September 2010 it is time to introduce myself, the I in this research blog began posting for the Montsalvat Writer’s residency in July 2010, the I is me, Barbara Long. I have had a passion for my ancestor’s life stories ever since my paternal grandmother told me about an albatross on Lundy Island, England. It was always my grandmother’s life I would write when ‘I grew up’. My grandmother though, took with her to other worlds the stories of: wild seas, living in a neglected old English boarding school, an Irish side, a Belgium convent, falling in love with a war artist and a journey to Australia as a war bride – not to the artist, for he was of the wrong faith and permission was denied. On my maternal side my grandmother Mera took my mother for outings into the Eucalypts of Warrandyte, where on the high side of the road, Uncle Godfrey lived. Grandmother Mera left us her gift from Godfrey his WWI Middle East training photo album. Into this album I spent spent hours as a child, looking at an exotic and mysterious landscape not thinking once of war. Thinking though, always of life stories…
This blog has become a place to reflect on an odyssey to the time-land of my ancestor Godfrey Miller, my Grandmother Mera’s brother.
The Miller’s Unity blog series seeks to trace the research process toward the writing of a biography on Godfrey Miller, New Zealand born artist, 1893-1964. It is a blog to keep me accountable, to document the process, to introduce others to Godfrey Miller and hopefully to bring contacts to me who can fill in the gaps or answer the research questions I am collating.
The process formally started in June 2007. It began with a blitz of all available resources: published works, academic works, state, local and university catalogue searches, letters to relatives, internet searches from the name to more unique identifiers discovered in manuscript materials. However the most exciting resource discoveries have come from conversations with people somehow associated with Miller or researching in the Arts: Curators, teachers, Gallery staff, fine arts specialists, librarians, other writers, other artists and hopefully one day students of Miller’s from, what is now known as, the National Art School contained within the walls of the Darlinghurst Gaol site, East Sydney (formerly East Sydney Technical College).
Literature searches should never stop and should be redone at various intervals throughout a project. Libraries and galleries do get new acquisitions and also enhance the catalogues systems which seems to make things appear. Contact searches should also be seen to be evolving and the most unlikeliest connections may bring new people into your sphere for interviews. As mentioned in the post, The Lake, it was actually at a literary book launch that Peter Pinson’s Gallery was mentioned which flowed through to both contact with Peter himself and other friends of Godfrey from the Sydney years. Likewise after an interview with Nick Waterlow I was directed by him down the road to the Darlinghurst Gaol site. At that point I only knew Miller taught at East Sydney Technical College and had no idea it was positioned within the walls of the gaol. Inside those walls I discovered a book referencing Miller, ‘Hope in Hell’ (Deborah Beck), had been published on the history of the gaol and National Arts School. On a subsequent visit to Sydney Deborah was incredibly generous sharing all her research materials with me. Unexpected connections are a magical force behind any research project.
Once my initial literature searches were complete I needed to prioritise what could be achieved logistically. Initially access to Sydney was not feasible so the main Miller texts were read, the State Library of Victoria manuscripts discovered and every relevant gallery catalogue I could get my hands on entered my study. Letters and emails were sent to relatives and Archives New Zealand was contacted to support both military service and birth/deaths documentation. Government archives are a good basic facts data source and searches are provided at minimal cost.