Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Society is mentioned in Hansard

Hansard which is the official record of the proceedings of The Parliament of New South Wales is an excellent resource for local and family history research. The Hansard Records for New South Wales are available to search online. 

This extract from NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard and Papers Thursday 31 October 2013 is of a speech given by The Member for Davidson, Jonathan O'Dea

Mr JONATHAN O'DEA (Davidson) [6.46 p.m.], by leave: Dr Harriet Biffin is not a household name, but thanks to the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society she will never be forgotten. Dr Biffin is just one of the thousands of colourful characters brought to life by the Ku-Ring-Gai Historical Society, which celebrates its fiftieth birthday in one week's time. Dr Biffin practised in Lindfield from 1904 to 1928 and was notorious for doing house calls in a dogcart, wearing a straw boater and a suit, while exercising her flair for the Greek language. One can only imagine the impact she would have had on Ku-ring-gai's rather conservative establishment: a woman dressed as a man offering medical advice peppered with Greek.

Dr Biffin also joined with Dr Lucy Bullett to found the NSW Association of Registered Women Doctors. The pair then went on to open the New Hospital for Women and Children in Surry Hills, which became the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children in Redfern in 1921, a bastion of women's health. She was not only a great contributor to women's health but also a wonderful personality in Ku-ring-gai's rich and colourful history. That history has been tirelessly documented by the volunteers and members of the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society.

On 7 November the society turns 50. I am looking forward to joining its members and volunteers on the night for an anniversary celebration dinner at Roseville Golf Club. The Ku-ring-gai Historical Society was formed in 1963 when Ku-ring-gai Council cast a wide net to find a team of local residents willing and experienced enough to document their municipality's history. It was the remarkable foresight of Mayor George Nicol that brought together representatives from business, schools and service clubs, genealogists and members from the Royal Australian Historical Society to collate Ku-ring-gai's history.

Councillor Nicol was elected first president and Sir John Northcott, a former New South Wales Governor, was the first patron of the society. One of the society's first decisions was to invite each newly elected mayor of Ku-ring-gai to be patron of the society, a tradition that is still in force today. Archibald and Nancy Gray, both prominent genealogists, were among the first members. It is because of these dedicated founding members, with their enormous wealth of experience and passion for the past, that the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society has catapulted from strength to strength, offering maps, heritage listings, water board sketches, land titles, an enormous database on local people and places and more than 10,000 local photos.

Today it boasts more than 600 members and 90 volunteers and it is housed in the old Gordon Public School, adjacent to the Gordon library. Volunteers offer their expertise in research to the public every day except Wednesdays and Sunday, when the database is built. Queries from the public range from questions about the origin of their street name or Aboriginal art they glimpsed in the bush. A local resident may be curious about Ku-ring-gai's famous sphinx, the 110-year-old former Killara post office, or how a gentleman with the name of Eccleston du Faur was responsible for creating Ku-ring-gai's much-loved national park.

These days, computers make the job of research so much easier. In the early days of the society its volunteers often travelled to the Mitchell Library in the city to research information. One of the most popular meetings hosted by the society occurs on the first Saturday of every month when the family history group meets. Help is on hand to newcomers who want to explore their family tree but have no idea where to start. The society has also produced publications about Ku-ring-gai's colourful history, including Focus on Ku-ring-gaiWomen of Ku-ring-gai and its annual research publication The Historian, which combines local history, built heritage and family histories.

At the moment society volunteers are scouring local honour boards and war memorials to assist them in writing a World War I compendium which will list and provide the history of all Ku-ring-gai residents who served during the Great War, including nurses and ancillary staff. The society has inspired thousands of local residents to connect with each other and their pasts. It is a marvellous interest, in particular, for retirees, with their research assisting the whole community to understand a little more about what has shaped Ku-ring-gai. It has been a fabulous and productive 50 years for the society. I hope the next 50 years of recording and documenting the times we live in now prove just as fruitful.

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