Everything Changes: Piecing together evidence for a story of loss and absence

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Marles, Janet
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Sebastian Gurciullo


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When a World War I veteran, who has been blinded in one eye on the battlefields of France, drives his car into a tram, he is killed. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters. It is 1937. Tragically, less than four years later the girls' mother also dies froma mysterious illness. The girls, Gwendoline aged seventeen, Marjory aged fourteen, and Heather aged ten, are put under the guardianship of their father's brother, Uncle Jock, a stock and station agent who lives in Kaniva, central-western Victoria. A silence descends over the family as the old ones feel it is best not to upset the girls by talking about their unfortunate situation. Uncle Jock insists the girls are not to be separated. Yet it is World War II and accommodation of any sort is very scarce. So they are boarded in a succession of houses hundreds of kilometres away in Geelong. For Heather, the youngest, it is a dozen homes in eleven years. With only scraps of information and two small photographs she ponders her origins and the cause of her mother's death for over sixty years until unexpectedly, at the age of seventy-two, she is handed a shoebox containing documents that fill in some of the pieces of her story. Inspired by the detailed information contained in the shoebox and the insights these gave Heather into her parents' lives, she and I undertook a genealogical journey to uncover more of her family history. This trip involved visiting relatives, historical buildings, community halls, cemeteries, archives, and key locations from Heather's childhood in order to unearth fragments of evidence until a more precise picture of her past could be drawn. Overlaying this picture is the emotional journey also traveled. Particularly poignant was the discovery of the Coroner's Inquest into Heather's father Donald McDonald's fatal car accident of 1937. Located in the Public Records Office of Victoria these sixteen pages of inquest reveal some surprising details and this one source alone verifies the season, the time of day, the weather, the light conditions, as well as how the accident happened - as recorded in police and witness reports at the time. Coalescing the evidence from the Coroner's Inquest, with interviews, and documents from the shoebox itself I produced a re-enactment of the events of the evening of 9 September 1937, this pivotal turning point in Heather's life, into an eight-minute audio drama-documentary titled Everything Changesi. This paper describes the process of unlocking the evidence, both personal and archival, to produce this work.

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Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria

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© The Author(s) 2010. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. For information about this journal please refer to the journal’s website or contact the author.

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