History as Absence

23 May

Absence of proof is not proof of absence.
William Cowper

When I first started this blog, as a response to starting my Librarian studies, my mind traveled to the library moments that were defining to my love of all things library. In my first post Hatching, I discussed a childhood experience of volunteering at a local sub-branch of Marrickville library called “The Warren”. I used to spend many afternoons there, after school, as both my parents worked late and I had no-one to answer to. My choice as a child was to go to the library until it closed. After writing that initial post, spurred by an early memory, I decided to investigate further and find out what ever happened to this sub-branch of Marrickville library. Who to ask was easy “Ask a Librarian”. I looked up Marrickville Library and on their website I came across a History Services link. After trawling through the history archives online, I realised my search was futile as there appeared to be no mention of the sub-branch called “The Warren” anywhere. I tried their search with “Warren”, “sub-branch” and other configurations but proved unsuccessful. Was this a figment of my imagination? I am sure this is not a made-up memory. Is this how I imagined my ideal childhood, spent at the library amongst books, every afternoon and sometimes on Saturday mornings? I needed to further my investigations so I sent an email to Marrickville Library, explaining I was trying to locate some historical information, based on a childhood memory, of a sub-branch that I frequented? Could they help me with information, photos, details of the branch etc…. Below is the response I received.

“Thank you for your enquiry regarding ‘The Warren Library’. Surprisingly, there is very little information on this branch and its history.

The Warren Library was indeed a small children’s library and was open each afternoon for several hours. In one of our books published by our previous historian, there is a small mention of the dates that the branch was open, from September 25, 1965 and was then subsequently closed in 1985 (no exact date given). It also mentioned a couple other smaller branches closed in the same year, but there is no mention as to why.

Unfortunately, there was no other information available in any of our local history files or local history collection.

Thank you again for your enquiry, alas that we could not find more information for you.

Kind regards,

Jo Stacey Acting Local Studies Officer | Marrickville Library & History Services

Marrickville Council I PO Box 79 Marrickville NSW 1475 I

P 02 9335 2167 | F 02 9596 2829 | E

Now, in considering this information, my topic broadens and I start musing on concepts of ‘Absence’ and the connection to storying in Hi”story”. Why was this information on this branch deemed not important enough to be archived? How are such decisions made? What is the criteria in place and what values are in operation in making decisions to enable ‘absence’ at a later point in time? In essence, how do we decide what is important historically and what perspectives end up getting lost, made absent and hence inaccessible. How is value determined of historical existence and what is missing from our narratives as time travels?

Many other ideas are inter-related of course. For instance, Ruby Langford Ginibi, argued strongly years ago about her book “Don’t take you love to town” needing to be included as an historical text in the History curriculum of NSW.  Being an autobiography, it is reasoned that it is a primary source of her account as dispossession and displacement in the history  of Australia and our post-colonial past. It has not been accepted as an historical text, and the question applies here too, why not? Why is it not perceived or valued as a primary source? An account exploring these ideas is captured by Carole Ferrier.

As another extension of the idea, a few years back I read “The Orchard” by Drusilla Modjeska and within this book I came across a passage beautifully written that linked erasure of female identity to erasure of female name. The premise is, if naming throughout time, in the western tradition, is based on the women receiving the fathers surname on birth, then the maternal link to heritage is broken. Furthermore, if a woman then takes the husbands surname upon marriage, then there is a further break with history of women. Hence, ‘absence’ of women through “his”tory.

‘Absence’ is a powerful concept when we consider how our storying of existence takes shape.

I love Marrickville

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5 responses to “History as Absence

  1. shallowreader

    August 3, 2011 at 9:02 am

    As a child, I too spent nearly every afternoon at The Warren Library throughout the 70s and 80s. I remember the closing party that the library held. I have many fond memories, and like yourself, earlier this year did a few basic searches for more information on the library and came up with very little.

    However, for more information you should contact Kate Campion who was the Children’s Librarian at the Warren for many years (and later at Marrickville Library). Kate is still working as a children’s librarian at Hurstville Library and is always happy to hear from ex-Warren kids. I, too am a librarian and merit my wonderful afternoons at the Warren, and Kate, with instilling in me the passion to work in public libraries.

    • Puss in Books

      August 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      Wow, how amazing that somehow you found this post and a shared background. Clearly, this branch of Marrickville library ‘The Warren’ was inspirational for more than myself. Thank you for posting your response and validating this childhood memory. I am planning on contacting Kate and finding out more as a result. For such a small branch, it is terrific how it could inspire myself and yourself; I can only wonder how many more. Hence, this inspiration has lead to the choice to become librarians. I love such stories!

      • shallowreader

        August 3, 2011 at 1:16 pm

        I phoned Kate as soon as I saw your post. I listed her name with her permission and she said that she will hop online and have a look. I went from being a volunteer for Kate (like yourself – checking in books) to working at Marrickville Library twice. Once while at university as a children’s library assistant and then 10 years later as their reference librarian. I know for a fact that there are 2 staff members still there who were Warren Library kids. I agree with you – who knows how many more felt the magic of The Warren and Kate.

  2. Kate Campion

    August 4, 2011 at 7:14 am

    The Warren Library was a small kid’s library above the Baby Health Centre in Illawarra Road. Only open in the afternoons, it was the hang-out for primary and infant kids of the area. During busy school holidays, the lack of space meant that the preschoolers played under the table. The library was a little world all of it’s own. At that stage it didn’t even have a phone (let alone a computer!), so I would use the Baby Health Centre phone to ring up for the parents when they had problems with their gas and electricity bills or other problems with authority. (Not something one finds in the job description of a children’s librarian usually). I was the librarian for 10 years and whatever impression it left on the kids, it had a huge impact on me as a young librarian. After all those years of being “Miss Kate”, I still automatically answer to a call of “Miss”!
    I still meet many people who remember the Warren with great fondness. Even at Hurstville, I run into ex-Warren kids bringing their own children to the library. I know of several who became Librarians aside from the ones that went on to work at Marrickville.
    Feel free to contact me if you’d like more information.

    “Miss Kate”

    • Puss in Books

      August 4, 2011 at 8:01 am

      Hello ‘Miss Kate’, I am absolutely chuffed that the information highway managed to connect these dots through serendipity. Thank you for filling in some gaps to the information I have been seeking and I am definitely going to contact you to find out more from your perspective. The ‘Warren Library’ is one of my fondest childhood memories and the beginning of where my love for libraries, reading and books began. Your experience there would be a fascinating one and I am not sure anything like it could be replicated today.
      Now I realise I am going to have to write another blogpost about the way connections happen in global spaces linking up the past to the present time! In a small way my/our beloved ‘Warren Library’ still lives albeit in digital spheres.


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