolm for example has achieved so effectively.

In conclusion

I wish to thank you all for your friendship and good company and acknowledge what a privilege it has been to work beside the members of this Group and the staff of NFSA for the past 25 years. It has been a constant source of inspiration to sit at a table where the achievements and and stories of hundreds of people, the makers of our sound and screen heritage, living and dead, are honoured and kept alive. I conclude, as I began, by fading up the effects track of all their voices:

“Coo-ee.”

Storry Walton


Undiscovered Treasure 6 – Appendix

Extracts from the NFSA website

The selections from website items listed below exclude information not relevant to this paper. The selections are referenced in part 4 of Undiscovered Treasure – WHAT NEXT? some modest recommendations.

Each is headed by my own comments.



1 Introductory pages


SW COMMENT. THE INTRODUCTORY PAGES FOR SEARCH THE COLLECTION (EASY SEARCH AND ADVANCED SEARCH) OFFER 9 CATEGORIES AS TICK-BOXES, BUT DO NOT INCLUDE ORAL HISTORY. THERE IS NO INDICATION THAT IT IS INCLUDED UNDER SOUND RECORDING, UNPUBLISHED. I SUGGEST THAT ORAL HISTORY SHOULD HAVE A BOX OF ITS OWN.


  • SEARCH THE COLLECTION
  • ARTEFACT
  • DOCUMENTATION
  • FILM
  • MULTIMEDIA
  • NETWORKED MEDIA
  • RADIO
  • SOUND RECORDING, PUBLISHED
  • SOUND RECORDING, UNPUBLISHED
  • TELEVISION

2 Sir James Cruthers


SW COMMENT: SHORT SUMMARY WITH NO DETAILS OF CONTENTS. NO MENTION OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE TRANSCRIPT AND DETAILED LOG. COMPARE WITH SHAN BENSON BELOW. UNDER HOLDINGS THERE ARE TWO ENTRIES ENTITLED PAPER, BUT NO INDICATION OF WHAT THEY ARE.


  • Title No: 565624
  • Title: [CRUTHERS, SIR JAMES : INTERVIEWED BY STORRY WALTON, 2002 : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Created Date: 2 October 2002 – 2002
  • Produced as: Oral history
  • Media: Sound Recording, Unpublished
  • Summary:  Sir James Cruthers discusses his life and career with Storry Walton as part of the Film and Broadcast Industries Oral History Group (FBIOHG) and ScreenSound Australia’s Oral History Program. Interview date: Began 6/10/02 Duration: Approx. 10 hrs
  • Duration: 10:00:00
  • Country of Origin: Australia
  • Language: English
  • Credits
  • Interviewee:
  • James Cruthers
  • Interviewer:
  • Storry Walton
  • Holdings
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Access/Browsing copy  Docs/pdf
  • Preservation Material  Docs/doc
  • Preservation Material  Tape (Audio)
  • Access Copy  Tape (Audio)
  • Preservation Material  Paper
  • Preservation Material  Paper

3 Shan Benson


SW COMMENT. IN CONTRAST TO JAMES CRUTHERS, SHAN BENSON’S ENTRY INCLUDES A DETAILED SUMMARY. (SEE THE ANNE BRITTON SUMMARY BELOW FOR AN EVEN MORE DETAILED SUMMARY) A TRANSCRIPT IS MENTIONED IN THE SUMMARY BUT NOT UNDER HOLDINGS. NO MENTION OF A LOG. WAS THERE ONE? NO DURATION.


  • Title: [BENSON, SHAN : INTERVIEWED BY GRAHAM SHIRLEY : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Production Date: 1981
  • Recorded Date: 30 June 1981 – 7 July 1981
  • Produced as: Oral history
  • Media: Sound Recording, Unpublished
  • Summary:  Shan Benson talks about his career as producer, writer, director and commentator of films in Australia. Talks about his early beginnings with Efftee Studios, working at the Department of Information, issues affected by the War, working at the Cinema Branch, the first National Film Board, working with people like Stanley Hawes, Maslyn Williams, Hugh McInnes, Ralph Foster, his work at the Shell Film Unit, scriptwriting, becoming chief executive at the Australian Film Commission and other things connected to his career. Some of the films mentioned in the interview are ‘Among the Hardwoods’, ‘Australia Calling’, ‘Wool Away’, ‘Across the Frontiers’, ‘Cavalcade of Australia’, ‘The Flying Doctor’ and many others. General notes: The Documentation section has background information, biographical details and other related material. — Title derived from tape box, listings and in consultation with the cataloguers. — General note: Paperwork includes full transcript (78p.)
  • Place: Recording   Darling Point, NSW
  • Country of Origin: Australia
  • Interviewee:
  • Shan Benson
  • Interviewer:
  • Graham Shirley
  • Holdings
  • Preservation Material  Docs/doc
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Access/Browsing copy  Audio/mp3
  • Preservation Material  Tape (Audio)
  • Access Copy  Tape (Audio)
  • Preservation Material  Paper

4 Frances Carr Boyd


SW COMMENT. SUMMARY CONTAINS NO TOPIC OR SUBJECT CONTENTS. IT WOULD BE OF GREAT HELP TO RESEARCHERS IF THE EXISTENCE OF THE LOG WAS INDICATED. SO THE RECORDING IS AT PRESENT OF NO USE.


  • Title No: 817924
  • Title: [CARR-BOYD, FRANCES : INTERVIEWED BY STORRY WALTON : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Created Date: 17 December 2010
  • Produced as: Oral history
  • Media: Sound Recording, Unpublished
  • Summary:  Script Assistant, Frances Carr-Boyd discusses her life and career at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) with Storry Walton as part of the National Film and Sound Archive’s Oral History Program.
  • Duration: 02:22:29
  • Country of Origin: Australia
  • Interviewee:
  • Frances Carr-Boyd
  • Interviewer:
  • Storry Walton
  • Holdings
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Distribution/Broadcast Copy  Audio Reference Only  Audio/MP3

5 Julie James Bailey


SW COMMENT: A LIFE THAT COVERED MANY IMPORTANT EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION IN AUSTRALIA – IMPORTANT PEOPLE TOO. BUT THERE IS NO SUMMARY AND THE EXISTENCE OF THE LOG AND THE INDEX SUPPLIED WOULD BE OF GREAT HELP TO RESEARCHERS.. (THE TRANSCRIPT IS PENDING)


  • Title No: 1323277
  • Title: [BAILEY, JULIE JAMES : INTERVIEWED BY STORRY WALTON : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Recorded Date: 26 Febuary 2015 – 20 March 2015
  • Produced as: Oral history
  • Category: Biographical
  • Media: Sound Recording, Unpublished
  • Duration: 11:48:14
  • Place: Recording   Pyrmont, NSW
  • Country of Origin: Australia
  • Language: English
  • Interviewee:
  • Julie James Bailey
  • Interviewer:
  • Storry Walton
  • Holdings
  • Preservation Material  Audio/wav
  • Distribution/Broadcast Copy  Audio/wav
  • Access/Browsing copy  Audio/mp3

6 Anne Britton


SW COMMENT. AN EXAMPLE FROM 2004 OF A DETAILED AND VERY HELPFUL SUMMARY THAT INCLUDES TIMECODE REFERENCES. I PERSONALLY PREFER THE TIME CODE REFERENCES WITH THE LOG, BUT WHEN NO LOG IS MADE THIS IS AN EXCELLENT ALTERNATIVE. IMAGINE HOW EASY IT HAS BEEN FOR RESEARCHERS WITH THIS INFORMATION AVAILABLE AFTER THE FIRST FEW CLICKS TO DETERMINE WHAT THEY MIGHT USE OF THE WHOLE INTERVIEW.


  • Title No: 742192
  • Title: [BRITTON, ANNE : INTERVIEWED BY GENEVIEVE PICOT AND TONY WATTS : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Alternative Title: [THE ACTORS EQUITY 65TH ANNIVERSARY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT. INTERVIEW WITH ANNE BRITTON]
  • Recorded Date: 6 July 2004 – 29 August 2004
  • Produced as: Interview; Oral history; Series
  • Media: Film
  • Summary:  Anne Britton, Federal Equity and Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Officer, talks about her work with Actors Equity, and the campaigns and industrial areas on which she has worked. Contents (as supplied by Oral History Project): Joint Federal Secretary MEAA 1992-1999, Federal Secretary Equity 1991-1992, Assistant Federal Secretary Equity 1987-1991, Federal Media Organiser Equity 1983-1987 — 2.03 started at the theatrical employees union — 3.24 fatal accident on film set — 4.55 people at theatrical employees — 5.41 unionising film workers — 7.49 significant gains — 8.45 10B(A) tax concessions for film investment — 10.05 51(1) of the tax act — 11.23 Film Industry Standing Committee (FISC) — 16.24 leaving theatrical employees and joining Equity — 18.01 10B(A) improved but…. — 19.09 Defence of Employment Policy — 23.09 performers’ copyright / limitation of use — 26.19 holding the line on the standard contract — 29.21 support of leading agents — 34.06 International Federation of Actors (FIA) – “better rates” — 42.31 Screen Actors Guild — 45.31support from stunt actors — 45.57 Crunch of ’88 campaign — 51.36 television – Australian content — 59.17 imported artists — 69.14 NZ Closer Economic Relations – NZ TV counted as Australian — 72.08 performers’ copyright — 76.31 moral rights — 78.26 cultural diversity — 85.07 minimum rates case — 88.59 strike in television — (Second disc:) 2.03 second interview of two — 2.10 amalgamation — 10.15 the musicians union — 12.18 ABC orchestras — 13.00 Kelty’s strategy – SOMA — 16.05 overcoming cultural differences — 16.21 true partnership — 16.53 differences in industrial strategies — 17.46 integrating the organisations — 19.37 change of government — 19.57 ‘compulsory’ unionism — 20.50 emasculating the Award system — 23.07 twenty ‘core’ matters — 25.08 outlawing Equity’s historical agreement strategies — 27.44 opera and ballet awards — 28.10 coming problems — 29.14 performer’s copyright / residuals — 31.45 world trade / ‘free’ trade — 32.46 achievements — 34.26 terrific activists — 35.53 the level of activism — 40.09 talented Equity staff — 42.16 attracting excellent staff.
  • Duration: 02:17:00
  • Country of Origin: Australia
  • Language: English
  • Credits
  • Interviewee:
  • Anne Britton
  • Interviewer:
  • Tony Watts
  • Genevieve Picot

7 Jock Levy, Norma Disher, Keith Gow


SW COMMENTS: BY CONTRAST WITH THE ANNE BRITTON INTERVIEW, THIS ENTRY HAS NO DETAILED INFORMATION WHATSOEVER IN ITS SUMMARY – THE CONTENTS ARE ENTIRELY UNKNOWN. THERE IS NO DURATION.


  • Title No: 219892
  • Title: [LEVY, JOCK, AND DISHER, NORMA AND GOW, KEITH : INTERVIEWED BY MARGOT NASH, JOHN WITTERON AND JOHN HUGHES : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Alternative Title: [WATERSIDE WORKERS FEDERATION FILM UNIT : INTERVIEWED BY MARGOT NASH, JOHN WITTERON AND JOHN HUGHES, 1979 : ORAL HISTORY]
  • Production Date: 27 October 1979
  • Recorded Date: 27 October 1979
  • Produced as: Oral history
  • Media: Sound Recording, Unpublished
  • Summary:  Members of the Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit, Norma Disher, Keith Gow and Jock Levy met with John Hughes, Margot Nash and John Witteron to discuss the origins and development of the W.W.F Film Unit.
    Place: Recording   Rose Bay (Sydney, N.S.W.)
    Country of Origin: Australia
    Language: English