Many people say, for good reasons, that you shouldn’t get stuck in the past reliving traumatic events, or pining for the way things used to be. But I’ve recently started delving into my past for all the right reasons and it’s so important and rewarding. I lost my long-term memories while I battled cancer in 2018. So I set out on a mighty quest to find them and wrote my autobiography. It was so rewarding, and it emphasised just how important history is because it helps makes us who we are and how we live. I could trace how the activities I did and the skills that I had learned from these activities, right from where I was born, had helped me succeed in life.
I’d also never looked back at my life and considered what an amazing career I’d had. I’d never considered how the skills my parents taught me had helped me succeed in life. I hadn’t realised that my grandparents had passed those skills down to them. I was too busy rushing through life onto the next thing.
So I set out to write creative nonfiction history with a personal connection because the word welcomes it. Hi-Story, and I’m finding it just as rewarding. Writing history with a personal connection makes it a bit more interesting because I weave a little bit of my own history in with the writing. The benefit I get from this is understanding what shaped the locations people and businesses, who subsequently shaped me, which helps me understand myself better. It also allows me to pay respect to the people who taught me those skills and further back to those people who shaped the history that shaped me.
For example, exploring the history of the Queensland University of Technology, helped me better understand the technical roots of the University. This better explained why I enjoyed it so much because I’d come from a technical background. So I also performed much better at University, which would lead me to work for several of the world’s biggest companies. So I got to pay my respects to Charles Lilley, who had argued back in 1849 that young mechanics and tradespeople should be taught useful arts and sciences, which would both increase industrial efficiency and provide career progression. He then founded the Brisbane School of Arts, which was one of the precursor schools for the Queensland University of Technology. Thank you, Charles.
Exploring history then changes my perspective of the subject I’m researching. So for example I started exploring the history of Don Heads and the Don River, to see if I could find the reason why I feel a strong connection with Don Heads, even though I’ve never spent any time there. Walking along the river is also one of my mother’s favourite walks. Previously I’d walked along admiring the scenery, but after exploring its history I now feel a much stronger connection. I look around and I can see where the old Sawmill was located and I imagine what it was like for the people who worked there. The walking track itself is along the Tramway to the Sawmill, so as I walk along, I picture myself riding the train, hauling a load of timber to the Sawmill.
The most profound experience was after I’d written the history of my great great great grandfather James Magee, who was a convict transported to Tasmania in 1830. He was then assigned to a free settler, John Presnell, who married John’s daughter Eleanor and lived happily ever after. John ran the Halfway House in Antill Ponds, which is on the main highway through Tasmania. I’d driven this road hundreds of times and never even given Antill Ponds a sideways glance, I didn’t even realise it was a town. But the first time I drove through after I’d written the history was amazing. I felt a deep spiritual connection to my great great great grandfather. Suddenly I was walking in his shoes and I was seeing what he would have seen. Experiencing what he would have experienced.
You also find surprises. While writing about the history of the Tasmanian Manufacturing Industry, suddenly John Presnell pops up as owning one of the first blacksmith shops down in Hobart, before he moved to the Halfway House pub in Antill Ponds.
Another surprise occurred when I was exploring the history of the Don River. The river led me to Eugenana, which is another location I feel a strong connection to, without spending any time there. Back in my youth every time I’d drive past the road sign to Eugenana, I’d want to go check it out. So I started exploring if there was a connection between Eugenana and Don Heads? Unfortunately, I haven’t discovered any connection yet. I’ve yet to find the huge banana at Eugenana, LOL.
The most profound surprise was up in the Central Highlands of Tasmania, where we’d go fishing for trout. The road up to Lake Sorell goes past the Steppes, which is the location of one of the earliest settlers in the area, the Wilson family. I always felt a connection to the Steppes when driving by, without realising why. But now I do, because my great great great grandfather James would shepherd his sheep up to the Steppes during the hot summers, because the grass would dry up down in the Midlands, but still be green in the Central Highlands. James would have absolutely been friends with the Wilsons.
You also discover things you never knew. Like when they discovered Australia, the main purpose for the trip was to watch Venus transit across the Sun, to help better understand longitude. The discovery of Australia was a side trip. This is probably left out of many history books, because the authors think it’s not relevant, or people won’t find it interesting. Hence history is often written in the lens of someone else. You then interpret that lens in your own way
I also enjoy exploring where my ancestors grew up. For instance, my mum grew up in Elizabeth Town, where it turns out that the bushranger Matthew Brady frequently used the area to hide from the authorities. Nearby is Parkham, which is where my dad had friends who owned a farm, the Bennetts. I didn’t even know Parkham was a town, let alone why it was called that and what had happened there.
So I’d highly recommend for you to explore your own history. Just heading down to the local museum or historical society will more than likely surprise you. You never know what you might find, but I guarantee you that it will be fascinating.