Oral Histories of a Layered Landscape: The Rushworth Oral History Project

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Keir Reeves
E. Rebecca Sanders
Gordon Chisholm


This article reflects the authors’ experience of undertaking an oral history project in the regional Victorian town of Rushworth. The authors of the article contend that to conduct an investigation of the natural and cultural heritage of the town and surrounding forests is also to engage in an archaeology of historical landscapes. The authors, after articulating the theoretical and methodological issues of oral history, name and trace the various historical layers of the landscape of Rushworth and the forest that surrounds the town. They argue that the use of oral history in conjunction with cultural landscape analysis enables a deeper understanding of the cultural complexity of the history of Rushworth and the surrounding region. Broader issues concerning regional identity and the role of historians in providing a greater understanding of the community in the present day are also evaluated.

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Author Biographies

Keir Reeves, University of Melbourne

Dr Keir Reeves is an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cultural Heritage Unit in the History Department at the University of Melbourne. His doctoral dissertation covered the Chinese on the Mount Alexander diggings. In 2006 he was awarded an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship to undertake research into the history and cultural landscapes of central Victoria and to consider the international significance of the region in terms of its heritage values. His research interests include: mining history; regional history; Chinese-Australian history; Asian history and heritage; heritage studies; and cultural landscape analysis. He has lectured at the University of Melbourne in goldfields history and Chinese-Australian heritage for the past three years. Dr Reeves’ main research focus to date has been on the cultural history of gold mining communities, particularly the experience of the gold fields Chinese in Victoria during and immediately after the gold rush era of the mid-nineteenth century. This project has been associated with the Mount Alexander Diggings Board of Management as an industry partner. As a result his research has been closely connected to the cultural heritage management policy. They are an organization who also have with close links with Parks Victoria, who are collaborating organisation for Layers of meaning: Historical studies in central Victoria's regional heritage 1834-1950. Reeves’ main contribution has been to uncover the complex nature of the cultural fabric and racial exchange on the Mount Alexander diggings during the second half of the nineteenth century. He is also interested in the nineteenth century history of Australian gold mining industry and the world heritage values of the region. Reeves is also involved in Places of Pain and Shame ARC Discovery project with Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific at Deakin University. This project is conceived as a cross-cultural study of imprisonment sites, their heritage values and the ways that communities, government agencies and heritage professionals deal with these cases of ‘difficult heritage’.

E. Rebecca Sanders, University of Melbourne

E. Rebecca Sanders is a postgraduate student at the University of Melbourne. Her PhD concentrates on the history and heritage of Churchill Island which is sponsored by the Philip Island Trust. Recently she has worked as a research assistant in the Cultural Heritage Unit at the University of Melbourne and has also worked on updating the historical information for the Parks Victoria website. Her research interests include public history, oral history, social history, regional history, heritage tourism and historical theory and methodology.

Gordon Chisholm, University of Melbourne

Gordon Chisholm worked on the Rushworth Oral History project and undertook extensive fieldwork in Rushworth and its hinterland forest. He has also been involved as a researcher in numerous public history projects most notably the City of Melbourne sponsored history of Moomba.