If students, teachers, local historians, genealogists, librarians or anyone else in the community wants to contact Australia's war veterans, they need simply to 'ask around'. There are thousands of veterans in Australia. They may be neighbours and relatives. They are often members of ex-service organisations, like the Returned & Services League (RSL). Some ageing World War II veterans are in retirement villages or nursing homes. Usually, local veterans are but a phone call away.
Locating veterans and making meaningful links with them means working collaboratively with a range of groups. For example, teachers, members of a local historical society and community arts workers at Redcliffe, near Brisbane, worked together with the local RSL to record interviews with veterans on video-tape. The final presentation was impressive and copies of the production now reside in the Redcliffe library, the RSL and several schools.
In the production of this tape members of the historical society provided general background information and helped students to see the local context. The RSL helped locate interviewees. Teachers assisted students clarify the purpose of interviewing veterans.
In the context of oral history projects for school students, Past-Continuous, edited by Judy Mackinolty, 1983, and published by the History Teachers' Association of Australia, remains an extremely useful book. In it, Tony Austin emphasises an obvious but often overlooked point about finding informants for oral histories - interview subjects are easier to locate if the purposes and outcomes of contacting them are clear. Nothing is more annoying than being interviewed by someone who has no clear idea of what the interview will achieve. It is therefore important to prepare properly for your interview.
Working closely with other groups and being clear about purposes will greatly assist making contact with suitable local veterans. Keeping records of who has been interviewed will also avoid over-using the same veterans. In the unlikely event that a network of community groups, including schools, local historical societies, the RSL, the CWA, pensioner groups, local councils, church groups and genealogical societies, fails to locate suitable interviewees, or when there is a desire to expand the definition of local to include a region, it may be necessary to resort to advertisements in regional newspapers or radio stations. (First check these sources for any human interest stories about veterans who may be willing to be interviewed.)
Advertising was a method used by Dr John Barrett when he prepared his extensive national collection of reminiscences by World War II veterans - We Were There: Australian Soldiers of World War II Tell Their Stories. He advertised not only in newspapers throughout Australia but in magazines and the publications of sporting bodies, churches, automobile associations, trade unions, businesses, ex-service and unit associations. Today a request on a computer-based discussion group may be all that is needed.
Beyond your local or regional community there are numerous organisations which can assist in a search for veterans, suggest ways of making contacts meaningful and provide further guidance for your research. The following web sites may be useful:
The Department of Veterans' Affairs web site - www.dva.gov.au - provides general information, contacts for the Office of Australian War Graves, the Veterans' Affairs Network and links to related sites. It contains pages related to "How to find a Digger" and addresses questions like these:
Question: I am researching my family history and want to find information about a relative who served in the Australian Defence Force. Where do I start?
Question: My grandfather won some medals during the war. How can I find out what they were?
Question: My grandfather died during World War II but I don't know where he is buried. How can I find out?
All these sites provide information; some promote inquiry skills which are taught under the national curriculum in one form or another as investigating, communicating and participating.
* Disclaimer: This publication contains links or references to external web sites over which DVA has no direct control. Whilst reasonable care was taken at the time of publication, it is possible that the content of these external sites has changed, moved, or may no longer exist.