Wednesday, 16 May 2007

A question of focus

People love to talk about the past. Gossip about the past is even more fun and much safer when the people concerned are long gone. Yet I have run into an unexpected problem. Now that more people know about my research and book, they all want to tell me their stories about growing up in this area. People are interested and they want to be helpful

It’s all fascinating but makes it hard to focus on the task. I’ve picked an era that is beyond the living memory of people so the stories I hear are of parents being born at the Marburg Hospital, experiences on farms in the area and people who worked on the railway.

I’ve learnt more about the area in the last few months than I have learnt in the previous four years. Even my parents are on the job. Just back from a camping trip out beyond the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, they visited the old mining town of Newnes. One day an elderly man wandered into the campsite. My parents wondered from where he had turned up, as the place is surrounded by cliffs and national park. Apparently he has seventy acres bordering the park and lives in splendid isolation without electricity. A wander down to the campsite to chat suffices for company and a weekly trip to Mudgee deals with groceries.

It turns out that this bloke grew up on a dairy farm four miles out of Ipswich. More surprisingly, he was a train driver on the coal trains from Marburg to Rosewood and Ipswich. The trains ran on this spur line from 1911 to 1964. Another lady camping at the site was originally from a Dutch migrant family dairy farming in the Lowood area. Both she and the elderly man had left Queensland rather than stay on the family farm.

Today, an old teacher and his wife from my primary school dropped in for a visit from Adelaide. His wife’s mother was born in Marburg at the hospital. Not so surprising you ask? Well, my primary school was in Malaysia and to be honest, primary school was some time ago for me.

Great stories all of them, but I need to delve a little further back. I need to get into the diaries and contemporaneous accounts like newspaper articles. I need to focus on getting answers to the questions with which I started my project. And I need to write.

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