News & Events
Timeline research reveals untold stories
July 25, 2019
For thepast three years Heather Hodge and Ruth Richardson have been rummaging and reading their way through the archives of Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria helping to uncover 150 years of history.
Working with Penny Underwood, the Association’s 150th Project Manager, the residents have uncovered a treasure trove of family connections, stories of extraordinary generosity, and insights into the colourful lives of past residents, or ‘inmates’ as they were once called.
“What has been unearthed tells the story of wealthy founders with vision and empathy for other colonists who had fallen on hard times for one reason or another,” Penny Underwood said.
“We also have insight into one of the oldest associations in Victoria caring for older Victorians, and how the association was ahead of the trend from the start from providing housing, medical care – including offering flu inoculations in the early 1900s,” she added.
“The story of OCAV is closely aligned with colonial Victoria, with relationships between families, the Governors of the day, and the rise and fall of the Gold Rush,” Penny said.
For all involved, the timeline has been a labour of love, and a legacy left for current and future ‘Colonists’ to enjoy, and add into.
According to Ruth Richardson and Heather Hodge, the experience has been richly rewarding, not least because of the connections they have made with descendants from the founding families, and the chance to explore the archives of the National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria, and many other deposits of history.
Ruth has been struck most about the level of generosity among the early settlers in this country who saw it as their duty, as a result of their good fortune, to take care of the early Victorian settlers who had not fared so well.
“For this reason, I think it is most important for OCAV to maintain a record of people, past and present, whose contributions have been, and still are, important to the development of the Old Colonists’ Association, so that future residents, and the local community are made aware of its importance,” Ruth said.
The experience has made Ruth more determined to ensure that organisations, such as OCAV, work to preserve their records appropriately.
“Many of OCAV’s records were lost when the Association moved from its city office to North Fitzroy, which means we have a large gap in our early history and particularly of residents,” she said.
It is a view echoed by Heather Hodge, who says that it has long been her dream to have a properly researched timeline on line of discoveries of old events and current day happenings.
“For me, it is the importance of keeping the history alive, honoured and open to all which is so important,” Heather said.
One of her most exciting finds was a speech by the founder George Coppin, when he described himself not as a Victorian, Tasmanian, South Australian or New South Welshman – all the states he lived in and influenced the local theatrical community – but as a proud Australasian.
“I always thought this was a relatively new word, but there he was back in the 1880’s, he truly was man of vision in so many ways,” Heather said.
For Heather, the experience has given her the opportunity to put into practice what she had learned in a genealogy diploma, from indexing through to record keeping.
“I am a natural sticky beak, and love the detective concept of rummaging in ancient documents. Because of my past work history, with Defence Navy medical records, I am good at reading gnarly old writing, and following a trail through multiple documents,” she said.
The timeline is a start to record the history and the people who make up Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria’s four villages.
“When I came to live here, I had already been visiting for 20 plus years, and knew many folk who are now just memories. But it was quite difficult to find out anything about the history of the villages or the cottages. We are now light years from there now,” Heather said.
The search for lost stories and history remains strong with both Ruth and Heather. Ruth plans to work as a volunteer at the Royal Historical Society while Heather hopes to create separate timelines for each cottage at Rushall Park, including residents over the years and the original benefactor.
The timeline will continue being added to as more stories are revealed. The timeline starts from 1869 up until today. It includes stories about people and milestones over the past 150 years. Anyone who has information about family or friends associated with the association is invited to contribute here.
Caption: Ruth Richardson and Heather Hodge.