The OGA would like to firstly thank Kate Bottger for her many years of devotion to the Somerville House archives. In her time in the archives Kate oversaw many of the transitions and key historical moments at the school and was an absolutely invaluable resource to both the OGA and the school. We would like to introduce and welcome Connie Baird who was recently appointed as the new archivist at Somerville House in what is also a historical significant time with the many changes required at the school in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I started my library information degree in 2013 at Charles Sturt University (in Bathurst) with the express desire to become a librarian. Half way through the degree we visited the Queensland State Archives and the John Oxley Library as a subject requirement and after these tours my love of history and all things historical had been rekindled. The old government documents, ledgers and artifacts were awe inspiring. The meticulous cursive writing, the touches of decorative filigree and the wax seal stamps were more like works of art than a record of a government transaction. The records of the humble beginnings of the majority of Queenslanders was completely fascinating – sometimes harsh and difficult, sometimes more fortunate and happy and mostly always using their inbuilt abilities to make the most of what they had. The idea of being responsible for archiving these types of items for an organisation became very appealing to me. After some soul searching, I decided to start tailoring my course to include archiving subjects as well as library subjects.
So now I was studying to pursue two passions - libraries and archives. Recognising how working in the library industry helped me with my library subjects I decided to join an archiving organisation to help assist me with my archiving subjects. A friend suggested the Queensland School Archives Special Interest Group (Qld School Archives SIG) which turned out to offer so much more than I expected.
Imagine my delight in finding out the Qld School Archives SIG held their Professional Development sessions at a different independent school archive each time they met. I was gaining hands-on experience archiving different types of documents and interacting with a wide range of people working in the industry. Some school archives are modern, shiny and contemporary. Others are housed in historical buildings and have a lot of character and charm. Although the archives are all unique in appearance, the archivists working in them all shared the same commitment and passion in preserving the history of their school.
Towards the end of my degree I could choose a library or archive to complete a final three-week placement and successfully applied to the Queensland State Archive. The most enjoyable experiences I had there were in the reference room, and the conservation department - the reference room because I enjoyed helping the public find the information they were looking for, and the conservation department because I was surrounded by very old artifacts and the interesting tools needed to repair them.
Mining Lease Register and a Mining lease dating back to 1883.
There are many things I enjoy about working in the school archives - doing research, archiving the school’s records, and working alongside my volunteers to name a few.
My volunteers are Old Girls, past staff, or parents of past students. Between them, there is a wealth of knowledge and understanding about the school. Some of them are all-rounders and do a bit of everything while others have particular skills and interests which enhance the services the archive delivers. Many of the lists we have in the archives have been researched by the volunteers and provide a valuable resource of information in regards to research queries.
Research is a vital component of archiving. I enjoy it because it increases my knowledge of the School and enables me to use the skills, I have attained over time to access different sources of information. It also adds information to the already vast repository of information in the archive, which in turn helps with future research. Sometimes documented information can be very challenging to find and you have to take a different approach, think laterally or work on hunches, which when prove fruitful, can give a great feeling of satisfaction.
Research also allows me make connections with other departments in the school as well as Old Girls and previous staff who enrich the research process with their contributions. I love the stories about life at Somerville House in the past and enjoy talking to Old Girls about their experiences at school. Their love of the School and loyalty are always evident in their recollections.
There are hundreds of stories about Somerville House to captivate and astound readers. I am always amazed at photos and records about the boarders in the 1920’s and 30’s, who for decades slept on the open verandas in the early years before WWII. It must have been freezing. They had a lot of fortitude back then.
Somerville House Archives
If someome had said to me 20 years ago, I would be working in the school archive at Somerville House I would never have believed it. However, I have always believed in laying foundations in the present because you never know what opportunities may come your way in the future. Friends and family would always ask me why I am still studying when I already have a job I really love and I always said "I might need it." Well I did need it and am very glad I followed that inner voice that kept telling me finish that degree in Information Studies.
I love working in the Archives. It's challenging, interesting, fun and very rewarding and I look forward to working there for many more years to come.
Connie can be contacted in the archives via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (07 3248 9279). She would welcome any old photos or other important archival information Old Girls would like to share.