That moment in the State Records Office when you read something that proves something.
I was in State Records a little while ago, way out north at Gepps Cross*, a flask of tea and a sandwich sort of journey from where I live. And goodness, but it is a fabulous place. There are people working there that get as excited as I do about finding specks of useful knowledge in old bits of paper. And researchers that overhear your conversations and then turn up with books that they think you might be interested in.
I was there to keep working my way through the court papers for an 1892 case in the Supreme Court of South Australia. This case went on for a decade, and was pivotal for the Irish of Baker’s Flat around their rights, or not, to occupy that land. The papers so far have been useful in determining the names of some of the Irish who lived there, how much land they worked, and what sort of house they had.
But the eureka moment was when I was working my way through the 34th packet, then the 36th, 38th and 40th – deep in the case papers. And there they were. Affidavits from an unfortunate Kapunda solicitor who had to try to negotiate with six Baker’s Flat residents to purchase their land from the legal owners ‘on reasonable terms’. He wasn’t received well. Ann Bolton told him that if he returned, she would throw scalding water over him. John Quigley just refused to listen to him at all. Austin Quin said that if anyone came to turn him out, they would be put into the big water hole in the River Light.
But the really interesting bit was that these individuals were acting together. From the court papers, it can be seen that they have received legal advice, and are acting in solidarity to give the same message to the powers that be – clear off, we were here first, and we’re not leaving. Using the system to fight the dominant power.
* State Records is moving its public access service into the city in August, and will be open for business in the State Library on North Terrace from 4 August.