Congratulation to Janette (Jan) Conway on being awarded the 2024 Di Yerbury Residency.

Jan writes:

The concept for my proposed book, The Photo Album, germinated in response to a granddaughter’s questions about her ancestry. I, too, had often wondered who were these people that stared at us from within the vibrantly coloured pages of the old photo album.

Sepia images come into view as I turn the pages of the 180-year-old photo album I inherited from my father – images of my ancestors. The album has character too, leather bound, each silver-edged page illustrated with birds and flora of Australia, the Pacific and South America. With convict 5 x great grandparents arriving in 1791 and 1792 respectively, my family history spans almost the entire Australian colonial era to the present day.

The Photo Album will explore and bring to life these forebears with narrative biographies of each individual or family as they arrive on Australian shores. 

Those individuals who make up the family tree represented in the old album were a diverse bunch. From convicted thieves, pickpockets and highwaymen to surgeons, military men and farmers … but where were the women?

To fully populate my family’s story, I will seek out the women hidden in the shadows of their men – in humble cottages to grand manors, in villages, towns and cities, in churches – across England, Wales, Ireland and in the remote corners of Australia.

To truly know these forebears in Australia, I must understand them in the past. The story will take each one back to their roots in the United Kingdom. What was happening in their lives that they were forced or decided to independently emigrate to a land that hadn’t yet been officially named? Was the struggle to shelter and feed a family overwhelming? Perhaps a career change was demanded by superiors. It’s possible the politics of the day forced some to consider their options. Who did they leave behind?

Once in the colonies, it is not always the miscreants that cause problems for the establishment. With the arrival of Dr Edward Luttrell in 1804 as Assistant Colonial Surgeon, disputes with consecutive governors erupt over his medical practice. As the choicest land is granted to family along the Hawkesbury River, Aboriginal communities and ceremonial lifeways and practices are usurped. Skirmishes and fatalities occur on both sides.

In the 1830s will the Pedder, Corrigan and Storey families in Van Diemen’s Land act and behave any differently?

How does this disparate group of characters meld to be the family I know today? What will be the ultimate legacy of this ancestry to Australia?

In 2018, before attending a memoir workshop in Paris with Patti Miller, I was fortunate to spend time in the UK, visiting the Hertfordshire Archives and the National Archives, Kew. While there is much to be discovered online today, there is nothing more visceral than seeing, handling and smelling documents that tell an ancestor’s story of over 200 years ago. To walk in villages, enter homes and churches soaking up the smells, sounds and atmosphere was invaluable as I researched and began drafting The Photo Album.