Presenting our past
Since moving to Bridgetown five years ago, documenting and collecting the history of the town has been a major part of Mary Elgar’s life.
Mary said she had always been interested in history, but her life and career took her in a different direction, working as a nurse and raising a family.
“My interest in history goes back to my early childhood, I was born in England and I lived in the country and was always interested in anything that was old,” she said.
“It was studying history at high school that really made me want a career in history, but in 1970 my father decided to bring us to Australia and that killed the idea of doing history.
“He suggested that either I could go back to school, repeat a year or get a job, and I chose the job option and the only jobs that were available up there were nursing jobs.”
The chance to pursue her passion came when she moved to Bridgetown.
“I’ve always had this love of history, but it wasn’t until changes came in 2015, when we left Leederville, we looked around for somewhere that was cold, hilly, had a lovely community and was steeped in history, and Bridgetown fitted the bill.”
As soon as she moved to Bridgetown she joined the historical society, becoming chairwoman in 2017.
Not long after she began work on her first book, A Mere Country Village, which documents the history of Bridgetown from 1868 to 2018.
“One of the reasons for writing the book was not only to document the history, but to have something that would earn an ongoing income for the historical society for future projects,” she said.
While compiling the book, Mary interviewed 40 residents, using her qualification as an oral historian to take 30 to 45 minutes of material from each interview subject.
“I had this really strong, healthy subject matter and it was just a matter of going through it and weaving it into the book and making it readable,” she said.
Mary said the book focused heavily on Bridgetown’s community and its development.
“When people talk about coming down to Bridgetown, they all talk about the community, so defining what a community is and how you sustain that community was integral to writing the book.”
To date, the book has sold about 400 copies.
The other project that Mary has been a driving force behind is the refurbishment of the Bridgetown Police Museum, due to reopen on August 20.
As part of the refurbishment, Mary edited more than 20,000 words of text that now appear on the museum’s panels.
“There is a total of over 20,000 words, as an editor I know, because I proofread it nine times, so I know how many words there are” she said.
Part of the refurbishment has been the addition of information describing the history of policing from the Aboriginal perspective.
“This slow awakening to the fact that Indigenous history has to be told, to me is very important, they must have their voices heard, they must have their history recognised,” Mary said.
“Having spoken with and consulted with Sandra Hill, the elder for this area, she says we are the only museum in the South West that has integrated Indigenous history into the museum, so that’s a first for Bridgetown, which is fantastic.”
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