A story or two to tell
Wednesday, 9th August, 2017
Broken Hill has yet another honoured citizen who makes their home here, with local historian Jenny Camilleri the latest to be awarded the Order of Australia Medal for her service to community history.
The award was announced in the Australia Day honours list this year, and she’ll receive her medal in a ceremony at government house next month.
Jenny has spent more than 30 years documenting the history of Broken Hill and its people, a journey she started when exploring her own family history.
She was born in 1949 and grew up a Southie in Wilson Street.
Leaving school at 14, she ended up at a number of jobs, including a sandwich bar, waitressing, and at the Alma School Tuckshop.
She said she loved working at the tuckshop preparing lunches for the children every day, and it was while working there that she met her husband George.
“He was working on the railways up at Ivanhoe and only came into Broken Hill every 14 days with that job which was hard, I really missed him,” Jenny said.
“We got married in 1969 and he got a job on the mine and came to Broken Hill to live which was really, really good, and then a year later on my twenty-first birthday we had our first daughter, Debbie,” she said.
Five years later and Jenny was back working again, this time at the Crystal Dining Room where the Chinese Takeout now is.
After several years of working, and then running that business, she felt it was time for a change and started out in catering.
“I used to cater for different film crews, I was on the set of 11 different crews overall,” Jenny said.
“I did one for the ABC with Bill Peach, they were filming a documentary about the explorers and we went to different places around Broken Hill and I supplied the food and that was a real experience,” she said.
“Another really great job I did was with an American company who filmed a beer ad for Keelers Shandy, I don’t drink beer but it was quite nice.”
In 1984, Jenny began to volunteer at the Charles Rasp Library, where she was first introduced to the Broken Hill Family History Group.
The death of her father, a miner who fought in WWII, around the same time prompted her to research her own family history, and eventually led her to explore the history of Broken Hill and its citizens.
It was at this time Jenny was diagnosed with breast cancer, along with her sister, who sadly lost her battle against the disease.
“I’d started writing a book on my family before I became ill and I thought I’d better get that put together otherwise all my hard work will go to waste, but I got better and had the book published and went on to write another three publications,” Jenny said.
“I’ve written on different people in Broken Hill, one on the women of Broken Hill, and the early history of the mines,” she said.
“Then after a few years with the Family History Group, in 1987 I joined the Broken Hill Historical Society as well.”
Jenny was also instrumental in bringing a mobile mammogram unit to Broken Hill after her breast cancer scare, which was eventually no longer needed as the hospital began its own mammogram program.
She was a member of the local Anti-Cancer Council as well, a group of ladies who met and raised money for cancer research.
In 1987, Jenny joined the Broken Hill Historical Society, and in 2004 was made the group’s secretary.
“People get confused, they ask if I’m with Family History or the Historical Society, and I say both,” Jenny said.
“At the Family History Group we have school records and photos, as well as wedding photos, and we try to put names to each person,” she said.
“For some reason we don’t have a lot of photos from the 1970s for local school children, I think because the people who were around then have moved away.”
Since 2004, Jenny has also been compiling stories for the ABC for a weekly history segment, which she said she enjoys.
Aside from the pleasure she gets from discovering forgotten stories and information about the characters and history of Broken Hill, she said she was also incredibly excited to receive an Order of Australia Medal for her work.
“I’m looking forward to it, I’ve never been to government house of parliament, so it’s going to be good,” Jenny said.
“I’ll keep doing it as long as my body holds out, I enjoy what I do and I’ve learnt such a lot through it all.”
Right now she’s writing an autobiography based on the journals she has kept over the years, although she’s not sure whether to publish it or keep it as a family book.
“I started a diary in 1988 and I’ve kept it up ever since,” Jenny said.
“I thought I don’t want to keep all those diaries but if I type it all up and print it off into a book for the family, they’ve got it,” she said.
“It’s going to take me a long time, I’m up to 66 pages from three years of diaries and I’ve got a long way to go.
“It’s surprising what you forget about things that happened, but by having it in writing it brings your memory straight back.”