A Pleasant Distraction

I’ve been a bit distracted from my usual research/blogging regime of late.  Instead, I’ve been indulging in a feast of Hamilton history.  But I haven’t been to the usual repositories, looking at physical records and photographs. I’ve been on Facebook.

In 2008, I set up a Facebook group, “I’ve Lived in Hamilton, Victoria”.  There were a couple of reasons behind it.  I wanted to connect with other Hamilton people and the search features offered by Facebook then didn’t fully satisfy that.  What I was looking for was a central hub, where Hamiltonions could go, find old friends and share memories of growing up in the town.

I was also interested in the power of Social Media to network.  In those days, Facebook pages didn’t exist, only groups, and if a person joined, that action would show on their timeline, much the same as a page today.  My hope was friends would see that post and they too would join the group and so on.  Well it worked, and within a few months we had 1600 members.  It was pretty amazing really.  The unfortunate thing at that time was that it was difficult to get a conversation going among members and then sustain it.

Facebook being Facebook changed at some point, and groups looked like they were on the way out.  Those that weren’t active faced the axe and the Hamilton group, despite large numbers, was one of those.  Eventually all the members were “delisted” and while the group remained, people had to join again.  Problem was, groups became less visible on profiles and most assumed they were still a member or they simply forgot.  Also, if someone joined, it was no longer displayed on their timeline, making it hard to get the word out.

Over the past year, Facebook groups have found their place again and are again visible on members’ profiles and there are “group suggestions” beside the timeline.  A perfect time to get the group happening again.  With just 70 or so stalwart members, I started posting more often.  Then I turned to Trove and I added photos of Hamilton in days of old.  Well, 70 members soon became 130, then 200 and in a couple of weeks we have reached 1100 members.  The photos got the conversation going and the memories flowing.  Once again Trove helped save the day!

A. MILLER & CO. PTY LTD, GRAY STREET, HAMILTON. Circa 1950s.  Image Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.  Image No.  H91.142/9 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/122523

A. MILLER & CO. PTY LTD, GRAY STREET, HAMILTON. Circa 1950s. Image Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria. Image No. H91.142/9 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/122523

As I  started to read the hundreds of  new posts and the many associated comments, I realised that what we were creating was an online social history of post-war WW2 Hamilton.  Just about every topic has been covered.  Festivals, businesses, milk bars, schools, football and cricket, marching girls and town characters.  One post with a surprisingly large number of comments and likes was about the underground toilets that were in Thompson Street.  There are photos of buildings, houses, bands, Blue Light Discos and sporting teams.  There are newspaper clippings of advertisements and Hamilton events.

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THE GEORGE HOTEL. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria. Image no.http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/64135 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/60456

All pure gold.  To have a response from such a large amount of people across such a cross-section of ages would otherwise be almost impossible.  Even if a “Back to Hamilton” was held and each person in attendance recorded two memories, I don’t think you would get such an in-depth view of Hamilton life during the past 60 years.  It would probably just end in hundreds of references to the underground toilets.  I suppose they were a novelty.

So after getting the ball rolling, the group has taken on a life of its own and I can sit back and read the fabulous memories and share in the reunions.  There are people who have not seen each other for 50 years and lost extended family members have also been found.   Some members are relaying stories to older relatives not on Facebook, then coming back with questions or comments.   It’s been amazing.

Another interesting observation has been how our memory works.  It was photos of Hamilton that triggered memories that people thought were long gone and many have commented how they had forgotten so much but it was all flooding back.  As one memory is dug up, it almost always seems to trigger another, unlocked from the deep recesses of our minds.

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GRAY STREET, HAMILTON. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria. Image no. H32492/2033 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/64135

The group has also given me the opportunity to post about the Harman family of Byaduk, the subject of my thesis.  I have had a wonderful result, with new found cousins and confirmation that those I had suspected were cousins, (Electoral Rolls are my friend) are really my cousins.  Also, I’ve been researching  the Hamilton Botanic Gardens for a project that I can never get around to.  My focus is on the animals housed in the Garden’s zoo but there is very little information available, but I knew the animals at the gardens held a special place for all that grew up in Hamilton before 1980, especially the Rhesus monkeys.  I asked if anyone knew the year the monkeys left the zoo,  and while we still haven’t come up with a definitive year I think it will come.  I can then hit past editions of the Hamilton Spectator for articles about their removal.

So well done to all Hamiltonions past and present who have, like myself, found a pleasant distraction while collaborating to create a wonderful reminder of our past.  I believe people have a genuine interest in local history as seen by the increase in Facebook pages such as “Lost Warrnambool” and “Have You Seen Old Ballaarat Town”.  The content, in a user-friendly format,  is something people can relate to.

It will be interesting to see how our group will evolve. If I had the time, I would like to organise the stories into categories and topics to bring them together in some sort of order.  Also, there are many calls for a “Back to Hamilton” something that hasn’t been held since 1954 when the Queen visited the town.  If the past and present residents of Hamilton could embrace the idea of “Back to…” in the wonderful spirit they have shown with the “I’ve Lived in Hamilton” group, I am sure it would be a great occasion in the history of our hometown.

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