Unleash your inner history buff this summer
It would have been the 1880 equivalent of the confessional interview on A Current Affair. Ned Kelly, interviewed by The Age in Beechworth gaol was, if he was being accurately quoted, surprisingly well-spoken and philosophical about his run-ins with authority.
“I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life, or that one fault justifies another,” Kelly said, “but the public in judging a case like mine should remember that the darkest life may have a bright side, and that after the worst has been said against a man, he may, if he is heard, tell a story in his own rough way that will perhaps lead them to mitigate the harshness of their thoughts against him, and find as many excuses for him as he would plead for himself.”
The Kelly interview is one of the many nuggets you’ll find in even the most cursory of searches through Trove, an archiving service of the National Library which started this year and last week marked the one millionth newspaper page scanned into its archives.
If you’re the type of person who likes browsing in bookshops or are curious about history then a rummage in Trove is time well spent. You can see how major events like WWII, Federation, or the sinking of the Titanic, were reported to Australians as they happened.
Now that it has built up some critical mass what’s emerging is an extraordinarily rich archive of Australian news and events over the past 200 years. And importantly, it’s easily searchable.
Warwick Cathro, the Trove project director at the National Library, said some 6000 members of the public had registered and had been helping index the content. In the scanning process some of the text is registered as garbled but in total, the users have now helped edit and mark up around 8 million lines of text.
(Because of the scanning process, the system doesn’t always read the text accurately so human hands getting in and clarifying what a particular piece of text says will be an ongoing process to refine Trove’s search accuracy. But once you find what you’re looking for you can download the newspaper page or the entire edition of the newspaper as a PDF.)
I’ve spent a couple of hours noodling around on it, looking up contemporary accounts of what would have been the big news stories of their day. But it’s just as interesting to see the other stories of petty crime and the advertisements for various services alongside the pieces you’re looking for. It’s easy to get lost in it.
Take this single page from the Melbourne Argus in 1945: it contains a story about Ben Chifley making an unusual intervention into Victorian state politics, a report of the death of Robert Menzies’ father, a story mentioning a couple who had mysteriously vanished on their wedding day, and a banker’s account of a botched armed hold-up.
Then there’s this terrific ad, highlighting how a young couple could be happy with the help of a certain type of carpet.
I’ll leave you with this one interesting piece of treasure from page 5 – yes, 5 - of the Hobart Mercury, reporting the sinking of the Titanic. (The front pages were classified ads.) The first paragraph in the report is hideously wordy by modern measures but spine-chilling nonetheless:
The “New York Herald” and other newspapers in New York publish a message from St John’s Newfoundland, purporting to have been picked up by the steamer Bruce from the various steamers in the vicinity of the disaster, and stating that the Titanic, when going at a speed of 18 knots an hour, went head foremost into an iceberg.
If you have a bit of spare time over the holidays it’s worth getting on there and looking up anything – news events, your family name, dirty words, whatever. It’s a terrific resource.
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