The Dictionary of Sydney is an incredible project. It all started back in 2005 when a group of historians and industry partners secured a 5-year Australian Research Council grant to present Sydney’s history in a digital format to explore the possibilities of linking different historical entities lie people, places and things through time. It was at the forefront of the digital humanities and of crowdsourcing projects.
Those visionaries were working at the University of Sydney, the City of Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney, State Records NSW, and the State Library of NSW. Together they established the Dictionary of Sydney. (Step back in time and have a look at the project site in 2006 on the Internet Archive here and through the first annual report on Pandora here!)
The initial website went live in 2009 (check out our first front page on the Internet Archive here) and a passionate group of volunteers, with minimal paid staff, have been researching, writing and adding content ever since.
Nearly 300 authors have shared their research in about 1050 entries.
An additional 133 cultural collections, institutions and private collectors have also contributed material to the Dictionary of Sydney – everyone from the National Library of Australia, to the British Museum, all the state libraries around Australia, archives, art galleries, local studies collections, as well as individual photographers, artists and collectors.
Together these contributions make up more than 5,500 multimedia objects – photographs, illustrations, artworks, posters, maps, film and moving footage, audio and oral histories.
And we can’t forget all those amazing facts and lists that have been researched, collated and linked in the entity records, creating relationships between entries, entities and media. There’s a reason we call these the building blocks of the Dictionary!
People soon started to take notice, and wanted to learn more about Sydney’s history. Eight years ago, the new breakfast presenter at 2SER – Tim Higgins – approached me to do a regular segment on the show. That was back in June 2013 and we’ve been doing it ever since! Every week volunteers have been sharing with you something about Sydney’s history and we’ve been putting up the blog posts here. 2SER has been an amazing supporter of the Dictionary of Sydney. It’s been so much fun.
But now it’s time to say goodbye.
The Dictionary of Sydney was transferred to a new platform at the State Library a couple of years ago in preparation for gradually winding down as funding came to an end, and over the next few months or so, work will begin on archiving the site for posterity. So don’t panic! You’ll still be able to access all your favourite articles, search the website and answer all those tricky questions, friendly disputes and pub quizzes. Thanks to the Library, the Dictionary will remain available as a reliable source of historical information about Sydney.
In our final radio segment on 2SER, some of the recent regular radio contributors wanted to share some of their favourite picks from the Dictionary of Sydney. What are yours?
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is the 20201 Dr AM Hertzberg AO Fellow at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide.You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio
These four entries for me demonstrate the breadth of the Dictionary’s content:
The Cocky Bennett Story by Catie Gilchrist, avian stalwart of the Sea Breeze Hotel at Tom Ugly’s Point: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/the_cocky_bennett_story
Francis & Frederick Ellard, by Graeme Skinner, musicians and music publishers kick-starting Sydney’s popular music scene. Anyone care to dance the Quadrille?: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/ellard_frederick
Barangaroo and the Eora Fisherwomen by Grace Karskens. Always was, always will be: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/barangaroo_and_the_eora_fisherwomen
Kings Cross by Mark Dunn – as Mark says, ‘Kings Cross exists in Sydney’s imagination as much as it does in any physical form’: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/kings_cross
The fun fact that will win you that pub quiz:
Louie the Fly was a cartoon character in an advertisement created for Mortein in 1957 by Bryce Courtenay: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/artefact/louie_the_fly
Bodgie Styles for Spring 1951 from PIX – what can I say? It’s out there: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/5157
Bondi Lady, Bondi 1975 by Rennie Ellis – wish I was there: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/1208
Stained glass by Beverley Sherry – ok, it’s an article but it’s the images that make it. They absolutely pop: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/stained_glass
Dr Rachel Franks is the Coordinator of Scholarship at the State Library of NSW and a Conjoint Fellow at the University of Newcastle. She holds a PhD in Australian crime fiction and her research on crime fiction, true crime, popular culture and information science has been presented at numerous conferences. An award-winning writer, her work can be found in a wide variety of books, journals and magazines as well as on social media. Her biography of NSW hangman Robert Rice Howard ‘Nosey Bob’ will be published in 2022.
These are some of the articles I return to again and again.
A history of death and dying in colonial Sydney (a terrific amount of detail) by Lisa Murray: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/death_and_dying_in_nineteenth_century_sydney
An overview of the suburb of Darlinghurst (much more than a gaol) by Mark Dunn: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/darlinghurst and
Australia’s first bank robbery by Neil Radford https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/robbing_the_bank_australias_first_bank_robbery (so close to getting away with it).
My favourite blog posts include one that looks at women in cricket by Minna: Throw Like a Girl https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/throw-like-a-girl/
and one that looks at wining and dining by Nicole Cama: Sydney’s Wining and Dining Evolution https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/sydneys-wining-and-dining-evolution/
One of the best images, I think, on the Dictionary is a detail of the cemetery and the active gallows from the ‘Plan de la ville de Sydney’ 1802 https://dictionaryofsydney.org/image/100423
A fabulous piece of audio is attached to a history of coffee by Garry Wotherspoon, Listen to this excerpt of an interview by Poppy Stockell with Luigi Coluzzi, boxer-turned-barista, talking about his life in Sydney: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/1748
Did you know?
Founders of The Bulletin – John Haynes and JF Archibald – were unable to pay court costs after being taken for libel and so did a stint in Darlinghurst Gaol in 1882: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/person/haynes_john
Minna Muhlen-Schulte is a professional historian and Senior Heritage Consultant at GML Heritage. She was the recipient of the Berry Family Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria and has worked on a range of history projects for community organisations, local and state government including the Third Quarantine Cemetery, Woodford Academy and Middle and Georges Head . In 2014, Minna developed a program on the life and work of Clarice Beckett for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight Program and in 2017 produced Crossing Enemy Lines for ABC Radio National’s Earshot Program. You can hear her most recent production, Carving Up the Country, on ABC Radio National’s The History Listen here.
Some of my favourite entries on the Dictionary include:
Woolloomooloo by Shirley Fitzgerald for some frank and fearless commentary on socio-economics/gentrification: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/woolloomooloo
The myth of Sydney’s foundational orgy by Grace Karskens https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/the_myth_of_sydneys_foundational_orgy
‘Getting off at Redfern’ is the colloquial expression for a particular form of contraception – depending on which side of the Bridge you live on of course: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/artefact/getting_off_at_redfern
Skeleton of the Dugong found at Shea’s Creek 1896: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/4614
‘Thanks Jack’ Builders Labourers Federation Protest 1973 by Rennie Ellis: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/2802
Cover of book ‘The Shark Arm Case’ by Vince Kelly, published by Horwitz Publications 1963: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/59327
18 footers racing Sydney Harbour 1921 by Harold Cazneaux, by kind permission of the Cazneaux family: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/2535
Newcastle Hotel with Mark: https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/the-newcastle-hotel/
Drama of Llamas from Rachel: https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/a-drama-of-llamas/
The squire of Enmore House: Joshua Frey Josephson by Lisa: https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/the-squire-of-enmore-house-joshua-frey-josephson/
Dr Mark Dunn is the author of ‘The Convict Valley: the bloody struggle on Australia’s early frontier’ (2020), the former Chair of the NSW Professional Historians Association and former Deputy Chair of the Heritage Council of NSW. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of NSW. You can read more of his work on the Dictionary of Sydney here and follow him on Twitter @markdhistory here
The Irish (albeit in the very very distant past) in me nominates the entry on the history of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Sydney that was supported by Consul General of Ireland: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/celebrating_st_patricks_day_in_nineteenth_century_sydney
The next project I’m working on means I’ll choose Mark Howard’s Sydney Whaling Fleet article: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/sydneys_whaling_fleet
And the “Hey I wrote that and it was fun to do” in me nominates Joseph Fowles: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/fowles_joseph
And for images I cannot go past George Molnar‘s cartoon ‘But if we demolish the pub instead won’t we be accused of acting against Australian tradition?’: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/2398
Published in 1959 when the historic St Malo at Hunters Hill was demolished, it goes to the heart of heritage, except now they do demolish the pub as well.
All of the fabulous Dictionary presenters over the last eight years have appeared in a voluntary capacity, and we’re so grateful to them for their generosity in sharing their time and expertise to bring us all of these Sydney stories. We’re also grateful for the chance to work with 2SER and the amazing breakfast show hosts and producers who’ve made this collaboration such a joy every week!
Listen to the Dictionary’s final segment on 2SER with Lisa & Wilamina here, and check out all the other blogs and audio we’ve posted together with 2SER Breakfast on 107.3 every Wednesday morning over the last eight years here!