Adelaide Writer: The History keeper
Victoria Square, contrary to what many Adelaideans think, is named after Princess and not Queen Victoria. “The square was so named a year before Victoria’s coronation,” says Helen. Conversations with Helen is often interspersed with such historical titbits. She is an encyclopaedia- a walking, talking, pixie hair cut sporting, coffee loving history lover. Born in Adelaide, Helen travelled across the Down Under, before returning home 15 months ago. The Adelaide that welcomed Helen was a far cry from the city she was born in. Erosion of Adelaide’s historic buildings, according to her, at the hands of modern development prompted the researcher to start Adelaide Writer on Instagram. The page tries to create awareness about Adelaide’s history by juxtaposing before and after pictures of a building/place – and giving a glimpse of its past along with its present-day metamorphosis. Her Instagram page has more than 1,200 followers. (Helen prefers her work to speak for itself. She preferred not to be photographed).
“Everything looked so different when I got back,” says Helen who worked for 12 years in many parts of Western Australia including Pilbara, before moving to the Adelaide Hills where she lived for the past 20 years. She moved to the city 15 months ago. “New buildings had sprung up in the place of older, historical ones and some beautiful structures had been converted into office spaces. These changes piqued my interest, and pushed me to find out more about these places,” says Helen.
She started a blog called the Adelaide Writer. “Today, the blog is in a highly neglected state, with all my focus on Instagram. However, one of my earlier posts about a building, showing two different pictures- the before and after- got many likes and followers. That motivated me to do more research,” she adds.
For her research, Helen took advantage of the National Library of Australia, State Library of SA, local councils, and other history-based organisations. “Among other things, I would try to find out the incident that led to the creation of a building. I would research the architect, the style he employed, his story, and the genesis of the building’s name. Then I would try to find out details about its current state, and bring the two stories together,” she explains.
Before long, Helen’s Instagram page started attracting history aficionados. “People now point out places to me and ask me if I have done research on them. This enables me to expand my repertoire,” says Helen who has a database of more than 300 places.
Helen adds that not just buildings, anything with a history catches her attention. “For example, I came across a war bunker on South Road at Thebarton. After research, I found out that it was one of the seven (and four surviving) bunkers built in Adelaide during the second World War. Presently, it is the Headquarters of the Australian Society of Magicians Adelaide Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians,” says Helen.
The urge to learn more keeps Helen constantly on the move. She visits mosques and churches, parks and gardens, cafés and events to find out interesting stories.
An emotional Connect:
It was on one such trip to a church that Helen had an emotional moment. “I found out that my grandmother and great grandmother were married in churches on Unley Road and in Mount Pleasant respectively. My great- great grandparents were German immigrants who married in 1854 in Adelaide’s first church – Holy Trinity on North Terrace. Visiting these churches made me feel that I was suddenly privy to an intimate affair that took place decades ago. It was surreal,” says Helen who is fond of Victorian architecture.
Helen wishes she knew more about the history of Indigenous people as well. “It is incredibly important to create awareness about Indigenous history! Knowledge of history enriches our culture, and indigenous people’s history will enable us to better understand their struggles, traditions and culture. It is not easy to conduct research on them as much of their history is communicated orally or through art, dance and songs. But nevertheless, it is imperative to learn about Indigenous history both before and after 1788,” she adds.
Lack of knowledge of history:
Helen points out that many people are acutely ignorant of their history. “For instance, many don’t know the story behind Australian Day – that it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson. It is also a day with deep significance for Indigenous Australians. For many it is merely a holiday. That is unfortunate,” she says.
However, she adds, it excites her to know that people love learning about history and discovering that everything has a story. “I am always learning new things as well and this is the reason I keep posting what I find on Instagram – to share what I discover and to learn from others who share comments and sometimes corrections on my posts,” says Helen.
The Brooklyn Park resident is currently researching for her novel that is based on her great grandmother Olga who was a resident of Burra in the early 1900s. “Her husband used to work in a mine in Broken Hills, almost 400 Kms away! They used to communicate through letters. I have the last letter he wrote before dying in a mining accident. The letter made me think about penning a novel set during that time period,” she says.
“Sometimes I feel that if I listen and research, I will discover secrets and stories hidden behind the walls. And, I try my best to articulate that history as honestly as I can,” says Helen.
Helen loves everything elephant-shaped, from motifs to small pendants. She has two sons – both reside in Adelaide. She loves to travel, and read. When not researching old buildings, Helen can be found recreating Australia of the late nineteenth century for her forthcoming novel.
Pic source: The Adelaide Writer