Endings and beginnings – Part 2 ‘Exciting 2019’

You know it’s the beginning of a new year when there’s school age children everywhere you go, and the Australian Open tennis is playing and it’s Australia Day. For The St Helena Community, the new 2019 year hasn’t seen us reclining on a banana lounge. In fact, we’re hard at work building and creating projects that were only a thought bubble a year ago, and partnering up with people who will project St Helena into realms previously unseen.

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This oasis of summer will have to wait till 2020 as January has seen us glued to our computers dreaming up exciting projects for 2019!

I’m not going to speak about the details, since it’s not my creation to boast about and I’ll let the Queensland State Archives launch their own wonderful project. But excitingly (is that a word? It is now) they have looked wide to partner with people who use and manage the island, as well as those who have the specific knowledge and undying passion for the island to provide the source material. That’s us.

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Lauren and Belinda (and Bob) on their favourite island … St Helena Island, Moreton Bay.

What I love about this new St Helena Island project is that it seeks to find ways that history can be relevant and exciting in 2019. It is looking for new perspectives, through digital media and technology, to interact with archival information. Rather than be something that is untouchable, locked away and in storage, the Qld State Archives project is providing us with the opportunity to interact with history through hands on engagement, curiosity and wonder. 

How can history stored in the archives become something that is interesting and relevant in 2019? The Qld State Archives is taking on that challenge, and we’re excited to be a part of it!

I’ve always shared exactly the same principles and this site was established to find ways, through the digital media of a blog and website, to bring old, historical information to light in ways that engaged people in our present day. The use of story is, I think, an important medium for that. Story telling connects us to our world and helps us to make sense of it. Story is a way of understanding that world and the events within it and is a means of both capturing and sharing that wisdom.  

Emotional connection is another powerful tool for engagement, as it is only when we engage with our heart as well as our head, that we shift our values and long held ideas and start to change our established behaviours. And finally in this world of social and digital media, we have the means now to reach people globally and en-masse. Here is a chance for the information on St Helena Island to be shared through two way conversations that build our known historical record of information, creates valuable and important networks of people who care for places like St Helena Island, and finally has us talking and being passionate about St Helena’s history today.

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The use of digital media like a blog site as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have given us the ability to reach a huge variety of audiences. None of this was possible when Lauren and I began our journey on St Helena Island over 20 years ago!

And so we’re knee deep in stories for the Qld State Archives project at the moment, finding the best ones that will be brought to life for us all to enjoy. We’re like pigs in mud as you can imagine, as being buried in St Helena Island history is exactly where we want to be! Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, but I’m looking forward to March when we will see the fruits of everyone’s labours.

And then we are planning our new books. If we had all the time in the world, we’d have enough information to fill a library, but one step at a time is the motto. And so working our way towards producing some books in 2019 is something that we’re pursuing with gusto! It’s something that we feel is hugely important, as much of St Helena Island’s social history is currently unknown, forgotten over time until a once vibrant island community has dissipated into the wind. We plan to build the social history of St Helena Island again, piece by piece until the jigsaw puzzle is back again, and our books will capture the new knowledge we are unearthing for all time.

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In 2019 we aim to create more books, like the first cemetery book, dedicated to the social history of St Helena Island, focussing on both prisoners and warders alike. 

As mentioned last week, there is also a new Gardening Australia segment coming to the ABC on February 8th 2019, with a re-run on February 10th. This program features QPWS Ranger Daley Donnelly, who is a fountain of information himself, and walks us through the island’s vegetation, including the Superintendent’s Gardens. We had thought the program would go to air in 2018 and I had written some blog stories on the Superintendent’s Garden and the Bella Sombre trees, which are such a unique part of the landscape. I’d love you to click on the highlighted links to go back and read those again in preparation for the Gardening Australia program.

Artist and ecologist Dr Paula Peeters journey with us to St Helena Island in July 2018. Her pen and ink sketch of the unusual Bella Sombre trees beautifully captured its messy umbrella shaped canopy of leaves and thick, heavy branches.

Next week I plan to detail some more of St Helena’s vegetation in preparation for the program, specifically the ancient olive grove planted in the 1880’s. But the real treat will be the inclusion of another brilliant, as yet unseen, drawing by Paula Peeters of the olive grove situated in Warder’s Row. Tune in next week if you want to see how skilled artists like Paula capture the gnarled, moody atmosphere of the ancient olive grove that continues to flourish on St Helena Island.

Get ready for an exciting 2019 with the St Helena Community! We would love you to be a part of it, as we always appreciate your comments, ideas and especially your St Helena Island research enquiries. If you have been puzzling over incomplete documents or family stories regarding ancestral connections to the island, please contact us. Together we can rebuild the island’s social history.

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St Helena Island schoolhouse and church circa 1939, after the prison was closed, from SP 1939 collection.
Feature image: St Helena Blacksmith shop from a new perspective, courtesy of Amanda Thepanda. If you ever want to check out Amanda’s amazing photos of Wynnum and Moreton Bay, head here: 
Pena and Ink drawing by artist and ecologist, Dr Paula Peeters. If you would like to view more of Paula’s stunning art and writing, please follow this link.


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