Oral Histories

The State Library collects and preserves the oral history of Western Australia in its oral history collection.

Use the quick links to navigate this page:

About the Oral History Collection
Highlights of the Oral History Collection
Oral History Digitisation Project 
Access to the Collection
Do it yourself Oral History
Oral History Association

About the Oral History Collection

The State Library's oral history collection consists of some 15,000 hours of sound recordings representing interviews with over 7,000 Western Australians. It is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind in any Australian State Library and the major archival repository for oral histories in Western Australia.

The collection consists primarily of audio tape-recorded, structured interviews in which interviewees talk about their lives or particular events and experiences in the past. There are stories of war, migration, personal and family relationships, mining, droving, prevailing social attitudes and farm life. Interviews in the collection span over 130 years of memories and many are with people born in the 19th Century - the earliest was born in 1863.

The major strength of the collection is in interviews with Western Australians sharing their everyday lives and representing a wide range of employment groups, social backgrounds, ethnic communities, lifestyles and experiences. Areas of strength in the collection include writers, pastoralists and graziers, parliamentarians, nurses, business people and community leaders, as well as topics as diverse as fisheries and whaling, land settlement schemes, aviation, music and dance. Regional strengths are mainly in areas where local oral history groups are, or have been, active including Albany, Bunbury, Busselton, Collie, Subiaco, Harvey, Geraldton, City of Swan and Port Hedland.

At present, the State Library is involved in cooperative projects with other institutions such as the National Library of Australia and the Parliament of Western Australia, to interview prominent Western Australians of national interest and parliamentarians respectively. The State Library actively seeks donations of individual interviews and collections from others involved in the field.

Highlights of the Oral History Collection

With over 7,000 interviews with Western Australians from varying walks of life and on so many different topics, it is impossible to showcase all of them here. The following highlights illustrate the collection's coverage :

Oral History Digitisation Project

From 2010 to 2013, the State Library was involved in a project to digitise the recordings held on cassette tape in the oral history collection.  This project enabled the digitisation of over 11,500 hours of sound.  One of the key outcomes of the project was making a selection of 200 interviews from across the collection available online.

This project was initiated by the Oral History Records Rescue Group, made up of representatives from the Friends of Battye Library, the Oral History Association of Australia (WA Branch), Professional Historians Australia (WA), the Western Australian Genealogical Society, the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, the History Council of Western Australia, as well as private donors, and was supported by Lotterywest.

Access the 200 voices from the Oral History Records Rescue Group project.

Access to the Collection

Users of the collection can listen can listen to the interviews in the State Library, and increasingly oral history interviews from the collection are being made available online, where copyright and the interviewees allow.  Many of the interviews have transcripts (some with comprehensive indexes) while most of the rest have a synopsis of content.  Transcripts may be requested through a public library on inter-library loan. Extracts from transcripts can usually be photocopied under conditions similar to those of published books, but the State Library's permission, and often the interviewee's, is required for publication. Some recordings and transcripts are subject to special conditions and may not be available for use without permission from the interviewee.

Oral history recordings may be found via the State Library Catalogue. The collection can also be found in the National Library of Australia's Oral History Directory which lists oral history collections across the country.

Do it Yourself Oral History

The Battye Library has produced a tape entitled How to Interview for Family History by Ronda Jamieson, which is available for use in the Battye Library or for purchase. A kit on interviewing for family history purposes (Young, Old and In Between), is also available for use or purchase. Books on producing and using oral history are also available and can be found in the State Library Catalogue.

Oral History Association

The Oral History Association of Australia was formed in 1978 and there are branches in every state. The objectives of the Oral History Association are:

  • to promote the practice and methods of oral history
  • to educate in the use of oral history methods
  • to encourage discussion in all aspects of oral history
  • to foster the preservation of oral history records.

State and national conferences include discussions about oral history projects and issues such as ethics, recording technology and copyright. For more information visit the Oral History Association of Australia (Western Australian Branch) website.

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Page last updated: Friday 29 November 2013

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