‘Facebook group helps tell stories of the Hill’
Social media may not always be a force for good, but an amateur history buff with a love for Broken Hill has made it work beautifully for all those who have an interest in learning and contributing to the history of our city.
Gail Ekkelboom-Mew is building a digital photo-history of the Hill through the Broken Hill of Old… Photographic History group on Facebook, which invites residents – current and past – to connect and reflect on the deep history of the Silver City.
Despite moving from Broken Hill where she was born when she was five, Ms Ekkelboom-Mew – who now lives in Goolwa, South Australia – maintained a n ongoing connection with Broken Hill through yearly visits to her grandparents’ house.
She created the Facebook group – which has over 3500 members – five years ago as a result of looking into her own ancestral history.
“I started to look at where my ancestors came from before they moved to Broken Hill and a little bit of history about them,” Ms Ekkelboom-Mew told the Barrier Truth.
“The more information I found, the more interested I was in Broken Hill. Not mines so much, but the actual people themselves, because they are the tapestry which makes the Hill famous, really.”
Her own family’s history is etched into Broken Hill and goes back for centuries, through the Cornish line. Cornish St is named after her great grandfather, Richard Cornish. From there, she found more of her family had ties to businesses and schools in the area and had properties and poultry farms out at Stephen’s Creek.
“There’s a lot of connections and a few people that I remember the names of, and it’s really just grown from that and other people’s interest, asking questions, putting forward information and photos. I did a lot of research through Covid, I averaged about four posts a day on different subject matter and have built the group basically from there.”
Ms Ekkelboom-Mew began to uncover more about Broken Hill, aside from her family history, and turned to a focus on the township itself, starting with the streets and the original grid from 1887 – Mica to Slag, the Iodine to Kaolin.
In her regular returns to the Hill, she walked along the streets and took photos of anything of interest, of buildings and housing styles.
“It sparked interest with people when I used to live there, and I’ll to go back and walk a couple more streets each time and see if I can unearth some more history. It’ll be a perpetual thing for me.”
The ongoing Facebook posting by Ms Ekkelboom-Mew – and others in the group – has sparked many conversations among locals with their recollections and memories of Broken Hill.
“I’ve found it’s really good because it stimulates a lot of people to add comment and put in memories of how they found it at the time. And sometimes there’s quite good debate. I think that’s really good as far as awakening people’s memories,” she says.
“If you look at the ages or the comments of some of the people that are there, they’re in their seventies, eighties and into their nineties and they have still very good memories, accurate memories of what actually happened and where they were.
“And there are a lot of people in Broken Hill of course that are younger and may have gone past these buildings several times in their lifetime and didn’t know who was there and what was happening. It’s good for them to realise that Broken Hill is more than just what you see on the street and the surrounding area.
“I think, if we lose all that by not asking questions and posing discussion, we’ve lost it because a photograph can tell you so much, but you need the input from these people to enrich it.
“A lot of people have found more information about the Hill than they thought was possible or didn’t know of, or it’s engaged other members of their family who remember other facts about their own family’s history so it’s been good in that individual people can find out more about their own ancestry and where their families lived.
“And it was a different way of life to what we know now, so you get a different perception of Broken Hill and what it was about.
“It is a very, very unique place. It has to be the one of the most photographed cities other than the capital cities like Sydney, Melbourne. And it’s interesting to see the wave of the population, like where they’ve all come from.
“I’ve just found the journey fascinating now that there is going to be more development there, hopefully through these new mines and other interests, and that will open up a new chapter.
“And as far as I’m concerned, yesterday is part of our history as well so I think it will continue to go forward. And I think we need to document that.”
Ms Ekkelboom-Mew has also written four books – with more planned – documenting the history of Broken Hill.
To join the Broken Hill of Old… Photographic History group on Facebook, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/143738369665790
PICTURE: A view of Broken Hill streets, 1914. State Library of South Australia.
Copyright, Barrier Truth, 2023