This year I’ve been teaching creative writing and academic writing at Sheridan College, a small, not-for-profit, tertiary institution in Perth. Recently, I was chatting to my students about COVID-19 and the idea that we are living through an historical time. And I asked them what they would like researchers in the future to know about their current experiences. What might be lost from history if we don’t record them now?
I also asked about other historical moments that have stood out to them. Without breaking confidences, many of them named historical events within their living memory—and experience—especially those who grew up outside of Australia. We need these perspectives in our books and art and cinema. They enrich what we know.
I’ve previously written about the value and necessity of multiple perspectives about Anzac Day, rather than a ‘single story’ about the Anzac legend. But I think it’s true about any moment or event in time—and that’s where your story comes in.
Your story matters because it offers your unique perspective not only on past events but on the present as well.
Whether you are writing for your family, a broader audience, or simply for yourself, here are a few prompts to get you started.
1. Living Histories
What historical moments have stayed with you? Perhaps you’ve only read about them in a book, or maybe you lived through them without comprehending their significance? It could be something like the Second World War or the Vietnam War, but it could be something like the fall of Skylab, the death of Princess Diana or a natural disaster. Perhaps it is COVID-19.
2. An ancestor’s Historical Moments
What historical moments did your ancestors live through? This could be a war or a past pandemic such as the Spanish Flu. Perhaps it was the goldrush, Australian Federation or the 1967 referendum that finally gave Aboriginal people the right to vote.
If your ancestor grew up, or was living, somewhere else in the world, what was happening in that country at the time your ancestor was alive?
Research one of these historical moments and imagine how your ancestor/s may have been impacted by it.
3. Glimpses of the Past
Trove—a fabulous digital archive of newspapers published in Australia, from small local rags to papers printed nationally—can be a wonderful way of uncovering glimpses of long-dead ancestors. I found my great-grandparents divorce proceedings in colourful detail. But I also found the much briefer mentions of my great aunt’s teaching postings and the death of a great uncle during the Second World War.
As a starting point, type in your ancestors name and the suburb or town in which they were living into the Trove search engine. What are the results? Limiting the search parameters to a decade or state can help too.
4. The Day of Your Birth
Do you know the details around your birth? What anecdotes has your family told you? What information do any documents or other records reveal?
What else happened on the day you were born? If you were born prior to 1955, you can look up newspapers that were published on that day via Trove, Even if you weren’t born here, you may find stories about world news.
If you were born after 1955, you may find clues as to significant events via a general internet search.
5. Turning Points
When you reflect on your life, what were the turning points?
Each of these turning points are a potential story for you to tell.
6. Safe Spaces
When you were a child (or at any other time), where were the places you felt safe? Why did you feel safe there, and when did you tend to go there?
What season are you in today?
This could be whether it’s summer, winter, autumn or spring, but it could also be your stage of life or the circumstances in which you find yourself.
Reflect on the seasons, in whatever way your interpret it.
Over to You
Which prompt grabbed your attention?
Remember: Your story matters.