Monday 10 June 2024

Reflections on Historical Research and Storytelling

Deborah Wheeler: from Kyoomba Sanatorium to the Battle of Crete

On Saturday, 8th June, a select audience enjoyed and learnt from a compelling talk by the historian and author, Deborah Wheeler. This talk focused attention on the processes of historical research and storytelling.

Deborah began by sharing her extensive research journey into the history of Kyoomba Sanatorium, located just outside Stanthorpe. This project, which initially seemed a modest endeavour, expanded into an extensive exploration of the servicemen, women, and medical staff associated with the institution. The result of her work is contained in two comprehensive volumes. 

The first soldier Deborah identified as having spent time at the Kyoomba Sanatorium during and after the First World War, was a young man by the name of John [Jack] Edward Moffatt. Working as a surgical dresser, Jack was assigned to the hospital ships to care and transport wounded servicemen. During the period of her research, Deborah was introduced to Jack’s niece, Dawn Lippiatt. They spent quite some time together sharing information about Jack. Dawn very graciously gifted Jack’s original photo album to Deborah as part of her collection of items relating to the Kyoomba Sanatorium.

One of the most poignant parts of her talk was when Deborah recounted her work on her family history, particularly the story of her grandfather, a participant in the historic Kangaroo March from Wagga Wagga to Sydney. This personal connection added a deeply emotional layer to her research. Her father’s approval of the story before his death highlighted the significance of preserving family narratives for future generations.

Deborah's third book, "Silk Clouds and Olive Trees," delves into the Battle of Crete. Her journey began serendipitously when she encountered a young man carrying both an ANZAC commemoration flag and a Greek flag, leading to numerous meaningful connections. Her research for this book spanned multiple archives, libraries, and online resources, emphasizing the global nature of historical inquiry.

One particularly memorable character Deborah mentioned was Alf Carpenter. At 100 years old, Alf shared vivid stories of his time spent in the Middle East, Greece and Crete. His firsthand accounts, provided a unique and personal perspective on historical events. Alf's full biography can be explored further here.

Alf Carpenter


Deborah also shared valuable insights into the publishing process, particularly for those documenting family histories. She stressed the importance of distributing three free copies of any published work: one to the National Library via edeposit or hard copy, one to the State Library where the book was published, and one to the Parliamentary Library. This ensures the preservation and accessibility of these works for future generations.

The Aftermath

After the Zoom session concluded, social chatter indicated that attendees had not only enjoyed but also learned a great deal from Deborah's talk. Her experiences and advice inspire one to delve deeper into our own family histories and contribute to the broader tapestry of historical knowledge.

For more about Deborah Wheeler’s works, visit her website Two of Deb's books will shortly be available for borrowing at the Heritage Library.

Here is a link to a variety of Australian military history sources for service personnel. Members of the group can also access this link on the Heritage site Quick Links.

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