2021 Victorian Community History Award Winners

At 4:30pm on Wednesday 27 October, during History Month, the 2021 Victorian Community History Awards ceremony was held. The video of the awards announcement can be viewed here.

All entrants will be sent a copy of the 2021 VCHA booklet and, if you’d like a copy mailed to you, please email office@historyvictoria.org.au with your details.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Government Services Danny Pearson

“Congratulations to these fantastic directors for their outstanding work, showcasing the life and legacy of one of Australia’s most important Aboriginal filmmakers.”

“It’s important to preserve and share the history of Victoria and this year’s entrants have all done an incredible job in bringing diverse backgrounds to life.”

Quote attributable to Public Record Office Victoria Director and Keeper of Public Records Justine Heazlewood

“Well done to everyone who participated in this year’s Victorian Community History Awards. We are pleased to once again celebrate the local historians working hard to preserve the important stories of our past.”

Quote attributable to Royal Historical Society of Victoria President Emeritus Professor Richard Broome

“We applaud all the entrants to this year’s Awards for their hard work and creativeness and congratulate the category winners, in particular the creators of the documentary film Ablaze.”

Please click the images to be either directed to the entrants website or the History Victoria bookshop.

Those books highlighted in blue below are hyper-linked to the History Victoria bookshop if you wish to purchase a copy.




Written  and directed by Alec Morgan and Tiriki Onus
Produced by Tom Zubrycki, 2021

The documentary film, Ablaze, presents a moving personal story tracing the life and work of William ‘Bill’ Onus (1906–1968), a Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri man and a prominent Aboriginal rights activist in Victoria. This film is a major contribution to our understanding of Aboriginal politics in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Bill Onus is ‘found’ through the eyes of his grandson, Tiriki Onus, an opera singer, the son of artist Lin Onus.

Bill Onus was a remarkable figure of his time. Determined and ambitious, he was an activist with charm and charisma, drawing on his talents as an artist and a performer, not least as a master of boomerang-throwing. Creative, adaptive and energetic, Bill Onus was something of an entrepreneur. He was seemingly unstoppable in conceiving innovative ways to pursue the cause of justice for his people.

Responding to the exclusion of Aboriginal people from the official Victorian centenary celebrations, Bill Onus developed the idea of the first ‘Moomba’ in Melbourne in 1951. He also established a shop and factory where he produced items of Aboriginal design, including furniture and boomerangs. He was tireless in his promotion of Aboriginal culture and in fighting for Aboriginal self-determination. But it is his work as a filmmaker, and his grandson’s quest to understand a previously unknown reel of film from 1946 in the National Film and Sound Archives, revealing previously unseen footage of Melbourne, that provides an intriguing narrative thread to the film.

This superbly researched and charmingly narrated film, written and directed by Alec Morgan and Tiriki Onus, makes an important contribution to Victorian history not only because it retrieves the voice and the resilience of Bill Onus, but also because it shows how he was sometimes misunderstood and often thwarted. This film deserves a wide audience, whether at home, in the cinema, or at school. This film prompts reflection. This is history at its best: as fuel for informed conversation.




Joint Winner

Under the Rainbow: The life and times of E.W. Cole

Richard Broinowski
The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, 2020

Under the Rainbow tells the life story of Edward W. Cole, the proprietor of The Coles Book Arcade, operating in Melbourne for 57 years from 1874. Under the rainbow is a fascinating story, engagingly told—about a man, born into an impoverished English family, who emigrates to Australia and makes good through hard work and self-determinism. More than that, the book is a wonderfully readable social history of life and society in 19th- and early 20th-century Australia. Cole’s interests, involvements and his social circle were wide; he seldom left anybody in doubt as to where he stood on a subject that interested him. Self-promotion was also his forté; Cole was the great marketing man of his time. This engaging biography considers many of the social movements and developments of his period. The author retrieves Cole’s abiding and progressive interests in immigration policy, religion, education, humanism, and the development of aviation. Richard Broinowski has produced the pot of gold at the end of Cole’s trademark rainbow.




A History of LGBTQI+ Victoria in 100 Places and Objects

Graham Willett, Angela Bailey, Timothy W. Jones and Sarah Rood

 This beautiful and insightful community collaboration explores cultural heritage by enabling sensitive storytelling. Objects and places of social significance are documented to narrate personal histories and to share collective experiences. Community memories and knowledge make a sometimes-hidden history visible, tangible, compelling and politically forceful. Careful attention to consistencies of voice, presentation, editing and design ensure this history is accessible. This fine collaboration models how historical research helps frame and build cultural diversity. The project also provides new perspectives on other narratives in Australian social history. This collaboration nuances established understandings of heritage places and of museum collections of historical and social significance.



Wadawurrung Country
Wadawurrung Aboriginal Corporation and National Wool Museum

This moving ‘people and country’ counterpoint to the museum’s new wool exhibition exemplifies best-practice in community participation in history research. Community lore, memories and knowledge transfer via the Djilong timeline and using film, memories, stories, art and language.

Her Place Women’s Museum Australia (in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and Safer Care Victoria and supported by the Victorian Branch, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation)

Much can be achieved when different organisations and people work together with communities and families to share collections. This exemplary collaboration for an exhibition explores the work of nurses and midwives, including the role of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.



In the Shadow of the Prom: Early South Gippsland times, tales and tramlines

Mike McCarthy
Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc., Melbourne, 2020

This book, the result of more than 30 years of research, represents community history at its best. The work minutely details the role of tramways in linking small local communities in South Gippsland to the wider world. In areas where it was hard to build all-weather roads, tramways became the preferred means of moving produce—such as timber, fish, as well as a variety of equipment—to places they were needed. In servicing local industries and providing personal transport, tramways were crucial to the life and survival of otherwise isolated communities in this largely untouched region. This study of light railways is well referenced and profusely illustrated with photographs, maps, and diagrams. In the Shadow of the Prom is a beautiful testament to the value of painstaking, prolonged and passionate historical research into community history. Mike McCarthy’s labour of love combines history with studies of photography, geography and the history of technology to reveal the heart and soul of his beloved South Gippsland.



Changing Fortune: Ebb and flow of people and place in a pocket of Port Melbourne

David F. Radcliffe
PenFolk Publishing, Blackburn, 2021

This superbly researched study of a mere ‘pocket’ of Port Melbourne combines history and geography to explore swamps and drains, streets and corner shops, and local economies and families. This study is a model of its kind.

Jas A. Munro & Co.: The largest garage in Melbourne

Ian Berg
The author, Canterbury, 2021

This is the intriguing tale of Scottish immigrant, James A Munro, who established a motor garage in Melbourne in 1910. His garage and car dealership continued to operate until 2014. More than an outstanding example of business history, this richly illustrated publication is a window into the social history of Melbourne from the perspective of the motor car and changing technology.

Labassa: House of dreams

Vicki Shuttleworth for the National Trust of Australia (Vic.)
Hardie Grant Books, Richmond, 2020

This intimate story of Labassa, a Victorian mansion in Melbourne, in every respect a House of Dreams, traces its transformations and its many occupants, Establishment to Bohemian. Showing the many changes in Melbourne’s social worlds, this book is beautifully designed, befitting the house itself.

Made in Lancashire: A collective biography of assisted migrants from Lancashire to Victoria, 1852-1853

Richard Turner
Monash University Publishing, Clayton, 2020

Richard Turner’s social and economic history explores the influence of colonial Victoria’s English heritage: despite the poverty and hardships faced by this group of assisted immigrants, their Chartist values of self-help and disdain for debt and deference helped shape our liberalism.

Save Our Sons: Women, dissent and conscription during the Vietnam War

Carolyn Collins
Monash University Publishing, Clayton, 2021

Save Our Sons tells the story of the Australian women who formed an organised movement against compulsory military service during the Vietnam War. Using interviews and document research, Carolyn Collins excels in placing these women protesters in their historical context, looking sideways at their lives and times, and back to earlier anti-war and anti-conscription sentiment in Australia.



A Miscarriage of Justice

Atalanti Dionysus / Atalanti Films

Etched in Victoria’s collective cultural landscape, Pentridge Prison in Coburg has been notorious since its construction in 1851. A Miscarriage of Justice is an intimate, immersive and site-specific project exploring the stories of the last man and the last woman executed in Australia at Pentridge in the 1950s and 60s. This outstanding project blends technologies (augmented and virtual reality) with historical interpretation and dramatisation. Powerful, personal and emotional, A Miscarriage of Justice transports audiences back in time. The evocative user experience turns viewers into bystanders and witnesses. This focus on the emotional journey of the key figures is too often implicit in standard histories and even in the records. This retrieval of empathy is a key strength of this project. The outcome is a rich media experience of broad appeal to audiences, whether online or on-site.






End of an Era: The Last Gippsland Lakes Fishermen

(Lynda Mitchelson-Twigg, representing the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishing community, assisted by Nikki and Leigh Henningham, Tanya King, Donna Squire and Geoff Stanton)

In April 2020 the long history of commercial fishing in the Gippsland Lakes ended by government decree. End of an Era is a community-based oral history and photography project that combines the expertise of members of the fishing community alongside academic researchers and professional historians and photographers. The interviews and images capture the life histories of the men and women of the Gippsland Lakes fishing industry, and its profound significance for each narrator and for their community. The interview collection is archived at the National Library of Australia where it will be available for future research. The project team curated a travelling exhibition which has been enjoyed in Lakes Entrance, Geelong and Melbourne Docklands, and which comes to Paynesville in the coming months. A beautifully produced website represents the exhibition and visitor responses, and showcases the photographs alongside twelve of the interviews. Each narrator brings the world of commercial fishing to life, from the intricacy of meshing and seining, to the habits of different sea creatures, to the sounds, smells and sights of an environment they love and know so well.


COVID Kids Oral History Project
Way Back When Consulting Historians

The COVID pandemic turned Victorian life upside down, not least for children who had to comprehend the health crisis, negotiate new ways of living, and study from home. In this bold and imaginative project, the team at Way Back When interviewed 50 Victorians aged between 4 and 19 about their experience of the pandemic in 2020. The team overcame the multiple challenges of interviewing children – and of interviewing online – to produce an archive of rich and provocative accounts. The elegant and engaging COVID Kids online video is carefully constructed to illuminate key themes, such as What is COVID?, What are the rules? What is lockdown like? and How did you cope? It brings to life the distinctive insights and feelings of each kid, captured in words, voice and physical expression (so expressive!). We can see how the relationship between each child and their interviewer (pictured alongside each other on a split screen) enabled sad, funny and profound reflections about young people’s pandemic lives.

In the Eye of the Storm: Volunteers and Australia’s Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis
Robert Reynolds, Shirleene Robinson, Paul Sendziuk

In the Eye of the Storm is a book based on 67 interviews with men and women who volunteered during the worst years of Australia’s HIV/AIDS crisis. The recorded interviews have been deposited in the Australian Queer Archives in Melbourne and are accessible to all. The book is structured around 12 of the narrators, each of whom explains how and why they became volunteers, what they did – from working on phone helplines, to taking needles or condom packs to vulnerable communities, to caring for young men as they died or planning their funerals – and how the experience often had a profound effect on their subsequent lives. The book makes an invaluable contribution to the history of Australian volunteering (which has neglected LGBTQI volunteers) and to the history of HIV/AIDS. Each life story is told in a separate chapter that carefully weaves together extracts from interviews with historical and cultural analysis. Each chapter is written by the interviewer, and captures the intimate relationship of the interview as it enabled thoughtful reflection and moving testimony.

Understanding Through Testimony
Jewish Holocaust Centre

The Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) in Elsternwick, created by Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants, is home to one of the world’s most important collections of interviews with Holocaust survivors. In recent years the JHC has been devising ways to retain survivor testimony at the heart of the JHC. Understanding Through Testimony is a web-based resource for schools that curates extracts from 26 interviews with survivors, arranged by topics: The Rise of Nazism, Outbreak of War, The Ghettos, The Camps, and Life After the War. A set of tutorial videos provide background information and suggestions for teaching. The web resource is carefully constructed so student users can follow a theme or a narrator. As each narrator speaks to us through the screen, we are drawn into the appalling detail and powerful emotion of Jewish life in occupied Europe, and learn historical lessons with contemporary resonance about the terrible consequences of racism.



Joint Winner

For the Fallen: The 1921-22 Melbourne Public Library Mural Competition within the setting of decorative painting in Australian art

Paul Paffen
Australian Scholarly Publishing in association with the National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne, 2020

In our romantic quests for mastery and ‘genius’, we sometimes forget the audiences—élite and public—for the Arts, and the agendas audiences set. This outstanding study sets a new benchmark for studies of the history of the visual arts in Australia. Paul Paffen’s meticulously researched, and superbly illustrated history traces the inception and conception of a memorial mural, ‘For the Fallen’, in the State Library in Melbourne in 1921-22. Paffen unravels the ins-&-outs of the resulting competition, not just Harold Septimus Power’s winning entry (1922-24). Paffen’s exemplary study becomes a history of Australian art and taste in the early 1920s, as shaped by British Imperial and continental European influences, but also by strains of Australian nationalism. By tracing the ideas and hopes of Victorians on how best to commemorate the trauma of the recent ‘war to end all wars’, Paul Paffen tells us a great deal about our former selves. His study models the community, social and intellectual history of art, not just as performed by ‘artists’, but also as prompted and apprehended by library patrons and the public.




Victorian CEDT Index

Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria

This outstanding project digitises and transcribes records, complemented by adept search functions. The project adds value by linking the data to stories from historians, artists and community members. These additions bring the data to life, making it more engaging for audiences. This is an exciting new approach to digitisation projects. People of Chinese Australian backgrounds can be placed in their local histories now that the records are accessible.



Geelong Honours Them

Geelong Regional Libraries Corporation – Geelong Heritage Centre

This project is a fitting tribute to the servicewomen and men it honours. The scale and scope of this project impressed: documenting over 200 Honour Boards with the names of 13,000 local servicewomen and men. The project makes local historical information easily discoverable and searchable online.



Places of Reconciliation: Commemorating Indigenous history in the heart of Melbourne

Sarah Pinto
Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2021

Places of Reconciliation examines the emergence of ways of marking and commemorating Aboriginal places in central Melbourne. This thoughtful study makes an important contribution to the wider public debate about recognising Aboriginal history in the urban context of the 21st century. Focusing on central Melbourne, Sarah Pinto examines the development since the 1990s of public monuments and memorials, historical place markers, walking trails and commemorative naming. In many cases, these markers address, albeit symbolically, the unfathomable loss and suffering of Aboriginal people. One is a memorial commissioned in 2016 to mark the anniversary of the deaths in 1842 of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheinner, the first people publicly executed in Melbourne.

The development of these commemorative places is a step towards acknowledging the injustices suffered by Aboriginal people that began with the machinery of British colonial rule, which continued with the impact of settlement, and which were perpetuated by ongoing discrimination. Creating and naming places in the city as public sites of commemoration, telling truths about the past in visible spaces, goes some way towards greater understanding. The thoughtful book doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the politics of naming and marking place, not only in the face of settler discontent, but also in the context of different and sometimes conflicted Aboriginal groups and voices. Sara Pinto knows she is part of an active and ongoing conversation. There is much work still to be done, but this is an important contribution.




Dwellers of Fisherman’s Flat: They left their mark, they left things behind

Maggie Stowers
Queenscliffe Historical Museum Inc., Queenscliff, 2020

Fisherman’s Flat presents a delightful mix of the history, stories and the archaeology of a coastal locality near Queenscliff. Focusing on the small, the hidden and the forgotten, this superbly designed publication glimpses another time through carefully selected words, images and objects.

Little Lon

Andrew Kelly (author) and Heather Potter and Mark Jackson (illustrators)
Wild Dog, Abbotsford

Using findings of historical archaeology, this charming story of a city street in central Melbourne enables young readers to get to grips with continuity and change, the better to spark family talks and walks.

One Hundred Years in the Making: Box Hill RSL 1920–2020

Steven Cooke
Box Hill RSL Sub Branch Inc., Box Hill, 2020, 2019

This well constructed and abundantly illustrated centenary history shows how much can be gleaned from locally held information, from recorded interviews with participants, and from the records of a local historical society.



On Taungurung Land: Sharing history and culture

Uncle Roy Patterson and Jennifer Jones
ANU Press and Aboriginal History Inc., Acton, ACT, 2020

This exemplary study of community and cultural diversity is the result of an unusual collaboration between an Indigenous male elder of the Taungurung language group and a non-Indigenous female academic historian. Born of Uncle Roy Patterson’s desire to make his knowledge of traditional culture more widely known, the book relates both the history and traditional culture of his people. The defining feature in this telling of Taungurung history is that it is from the perspective of Indigenous participants, rather than—as so often—solely through European eyes. On Taungurung Land connects oral history and documentary sources to traditional knowledge systems and to contemporary ecology and pharmacology. It compares an Indigenous perspective on the management of environment, ‘caring for country’, with the depletion of natural resources and ecological damage caused by western agricultural practices. The approach adopted in this fine book models how local histories can be written as cross-community partnerships.




Blak Cook Book: New cultural perspectives on Cook’s Cottage

Clare Land, Paola Balla and Kate Golding
City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 2020

Bound to provoke in ways that re-construe and instruct, history books rarely fizz with the daring of this superbly designed and admirably researched book.

Albert Pompey Austin: A man between two worlds

Roy Hay
Sports and Editorial Services Australia, Bannockburn, 2020.

Gunditjmara man Poorne Yarriworri, also known as Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin (1846?–1889), was a fine sportsman with many other talents besides. This carefully researched biography attempts to understand an elusive but important figure who straddled two very different worlds in colonial Victoria.

Victoria’s Transgender History

Noah Riseman et al.
Transgender Victoria in association with Australian Catholic University

Traversing events and places, reports and rumours, the personal is honoured by also becoming political in this brilliant pamphlet pointing to what the judges hope will become a poignant book.




Finding Fanny Finch

Commonplace Productions (Garner & Gore) with Sinclair, Garner, Furze and Friends of Wendy Cotton

A sense of us-&-them there-&-then is important, when presenting history. The snappy and innovative script for this play uses theatricality to interpret and share a singular history story.  Time and place are re-captured. The judges were impressed by the play’s way of imagining and building an immersive world for audiences by embedding the research, and by placing the historians on stage, instead of behind the scenes. There is sufficient context for a general audience, but also enough nuance and depth to fuel a history buff’s desire for thoughtful detail. The authors contrast contemporary and historical values. The play deserves to be widely performed.


On the Land: Our story retold
National Wool Museum, City of Greater Geelong

This significant new exhibition on the history of Australian wool is notable for embracing people, places and collections, and for its fresh and inviting design. The exciting exhibition weaved people’s memories and knowledge into the research narrative and presented contemporary debates in an historical context.

Stories of Chinese Anzac and Chinese Australian WWII Soldiers
Museum of Chinese Australian History

By associating communities with research, and especially by enabling family descendants to join in, this inclusive museum project shows how interpretations thicken, and how cultural sensitivities widen. By tracking names in records of Chinese Australians (over 8% of Melbourne’s population), new perspectives on constructions of national identity, belonging and exclusion emerge in this appealing exhibition.




‘The Rise and Fall of Lady Gillot in Melbourne’s Turn-of-the-Century Society’, Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 91, no. 2, 2020, pp. 291-318.

Barbara Minchinton

This article demonstrates detailed archival research and depth of knowledge of not only of the subject, Lady Gillot, but also of her era of evangelical moralism. By focusing on gender and class, Barbara Minchinton challenges assumptions about the role and agency of wives of prominent men, in this case showing Lady Gillot’s public and private lives, and choices she made in the wake of a scandal enveloping her husband. Minchinton’s examination of Lady Gillot’s engagement with the Arts helps us understand her intellectually, as well as showing the social relationships sustaining her. This is a compelling study of public and private lives.





The Victorian Community History Awards are proudly presented by Public Record Office Victoria and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

The Awards recognise excellence and originality in historical storytelling. The range of award categories reflects the variety of formats that can be used to enrich the lives of Victorians through history.

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Email us at vcha@historyvictoria.org.au historyvictoria.org.au | prov.vic.gov.au