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Using the online community to ‘create’ history

Date: 22 June 2010

The Australian Women’s Register has a developed a reputation for being a credible source of information about Australian women and their records. We make no claims to being an authoritative source; given the funding model we work with (ie. lucky if we get some!), we can only provide information about women who the funding bodies prioritise. But those women we feature, we feature well, and in accordance with good historical practice focused on adequate research and proper citation. Quality of product is our aim. But sometimes this comes at the expense of coverage and inclusion of information that others might think is important.

This is why we have sought to develop tools by which we encourage feedback from the on-line community of historians interested in the lives of women. Our new comments and contact forms have provided us with opportunities to augment and correct information in our register.

For instance, the family of Mabel Hedditch, a woman of some note from the Victorian Western Districts, asked if they could add to the ‘stub entry’ we had for her, courtesy of a funded project we completed some years ago to list Australian women with an Imperial Honour. We were delighted to incorporate the information they provided (given that is was fully referenced and sourced!) into our pre-existing entry. The new entry provides details that further our understanding of the enormous amount of public work women were doing in the 1950s and 60s; that period when, myth has it, women didn’t work outside the home!

As well as helping us to ‘broaden the vision’, we hope that communication with on-line communities will help to add layers of complexity to our understanding of women’s historical experiences. Consider the life of Lily Addison, an Australian woman who played tennis at Wimbledon in the early twentith century. She doesn’t have an entry in the AWR and her name isn’t included in the exhibition featuring Australian sportswomen She’s Game, but we have been advised by a tennis historian who uses our register that she should be. But how to find information about her? It’s hard enough getting biographical details about modern day sportswomen, let alone champions of a century ago.

Using online research tools, such as the National Library of Australia’s Trove (which links to the NLA newspaper digitisation project) an intrepid AWR researcher discovered that as well as being a tennis player, Lily was a WW1 nurse. Voila! New research pathways open up, to explain why Lily was playing tennis in London in the 1920s, etc. etc.

We all know that historical research relies to some extent on serendipitous encounters. What we hope is that by creating tools that encourage networking, and that comply with appropriate information architectural standards, we can help create ‘meaningful’ serendipitous encounters that enhance our ability to do historical research.


  1. Kirsty Harris says:

    During her tennis days, Lily was referred to in newspapers as Miss Addison; lady tennis players were either Miss or Mrs – a convention which continues until today!

    As a nurse, she usually would have been called Sister Addison, even though she was a Staff Nurse in the Army.

    Knowing these conventions helps a lot with online searching.

  2. Helen Morgan says:

    Thanks Kirsty – that is a great help, because searching on Lily Addison in Picture Australia returns nothing, but searching on Miss Addison does!

    ‘Miss L. Addison South Australian Ladies Tennis Champion’, photograph, 1914, Mortlock Pictorial Collection, State Library of South Australia.

  3. Nikki Henningham says:

    Which is why it is so important, when dealing with women in the past, that we know ALL of their names…

  4. Graham Thomas says:

    The NLA archive is terrific as it allows some research from home (and automatic searching) and as the number of newspapers is added it will become even more useful.

    Online Births Deaths & Marriages data (particularly the free Qld and NSW services) are also helpful, although I’m sure many researchers have to investigate further in National and State libraries.

    There are many significant Australian women pioneers in sport and so little known about them (eg tennis players Rose Payten, Annie Baker-Ford and Phoebe Howitt-Cater, athletes Holly Mace, Loyal Forward and Bessie Grandemange) that those of us with an interest will be kept busy for many years to come.

    My summary of her (in case you wish to add to your records):

    Lily Addison became known as a tennis player of note in 1904 when she and Doctor Eric Pockley won the Victorian mixed doubles championship.

    In 1906 she won the Victorian singles title, defeating the four-time champion Lorna Gyton. She won this title again from 1908 to 1911 and amazingly one more time in 1921 (aged 36). She also won state singles titles of NSW (1910) and SA (1906, 1908-1910) and represented Victoria in the traditional team matches against NSW and SA.

    After her brother and occasional mixed doubles partner, JJ Addison, was killed in action during World War I, she served as a nurse in Salonika.

    In 1919, she became possibly the first Australian woman to compete at Wimbledon, reaching the second round of singles and the semi-finals of the mixed doubles.

    In the 1920s she became Matron at Geelong Colleg and though her play became less frequent, she was still good enough to be ranked #5 in the Victorian state tennis rankings of January 1925.


    Mar 1906 SA Champs Adelaide Lily Addison d L Payne 6-1 6-2
    Dec 1906 VIC Champs Melbourne Lily Addison d Lorna Gyton 8-6 6-2
    Mar 1908 SA Champs Adelaide Lily Addison d LE Payne 2-3 retired
    Nov 1908 VIC Champs Melbourne Lily Addison d Lorna Gyton 11-9 6-4
    Mar 1909 SA Champs Adelaide Lily Addison d Phillis Stewart 6-3 6-1
    Nov 1909 VIC Champs Melbourne Lily Addison d Lorna Gyton 6-4 6-2
    Mar 1910 SA Champs Adelaide Lily Addison d Phillis Stewart 6-2 6-4
    May 1910 NSW Champs Sydney Lily Addison d Phillis Stewart 6-0 3-6 6-2
    Nov 1910 VIC Champs Melbourne Lily Addison d Phillis Stewart 4-6 7-5 6-0
    Mov 1911 VIC Champs Melbourne Lily Addison d Willmoth 6-3 6-2
    Dec 1921 VIC Champs Melbourne Lily Addison d Sylvia Lance 6-4 6-8 10-8

    NSW 1909 1910 1914 1915
    SA 1909
    VIC 1907 1909

    NSW 1909 1910
    SA 1909
    VIC 1904 1907 1908 1910

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