A short history of the formation and establishment of the Sunbury Family History Society Inc.

Researched and compiled by W J Kirk

12th December, 1984 – 20th October, 2004 - a ‘potted’ history of the early
years in particular, of our local family history group.

• The first meeting of the Sunbury & District Branch of the G.S.V., was held on the 12th December 1984, and from that meeting, the Sunbury group was formed on the initiative of Peter Free, and the support of some interested ‘former’ ‘genealogy students’ who had recently attended some family history classes, conducted by Peter at the Leisure Centre.

• The first office bearers elected were Peter Free [Chairman], Ian Symonds [Vice Chairman], Wendy Abey [Secretary], Marilyn Bray [Treasurer], Graham Fary [Bulletin editor], Gayle Morrison & Monica Senyard [Librarians], Phyllis Ripp [Assistant Secretary] and Graham Fary [Photographer].  Bill Kirk, who was amongst others present at that meeting, and Peter Free, have remained members of the group for the life of the organization. Peter, who is a Life Member, was the group’s Chairman for at  least the first 10 years. Bill has held a number of roles including Librarian, Treasurer, and Bulletin Editor [holding both of the latter two roles together over a period of years, and currently finds himself Traceback Editor, again!]

• The first ‘home’ of the Group, was the Sunbury Leisure Centre, at the corner of Gap Road and Elizabeth Drive, with meetings held each Thursday night, at 8 pm.  Early in 1986, a letter was sent to the Shire of Bulla, seeking approval for the Group to be allowed to hold their monthly meetings at M.O.A.H. [in Macedon Street], and that a small area within that complex be allocated for a Genealogical display.

• The first edition of Traceback appeared early in 1985 [a one-sided A4 sheet], which detailed the initial committee, outlined the geographical  boundaries of the group, indicated the fee structure, suggested the name of ‘Traceback’ for the newsletter, and noted, that while there was a copy of a ‘facing page’ to be put on the front of the newsletter, the Editor, Graham Fary,  was seeking members’ advice on the type of print style they would like before he proceeded any further.  In later years, the front cover of the Traceback, illustrated a depiction of the new to the old, to those who have passed on, and was designed by foundation member, Marilyn Bray, for many years, the Group’s Treasurer.

• At the 1985 February meeting [the 21st], it was decided to ascertain the location of all cemeteries within the Group’s area, including Gisborne, Woodend, Riddell, and going as far as the Hume Highway, possibly including Whittlesea, and south to Keilor, Tullamarine & Gladstone Park.

• At the Group’s meeting of the 16th May 1985, it was proposed that an ‘emblem’ be designed for the Group, and that this be incorporated for use on Traceback……Meanwhile, transcribing of the Bulla Cemetery was set aside for 11 am on Sunday, 16th June, bring pencil/biro and an eraser……………

• By mid- 1986, the Chairman [Peter Free] was able to report, that after 16 months, the Group had achieved the goals that had been set on its establishment in 1984. These included the completion of the transcribing of the headstones at the Sunbury & Bulla Cemeteries, and the holding of a genealogical exhibition.

• The Group’s first Genealogical exhibition was held on April 20th, 1986, at ‘Craiglee Winery’, a perfect venue to hold what was a successful exhibition. Much appreciation was extended to Mr & Mrs Pat Carmody for the use of the winery and their help with the exhibition.

• Meeting of the  21st August,  1986: present were Marilyn Bray, Pat Grech, Ian Northcott, Sue Martin, Kath Morrison, G Morrison, Jan Quarrell, Ross Penny, Bill Kirk, Peter Free, and Wendy Abey.

• Second Annual Meeting of the Sunbury & District Group of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, Thursday, 20th November 1986, held at the Museum of Art & History, Macedon  Street, Sunbury. The Chairman’s Report by Peter Free read as follows:    ‘The Sunbury and District Group of the Genealogical Society of Victoria has been established now for the past two years, and in those two years the Group has accomplished much. Over the past twelve months the group has been very busy with a number of activities. The group has met monthly and the membership is still growing with members coming from various parts of the group’s area.  This year the group’s cemetery transcribing has been very successful with the completions of the Woodend and Gisborne cemeteries. In Heritage Week of this year, the group held a genealogical exhibition at ‘Craiglee’ Winery, it was our first exhibition and I’m sure we will improve next year. A special thank you must go to Pat and Theresa Carmody for the use of the winery.  This year we have managed to purchase a microfiche reader, and next year we  will have sufficient funds to purchase from the Government Statist, the microfiche of Births, Deaths and Marriage index.
      I would like to say on behalf of all the members of the group a special thank  you to Mrs 
      Wendy Abey, who has been the group’s secretary for the past two  years.    Her help has     been appreciated by myself, and I’m sure by all members.  Well done Wendy”

• The 1987 agenda program will include: cemetery transcribing at Macedon,Riddell, Romsey &  Lancefield [did we get to them all?]; Heritage Week – Genealogical Exhibition in April; March weekend – Sunbury Fair; 10 minute talks at meetings; guest speakers – 2 to 3 a year including the AGM; working bee on group records; visit to the Public Records Office, possibly a Friday night, etc.

• The objectives of the Sunbury & District Group are the same objectives of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, which are found in the front inside cover of the Ancestor’ [1987]

• On Thursday, 12th March, 1987, the M.O.A.H. complex was officially opened by the President of the Shire of Bulla, Councillor Pauline De Luca. The meeting ….had approximately ninety people attending.

• From the 25th August to the 7th September 1987, the microfiche will be in the possession of Wendy Abey…………Meanwhile, any overdue membership fees may be forwarded to the Treasurer, Marilyn Bray.

• Macedon Cemetery, at 10 am on the 26th July……….Lancefield Cemetery, 2pm on Sunday 22nd November, 1987, one hour’s work required.

• Meeting of the 19th November, 1987: present were Marilyn Bray, Peter Free, Pat Grech, Ian Symonds, Elizabeth Wilson, Bill Kirk, Don Clark, Chris Clark, Max McMahon, Kath Morison, Jan Quarrell, Rebecca Achterberg and Phyllis Ripp.

• Meeting of the 20th April 1988: present were Jane Carmichael, Veronica Burgess, Jan Quarrell, Theresa Carmody, Kath Morrison, Ian Northcott, Bill Kirk, Elizabeth Wilson, Christine Clark, Max McMahon, Marilyn Bray and Peter Free.

• “Dear Members…..21st May 1988…..The Sunbury & District Group will be again travelling to Kyneton Cemetery, 5th June 1988, to continue the transcribing of the headstones. As Kyneton has a lot of headstones, members are asked to attend if possible. Hope to see you there. 10.30 am – 3.00 pm”  [Peter]

• December 1988:  “Riddells Creek Cemetery is now on computer and a copy is in the group’s filing cabinet…..Kyneton Cemetery transcribing has been half completed and the group will finish this project in 1989……..This year the group participated in two exhibitions. They were the Sunbury Fair, and the Sunbury Show. Both were successful……..” [Peter Free, Chairman].

• From the Traceback  editorial of February 1989:  ”I am sure you have all heard of someone searching their Family Tree and coming across a relative that had a treasure of information that saved them many hours of searching and a considerable amount of money. Well during the Christmas break, I discovered just such a relative, a cousin on my maternal side. That’s the good news. It turned out that it was my cousin’s husband who was the dedicated genealogist. I was told the things he had discovered were amazing, that it was all well documented and contained information I was searching for. There was a small problem, they had divorced some years ago. I was assured that a phone call to the ‘husband’ would be all that was necessary to gain access to this information. I made the phone call only to be told, “Yes I did have all that, but I destroyed it because no-one wanted it”. I was devastated. I still find it hard to understand how someone could destroy something like that.”                 [Don Clark, Honorary Editor].

• A 1989 request in Traceback, a familiar call, still made today, in 2004: “Urgent, appealing to all frustrated writers…..we are requesting you to search and submit articles for publication in our bulletin. This is an invitation to all members and all readers of TRACEBACK”

• “Dear Wendy, The following is intended for discussion at the Annual General Meeting in November 1989. At Peter’s request, I am writing with a few suggested changes which may help make our meetings more stimulating and rewarding for our members.       “Meetings should begin punctually at 8pm. The ‘meeting’ should run no longer than half an hour. To enable us to do this, perhaps the correspondence could be tabled, without being read and anyone interested would be able to look at it when the official part of the meeting has been concluded. Perhaps we could sit in a semi circle around the Chairperson and Secretary’s table, which seems a little more congenial. At the end of general business seems a good time to have a tea/coffee break, and we can resume our meeting in a manner which we choose. This could be reading the correspondence, or one of our several books now in our ‘Library’, or looking at the fiche. For some of us it may be more convivial to help each other in our search for other material or ancestors. I look forward to hearing the suggestions from other members, then perhaps we can combine several of them, which hopefully will enhance our meeting”.           [Christine Clarke, Riddells Creek]

• A gentle push [from Peter]:  “I would like to remind members that the Kyneton cemetery is still in the same place………I hope we will complete [the transcribing of] Kyneton by the end of November”

• Under the ongoing leadership of Peter Free, the 1990 Committee included Theresa Carmody, Wendy Abey, Bill Kirk, Don Clark, Elizabeth Wilson, Marilyn Bray, Angela Evans and John Hennessey [14 years later, Bill, Peter & Elizabeth are still active members]. Bob Gale and Kevin Hammond  joined the Committee at the end of the year.

• The March meeting of 1990 included a discussion on the possibility of the Shire of Bulla gaining ownership of the Old Sunbury Magistrates Court. Preliminary negotiations between Shire representatives and our Chairman, have indicated, should the above occur, we will be offered a section of the building as a permanent home for the Group and its assets………[that eventuated, and the Courthouse became the group’s home for a number of years in the early 90’s]

• June 1990 editorial: “It was interesting to see the G.S.V. election controversy surface on TV in the form of a segment on the A.B.C.’s ‘The Investigators’ a couple of weeks ago  -  not very enlightening other than it highlighted the need for urgent review of the Society’s ‘Articles of Association’. [Don Clark]……..Earlier, in April, all Family History groups received a letter, together with an Information & Discussion Paper from the GSV, regarding the ‘legal standing’ of Country and Special groups, and a request that the matters contained therein, receive the urgent attention of each group.

• In October 1990, we offered ‘Congratulations to our Chairman on being elected to the position of Treasurer of the Genealogical Society of Victoria…..all join in wishing Peter well in this responsible, challenging position.”

• April 1991: “The Sunbury & District Group of the Genealogical Society of Victoria has officially changed its name to the Sunbury Regional Genealogical Society Inc., and as such, is now an independent association. A new set of Rules have been drawn up, and presented for comment to the Associations Incorporations Commission. The Sunbury Regional Genealogical Society chose not to have to comply with the ruling of a member of the Society being required to be a member of the Genealogical Society of Victoria. This means that membership of our Society is open to anybody who wishes to join.”

• Seminar, Saturday 19th October 1991 at the George Evans Museum, Macedon Street, Sunbury, 9.30 am to 3.45 pm, including lunch, cost $15. Four speakers are: Marjorie Heggen [currently Librarian at the I.A.G.S.]; Bruce Tweedley [computer expert from GUM]; Joy Munns [local author]; and, Justin Shortal [to speak on collecting, dating & preserving early photographs].

• At the AGM of 21st November 1991, there were 29 members of the Group as of that night. The President’s Report [Peter Free] referred to the ongoing preparation for Incorporation of the Society & the drafting of the Constitution, being undertaken by Bill & Peter; the need to prepare early for the following year’s Sunbury Fair; and reported on the recent Seminar, numbers were down, but it was a success. Tapes were available of the Seminar talks. Office bearers elected for 1992 were: President [Peter Free], Vice President [Elizabeth Wilson], Secretary [Sue Sutton], Treasurer [Bill Kirk], Assist Secretary [Wendy Abey], Librarians [Marilyn Bray & Kevin Hammond], Bulletin Editor [Bill Kirk] and Photographer [John Hennessy].  The guest speaker of the night was Maurice Bourke who spoke on the Gisborne & District Oral History Society.
• 1990/91 Society members: Elizabeth & Bill Wilson, Bob Gale, Marg Davies, Don & Chris Clarke, John Hennessy, Phyllis Ripp, Wendy Abey, Marilyn Bray, Peter Free, Theresa Carmody, Rob Lakin, JL Smith, Betty Doolan, Janet Cain, Maureen Barnard, Sue Sutton, Ian Northcott, Mavis Earl, Kevin Hammond, Jan Quarrell, Bill Kirk, Veronica Burgess.[24 members].

• Friday 6th December, 1991, the Society’s Christmas breakup took the form of a barbecue at the home of Ian Northcott, on the Calder Highway, just past the ‘Drowsy Drivers Die’ sign, opposite the Black Forest Motel – we were joined by the local wildlife, plenty of mosquitoes, and a sneak preview of Ian’s restored cars’ collection [14 years’ worth of memory has faded, perhaps there was something else in his shed?]. Nevertheless, it was a memorable social evening enjoyed by a large group of members & their families.

• From a great collection of old Tracebacks, which the writer has retained since the Group’s early years, it is in retrospect, disappointing to discover that many bulletins have not been dated [not even the year] and  unless there is some oblique reference to a date within an article, etc, the year concerned is often a matter of guesswork based on the Committee names which are usually listed. Don Clark usually dated his editorials, when he was editor.

• Some of our official group Photographers in the early years were Graham Fary, Don Clark and John Hennessy..

• Tracebacks during the 1980’s and early 90’s often listed the Group’s By-Laws, included a map of Sunbury & District which illustrated the various towns  etc in the area which were affiliated within the Group’s confines, and also provided a regular listing of all members, their names and addresses. We imagine that the latter aspect is probably no longer permissible!

• At one point in time, the Group had it’s own notepaper, by which means members received advice of the AGM, other special occasions or the “Christmas Dinner at Harry’s Farmyard at 7.30 pm Thursday 7th December. Ring Marilyn by 27 Nov…”

• March Editorial 1992: “The Society have just participated in yet another Sunbury Fair, and again it has proved to be a good fund-raiser for our membership [even though only a small percentage of our members assisted with the actual running of the stall]. Of particular note was the usual tireless effort put into the day by Elizabeth Wilson and her ‘wheelbarrow raffle push’ – hours spent walking around the Village Green at Sunbury, with bell ringing and legs tiring [Easter eggs melting], as she tried to persuade the Sunbury folk to consider our cause, along with so many other worthy causes in evidence on the day. Well done, and many thanks to Elizabeth. Also our appreciation to Norm Bray for the use of the ‘family’ tent, yet again…..” [Bill Kirk]. 

• At the AGM in 1992, Elizabeth Wilson became the Group’s President, after serving for a time as Vice President. The 1992 Committee had seen Peter Free as President for the last time. Our bank balance at that time was $953.55.

• The cost of the Group’s stall, at the Sunbury Fair on the 13th March, 1993 was $15.00.

• From June 1993, the Courthouse became our venue for Ordinary meetings. The cost [payable to the Shire of Bulla] was $10 per meeting night. ………Meanwhile, on the 19th June, the Group held a Family History Seminar, in the Council Chambers on Macedon  Street [was that the occasion when Elizabeth & Bill Wilson ‘lost’ a pot of soup in the back of their car??]. Speakers included Jack Miller [personal aspects of genealogy]; Graeme Reynolds [land records], Angela Evans [cemeteries], and Mary Henry [British records].

• By October of 1993, the Group ‘paid’ memberships had dropped to just 10 members, compared with a yearly average of  20 –25  members towards the end of the 80’s.In fact over the period 1986 – 1990, paid  membership numbers were in each of  those years, 24,22,24,31, and in 1990/91, 24.   The 1986 AGM saw 24 persons present. Numbers who attended  normal  meetings varied considerably, going in cycles which often related to the time of year. Mid –winter meetings in Sunbury were generally the worst attended, though not always. As an example, attendances from mid –1986 over 2 years were 1986 -  July, 9; August, 11; September,6; October, 8; November, 24; - 1987 – February, 9; March, 11; April, 9; May, 6; June, 5; July, 7; August, 11; September,11; October, 18; November, 13; - 1988 – February, 12; March, 11; April, 12; May, 9; June, 8; July, 13; August, 8; September, 9; October, 14, and so on……..

• The 1993 Society program included an ‘Irish Christmas’ night at the end of July [dinner on a Saturday night at R & D’s Restaurant in Sunbury]. In those years, the ‘Executive’ would often get together at the start of a year, and draw up a draft program of activities for the meeting nights, and present this for consideration by members, either through Traceback, or at the February meeting. A regular feature were presentations by guest speakers three or four times a year. This was also the first year since  the Group [and later, Society] was formed at the end of 1984, that Peter Free was not our Chairman. Peter felt the need for a well-deserved break, and the opportunity to devote his time to other projects.

• Elizabeth Wilson, as the  Society’s new leader, wrote in her first report to Traceback as follows. “With the commencement of 1993, our Society begins the next stage of its life. Our ‘childhood’ was a very fortunate one indeed, for we were conceived under the splendid ‘parentage’ of Peter Free, and those who were lucky enough to take his course of lessons on Genealogy  at the Sunbury Leisure Centre, back in 1984 were equally fortunate. In his customary way, Peter so generously imparted his knowledge and enthusiasm to his students, that their addiction to Family History snowballed, and their enjoyment of it was so obviously shared, our Society was formed. We met initially at the Leisure Centre, and though the venue for meetings has changed [many times] we have been so fortunate to have Peter continue in the Chair with his bountiful knowledge and genuine interest and helpfulness to all Members, and anyone seeking some assistance with genealogy.”

• Sue Sutton was the Society’s Secretary for many years during the 1990’s. Speaking of disappointment at the small numbers who sometimes attend meetings and activities, Elizabeth at the AGM in November 1993 commented that “Your valiant Hon. Sec. Sue Sutton has coped with extraordinary difficulties trying to arrange functions not knowing whether Members or the guest speakers were going to attend. I have to make the point again now that the Committee can only do what the members are willing to support……..Frequently Sue has answered my harassed voice with a ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do it!’”

• By 1998, there were changes in the make-up of the Committee, new ‘faces’ were on the scene, new members while others after many years of support had moved on to other commitments  and projects. The Committee that year saw Sue Sutton as our President, ably supported by Elizabeth Wilson as Vice President; Joy Light as Secretary; Sharon Chapman, Treasurer; the team from the hill, Elizabeth & Bill Wilson as Librarians; Pam Miller the Traceback Editor; and Beryl Ryswyk filling the role of Photographer.

• The Society’s Seminar held in July  1998 was described as a wonderful success, with excellent speakers. These included Eleanor Pugsley [spoke on Immigration and Shipping Records] and Don Meadley [speaking on the vast range of genealogical resources available] for the morning sessions, while after lunch, Janet Reakes gave an exciting and knowledgeable talk on cost saving ideas for genealogists. Lyn Nixon [ a new member in 1998] would later write that “…Janet Reakes has now leapt out of her books that I have been reading, and come to life. Such an amusing speaker with lots of practical hints and ideas in pursuing our ancestors.”. And, as another Member, Lyn Briggs wrote at the time “One important piece of information that I got from Janet Reakes’ talk was when she said ‘That the length of your family history is not as important as the quality of the information in it’. “

• Sue Sutton’s report to Traceback in November that year, she noted the following [the culmination of which is very evident tonight [20th October, 2004]. “Our Society is currently working towards a Federal Grant to erect a memorial for the children of the Industrial School in Sunbury who died and were buried at Sunbury Cemetery. These children’s graves currently have no markers to show they ever existed. The youngest child buried was 3 months old.”

• More new Committee personnel in 1999 with Lea Hess becoming both Vice President and Photographer, Robert Light, Assistant Secretary, Peter Salvair as Treasurer, and Joe Gillespie joining with Sharon Chapman as Librarians.  Meanwhile, the Society’s current President, Brian Blight, and wife Ronda, became Members at around this time. The March edition of Traceback included a reprint, with his permission,  of Peter Free’s  ‘History of Sunbury’ in the town’s early years.

• Changes continued into the new millennium, with our Year 2000 Committee under a new President, Lea Hess, Vice President, Narelle Wilson and Robert Light undertaking the role of Traceback Editor. Janet Reakes returned to Sunbury in October to speak on the subject of Internet Genealogy and Computers. This Seminar was held at the Society’s latest meeting location, the Rainbow Court Lions Club Community Hall

• Much time was spent during the year, with a team of members continuing the transcription of the Sunbury Cemetery Register. This involved the transfer of hand written transcriptions [completed by members in the early years of the Society’s existence] to the computer, following which “Rob Light works his magic and cross references all the entries to the Victorian Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes” And of course, there was always the ongoing need to update the transcribing of  monuments from Sunbury and other cemeteries, as the years pass and new installations occur..

In conclusion, as indicated at the beginning of this document, its aim was to represent  just a ‘potted’ history of the Society’s life, with particular emphasis on the early years. The writer would have liked to have been able to compile a detailed list of all those who have been  members of the Society [either as the Sunbury & District Group of the GSV, or the Sunbury Family History Society]. Time, space and the availability of complete records did not allow that to be achieved [this time], so I do apologise to those former [and current]  members whose names do not appear on this occasion - there was nothing deliberate or planned in that. All members, past,, present & future have helped to make our Group/Society, though often small in numbers & resources, an ongoing vibrant and active group of friends with a shared fascination for the mysteries and thrills of searching our past generations. May there be another 20 years ‘along the road’ for family history in Sunbury.  
However, this ‘potted’ version will be expanded and added to over coming  months, as further material and data comes to light, until a more detailed and full story of the Sunbury Family History Society is available.

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