Community stories: 20 January 2023
While it had a short life as a gold mining area, the Tanjil Valley in eastern Victoria is a long established dairy farming area with a keen local History Gatherer’s Group.
The Group brings together older people from across the district to share family stories and evoke long forgotten memories of farming techniques and innovations. These evenings, held at the Hill End Community Centre (HECC), are very popular and the social interaction contributes to a strong sense of community belonging and connectedness.
As the elders in the settler families age, their families, as well as more recent community members, were keen to preserve and capture their local history. Some short stories have been shared in the free monthly ‘Hill End Herald’ community newsletter, which is distributed to almost 500 families throughout the Tanjil Valley. The community always responds positively and people urged the Group to collate their histories into book form. So, some local historians got to work, extending and gathering these stories into a manuscript.
With a $3,400 grant from the Gardiner Dairy Foundation Community grants program, the History Talks – Settlers’ Histories A Generation On was collated and published.
By all accounts, the collation of the book was a monumental effort! It hardly needs saying that COVID presented a major challenge, especially as the contributors to the book were mostly older community members for whom the risks of COVID were great. The authors themselves are older people with significant health challenges, who live in different towns, yet these two women determinedly worked together to get the project finished. All the final checks and corrections were done by phone or by emails and, as the two authors also live in different towns, they had to do all their final editing in the same way.
The book launch occurred at the Australia Day 2022 community event to great acclaim. Despite COVID risks and stormy weather, which did affect numbers at the event, nearly 80 copies were sold on the night. The book, which features stories from more than 30 district families, and cover art by well-known local artist Liz Bowley, has been featured in The Hill End Herald, and mostly sold through word of mouth. The book has almost sold out in the four months since it was launched and the group is planning a re-print.
The authors generously handed over the ISBN and all the books to the Community Centre to sell and to use all the profits for the benefit of the community centre.
In acquitting their grant, Hill End Community Inc. told us how proud they are of the authors’ efforts to push through the restrictions of COVID to produce the book.
“We are also proud of the commitment of the contributing farmers and their families to provide information and search out their historical family photos. We are proud too of the contribution the book has, and continues to make, in documenting the history of the settler families of the community and sharing that with the broader community and newer community members.”
For the elderly members of the monthly History Gatherers Group, the book project reconnected them after two years of being shut down by COVID restrictions and fears. Tanjil Valley Settlers’ History will ensure that the farming histories of this district will not be lost as settler families age but will be preserved, celebrated and shared for years to come.