Researching the Past (in Perth)

I recently had the honour of being asked to present to a sub-group of Family History WA. I was in my element, having an open floor (and captive audience) while I discussed my journey researching and writing my historical fiction book The Teacher.

It didn’t start out as a book. It started out as a university assignment in 2014. That grew into a submission for the local History Awards. Then, after researching the people and places for a year or two, consolidating them so firmly in my brain that I now considered them family, in 2017 I decided to write a book.

I’d never written a book before, unless you count the cringeworthy novella I penned in high school. (Note: never count the books you write in high school unless you’re someone like Dav Pilkey or S.E Hinton.)

So I started enrolling in writing courses, and since then have done no less than nine – some short, some long. I am constantly learning and pushing myself. I have a long way to go.

But this short post today is not about writing, but researching.

I created a handout for the FHWA Writers Group that listed some of the websites I have discovered (or have been shared with me) over the years. Most of these are relevant only to West Australian researchers, but I feel confident there would be similar sites for other states that wouldn’t take much to discover.

West Australian Legislation: this site details the historical acts and amendments passed by Parliament all the way back 1832. You can search by portfolio (ie Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Small Business etc) or ‘As passed’ which is the year they were passed ie Lunacy Act, Elementary Education Act etc. It makes for some fascinating reading.

State Library of WA: It seems pretty obvious but this site has a wealth of resources, including the Wise post office directories, police gazettes, music, film, images, private collections and more. I also recommend following the SLWA on Facebook because they often release collections of historical photographs, which makes a nice change from cat videos and pictures of people’s breakfast.

Post Office Directories: the specific link to the Post Office Directories which is a great way to find people in the past from 1893 to 1949. The directories provide name, address, locality and trade/professions. These have actually been one of the greatest sources of information for my research – finding people, seeing how stable or transient they are, determining their ages and relationship status, following their careers and families. It’s amazing what you can deduce from the directories.

World War 1 Service Records: if you’re researching anyone who did service in WW1, the National Archives have detailed records for each soldier, which can include ‘bonus’ extras such as health records (did they contract VD during service?), commendations and wrong-doings, letters to/from home and more.

11th Battalion AIF website: If you’re specifically interested in the West Australian 11th Battalion, this website has personal histories and diaries, images as well as enlistment and embarkation details of Western Australia’s soldiers.    

Landgate: If you’re researching the previous owners of your home then you can apply to Landgate for the historical title deeds. It will include information such as name, address, occupation and sometimes information about bank loans and mortgages.

Local museums: Did you know there are more than 150 museums in WA. I didn’t! This Wikipedia lists a huge range of museums from the Aviation Heritage Museum to the Colonial Hospital Museum and the WACA Museum. Most of them have websites which means you’re only one step away from learning about the history of cricket in WA.

Lost Perth: This fabulous site and its respective Facebook page are full of brilliant old photos from Perth – but it’s the accompanying comments from hundreds of readers that add a level of personal detail that is priceless when you’re writing a book. A great place to get a feel for the history of Perth.

Old Maps of Perth: This site provides links to vintage online maps from 1800s (across the globe).

Old Perth: historical photographs of old buildings and streets predominantly from the Perth CBD.

Collections WA: historical WA images and stories organised by theme – such as environment, immigration, people, popular culture, social history, war etc.

The Royal Western Australian Historical Society: Go to their book sales which are held twice a year – the local history books are inside and there are tables dedicated to WA as well as Australian history. Take a big bag!

Local councils: Your local council often will have a heritage department and dedicated staff who can assist with historical questions relating to their suburbs.

And last but not least Family History WA is a brilliant place for anything associated with historical research. Not only do they have multiple sub-groups focussing on special interest topics, they have a well-stocked library and research room that is accessible for members (or a small fee for the public).

What sites have you found most helpful when researching the past?

Published by Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a Perth-based writer and storyteller

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: