Stories of the 2017 Victorian Community History Award Winners

Local project award: Collingwood Historical Society for Notable People of Collingwood 

Profile of Notable People of Collingwood

Helping us make sense of our current environment

Paul Sandringham, April 2018

Mention “Collingwood” and most Australians, of course, will think of the love-’em-or-hate-’em football team and its supporters. Extend the expression to “notable people of Collingwood” and at best there might be a reference to great players or coaches from the past, perhaps a snide remark about a current TV personality.

But for some 8,500 people today, Collingwood means home. You can add Clifton Hill and Abbotsford to that, two adjacent suburbs that were part of the former City of Collingwood, and the population is around 20,000. Who, though are the notable people?

Most of us don’t know, of course.

Karen Cummings, a history graduate and librarian, didn’t know either. But then she bought a house in Clifton Hill, and started looking into its history. Fascination took root. Someone famous had once lived in Karen’s house – and had been involved with other historic figures, other people that Karen herself had never associated with Collingwood. Karen is the President of the Collingwood Historical Society. A project was born: the Notable People of Collingwood

Before talking to Karen, I thought I’d test the project database out. It’s all on the web which, as Karen explains, is the ideal vehicle for an ongoing project like this. More information can be added as it comes to hand, newly discovered links between notables can be inserted, and the list of notable people keeps on growing. So I browsed for Lou Richards. He was there, of course, but so, to my great surprise, was Tom Roberts. I was hooked. I discovered Billibellary, the Vale sisters and many others.

This is what it’s all about: the fascination of just who used to live in this inner suburb and what they brought to Melbourne, Australia and the world. Placing such diverse people in a geographical context, and in the context of their contemporaries from the area, extends their contribution to the present day as they help us make sense of the world in which we live.

There is potential for a lot more outreach with the project, of course, but that takes time and money. The web helps, however, because the site is extensively indexed and linked with national archive and biography services. The Collingwood Historical Society’s history walks refer participants to the database, too, and some people find the database by searching the web after seeing a Collingwood notable’s name on a plaque.

Contributors to the project do not all live locally, though. One key member, a Collingwood local, now lives on the Mornington Peninsula. There have been contributions from New Zealand, and there is a very active contributor living in England.

Winning the 2017 RHSV Local History Project award means “a little fame and fortune” for the core group, but more important is the recognition for their efforts. Perhaps, too, it will inspire another generation of local historians to become involved and make new local history projects possible, fulfilling Karen’s vision of local history: “helping us make sense of our current environment”.

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Collaborative Community Award : Fletcher Jones : Stories from our Community

Profile of FJ Stories

Paul Sandringham, March 2018

Those of us who grew up in Australia and are older than, say, 35, will know the name Fletcher Jones from at least one skirt or pair of trousers. Chances are that for our first job interview or wedding, or maybe for the school formal, Mum took us shopping and bought us something decent, durable and worth the money — something with an FJ label.

If we grew up in Warrnambool, though, the name means more than just a label in a pair of slacks. Fletcher Jones and his clothing business were associated with the town from the 1920s on, and beginning in the 1940s, Fletcher Jones & Staff developed into Warrnambool’s largest employer — jointly owned by Jones himself and the people who worked there. The founder and company were also the city’s benefactors, and the company gardens served as a public park and hosted an annual Christmas party for staff and family. The factory’s water tower, the 40m-high Silver Ball, became a Warrnambool landmark.

As the 20th century drew to an end, however, FJ’s star waned, and the factory finally closed its doors in 2005. The State Heritage-listed buildings, Silver Ball and gardens began to decay.

In early 2014, a small, diverse group of local residents, united by a concerned awareness of what happens when a community loses sight of its heritage, began asking for stories and anecdotes about Fletcher Jones, the man and the company, on a Facebook page. The response was strong and a project took shape. The developing community network also gave a voice to concerns about the future of the gardens, the Silver Ball and the factory site. This resonated with an entrepreneur from the region, who acquired the site, and in the spirit of Fletcher Jones has been working with the community to preserve the FJ heritage ever since. The gardens, although private property, are once again open to the public, and the traditional Christmas party was revived as a community event from 2014. A Jones family reunion in Warrnambool at Christmas 2015 marked the start of ongoing support for the project from the descendants of Sir Fletcher.

All of the buildings at the FJ site are set to be maintained and repurposed by the new owner.  A parallel campaign to rescue the Silver Ball, with strands as diverse as a film festival and a primary school project, united the community across social strata and generations. The stories and anecdotes about Fletcher Jones, and the cooperative business he founded, are recorded on a dedicated website and on two large story panels newly installed at the factory site.

The volunteer project, Fletcher Jones: Stories from Our Community, won the 2017 RHSV Collaborative Community History Award. A pupil of East Warrnambool Primary School said of the Silver Ball that it helps her find her way home. With the award bringing FJ Stories to a wider and more lasting audience, project coordinator Julie Eagles hopes that other communities, too, will be inspired to preserve their heritage, helping present and future generations find their way home.

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