Friends' Oral History Project - The First 10 Years

Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Oral History Project Summary Report, 2017



In 2017 an oral history project was commissioned by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Way Back When Consulting Historians were engaged to manage the project and carry out the oral history interviews.  

The aim of the oral history project was to begin the process of researching and recording the history of The Friends since its formation. Motivated by the passing of the first Convenor of The Friends, Beth Higgs, as well as other key foundation members, the project focused on capturing and documenting the experiences of surviving members of the organisation. Interviews were carried out with individuals who played a significant role in the creation and evolution of The Friends in its first decade.

The following individuals were interviewed as part of the project:
Eve Almond
Louise Coronel
David and Sylvia Churchill 
Sue and Stephen Higgs
Gillian Kirk
Dianna McClellan
Brenda Owen and Iona Christianson
Frank Phillips
David Wilkinson

Please note that Golda Isaac and Lesley Clarke were both included on the initial interview shortlist. Sadly, Golda Isaac passed away as the invitation letters were due to be sent out. Lesley Clarke was invited to be interviewed, but due to her health the interview was not undertaken. 

The oral history interviews that were completed are now a part of The Friends’ archival collection. They are intended to supplement and complement the existing collection, providing additional insight and knowledge into the early days of The Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens. 



The oral history project was carried out between March and October 2017 and a total of 10 interviews were conducted. The project was divided into the following phases and tasks:

Phase 1: Establishment
Project Steering Committee met to discuss the project, the interview questions and themes and to begin shortlisting interviewees.
Themes for the interview were circulated and discussed via email.
Background research was undertaken according to the interview themes and interview questions were finalised.
Project documentation was drafted and approved (including letters for interviewees, rights agreement forms).  
The interview shortlist was finalised. 

Phase 2: Contact and scheduling
Invitation letters were sent to all shortlisted interviewees.
Interviews were scheduled. 
Additional background research was carried out.

Phase 3: Interview, transcription and review
A total of ten 60-minute interviews were carried out. Note that David and Sylvia Churchill were interviewed together for a total of two hours, and Brenda Owen and Iona Christianson were interviewed together for a total of one hour.
All interviews were transcribed.
Transcripts were sent to interviewees for review and approval.
A presentation was made to the Council of the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens on the progress of the project and potential ways of using the material that has been gathered.  

Phase 4: Editing and project completion
Requested amendments were incorporate into transcripts.
Interviewees were sent sound files and final amended transcripts.
A project summary was created and all documentation prepared for handover to the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens.


Files and documentation


The Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Oral History Project has resulted in the creation of a number of documents and sound files. It is critical that this material be stored appropriately, so that curators, historians and researchers in the future have access to it. 

Both hard copies and electronic copies of all letters, forms and template questions have been handed over to The Friends as part of the project completion phase. An external hard drive has been provided, containing a series of folders that include the project documentation and the sound file and transcript of each interview. A copy of the sound file (containing selected extracts from the interviews) presented to the Council has also been included on the hard drive. 

A folder of printed material contains copies of the project documentation, final interview transcripts and signed rights agreement forms. 

Where to next?

Following on from the interviews and collection of material a number of profiles and short articles will be produced. The first will be 'The Save the Lake Campaign' and profiles of two of our founding members