Lost Newcastle Oral History Project

The Lost Newcastle Oral History Project is a community resource to gather social and cultural histories of the Hunter Region through digital oral history- audio/audio-visual recordings. The following is a Oral History Guide and is also downloadable as a PDF HERE.


Professor John Burrows, Department of English and Robin Williams, the University of Newcastle, Australia

The Project was inspired by a similar programme undertaken by University of Newcastle that was part of the Open Foundation Course (1986-1989) – known as the Margaret Henry Oral History Archive held at Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle Library. This current project aims to revive stories of Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and its surrounds by recording voices that describe the Region’s cultural, intellectual and social life.

This post includes basic instructions on practice and methods of oral history, how to do an oral history interview, use of new technologies in recording historical information, as well as links to other resources. Also includes ethical practices of oral history (Guidelines, Copyright, Conditions of use). We also recommend Oral History NSW for advice and support.

The following covers some basic steps in conducting an oral history interview.


You can choose someone who has an interesting story to tell about the Hunter Region. It could be a friend, relative and someone you know. The may talk about where they used to work, a family business, or a place they grew up, people they knew. Here are some other themes:-

About place, Indigenous Stories, Local Identities, Health & Medicine, Religion, Maritime & Shipping, Industry & Manufacturing, Communications, Coal Mining & the Hunter Coalfields, Transport, Unions & Politics, Military and Defence, Law & Order, Women’s History, Family Business, Retail & business, Migrant Histories, Environment & Heritage, Social history eg. 1960s, the anti-war campaigns.

Also have a listen to some of the interviews from the 1980s- for ideas and inspiration – Margaret Henry oral History Archive.


When you have chosen someone to interview (and they have given consent), you can be guided by your initial contact during informal conversation about a topic that could be covered in an interview, it is also a good idea to ask them to complete a written Interviewee Information Sheet before the formal interview. When you are clear about a topic, it is a good idea to do some general background research. For example, if the person worked in a particular profession or industry you may want to explore this. It is important to have some general understanding of the topic of the interview so that you can formulate suitable questions. Many sources are available on-line, or you may consider contacting  Family history and other Historical Groups for support with research. Cultural Collections at the UON has sources, including Flickr and WordPress.  Local studies at the Newcastle Library also have historical material associated with the Hunter Region, as well as local libraries, museums and historical societies. Also look at Trove.


The following is a starting point in formulating questions, the more you know about a person before the interview, the more you can adapt questions to gain useful and valuable answers. Here are some Sample Outline of Questions you can use in an oral history interview. Revise these accordingly in line with a person’s specific interests and life experiences.


How do I ask the questions?

In general, have a basic idea of the themes that will be covered- for example – Work history, growing up in a particularly suburb.

  • Have your first question well planned
  • Open rather than closed questions
  • Remember silence is good
  • Positive body language and being pleasant
  • Give interviewee time to respond to question, don’t interrupt!
  • Don’t be too worried if the interview goes off track
  • Ask the Interviewee for specific examples
  • Ask follow-up questions and then ask some more



It is essential to liaise with the interviewee in an honest and respectful manner. Explain to them why you would like to conduct an interview, and allow them to discuss with you what they are happy to talk about, and what they prefer not to discuss. The interviewee always has a right to review, correct and/or withdraw anything in the interview- or decide to grant permission at all. They must be given this opportunity after the interview has been conducted. It is important to discuss Ethical Practices Guidelines, the process and granting permission with the interviewee, here is a Sample Condition of Use Form .

  • It is the responsibility of the interviewer to protect the rights of interviewee
  • Important to ensure objectivity, honesty and integrity

See further information about permissions.Participants must follow the Oral History Australia Guidelines of Ethical Practice 2007.


Oral/audio-visual histories can be made digitally available on numerous social platforms- SoundCloud is probably the most popular and widely available. From these social platforms recordings can be embedded in blogs and other social media- new technology enhancing oral histories and digital humanities.

Cultural Collections of the University of Newcastle has agreed to store original audio or audio-visual file in perpetuity, to be made available on their various open source digital platforms (Permissions required).  Audios will be made available to the community via the UONCC SoundCloud, UONCC WordPress and UONCC YouTube sites.

Recordings and permission forms can be sent to Cultural Collections at the University of Newcastle, email to archives@newcastle.edu.au


Technology today enables us to easily record oral history interviews. It is up to you as to the device you want to use to record the interview. These may include:-

  • Professional handheld devices are the best option and a good investment if you are serious about doing oral history recordings.
  • Apps for Smartphones and devices – There are many downloadable voice recording Apps for personal devices (iPad, iPhone, androids etc.) Although these may seem simple to use, problems can occur attempting to transfer a recording from a smartphone.
  • Traditional cassette audio tapes – We do not suggest the use of older style cassette tapes, the sound quality is not optimal and cassettes are more difficult to digitise – the UON’s Cultural Collections can digitise cassette and analogue tapes, however is more complex process.Further information can be found HERE what-device-to-use.

STEP 7: 

Most audio digitally recorded can be edited using audio editing software, such as Audacity that is free and easy to use. It has cut, copy and paste functions, reduce noise, and convert file formats. Other professional audio editing software is Audition Adobe. Further information.

Making a summary or transcript of your recording is recommended as best practice. This will allow your interview to be more search-friendly when uploaded on the web, as well as providing clarity and better access for the hearing impaired. oTranscribe is a free online app for transcribing recorded interviews.

For further information contact Dr Ann Hardy, Historian, Creative Industries & Digital Humanities Projects Co-ordinator for Cultural Collections at the University of Newcastle, email  ann.hardy@newcastle.edu.au

This Oral History Guide (with Attachments) is also downloadable HERE.


JD Somerville Oral History Collection – State Library of South Australia

Talk to Print- a step-by-step guide to publishing oral history. Department of Environment & Conservation, 2004.

Oral History and Folklore –  National Library of Australia

Australian Generations Oral History Project  – Monash University

By Word or Mouth – Conducting Oral Histories – A resource book for teachers and student, NSW.

A guide for interviewing veterans past and present.- Australian War Memorial

Oral History– Records and Archives Office – UNSW

Oral History and Realia – National Library of Australia

24 Questions you should ask your parents, while you can – Amy Gibson

One thought on “Lost Newcastle Oral History Project

  1. Pingback: Lost Newcastle Oral Histories – Assoc. Professor Ray Walker (1925 – 2016) – Hunter (Living) Histories – Coal River Working Party

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s