A week ago a new group popped up in Facebook Land called Back to Lithgow Reunion. Lithgow is the town I grew up in. It’s on the western side of the Blue Mountains in NSW, about 2 hours’ drive from the part of Sydney I live in now. A coal mining town for many years (although most of the mines have now closed), and an industrial hub featuring at various times steel-making, woollen mills, underwear manufacturers, the Tic Tac factory (they also make Nutella), power generation, railway workshops and the famous Small Arms Factory (makers of the Lee Enfield rifle among many others). I was born there, went to school there (at Cooerwull Public and Lithgow High School), and made lifelong friends there. Lithgow is part of who I am.
But for the past 27 or so years, I’ve lived in Sydney. I went to uni, met my husband there, got married, started work, had kids, bought a house, made new friends and settled in to a community. I still visit Lithgow to see my Dad, but Sydney is now home.
Joining the Back to Lithgow Reunion Group has been a fascinating walk down memory lane. The group was only started last week but it already has nearly 2 000 members, and people are posting old photos, telling stories about life in Lithgow way back when, and asking lots of “Do you remember…?” questions. Someone posted my class photo from 1st class at Cooerwull Public. People were jumping on to add names, some just guesses. I dug out my copy and found all the names written in my Dad’s careful handwriting, so was able to fill in the gaps. Several people I haven’t heard of in more than 30 years popped up in the comment thread.
Reading through all the posts and looking at the photos, I realised that almost everyone wants to talk about the people. Lots of the photos being posted are of places, but the comments always come back to people. “Do you remember the old Pottery?” “Yes, I hung out there all the time. Bob Cunningham was such a top fella!” “Who remembers buying broken biscuits from the corner shop in Laurence St?” “That was Mrs May’s shop. She was the best.” “Whatever happened to ___?” “Who was your favourite teacher?” (That one had about 87 replies last time I looked).
One of the comments that really stood out was, “I wish I had pics of ___”. That made me so sad. Groups like this one are so popular because people feel a sense of connection when they look at photos of places and faces from their past. Photos are so important to us. But just like my class photo, it’s the names – of the places, but especially of the people – that matter the most to us. Without the names and the stories, they’re just pictures without meaning. And eventually, everyone who remembers the names and stories will be gone.
That’s why we do what we do at pixels2Pages. We know that photos are so important, but the names and stories are even more important. Back when photos were taken on film and you had to wait until you’d used a whole roll, and then wait for it to be processed, you had to write on the back, or stick them in a scrapbook if you wanted to record the details. Today we take so many more photos, and we can see them instantly, and our cameras and phones record some details automatically that become part of the photo’s metadata. But if we want to record names and stories we still have to do something with them. We have to get them off the memory card, safely store them, identify the people, and tell the stories. Historian and Artisan give us the tools to do just that, and pixels2Pages helps us enjoy the process!
By making photo books, I’m preserving our photos, and much more importantly our stories for future generations, so they can know that these photos mean something. In the end, I know, it’s all about the people.
And here’s a spread from a current project about our church weekend away. I want to make sure I have photos (with names!) of everyone I care about. Content used: p2P Do What You Love Blueprint, Cottage Arts Just Sayin Page Pak, Cottage Arts Down on the Farm Element Pak Alphaset. Font: Digs My Hart.