Much of our knowledge of history is lost because it is never written down. Oral history is a method of gathering and preserving historical information by recording memories of people’s unique life experiences. The oral history interview creates a record of those memories, and preserves them for current and future generations. The recording of oral history is a two-way process in which someone shares memories with an interviewer who has carefully planned an interview.
Old Parliament House was home to the Australian federal parliament between 1927 and 1988. During those six decades thousands of people participated in the life of the House and its vicinity.
On 9 May 2009, Old Parliament House was relaunched as the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. The new museum showcases the history of Australian democracy, and continues to pay respect to the heritage values of this national heritage-listed building. We have broadened our role to include the story of democracy and democratic values in Australia and elsewhere. Our Vision Statement is: To celebrate, debate and experience the journey of Australian Democracy.
The Museum actively collects interviews as part of its Oral History Program. It conducts oral history interviews with a diverse range people including:
- former federal parliamentarians;
- individuals who personally knew former prime ministers (such as family members, friends and colleagues);
- former workers and staff; and
- rank-and-file activists of the parties that were represented in the federal parliament.
Since 1995, when the first interview was recorded for the program, more than 299 oral history recordings have been made and acquired by the Museum. Those interviewed include people who attended the building’s opening ceremony in 1927, parliamentary staffers and officers, Hansard reporters, journalists, construction workers, stenographers, police, drivers, managers, librarians, typists, gardeners, waitresses, caterers, paymasters, hairdressers, Clerks of the House and politicians.
What is involved in being interviewed?
A ‘Rights Agreement’ form must be completed and signed by anyone who is interviewed. Among other things, it allows the person interviewed to set out conditions of access to the interview.
Prior to the interview, each interviewee is given the opportunity to discuss the range and type of questions to be asked. The interview is recorded using digital equipment. The interview itself is likely to take between one and three hours, and some interviews require more than one session.
Many interviews take place at the Museum, in our oral history studio. Others take place in people’s homes, especially if they live elsewhere than in Canberra.
The interviewee receives a CD copy of the interview, and a copy is also held in our Oral History collection. Under an agreement with the National Library of Australia, copies of our interviews with former parliamentarians, and some others, are also deposited in the NLA oral history collection as part of the Old Parliament House Political and Parliamentary Oral History Project. These interviews are subject to the conditions of access as stipulated by the interviewee.