We get an inside look at history made new again with 20 year old Kelsey Collins
The courthouse was full of criminals waiting to have their turn in the docks. Hot sunlight streamed through the windows and the faces that adorned the ‘Wanted’ posters began to sweat as their trials drew near.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in the nineteenth century witnessing justice being done for the theft of a farthing or a pound. In fact, you’re at the 2013 Moonee Valley Festival where the Essendon Historical Society (EHS) is bringing the past to the present in vivid colour.
‘I organised an activity at the Courthouse where visitors, especially children, could be given the character of historical criminal who was tried in the Courthouse, have a photo taken for a wanted poster and even get dressed up in historical costume,’ says Kelsey Collins, a 20 year old EHS volunteer with a passion for local history.
‘It was a hot, tiring day running around in period costume, convincing people to come in and acting my way through numerous trials, but it was so fun and rewarding seeing people (especially children) really enjoying their local history.’
For Kelsey, this is one of many memorable experiences that ties her own personal history with that of her local community. A volunteer at EHS since 2008, Kelsey became involved through her participation in the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at Lowther Hall.
‘I had been at Lowther since Kindergarten and Duke of Ed was quite prolific in the school. So, I guess I saw Duke of Ed as something of a rite of passage that was an integral part of being in Year 9 and growing up.’
After struggling for eight months trying to think of a place to volunteer that met the requirements of Duke of Ed, but was also something she enjoyed, Kelsey stumbled across the EHS thanks to a tip-off from her mum.
With that, a little history was made. And the story doesn’t end there.
‘My first project was “The Blumfield Correspondence,” a series of letters to a local real estate agent called A. G. Blumfield from the early 1900s,’ recalls Kelsey.
‘It took me over a year to finish this binder full of hundreds of letters, after which I victoriously announced I had finished, only to learn that this was just one of about seven folders with over a thousand more letters!’
Through studying history and trying to piece together stories, Kelsey found that there isn’t really an ever and end to any story – there’s still always more to find out. She’s since catalogued ephemera, council legal documents and recently completed a 3000 entry database of Council Rate Books for Strathmore, detailing the building history and ownership of houses in that area.
Kelsey has been able to branch out through her volunteering by updating the EHS website, creating events on community websites and contacting local newspapers and radio stations. She’s also taken on a larger role in the digitisation of historical documents.
‘A lot of what I do is sorting out our collection, numbering our documents, scanning our photo collection and cataloguing our records. This digitisation is a mammoth effort, and is something that is taking place in historical societies, libraries and museums around Australia and the world,’ enthuses Kelsey.
‘But it’s entirely worth it, as it means that people are going to be able to access records so much more readily than before. This, I think, will in turn enable more people to do historical research on their family and local history. I see this as only a good thing. I personally think that we can’t form our future without understanding and valuing our past.’
Kelsey believes that volunteering at the EHS has given her richer connections to the community’s history as well as her own.
‘I feel better connected to my own family and a greater appreciation of the past. I’ve learnt so much about individuals from a time different to my own, who had terrifically difficult, yet amazing lives,’ reflects Kelsey.
And if she could say ‘Thanks a Million’ to anyone during National Volunteer Week? There are a few on her list. She’d thank her mum and her family for the years of support and driving her to the Courthouse. She’d thank the teachers at Lowther Hall for recognising her love of history and encouraging it. She’d thank the Moonee Valley Council who gave her the Youth Voice Award, have been great supporters of the EHS, and a great help in its endeavours.
But most importantly, she’d say ‘Thanks a Million’ to all of the people who give tirelessly at the EHS.
‘Everyone is a volunteer and everyone has a real passion for history and our local area. It makes for a great environment to work in with passionate and knowledgeable people who are always so happy help when you need them.’
And what do we say? We say ‘Thanks a Million’ Kelsey, for inspiring us to give of ourselves to others and to always search for new discoveries to the story.
Kelsey continues to volunteer at the EHS and hopes to teach history one day. She is currently studying a double degree in Arts and Education at Monash University.
Find out more about the Essendon Historical Society