Oral history at Oodnadatta Museum

Oral history is a wonderful way of bringing life to museum displays – making the history more accessible and meaningful.

The former Oodnadatta railway station building houses the Oodnadatta Museum.

Oodnadatta is a small town in South Australia, 1 034 km north of Adelaide.  It has a fascinating history that is told in the Oodnadatta Museum, housed in the former railway station.  Many of the themes are enlivened by quotes from oral history interviews.

The town is surrounded by large cattle stations where many of the locals work.  When I interviewed Douglas Walker in 2004, he talked about his time working at the famed Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station in the world at around 24 000 square kilometres.  But there is a lot more to Anna Creek than its size.  Douglas’ interview paints a much more human picture.  We used an excerpt from the interview on one of the interpretive panels in the museum.

Quote from an oral history interview with Douglas Walker.

A quote from an interview with Douglas Walker appears on one of the interpretive panels in the museum.

Whilst Douglas had a good experience working at Anna Creek Station, such treatment was not universal.  He talked about how Aboriginal people were treated elsewhere in the 1960s and 1970s:

At that time it was you only worked for about ten, twenty dollars a week, not even that. Aboriginal people were still living in, back there, side of the creek or in some sort of shanties and that sort of thing, whereas the white stockmen, they were getting rooms and had kitchen and water and showering facilities and all that sort of stuff… They gave you food, they gave you rations – meat, tobacco. Yeah, you worked long hours and I wouldn’t say we were treated equal; I think we were treated differently to other white ringers. That is until I went to Anna Creek Station and, strangely enough, Anna Creek was still another Kidman company but it was run by old Dick Nunn…

So [at] Anna Creek, you shared the same single men’s quarter with the white stockmen and you shared the same cook and the same kitchen and the same food and the same table at the station. And when you go to the bush camp you had only one cook and one table, and same food. So Dick, he was pretty good. And if you went for two or three months, you come to William Creek and you’d do trucking there, he’d make sure that after everything’s finished, if you went towards the vicinity of the pub somewhere, he’d make sure there was about two or three cartons of beer there for you. And he paid pretty good, compared to [other] places.

Visiting Oodnadatta and the Museum

If you are travelling in the north of South Australia, why not visit the Oodnadatta Museum?  The museum provides an absorbing insight into the land, and the people who have lived there. The key is available from the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta.

Quotes from oral history interview with Douglas Walker, courtesy of the State Library of South Australia (OH 771/2).

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