By Beverley GilbertIn 2001, Melbourne writer Beverley Gilbert sat in on a workshop on biographical writing and was asked to write about the most interesting person in her family. The person she chose was her father, Harold, a man who had died just six months earlier; a man who had deliberately kept the details of his past hidden away.
Over the next few years, Beverley went on a mission to reconstruct Harold’s early life, and to uncover just why he had been so intentionally evasive about his background. He’d grown up in a rural working class area, and had transformed himself into a respectable and prominent middle class man. He kept little of his early life other than his birth certificate, a watch inscribed to him from his mother on his 21st birthday, and a well worn stockwhip, the only tangible reminder of his childhood.
This is an engaging story that appeals on several levels. Not only the details of how the author sets about putting the pieces of Harold’s life together, but in the description of Melbourne in the early 20th century with it’s entrenched class structure, division between catholic and protestant, excitement over Phar Lap’s racing career and the effect of the war on Harold and his family.
Well worth a read next time you’re up in the Research Centre.
We have numerous such donated and purchased published family histories on our shelves in the Research Centre.