On Saturday 14 January,2012 former President of COSHA, Trudy Holdsworth, spoke to members about the development of the Dictionary of Sydney which is providing a definitive picture of the history of Sydney through the use of computer technology and Internet access. The unique design of this facility allows it to be continually updated and new information added for all to use.
What is The Dictionary?
Originally Shirley Fitzgerald, the then City of Sydney Historian was approached by a publisher with the idea of producing an Encyclopedia of Sydney, all of the metropolitan area, not just the City of Sydney - a book. Such a project, it was thought, would have taken at least five years to achieve, would have involved a great many people and seemed a dauntingly large and complex proposition at the time. So a round table of representatives from a range of academic and cultural institutions was organised. And everyone said that what we should do was not a book, but an on-line, electronic reference on Sydney. The historians and others just thought that this would mean a website. But certain others believed that actually, what was needed would be that - and more – a flexible information repository and, as was said in some of the promotional material at the time, ‘as yet un-thought of possibilities’. Think of the i-phone, one of latest gadgets that allows you to surf the Internet. Imagine this: You are walking around and are curious about a building or statue or the like. You point the i-phone at whatever it is and, not only a description and history will be available, but maps and drawings too. Imagine that when you looked up something in the Dictionary it would not just give you information, but as well the information, it would be GPS coded so that you also got a map or a whole series of layers of maps… and images, and documents and audio. This is the idea.
The Dictionary will be used as a resource not only by people sitting in front of their screens, but also for people out there walking around Sydney. Of course, as new knowledge is developed, entries can be updated and old ones archived. Where there is no agreement, debates can be posted on-line. And so on. The limits to the paper book in telling the ever changing story of a city are obvious in comparison and very expensive. When do we think it will be finished? Never!
In front of us there are ongoing years of research, both historical and technical, miles of writing, untold hours of editing, gathering audio or visual files etc. The once daunting, but nevertheless neatly definable parameters of a finite number of word specific entries for a fat print publication have been jettisoned in favour of something far more exciting. But is it as long as a piece of string? The Dictionary of Sydney project is supported by many organisations that hold images and information, such as all the libraries, museums, and archives. We have also been given images and information by individuals who have allowed us to publish that information. Then there are also private collections held by commercial organisation, such as photographers. In fact wherever we can get information we do and the required permissions are obtained with regard to copyright. The enthusiasm for the idea is widespread, and snowballing. So many people have readily agreed that this is a project whose time has come.
There have been hundreds of articles, written by many writers. What is all this writing about? There are serious Thematic Essays: Built Environment, Culture and Customs, Economy, Sydney’s People, Health & Welfare, Law & Order, Natural Environment, Politics & Government, Transport, Indigenous, Science & Technology. Then there are dozens of entries below these levels. Under Politics & Government; crime, police, prisons, courts, the legal profession, corruption, civil disturbances. Also there are endless ‘things’….People, real or fictional, (Cliff Hardy, Felix the Cat) organisations, social groups, buildings, places (suburbs to beaches, parks, farms) structures (bridges, wharves, roads) events (disasters or specific crimes) protests, (the Easter Show, The Rum Rebellion), natural objects (rivers, animals, Sydney Rock Oysters), artefacts (fountains, artworks, newspapers, diaries, myths, jokes about Sydney etc. etc.)
If it happened in Sydney it belongs in the Dictionary. There is no end to it.