Such was life – SLV Blog


I have been following the Such Was Life blog from the State Library of Victoria (SLV) for a while now. The blog began in October 2012 and has been showcasing the material in the SLV’s collection. The blog explores items from the Library collections that relate to Australia’s past, and these are many and varied.

From their own description:

Such is life,’ bushranger Ned Kelly is reputed to have said in his final moments. These words are also a great way of defining history, and history (specifically Australian history) is what this blog is all about. Here we’ll explore Australian histories found in the collections of the State Library of Victoria. We’ll highlight both new acquisitions and classic resources, including: books, journals, newspapers, manuscripts, pictures, maps and ephemera

We will showcase resources that are available online, and those sitting in our stacks just waiting to be discovered.

I have found many of the post fascinating as they highlight different aspects of their collection.  This year with the 100 year commemorations of the WWI, our study of the text “all Quiet on the Western Front as well as the Year 12 Australian history course, their WWI post have been very topical.

The list of post about items about WWI include:

  • First shot fired There is some debate about where this actually happened but the is are a lot of documents that show that many in Australia believe that it was from Point Nepean as a German ship tried to leave Port Phillip Bay on the 5th Aug 1914
  • WWI poetry Poetry spans all aspects of war, from enlistment to conscription, to loss and battle descriptions. Further information to the uses of poetry and to poems themselves.
  • Death Ballots: Australia’s World War I conscription referendums Some description of the two referendums and other related materials. great starting point for understanding how Australians felt at the time.
  • Greeting from the trenches: World War I postcards Postcards were a popular way to communicate with those at home in WWI. 1916, Corporal Thomas O’Halloran sent dozens of embroidered souvenir postcards from the front lines in France to his family. The Halloran postcard collection online.
  • From Ararat to the Dardenelles: World War I through newspapers A reminder about the wealth of information about our history now available to us through the digitised issues of our newspapers. Over 70 Victorian newspapers covering 1914 to 1918 are now freely available on Trove.
  • World War I colour patches  Colour patches were worn on Australian soldiers’ uniforms to show which unit they belonged to. In WWI there were many different patches and this post offers links to finding out more about them.
  • Commemorating your ANZACS. This was about a grant that recently finished but there was more useful information here about our service man and women. There was also advice about how to find out more about individuals who served in the Australian military.

If you would like to find out more about local servicemen and women, head to our research guide World War I: researching soldiers. It provides a step-by-step guide to finding soldiers’ service records, and discovering what battles and campaigns they were involved in. The guide also gives advice about researching the lives of Australian nurses. Our guide to key family history sources will help you to track down other key biographical details, like birth, marriage and death dates, what other jobs people held, and where people lived in their local community. Finally, our guide to publishing your family history will step you through the process of making your research available online or as a book.

There are links in the posts to primary sources available in in the library, digitised resources that can be viewed, the History section of the Ergo site and links to related material are also useful. It is a great resource and well worth following to remind you about what a fantastic treasure we have in our State Library.

State Library of Victoria: Melbourne app

Melbourne has a rich and vibrant history. Although not old by European standards there are many great stories about the city. In the 1800’s it was extremely wealthy and many amazing buildings were built to show off that wealth although there were slums and a seamier side as well. There is now a new way to explore the Melbourne of the 1800’s.Melbourne_app

The State Library of Victoria has developed a new app that offers a way of understanding more about the history of Melbourne as you are taking a stroll around the city. You can explore the fascinating history of the area and look behind some of the beautiful Victorian architecture. By using your location to show nearby buildings, the user can view more then 300 photographs of street views and aerial photographs as well as read the stories about each location. Some of the photos are as early as 1840. 

There is so much to like: it’s free, it offers heaps of interesting detail. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have an android version. I can see it being of great value to our year 9 students when they are doing their city discovery week but only if they have an iphone or ipad.

Connecting our students to Reading

I like reading, which is just as well in the job I do. I like to encourage our boys to read. I have always preferred the longer novel but I use all sorts of things to get the boys to read. They must read because the written word is still a major form of communication. Whether it is reading for meaning, information or reading for the sake of the story, they must learn to get a handle on it. They cannot be classed as literate if they cannot read adequately and success is always equated with being literate.

Nowadays we have new mediums to reach children and encourage them to read, new stories or the old classics. A lot of these books are available free on-line. We have podcasts, e-books , graphic novels telling stories in alternative ways. We can get many of the classics on-line and there are now those who publish directly into the digital environment. We have sites hosting an author who, mirroring the old style serialisation (eg Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock  Holmes stories) and writing their story in installments on that site. Others, like the SLV’s Insideadog site has, in some instances, offered young people the chance to become even more involved by encouraging them to make suggestions for new story-lines in these serials. 

Today we have so many ways to offer people a chance to feel the power of a story, to connect to a narrative. In schools, if we cannot get many of our young people to connect with the story, then we are not really trying. If we want to help them with their literacy skills we must help them make the connections.

I have been creating a list in Diigo called books and alternatives and have also put a few together, in a sharetabs group, called Engaging with books. These are just some of the many and varied sites that I am sharing with colleagues, trying to encourage them to use a variety of approaches to engage our young people. My ideal is to have them so engaged in their work that they don’t even notice the bell for the end of the period. It has happened before, albeit rarely, and it is magnificent

 I have mentioned “literacy”  and the meaning of that word has/is changing too. There are many different types of literacy spoken about in the educational arena. It is the amazing technological advances in the past couple of decades has lead to these changes in the definition of literacy.

The OECD PISA has three literacy definitions,  reading, science and mathematics. The first definition is: Reading literacy is the ability to understand, use, and reflect on written texts, in order to achieve ones goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.

The UNESCO definition of literacy: “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.”  

If we want to help our young people achieve a high level of literacy, we need a high level of engagement and a willingness to embrace a variety of ways to achieve this. 

Learning about the past

Some many original documents are becoming available for public reading. I have always talked about primary documents to students but in the past trying to get example has been difficult. The students have also always really responded well to history when they can relate to it. Often it is information that can be compared with their lives today that fascinates them the most.


Now there is another interesting source of information about the past. The British National Archives has published the digitised form of the 1911 Census. There is a fee but you can search for information about the almost all the people in England and Wales. 

 The 1911 census for England and Wales was taken on the night of Sunday 2 April, 1911. The count included all individual households, plus institutions such as prisons, workhouses, naval vessels and merchant vessels, and it also attempted to make an approximate count of the homeless.

It offers a fascinating insight into the people of the time and the way they saw themselves.  Citizens of the time were assured that the information they supplied would be kept confidential but would they mind that is made available almost 100 years after the fact? This would also be a useful tool if you are researching your family tree.

One interesting note is mentioned in the “about section”: it was about the suffragettes. I have always found the stories about these women fascinating and their determination to change the voting laws also extended to the census.

  • Frustrated with the government’s refusal to grant women the vote, a large number of women boycotted the 1911 census by refusing to be counted.
  • There were two forms of protest. In the first, the women (or their husband) refused to fill in the form, often recording their protest to the enumerator. In the second, women evaded the census by staying away from their home for the whole night.
  • In both cases, any details relating to individual women in the households will be missing from the census.
  • For the family historian the active refusal to fill in the form (accompanied by a protest statement) at least registers the presence of a woman/women in the household, whereas the women who evaded the count are simply untraceable via the census.
  • The exact number of women who boycotted the census is not known, though some people have estimated that it may be as many as several thousand.


Our own National Archives of Australia also provides a wealth of information about our own country. This resource is constantly being updated and new material is added regularly.

On-line resources include:

  • Education pages – find out how to book your visit, access teachers’ notes and information regarding our exhibitions, obtain teachers’ kits and more.
  • Mapping our ANZACs
  • Vrroom – a virtual reading room designed specifically for students and teachers learning to use archival records. A partnership with The Le@rning Federation has seen the addition of education value statements to a range of records. The Learning Federation is itself a great resource.
  • Australasian Digital Recordkeeping InitiativeDeveloped and hosted by the National Archives of Australia, the Australasian Digital Record-keeping Initiative website is a collaboration between all ten national, state and territory public record institutions in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Documenting a Democracy website – discover 110 key documents that are the foundation of our democracy.
  • Australia’s Prime Ministers website – understand Australia’s national leadership and political history.
  • Uncommon Lives website – provides stories about famous and not-so-famous Australians as revealed in the National Archives’ records. Our latest addition, Muslim Journeys, tells tales of adventure, adversity and opportunity in an unfamiliar land.


The other source of information I have used this year is the State Library of Victoria. I have discussed this wonderful resource before and it is, at the moment, providing our students with useful material on Ned Kelly.

Students of all ages have a wealth of information at their finger tips. Unlike students of the past, where trying to find information was the big hurdle, our students almost too much information. We need to make sure we teach them how to find the most relevant, the most suitable sources. Once they have that information they then have to be able to take that information and read/interpret/apply/create, etc., all the higher order thinking skills that they need to be part of the modern world.  

This is the harder part of education today. Making sure that the tasks we set our students encourage them to go beyond the simple find and repeat (passive) type of tasks to active learning, to being responsible for their own learning and, my aim, also to help them see that learning is enjoyable/interesting.  

This later discussion is enough to write a thesis on so, instead, have a look at these sites and learn about our past and all the ordinary/great/ unusual people and events that shaped the lives we live today.

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Melbourne – City of Sport and Literature

As the AFL football finals are about to start (and the intense activity around football grows until after the Grand Final) I was pleased to see that we can be acknowledged for more than sport! Don’t get me wrong, I love my football team but I was delighted to read, in an Age article a few weeks ago, that UNESCO has awarded Melbourne a ‘City of Literature’ designation. I didn’t know that we had put in a bid for such a title but I am glad that we did.

I think that it is great news for Melbourne book lovers. I was also surprised to learn that Edinburgh, Scotland, was the only other city to be awarded the title so far. Edinburgh has developed a whole range of good things to support readers, books and writing to celebrate their love of the world of all things bookish.

Our State Government that has committed itself to the centrepiece the establishment of the Centre for Books and Ideas at the State Library of Victoria. We are very fortunate to have this reference and research library, collecting and preserving Victoria’s documentary history. Firstly,it is a wonderful building with an amazing collection. Secondly, the library offers all of us an array of opportunities, for research, to literary events, with travelling exhibitions, literature site for young people to review and engage in many things literary and the list goes on.

The exhibitions that I visited this year, the wonderful Ned Kelly exhibition and the Medieval manuscripts displays, were marvellous. The opportunity to see the exhibitions was taken up by many, going by the length of the queues I saw waiting to view them. The library also offers many other opportunities for those who visit but they are also digitising a lot of the collection. This makes access available to many people who cannot visit in person. There are many services it provides but te one I have been pushing lately is the Ergo site.

This year’s launch of Ergo, a website designed to build secondary student’s skills in research, critical thinking and writing, offered a wonderful resource to all of us in schools. The SLAV publication, Making a difference, was used as the basis for its development. Ergo: research skills and resources online has a variety of features. These include: guides to research and writing; curriculum-focused primary and secondary source material, based on the Library’s collections; section themes including Early  Melbourne, Crime and Landscape; drop-down notes that help students to assess resources by highlighting particular issues; interviews with prominent authors, historians and artists. I have had a few students lately working through the site, just looking at their State’s history. They were totally engrossed in learning about aspects of life in Victoria that hitherto they had not known. They also talked about enjoying learning form the site. A wonderful recommendation.

In Melbourne we also have a great many interesting bookshops and, when the football is over, I think that I must spend more time wandering through them.