The recording of an oral history of the RSPCA (WA) by a researcher from The University of Western Australia will do more than provide information about one of the State’s first institutions, according to the Director of UWA’s Centre for Western Australian History, Dr Jean Chetkovich. “Human interaction with animals has always existed and the way in which animals are regarded and treated by a society gives a unique view of that society,” Dr Chetkovich said. Although instituted more than a century ago, there is no written history of the RSPCA. The recording of oral archives, funded by a grant from Lotterywest, is the first step towards this goal. It is being undertaken by UWA history graduate Julia Wallis, who is interviewing past and present staff and volunteers of the organization, including councillors, a CEO, a vet, an inspector and the shops manager, and researching its past. One of the interviewees had 30 years of service. “The organization started in 1892, due to grave concerns about the ill-treatment of horses. As well as acts of ignorant cruelty, people would overload and overwork their horses and not feed them enough. Another area of concern was for the horses that worked on the mines in the Goldfields and the horses and camels used to transport goods along the Coolgardie Road,” Ms Wallis said. “Transport of livestock has always been an issue – whether it was intra-State, inter-State or overseas. Live sheep and cattle export is a major concern for RSPCA Australia today. “The importance of fund-raising cannot be stressed enough, as it has often been the main source of revenue that kept the organization functioning. In the early days, the Animal Ball held at Government House was a highlight of the social calendar, in much the same way that the Million Paws Walk is today,” Ms Wallis said. The interviews are being digitally recorded and will be transcribed, adding to a wealth of information the Centre has already collected from various sectors of the community. Much of this has been published in books such as Ken Spillman’s Hands to the Plough: A History of the Shire of Victoria Plains, 1945 – 2005 and Paul Laffey’s In Braille Light: A History of the Early Years of the Association for the Blind in Western Australia. Bibliographies produced through the Centre include guides to the Kimberleys, the South West and the Goldfields while oral archives have been created for clients such as Westralian Sands and the WA Bar Association. A study of the Aboriginal heritage of the St John of God Hospital complex and a conservation plan for the York Primary School are other examples of the Centre’s work. “All these institutions illuminate different aspects of Western Australian society,” Dr Chetkovich said. “The history of the RSPCA offers a singular view of WA from late colonial times. Its history is also the history of work and of industry, and in recording it we are celebrating the longevity and resilience of an animal welfare organization and honouring all those who have been involved with it.” For more information about the Centre, which is characterized by excellence in research, management and writing, email [email protected] or phone 61 8 6488 2143.
Julia Wallis 0421 477 034
Dr Jean Chetkovich 61 8 6488 2143