Oral History and Sound Collections

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors are kindly advised that this website includes images, sounds and names of people who have passed.

All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified. Certain words, terms or descriptions may reflect the author's/creator's attitude or that of the period in which they were written, but are now considered inappropriate in today's context.

Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available

Collection highlights

Our oral history and sound collections have grown over many years and cover a variety of subjects that have exceptional research potential. Most of our Oral History and sound collections are now available as digital files on request.

Bridge builders [Ted Hood, 1911-2000]

Bridge Builders

MLOH 1: Richard Raxworthy – interviews, 1982-1989, with Sydney Harbour Bridge builders, relating experiences 1923-1932

The Bridge Builders interviews were conducted between 1982-89, with a variety of tradesmen who worked on the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Amongst the 45 interviewees were drillers, riveters, concrete packers, boilermakers, riggers, ironworkers, plasterers, stonemasons, an official photographer, comptometer operators, sleeper cutters, engineers, draughtsmen – born in Australia and overseas. The 29 hours of recordings provide access to stories of workers in the 1920s and 30s and the history of building one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks.

Faith Bandler: Portraits of Australian Aborigines, 1981-1984 / ph

Faith Bandler

MLOH 307: Faith Bandler interviewed by Carolyn Craig, 1997

From humble beginnings with her South Sea Islander family on the NSW north coast near Murwillumbah, Faith Bandler AC became a leading voice in the struggle for Aboriginal rights - especially in the historic 1967 referendum campaign for citizenship rights.

Faith's love of the arts (music and writing) and passion for equality led to important friendships with leading contemporaries and activists in Australia and throughout the world. In these 15 interviews, Faith also explores her own South-Sea Islander heritage and identity.

You can learn more about Faith Bandler by reading her biography or the two books she wrote about her family, Welou, My Brother and Wacvie.

Geoff Friend, Portrait of Ron Owen

Garry Wotherspoon

MLOH 448: Garry Wotherspoon interviews with gay men, 1980-1988

Garry Wotherspoon is a teacher, writer and historian who taught Australian economic and social history and minority studies at the University of Sydney. He has published books  on gay history, articles in Campaign, Outrage, Gay Information and other magazines and edited Being Different: Nine Gay Men Remember, 1986.

These oral histories were conducted 1980-1988 and record the memories of gay men (and two women) who remember the underground years of gay culture, the illicit meetings, the arrests and protests. These interviews also formed the basis of his publication City of the Plain, a history of Sydney's gay subculture. It was a work that signalled the beginning of a new, serious attention to the existence and importance of gay culture. 

The Library has included black and white & colour digital images from Sydney Photographer Geoff Friend to complement the collection of oral histories by Garry Wotherspoon of material documenting the story of Mardi Gras and the gay rights movement.

Roger Marchant Nimbin gathering

Rainbow Archives

MLOH 103: Richmond-Tweed Oral History Group – Under the Rainbow

Interviews with residents of the Nimbin communities regarding the Aquarius Festival and their alternative lifestyles. Interviews were also conducted with people who were residents of Nimbin prior to the festival, regarding the impact on the area.

The oral histories in the Rainbow Archive come from a range of perspectives, discussing in detail the origins of the festival and its founders from the Australian Union of Students; the inspiration of festivals abroad such as the infamous Woodstock in the USA;  the reasons for the selection of Nimbin (then a fading dairy town) as the site for an all-encompassing festival of creation, creativity and anti-consumerism; the work that went into transforming the town; and the wider effects of the festival on Nimbin, the region, and activism in Australia.

The interviewees speak of not only the excitement of creating a new life but also the difficulties and frustrations of communal living.