The City of Sydney remains without an official historian a year after long-time position holder Dr Shirley Fitzgerald quit the job.
Fitzgerald left last April to concentrate on a personal project, but the city has still not advertised for a replacement despite questions from council.
In the meantime, Dr Lisa Murray is acting historian, but Greens councillor Chris Harris told Sydney Star Observer that not filling the position had led to speculation the position would not be filled and the history unit downgraded.
Harris said the benefits of the city having a historian had been proven through the publications and projects created by the role, and had provided council with information that assisted it in identifying heritage concerns while informing media and the public about Sydney’s diverse culture and history.
“This city has a rich history,” Harris said. “From the 1850s when the Town Hall was built, when people had documents and things they wanted to donate to somebody they gave them to the City, so we’ve got this amazingly rich collection of community artifacts.
“From the GLBT community we have probably the best record of gay and lesbian history anywhere in Australia. These things are really important for the future and for research and it’s a way that we can bring life to what can sometimes be a pretty dumb and pedestrian organisation and make it relevant to people not just in Sydney but everywhere in Australia.”
Harris questioned Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the City of Sydney’s CEO in August, asking if rumours the History Unit would be downgraded were true.
That was denied, but seven months later the position remained unadvertised, prompting Harris to ask again.
“The CEO has been reviewing the work of the unit to align it with Sustainable Sydney 2030 and is preparing to advertise for a new City Historian in the near future,” Moore responded on March 15.
However, Labor councillor Dr Meredith Burgmann, told Sydney Star Observer she felt there was still uncertainty around what would happen.
“They’d been thinking about restructuring but they now seem to be saying that they do need a city historian,” Burgmann said. “However, they have said that a number of times in the past too.
“It’s important that title remain because that will keep the importance of the history department up front in all the projects we’re doing. To have left it vacant for a year is really disgraceful.”
Gay community historian Garry Wotherspoon told Sydney Star Observer he would be concerned the city might lose its institutional memory if the historian role was not continued.
“If you’ve got a historian in the job they look at a range of issues differently than someone who is a manager,” Wotherspoon said.
“What you lose if you get rid of the city historian is corporate memory — the knowledge of what this city is, what has constituted it and made it what it is.”

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