Meet the Interviewers

Ben Ross (Tasmania)

Ben Ross lives in Hobart and works in health communications for the Tasmanian Government, and as an independent radio producer and oral historian. He has produced radio documentaries for ABC Radio National and Australia’s community radio network. For many years he worked with communities in Sydney developing community story telling projects using creative arts and radio. He was awarded a Master of Arts at the University of Western Sydney in 2000 for his work studying and applying Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed to drug and alcohol education with young people, and holds a Post Graduate Diploma of Journalism from the University of Tasmania.

Ben’s love of spoken stories began when he was a young boy listening to the stories of his family elders, particularly his great-grandmother’s yarns about her childhood on a remote farm.  Ben loves his vegetable garden, even the weeds, and playing music with his old rocker mates. In 2012 Ben is producing a documentary for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight program about the Mt Lyell mining disaster of 1912.

Frank Heimans (New South Wales)

Frank Heimans is an oral history producer, interviewer and documentary filmmaker. He has recorded more than 600 oral history interviews and directed and produced over fifty television documentaries.

Oral History assignments undertaken include a project of 30 interviews for the Faculty of Engineering, University of NSW; ten projects for the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority; three projects for the NSW Department of Commerce; a project documenting the history of the Australian Taxation Office; a series of 24 interviews for the Institution of Engineers Australia; a project on Maitland Gaol for Maitland City Council; and an assignment of 25 interviews and a video production for Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority on White Bay Power Station. Frank has also recorded 29 interviews for the National Library’s Eminent Australians Oral History Collection and has contributed seven interviews to the National Library’s Bringing Them Home project on the Stolen Generation.

Between 1991 and 1996 he was the founding producer, writer, director and editor of Australian Biography (produced by Film Australia and broadcast on SBS Television) and produced the first 32 programs in this landmark series on iconic Australians. Frank’s documentary films have been screened on broadcast and cable television in Australia and thirty countries and have won 21 Australian and international awards, including three Gold Medals from the International Film and TV Festival of New York.

Jeannine Baker (New South Wales)

Jeannine Baker is a public historian who has worked as a researcher, oral historian, documentary maker and museum curator, specialising in Australian social history. She has produced several documentaries for ABC Radio National, including Fler and the Modernist Impulse (2011) which explored the impact of modernism on the Australian home through the story of Melbourne furniture design company Fler, and Parenting Blind (2009) about three blind people who are raising children.

In 2001 Jeannine wrote and directed the television documentary Our Drowned Town, about the inundation of Adaminaby for the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Her other television work includes researcher on the ABC TV program Compass (2009-10), where she devised a series on the subject of ageing; researcher on the television documentary The Secret History of Eurovision (2011); and researcher on the Film Australia seriesAustralian Biography. Jeannine has also curated several museum exhibitions.

Jeannine is an interviewer for the National Library of Australia’s Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project, and is also the oral historian for the Australian Museum Archives. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, and her current research focus is Australian women war correspondents of the Second World War. Jeannine also tutors in Australian Studies at the University of Wollongong.

Johanna Kijas (New South Wales)

Johanna (Jo) Kijas of Kijas Histories is a consultant historian living on the North Coast of New South Wales. In 2006 she was winner of the Energy Australia NSW National Trust Awards (Cultural Heritage) for her book of interviews Revival, Renewal and Return: Ray Kelly and the NSW Sites of Significance Survey. This was a commissioned book for NSW National Parks and Wildlife about their first Aboriginal employee Ray Kelly.

In 2007 she collaborated with volunteers of the Tweed River Regional Museum and NSW Migration Heritage Centre on an oral history and research project about international migration to the Shire in the postwar period. From this she wrote The Other Side of the World: International Migration to the Tweed 1940s to 1960s Tweed Shire Council. The book and project won the 2009 National Trust Award (Cultural Heritage) and the 2008 IMAGinE Award: Museums and Galleries NSW/ACT award for excellence in Education and Public Engagement.

Her most recent publications using oral histories are‘Everyone Knew Everyone’: A Community History of Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast City Council; Life Under the Light: Lighthouse Families of New South Wales, NPWS, and Caravans and Communes: Stories of Settling in the Tweed 1970s & 1980s, Tweed Shire Council. Jo’s PhD was on a history of contested place and internal migration to northern NSW. She was the consultant historian for the Lismore City Council’s heritage interpretation walk ‘The Wilson River Story Sites’ and currently works at the New Italy Museum. She supervises doctoral students online at Capella University, USA.

Karen George

Karen George grew up on a fruit block at Loxton in South Australia’s Riverland. She moved to the city to complete a BA Hons (History) at the University of Adelaide, a Masters Degree at the Australian National University and a PhD at the University of Adelaide. Since 1993, Karen has run her own business as a consultant historian/writer, Historically Speaking, specializing in oral history, writing and research. Karen’s first contract after graduation was as Oral Historian for the Adelaide City Council. Her first book, A place of their own: the men and women of War Service Land Settlement at Loxton after the Second World War was published in 1999.

Karen has conducted many interviews for the State Library of SA and the National Library of Australia. She was an interviewer for the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project and contributed to the resulting publication, Many Voices, reflections on experiences of Indigenous child separation (2002). Karen has worked with SA Link Up to produce a guide to records of children’s homes in SA, Finding your own way (2005). As a result of this work she became Research Historian for the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry in SA. Karen is currently involved with the NLA’s Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants’ oral history project and with the National Find and Connect project.

Karen has recorded numerous interviews on a myriad of topics for different repositories, organisations and individuals. She draws on examples from these in the workshops she runs for the SA branch of the Oral History Association of Australia.

In her minimal spare time Karen reads, runs and writes stories for her two children.

Matthew Higgins

Matthew Higgins is a Canberra historian of 30 years experience, with a strong background in oral history recording and use. After graduating from Macquarie University he took up a position at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra where he worked in the Historical Research Section for seven years. In 1989 Matthew went freelance, completing a variety of historical consultancies for a range of government, private and community clients.  He was also able to gain funding for a number of heritage projects which were his own conception. For three years Matthew worked with the Australian Heritage Commission, subsequently the Heritage Branch in the federal Department of Environment and Heritage. From 2004 to 2011 he was a Senior Curator at the National Museum of Australia, working on a range of exhibitions and collection development projects.

Matthew has practised oral history since the late 1980s. He has recorded dozens of interviews – many housed in the National Library of Australia – and has used this oral evidence in numerous publications ranging from articles to books. Matthew’s most recent book is Rugged beyond imagination: stories from an Australian mountain region, published in 2009 by NMA Press. Many of Matthew’s interviews have been broadcast on ABC radio.

One of Matthew’s favourite areas of historical research is the Australian high country, where he also cross-country skis and bushwalks as often as opportunity allows. He is a follower of Professor Tawney who said that what historians need is not more documents but stronger boots!

Rob Willis (New South Wales)

Rob Willis has been a collector of folklore and social history since the mid 1970s. His audio and photographic collections are housed in the Oral History and Folklore Section of the National Library of Australia (NLA).

Rob has recorded over 1,300 hours of interview for the NLA and has been involved with many of the NLA’s major projects: Bringing Them HomeForgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants and theParalympic Oral History Project. His early film, video and sound recordings are with the National Film and Sound Archive.

Being a lifelong resident of Forbes in the Central West of NSW, Rob has had the opportunity to record the stories of women and men in rural and remote areas. These recordings are part of the Voices of the Bush Oral History Project .

The dissemination of collected material is also very important and Rob has been very active in this area. An accomplished musician he plays many of the traditional instruments including concertina, button accordion, banjo, mouth organ and whistle.

Rob has published and produced a number of books, CDs and DVDs on traditional music, folklore and social history and is a regular contributor to national music magazines. He has regular segments on ABC radio and has assisted with television documentaries for the ABC and BBC.

Susan Marsden (South Australia)

Dr Susan Marsden ‘learnt on the job’ as a young professional historian, recording and transcribing interviews for her first commissioned book, A history of Woodville (1977), running a project for unemployed teenagers at Port Adelaide, and investigating the impact on working-class families of the introduction of full-time schooling at the beginning of the twentieth century. Around the same time she became a founding member of the Oral History Association and first president of the SA Branch, and co-authored the handbook that is still in wide use in Australia (many updates later).

Most of her subsequent history books, exhibitions and heritage studies have included oral history. She works as a consultant historian on national, state and local history projects throughout Australia, and has also been employed as South Australia’s State Historian and as National Conservation Manager at the Australian Council of National Trusts in Canberra.

She has authored and co-authored more than 120 books, articles, internet publications and published reports. Recent work includes the history of the SA Housing Trust since 1987, and oral history interviews for national, state and local collections and, including 50 recorded as an ongoing interviewer for the National Library of Australia. Her latest co-edited work brings the writings of professional historians to the Internet in SA175/Celebrating South Australia.

Elaine Rabbitt (Western Australia)

Elaine Rabbitt is a social historian with a PhD in Oral History. She moved to Broome in the mid 1970s, fell in love with the place, the people and the lifestyle and stayed. As she met and mixed with the locals she began to hear stories about Broome and its unique and colourful past.

Since 2006 she has received ongoing funding from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Islander Studies to interview Elders and traditional owners for a project she initiated – Moving Back to Country: A History of Indigenous Outstations in the Kullarri Region (Broome Area).

Elaine has recorded other stories for the Australian National Film and Sound Archives, the Shire of Broome, the Broome Museum and the Broome Community. She has been trained as an interviewer for the National Library’s Forgotten Children project.

For many years Elaine has been an active committee member and volunteer at the Broome Museum. She receives regular inquiries from members of the Broome community regarding Oral History. She conducts workshops in conjunction with the Oral History Association Western Australian branch of which she is a committee member. She is also a member of the International Oral History Association.

Elaine has written, presented and published academic papers on oral history and methodology in relation to key themes in Australian social history, at state, national and international conferences. These papers are based on information from her interviews and reflection on generational identity and memory and research. Her most recent topic is Oral History and Reconciliation.

Hamish Sewell (Queensland)

Hamish Sewell lives on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland with his partner. Besides being a keen gardener and repairer of an old Queenslander, he is also a writer, researcher, radio producer and oral historian.

He has worked as a documentary maker with Radio National for fifteen years and his radio feature, Battle Flagging Father, was a winner in the 2009 Third Coast International Radio Festival.

Hamish is currently working as an oral historian on the National Library of Australia’s Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants project. He’s also engaged as both an oral historian and radio producer on theTalking Fish project with the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Queensland Fisheries.

For the last year Hamish has been part of a team who have been flat-out getting their fledgling company, The Story Project, up on its feet. The Story Project website is now live and The Story Project will soon to commence its first pilot on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

John Bannister (Western Australia)

John Bannister has worked as a full time Oral Historian since 1997.

His contracts include work for The Battye Library in Western Australia and the National Library of Australia (NLA). His work for the NLA includes interviewing for the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project and theIndependent Music Project. John has interviewed many prominent Australians for the NLA. He has collected stories of famous musicians for The National Film and Sound Archive and often works for the Australian War Memorial. Between 2000 – 2009 John compiled a large collection of stories from Australian ex servicemen of WWII and subsequent world conflicts for the Imperial War Museum in London and he has also worked for the National Army Museum in London.

John has recently been working on an Oral History project for Worley Parsons energy consultants while continuing to interview for the NLA, NFSA, local WA Councils and private contracts. John Bannister is based in Perth, Western Australia.

Mary Hutchison (Australian Capital Territory)

Dr Mary Hutchison has been collecting and working with people’s stories as a writer, historian and museum exhibition curator since the late 1970s when she became a member of the South Australian branch of the Oral History Association. Since moving to Canberra in the mid 1980s, recording Canberra oral history for major collecting institutions and community organisations has been an important slice of her professional work.

Mary’s first oral history interviews focusing on women’s history provided her with the material to develop a museum exhibition, a radio documentary and a radio drama. More recently she has worked with the migration histories of individuals in regional localities to produce the Migration Memories exhibitions shown in local venues and at the National Museum of Australia. Migration Memories: Robinvale won the 2008 Victorian Community History Award in the best exhibition/display category.

Mary has encouraged and supported numerous community-generated activities and publications based on oral history and memory. She has been responsible for the creative inclusion of oral history material in interpretations of place such as the Civic Sign Beacons and the Kingston Storyboards in Canberra. In her work with sound designer Lea Collins she has explored the development of museum sound installations which marry elements of oral history and sound art. Mary and Lea are currently recording the many layers of memory and sounds of Kingston, one of Canberra’s oldest suburbs, for their Canberra Centenary project A Canberra Sound Album.

Mary is a visiting fellow at the Research School of Humanities and the Arts, ANU and a Research Associate with the ANU’s Institute of Professional Practice in Heritage and the Arts.

Mathew Stephen (Northern Territory)

Matthew lives in Broome, Western Australian where he is the Coordinator of Photographic Collections at the Sisters of St John of God Heritage and Archives Centre. Before moving to Broome in 2011 he was Manager of the Oral History Unit, Northern Territory Archives Service.

In 2010, Matthew published his first book, Contact Zones: Race and Sport in the Northern Territory, 1869-1953, which is an edited version of his PhD of the same name completed in 2009 at Charles Darwin University, Darwin.

Matthew has lived and worked in the Northern Territory since 1987, mainly in the fields of Education, Recreation and more recently history. Like many who go to the Northern Territory he thought he would go there a few years, gain some experience and then return to the south. But after only a short time he realised that the Northern Territory offered him  rare opportunities to work in a part of Australia he knew very little about and repeatedly surprised him with its extraordinary environment and the people that lived there.

Matthew’s involvement with oral history began in 2000 when he moved to Darwin and commenced his PhD research soon after. After a year or two of people saying ‘Matthew, someone should collect those stories before those old people die’, he did an oral history workshop with the Northern Territory Archives Service. A year or two later he was privileged to gain the position of Manager of the NTAS oral history unit where he has been able to continue to develop the oral history collection begun in 1978.

Siobhán McHugh (New South Wales)

Siobhán McHugh is the author of six books and over 40 radio documentaries. Irish-born and based in Sydney since 1985, her work reflects her passion for Australian social history and what filmmaker Danny Boyle calls ‘the politics of connection’.

Siobhán’s book The Snowy – The People Behind the Power (Harper Collins 1995), about the migrant workforce that built the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme, won the NSW Premier’s Prize for non-fiction, whileCottoning On: stories of Australian cotton-growing (Hale & Iremonger 1996) was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Prize. Minefields and Miniskirts (Doubleday 1993), which revealed untold stories of Australian women in the Vietnam war, was adapted for the stage and is studied by high school students as ‘verbatim’ theatre. Siobhan’s radio work has won many plaudits, including shortlistings for a Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism, a Eureka Science Prize and co-winner of best documentary, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Awards. Marrying Out, about mixed marriage and sectarianism in pre-multicultural Australia, won a gold medal at the New York Radio Festival in 2010, while The Irish at Eureka: rebels or riff-raff?(2004), another feature for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight program, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Prize.

Siobhán’s oral history collections are held in the National Library of Australia and the State Library of NSW. She won the NSW History Fellowship in 2004 and was awarded a doctorate in 2011 for a thesis on the creative treatment of oral history for crafted radio forms. She lectures in Journalism at the University of Wollongong. Go to for more on Siobhán’s work.

Suzanne Gibson (Queensland)

Suzanne Gibson is a Cairns-based social history researcher, writer and producer.

She has an undergraduate degree in Communications from Macquarie University, Sydney; a Graduate Diploma (History) from Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University); and is currently completing a Masters in Museums and Collections through the Australian National University in Canberra.

Suzanne worked with ABC Radio in Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Alice Springs and Cairns as a reporter, producer, senior producer and presenter, before moving into social history research, writing and production.

Her portfolio includes multimedia research and production for the National Museum of Australia and ABC Radio; Collections research and Significance Assessments for the National Museum of Australia and Cairns Historical Society Museum; research and production of oral histories for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service, the Queensland Department of Communities, the State Library of Queensland and for Cairns Regional Council. Suzanne has also produced three series of radio documentaries for ABC Radio National based on the social history of north Queensland.

IMG_6288 (1)Catherine McLennan (Victoria)

Catherine McLennan grew up in rural Victoria and moved to the city to complete a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours in History) at the University of Melbourne followed by a Master of Public History at Monash University. She currently works as a Research Associate at Museum Victoria and has conducted oral history interviews for both the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection and the Victorian Bushfires Collection.

In 2010 and 2011 she was Treasurer of the Professional Historians Association of Victoria. Catherine also works as a freelance photographer and enjoys gardening, fishing and travel.

RB1Roslyn Burge (New South Wales)

Roslyn Burge is a professional historian living in Sydney.  While working at the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS she was part of teams working on two oral history projects:  Sydney’s northern beaches during the 1930s, Shoroc on a Shoestring; and the place-based Tamil and their Neighbours Oral History in association with Strathfield Council. Each project resulted in a publication written by Roslyn: Hiking for Health and Tamils and their Neighbours.  

Working independently, Roslyn has undertaken oral history projects for government, corporate and individual clients, including the Australian Garden History Society, local Councils, NPWS and the War Widows’ Guild (NSW), and wrote the NSW Guild’s 60th anniversary publication, No Peacetime Cinderellas.  In 2008 she commenced the (ongoing) Rozelle Hospital Oral History Project recording interviews with former patients, staff and residents.  She is writing a history of attachment to and memories of the site to be published in 2013.  Another Leichhardt-based oral history project, Mondo and More:  the 20th century Greening of Leichhardt, explored the dramatic recolouring of this densely built urban environment.

Roslyn has recorded interviews for the NLA for the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants Oral History Project and Beyond the Cables (marking the 40th anniversary of Australia’s formal diplomatic recognition of China last December).  She has advised on the establishment of community oral history projects, curated exhibitions, presented conference papers and published articles based on oral history projects.

DCF 1.0Peter Donovan (South Australia)

Peter Donovan graduated from the University of New England in 1969, completed post-graduate studies at Flinders University in 1976, and undertook the Architectural Conservation course at the International Centre for Conservation in Rome in 1980.

In late 1980 he established a history consulting business. Since that time the business has consulted to clients throughout Australia and has been responsible for more than 60 books – many for major Australian corporations – journal articles and project reports. The core elements of the business are commissioned histories, heritage consultancies and oral history. Details can be found at

Elena ‘Lena’ Volkova (Queensland)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The backdrop for Lena’s emerging interest in oral history was Literature and its Makers.  As a newly hatched graduate of the Moscow State University she joined The State Literary Museum (SLM), where she worked as an Assistant Curator. Noticing her interest in innovative methods of research, the curator of the SLM Sound Archive and a pioneer of oral history in Russia, Lev Shilov, took her under his wing and taught by example.  Very soon she embarked on her own projects recording life story interviews with the writers and artists – survivours of GULAG and WWII veterans.

Lena continued to develop this theme when she was later invited to run a weekly program in the Echo of Moscow radio station.  She later founded Echo of Moscow Radio Archive so that the broader community could have access to Russia’s significant audio heritage.

Since she came to Australia in 1996 Lena contributed to a number of oral history projects, including interviewing for the Australian War Memorial and curating the Queensland Museum/AUSTCARE exhibition Australians caring for refugees where she introduced oral histories of Brisbane-based refugees that she herself recorded and produced. She also held a position of the president of the OHAA Queensland branch in the period of 2007-2010.

At the moment Lena combines her studies in Transmedia Storytelling (QUT, Creative Industries) with her work as a Research Assistant in the ARC/Griffith University project The Difficult Return where she investigates the capacity of arts-based practices of digital storytelling and applied theatre in building resilience and mental health literacy of the Australian Defence Force personnel with combat related post-traumatic stress disorders. She just completed a series of oral history interviews with young veterans of Iraq, Malaysia and East Timor.

Atem Atem (1)Atem Atem (New South Wales)

Atem Atem arrived in Australia ten years ago. He is writing a PhD thesis on the settlement experiences of Sudanese families in Western Sydney with a focus on service delivery to newly arrived immigrants especially humanitarian entrants. Atem works with small community organisations that are establishing themselves and need support in terms of building their capacity and skills in managing and complying with regulatory requirements. His areas of interest include multiculturalism in Australia, refugees and humanitarian issues, Australian foreign policy towards South Sudan, and social and political development in South Sudan.

Sarah Rood (Victoria) 

Sarah is one of the Directors of the consultancy, Way Back When. In her career as a professional historian Sarah has experience in all areas of public history, specialising in oral and digital histories and exhibitions. Sarah has a particular interest in giving voice to the past. She is motivated by her firm belief that the past shapes the present and the future, and enjoys working with community groups to record and document their stories.

Oral history is a thread that runs throughout Sarah’s work as an historian. Each of her projects involves a significant oral history component and Sarah has worked on several stand-alone oral history projects. She is an oral history interviewer for the National Library of Australia and has been involved of several of its oral history projects including the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants. Sarah frequently runs oral history training workshops for community groups and organisations.