Sounds and silence

Sounds and silence


Sounds and recording collections, where stories are told orally, are preserved for the nation’s public good. They can be found in a little known room within the lower ground floor of the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

This tiny area of aural pleasure sits within a grand building full of granite and marble with slate tiling on its forecourts. It looks a most dignified building. However, it also houses one of Australia’s largest collection of adult magazines and miscellaneous items more akin to Madame Lash or Quinten Crisp.

But I digress … Only those ‘in the know’ are able to find the doors to this area of the stately building. Every building has its secrets, my Mother used to say … From 2014 to late 2015, it was my workplace for over one year to capture the accents, comments and wisdoms of a select group of 13 A-based geologists.

The Oral History of Australian Geoscience Project continues today with several associates bravely continuing to approach former public servants/geologists for their thoughts on Australia’s science interventions and geological developments in the last 100 years. Some people have not heard of the term ‘oral history’. It sounds like something that Grandpa shared over dinner at an outdoor BBQ. But, Grandmothers recognize it with the words “… I remember when …” and “… you’ll be too young to remember this …” The stories of war or families overseas, or the workplace problems and ways of resolving management issues are usually kept for after-dinner commentary with ‘the grown-ups’.

But oral history about place, people, parties, politics, policy and products are easily shared with people of all ages and stages of life. The aim of the sound collections and oral histories is to keep the memories alive. The stories are handed down via voice to future generations of Australians and interested parties around the globe.

The NLA houses an enviable collection of priceless and irreplaceable sound archival material. These oral histories are unique and not available anywhere else in Australia In particular, the NLA archival storehouse contains taped and archived oral histories which provide valuable insights into the oral traditions and folk mythology of migrant and Indigenous Australians working the land and the sea’s resources.

The sound recordings contain the accents, speech patterns, phonetics and word crafts of working Australians involved in the geology industry and the mining sector. The loss of these sound recording would diminish our heritage and our collective memory of Australian initiatives and innovations.

There are a range of sound professionals who contribute as a team to the world of sound recordings and oral histories. In particular, many sound recordists, researchers, archivists, oral historians, and broadcast professionals are each familiar with the Oral History and Folklore Collection at the National Library of Australia.

The creative process of capturing audio recordings in geosciences includes capturing the accents of: Australian Strine, as well as rare English accents, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, Italian, Lebanese, Italian and Afghani accents to name a few.

These recordings are a rich vein of Australian geological history. Each oral history tape provides a window into personal, community or institutional perspectives of the Australian mining sector. Including diggers as well as dealers, these commentators share stories of endeavors undertaken by Australians in the last 50 years to discover, extract and process natural resources to meet Australia’s growing energy needs.

For business-minded scholars and practitioners, the gems and insights into Australian geoscience are worth the listen. They offer case studies into Australian company decision making, the machinations of federal politics and lessons to be learned from public service case studies regarding science, innovation and geology. The stories canvas the efforts by diggers and dealers, scientists and policy experts, company directors and politicians positioned to harness Australia’s natural and man-made resources.

Historians speak out about pushing the frontiers of physical, geographic, financial, political, social and cultural norms to develop Australia’s mining sector. Their stories need airing and sharing, yet are often neglected in the face of the attractions of Netflix, YouTube and Instagram hits. However, some professionals persist in seeking your attention and commitment to professional development activities. Resilience and a passion for understanding how we got to where we are now are important.

For your edification, here is a list of the 13 oral history interviews conducted in 2014-15 with geoscientists with global reputations. The interviews were curated to provide select insights into particular aspects of geology, the petrochemical industry and mineral resources. Perhaps you will listen to one or two of them to learn more about Australia’s rich history in developing our industries to gather and process mineral wealth.

Uploaded 22 January 2020
Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2020
Photographic and graphic design copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2020.

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