More inspiration from the archives


Words by Bec Fleming, ACTWC Blogger in Residence

…that first sense of waking up and tasting it, feeling it, and then looking around and your whole environment’s changedeverything’s covered in this layer of red dustit really was very unpleasant and very frightening, because it was surreal. It had never happened before, I had no idea what it was, and it was everywhere.

These few lines seem to me to be the perfect inspiration for a story. I am intrigued by this world full of dust. It is evocative. It leaves open so many possibilities for a story. It prompts me to imagine where the dust came from and what havoc it might cause. What I love even more about the inspiration these lines provide is that they are an excerpt from an oral history. Vivienne Ingram is recounting her experience of the 2009 dust storm in Sydney.

The excerpt is part of a longer oral history interview which is available online through the City of Sydney Oral History Database. Produced by the City of Sydney History Unit the collection explores a wide range of themes including; ‘belief’, ‘shared terrain’, ‘arts and culture’, ‘shelter’ and ‘open all hours’. The collection introduces us to the voices of everyday Sydney-siders and tells the story of the city as they know it. In each different voice we are introduced to a different aspect of the city in many different eras. I love the range of stories in this collection, from footage taken during the 2000 Sydney Olympics to Kate Dunbar talking about her mother’s grocery store during the 1930s depression. As an historian I admire this collection of interviews as an excellent example of engaging public history. As a fiction writer, I can also see the great potential these wide ranging stories have to inspire writers looking for new directions.

Another collection which I think holds much promise as a source of inspiration is that of the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). Some of the collection can be explored through their dedicated Youtube channel. Again the collection holds a wide variety of content, from home movies showing children’s parties from 1909 to 1950, to Government produced films presenting life in Australian cities, such as a Guide to Canberra produced in 1958 and ‘Life in Australia’ in the 1960s. Whether you are a writer of historical fiction looking for a way to immerse yourself in a time period, or you are simply looking for new sources of inspiration I think the NFSA and City of Sydney collections offer a great deal of material that is, at the very least, a lot fun to explore!

As this is my last post as Blogger in Residence I would like to thank Kelli-anne, Lizzie, Sophie and the ACT Writers Centre for the opportunity and for all that they do over the year. Thanks in no small part to the Writers Centre, I have learned much about the craft of writing this year and even more importantly felt lucky enough to be part of the Canberra community of writers. To my fellow writers, I wish you all the very best for the festive season and for an enjoyable and productive writing year in 2015. If you enjoyed my posts and would like to continue the conversation on writing, feel free to follow me on Twitter @becinCanberra.

Bec Fleming


Bec Fleming is a Canberra based writer, historian and poet. She graduated with a PhD in history from the University of New England in 2010. She has spoken at the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and for the ABC program Now Hear This. Her poem ‘An untimely death’ was shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Thwaites poetry award. She has loved words for as long as she can remember and thinks it is a little bit magic when they line themselves up in just the right order.

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