The story below provides an overview of my career path to archives. It was published in the April edition of the Australian Society of Archivists Victorian Branch newsletter and appears with only two changes. A spelling mistake helpfully pointed out by my father, and this picture of me in my Grandad’s veggie garden. For reasons that will be obvious if you read on, and because how adorable was I??
I started my working life as a nurse, but other than picking up a few useful skills (I’m still occasionally called on for stitch removal and dressing changes), I don’t think a career in nursing was ever going to stick. I completed my training in Warrnambool in the early 1990’s (Deakin University) before moving to Hobart to work as a nurse, bushwalk and fight for gay law reform.
In 1997, with what was left of my twenties I took off travelling and eventually landed back in Melbourne. I got casual work at Collingwood Children’s Farm (CCF) and spent a blissful few years milking cows, collecting eggs, making jam, and radicalising my approach to food systems and community development. If I was looking for an archivist origin story, it would be during this time. Collingwood Town Hall called the farm one day to remind us that the basement was full of boxes containing 30 yrs of records, and that we needed to pick them up. I was nominated the staff member most likely to enjoy spending a day a week (for six months) sorting it all out, and so the seed was sewn.
In the early 2000’s I decided more study was needed. I completed a Masters in Peace Studies through UNE, blending my passion for food systems and interest in post conflict reconstruction with a minor thesis on food production and land mine distribution. It was during these studies that I really started to understand the critical role that archives play in justice and peace processes and a clearer idea of a professional pathway emerged.
At the same time I joined the corporate world, starting out as a temp clipping newspaper articles, creeping up the ladder and moving into a Business Analyst role. I left 7 years later with enough redundancy to finally realise my dream to become an archivist. I completed the coursework Masters in Information Management through UniSA, and then so that I could articulate into a PhD I signed on for more. Lifelong learning appears to be a theme. My ongoing research will see me seeking out new ways to interrogate digitisation processes, including how to capture the material & cultural elements of redundant technologies and the haptic bridge between hard copy and digitised records.
It didn’t occur to the manager who hired me at DHHS that having an ex nurse working in a health archive might have hidden benefits. Certainly my knowledge of medical terminology has come in handy, as has my ability to read bad handwriting. I have been working for the Victorian State Government (DHHS) for 7 years now. I’m proud to have contributed to the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the broader work the department have been doing to make its collections more visible & accessible.
My ongoing career aspiration is to continue to seek opportunities to blend archival practice and research in spaces that support social change. I’d also love to be Australia’s first archivist in space, but would settle for being Australia’s first space archivist.