Oral Histories

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

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.

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.

The 200 voices from the Oral History Records Rescue Group project can be heard online.

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 interlibrary 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

Highlights of the Oral History Collection

A small selection of oral histories can be found below and others can be located through the State Library Catalogue.

Interviews with Indigenous People

The State Library holds many interviews with Indigenous people speaking on a variety of subjects and about their lives, experiences and families. More information on the oral traditions of Aboriginal people can be found in Indigenous Oral History.

Interview with Ernie Bridge – Ernie Bridge talks about Indigenous/White relations and the Noonkanbah community. Recorded 1980.

Interview with Rob Riley – Rob Riley talks about the attitudes of government and white Australians towards Indigenous people and Indigenous history since 1920. Recorded 1984.

Interview with Kenneth Colbung – Ken Colbung talks about his childhood at the Moore River Mission and Sister Kate's, his family and life in East Perth from an Indigenous perspective. Recorded 1994.

Interview with Alice Nannup – Alice Nannup talks about her life, marriage, A.O. Neville and Mogumber. Recorded 1986-1987.

Interview with Isobel Bropho – Isobel Bropho talks about her orphanage upbringing, Carrolup and Moore River Settlements and fringe dwelling. Recorded 1989.

Interviews with Women

The State Library holds many interviews with Western Australian women speaking on a variety of subjects and about their experiences, lives and families.

Interview with Irene Greenwood – Irene Greenwood, nee Driver, talks about Bessie Rischbieth and the women's movement, especially Women's Service Guilds and the Australian Federation of Women voters. Recorded 1981.

Interview with Catherine King – Catherine King's final ABC Women's Session. Includes poetry read by Prof. Alec King and Margaret Webster. Recorded 1976.

Interview with Eileen Dolan – Eileen Dolan talks about her family and her experiences as the wife of a Member of Parliament and the career of her husband John Dolan. Recorded 1989.

Interview with Eileen Hall – Eileen Hall talks about the Great Depression, her work for the Public Service 1930-1977, Sir Charles Court and other ministers, and industrial development. Recorded 1989.

Interview with Janet Pine – Janet Pine talks about the Women's Electoral Lobby and Labour Movement, New Opportunities for Women, the Women's Advisory Council and life as a single mother. Recorded 1990.

Interviews with Parliamentarians

The State Library holds many interviews with Western Australian Parliamentarians speaking about their lives and time in Parliament.

Interview with June Craig – June Craig, a member of the Legislative Assembly 1974-1983, talks about her life and career as a member of parliament, Minister for Lands and Forests and Minister for Local Government etc. Recorded 1987.

Interview with Hon. William Grayden – Bill Grayden, a Member of the Legislative Assembly 1947-1949 and 1956-1993, talks about his family background, World War II experiences, his membership of the Federal Parliament from 1949-1954 and his membership of the Legislative Assembly from 1956 onwards. Recorded 1989.

Interview with Clive Griffiths –  Clive Griffiths, a Member of the Legislative Council 1965-1998 and President 1977-1998 talks about his parliamentary career up to 1986. Recorded 1986.

Interview with Ray McPharlin – Ray McPharlin, a Member of the Legislative Assembly 1967-1983, talks about his career with the Country Party and the National Country Party and his Parliamentary career. Recorded 1991-1992.

Interview with Arthur Tonkin – Arthur Tonkin, a Member of the Legislative Assembly 1971-1987, talks about his career as a politician. Recorded 1988.

Interviews with Authors

The State Library holds many interviews with authors speaking about their lives and work.

Interview with Sister Veronica Brady, Senior Lecturer, English Dept., University of Western Australia – Author and nun talks about her early childhood, the Loreto Order, overseas study, the civil rights movement and the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Recorded 1989.

Interview with Peter Cowan – Author talks about his family background, his writing, the Australian literary movement 1930-1990, the Angry Penguins movement c1940 and teaching. Recorded 1991-1992.

Interview with Rica Erickson – Author talks about her childhood on the Goldfields, teaching and her work as a naturalist, historian and author. Recorded 1991-1993.

Interview with Xavier Herbert – Author talks about his childhood and upbringing, politics, his writing career and the Australian character. Recorded 1975.

Interview with Dr Elizabeth Jolley, Author – Author talks about her early life in England, migration to Australia in 1959, tutoring and lecturing in creative writing. Recorded 1989.

Interviews with Immigrants

The State Library holds many interviews with Western Australian people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds talking about their experiences in Western Australia and other subjects.

Interview with Ameer Dost – Ameer Dost talks about the Dost and Grigo families, the Swan Boys Orphanage, whaling (Point Cloates and Babbage Island), Meekatharra, Kalgoorlie, crayfishing and boxing. Recorded 1978-1980.

Interview with Doug Sue – Doug Sue talks about Chinese market gardening, racial discrimination, life in York, Northam, Leederville and Bayswater. Recorded 1983.

Interview with Prof. Rolf Ten Seldam – Professor Rolf Ten Seldam talks about his early life in the Dutch East Indies and his work as foundation Professor of Pathology at the University of Western Australia. Recorded 1981-1982.

Interview with Louise Hoffman – Louise Hoffman, a member of the Western Australian Jewish community, talks about the social, economic, religious and cultural background of the Jewish community in Perth from the 1930s on, Jewish families, lifestyle, etc. Recorded 1987.

Interview with Vinh Quang Le – Vinh Quang Le talks about life in Vietnam, his arrival in Australia and life here, his job as a teaching aide at Graylands and Perth's Vietnamese community. Recorded 1985.

DIY Oral History

The Library has produced a recording entitled How to Interview for Family History by Ronda Jamieson, which is available for use in the J.S  Battye Library, Level 3 State 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 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 West Australian branch and their Facebook page.

Last updated on: 22 July 2019