Oral historian Rosemary Block has the quiet yet precise speaking voice that softly screams librarian. Yet unlike the stereotype, she really doesn’t mind hearing people talk.
Block is curator of oral history at the Mitchell Library, at the State Library of NSW, and her shelves are full of audiotapes and not dusty tomes.
It’s her work as a professional chronicler that drew the Pride History Group to ask Block to hold a seminar on oral history this Mardi Gras.
And that means learning the six pillars of oral history, including tips like make a copy of all tapes to more unexpected rules, such as spending time with subjects after the interview is finished.
The magic about it is that it makes people revisit those emotions that they had at the time, not just remember them. And to their astonishment they find they have a lump in their throat and so on, Block says.
That is part of the person’s narrative -“ so unless the interviewee asks you to switch off the tape, you don’t switch it off. It’s all part of it.
Block’s seminar is part of an ongoing aim of the Pride History Group to preserve our stories, but it’s heartening to hear the Mitchell Library already has some significant gay histories on tape.
Block said the Mitchell Library holds recordings conducted by historian Garry Wotherspoon, as well as a lengthy interview with the late David McDiarmid. (It was extremely generous of him, he was really ill, Block said.)
Block encourages potential interviewers to turn up this Saturday and learn the trade, but also urges community members to tell their stories, now.
That kind of history is going to get lost, she said.
Documenting Our Lives: An Oral History Practical Seminar is on Saturday 12 February from 10am at the Sydney Pride Centre, 104 Erskineville Road, Erskineville. Admission is free. For more information phone 9558 9419.