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.

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.

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 which 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.

Oral history recordings may be found via the State Library Catalogue

Highlights of the Oral History Collection

Music in Vincent Oral History Video Project In collaboration with the City of Vincent Local History Centre these 13 interviews showcase the stories of key people, including musicians, venue owners, program directors and bookers, associated with live music venues in the City of Vincent.

The King Edward Memorial Hospital Alumni Oral History Project celebrated the 100th Birthday of King Edward Memorial Hospital in 2016. The project recorded the memories of the some of the founding fathers, mothers and families and captured the perceptions of current and former staff and patients from all over Western Australia.

The Singing for our True Heart Project celebrated the Gay and Lesbian Singers of Western Australia (GALSWA) choir’s 25th years anniversary by collecting the stories of personal struggle and triumph of 16 choir members. This resulted in the 9-minute film Singing for our True Heart and a series of 16 portraits and stories.

Cambridge Voices  interviews carried out by the Town of Cambridge Local Studies Oral History Collection celebrating their community and the people who live there.

Busselton Historical Society Oral History Project The Busselton Oral History Group carried out over a period of time some 177 interviews with local Busselton and South West residents which focus on a range topics which include but are not limited to the Anzacs, Group Settlement in the South West and Tourism in the South West

Interview with Ernie Bridge – Ernie Bridge was the first Aboriginal elected to the Western Australian parliament.  In this interview recorded in 1980, he talks about Indigenous/White relations and the Noonkanbah community.

Interview with Rica Erickson – Rica Erickson was an Australian naturalist, botanical artist, historian, author and teacher.  In this interview she reflects on her childhood on the Goldfields, teaching and her work.

Interview with Ameer Dost – Ameer Dost talks about his life in the Swan Boys Orphanage, working with whalers at Point Cloates, and the depression years in Meekatharra and Kalgoorlie, working as a labourer, boxer and gambler’s bouncer. Recorded 1978-1980.

Interview with John William (Jack) Dodd – Jack Dodd was born in Bunbury and enlisted in the army aged 19.  He was in the battle at El Alamein, where he was taken prisoner, escaped and spent time on the run.

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: 8 April 2021