Doreen Cunning, of Maroochydore, with her daughter, Ada Nutley. Doreen’s daughter Robyn Powell is recording the family history.
Doreen Cunning, of Maroochydore, with her daughter, Ada Nutley. Doreen’s daughter Robyn Powell is recording the family history. Cade Mooney

Revisiting the good ol' days

YOU don't need a time machine to travel back in time.

You just need to take the time to listen to the stories of your parents, grandparents, elderly neighbours and prominent older residents of the community.

Better than any encyclopaedia, personal recollections, memories and stories are an important historical resource.

They tell more than just the facts, but rather help to paint a picture of life in another time.

Robyn Powell's mother Doreen celebrated her 90th birthday last weekend. Doreen has always lived an active life.

As a young girl she was forced to leave school at age 12 to look after her siblings and work on the family farm where she would cart heavy loads of bananas and help to sell fruit and vegetables.

She remembers the Eudlo of her childhood as a one-street town with only a post office, grocery store, butcher and bakery.

For the past five years Robyn has been slowly working on compiling Doreen's history as well as that of her dad.

A mother of two boys, she doesn't want the information lost and believes families should know their history.

"If I don't get this history down, then it's going to get lost," Robyn said.

"I want my children to know their history - to know where their family has come from, where the family values and beliefs have come from.

"Those connections are really important."

Robyn said that with fewer extended families under the one roof, family history needed to be preserved more than ever.

"If we don't, we lose a sense of who we are," she said.

Helping to tell the Sunshine Coast's "family" history is the Sunshine Coast Libraries Oral Histories Database.

The project was started in the early 1990s in order to capture stories orally and allow the insights to help new generations.

Heritage library coordinator Julanne Neal said the stories ranged from memories of the families of the first settlers to recollections of new roads, infrastructure and housing on the Coast, as well as personal stories from people who had since died.

"They are stories worth preserving for future generations," she said.

When asked if any stories stood out, she could not narrow down her choices.

"There are so many interesting stories," she said.

"Everybody's story is interesting and everybody has something worth listening to in terms of history.

"It's a different Sunshine Coast they speak of and a really personal glimpse into the past through someone's perspective."

For example, John (Jack) Leslie Beausang was Landsborough Shire Council Chairman/Caloundra City Mayor from 1964 - 1988 and we can hear tales about local government from him in his own voice.

June Bond, an indigenous woman from the Gubbi Gubbi tribe, tells of her horror when her family was removed to the Aboriginal Reserve at Cherbourg.

Agnes Boneham, who moved to Coolum in 1926 to work on a sugar cane farm, talks about the early days of the local surf life saving club, and the effects of the Second World War and rationing on the area.

All three had interesting and vibrant stories to tell, Julanne said.

She said that while anyone could read about events in books, hearing the personal stories made history all the more real.

"It's almost like a time machine that connects you with those events," she said.

"It's so much better than an encyclopaedia."

The libraries database has close to 100 personal histories and has begun a new project called 160 Characters which aims to record the stories of 160 Sunshine Coast residents.

Betty Sutton, from the Cooroy-Noosa Family History Group, said one her biggest regrets was not recording the oral histories of her parents and grandparents.

"It's such a shame, isn't it?" she said with regret.

She grew up on a property in Tewantin that used to be a Railway Workers' Camp.

"We were always finding bottles and bits of old ceramic dolls and Dad would talk to use about his pioneer family," Betty remembered. "But I never got the chance to record the stories."

She emphasised the importance of everyone recording their family's history while they still had time.

"It's a good idea to do it - while they (older relatives) are still alive," she said.

"Once people have passed on, it (history) is lost.

"You can find some real gems and discover how people lived and what life was like and how they felt about things."

Betty said that when it came to the actual recording process, a list of prepared questions helped but the interviewer should be willing to disregard them once the conversation started.

"Don't interrupt them (the relatives) and it's important to respect the silence," she said.

"They may just be thinking and if you interrupt, they could lose that train of thought.

"But it's amazing what you can discover when you take the time to listen."

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