The Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) has some wonderful old scrapbooks of press cuttings in its collection. Long before TROVE existed some HHP members were trawling through these scrapbooks and came across a treasure trove of letters about North Melbourne. In 1934 The Age published a series of articles, The Suburbs of Melbourne: The Story of Their Growth. Part VII: North Melbourne appeared on 21 July 1934 and this article attracted a spate of letters to The Age over several months from old timers who grew up in Hotham in the 1860s and 1870s. In fact, at the end of August, The Age Letters page had the following statement:
Other interesting letters of Old North Melbourne Memories have been received subsequent to the receipt of the above; but it is impossible to devote more space to this one suburb.
Despite this, more letters relating to Old North Melbourne were published in subsequent months, so perhaps articles on other suburbs did not generate the same amount of correspondence.
What to do with this mine of information about Old North Melbourne! The volumes were far too large, heavy and unwieldy to photocopy. We tried photographing the letters with a very good SLR camera. Alas, the developed photos (remember those?) were difficult to read. The longer letters, displayed in very narrow columns, sometimes went the full length of the newspaper which required 3 photographs. Printouts taken from microfilm of The Age at the State Library was time consuming and also proved unsatisfactory for reading easily. Notes on cards with help from a work experience student recorded the information but did not capture the flavour of the letters. Eventually we typed the letters from the various sources we had gathered along the way although some bits still proved indecipherable.
With the introduction of TROVE in 2009, these letters to The Age from long ago are now much more easily accessible and we have been able to insert those indecipherable omissions.
After much frustration and labour, this cache of more than 60 letters recording the memories of early pioneers of North & West Melbourne are now together in a readable form that will be put onto the HHP website.
We hope you enjoy reading about Hotham/North Melbourne in the 19th century.
by Mary Kehoe, Hotham History Project Secretary. 25th May 2020.