Author: Natasha Cantwell
Communications & Public Programming Officer
Looking back at The Boîte’s founding, Arnold notes,
"We are a nation of immigrants and indigenous people, and in 1979 we were just beginning to come to grips with that. We were emerging out of the years of the White Australia Policy. I think it's been an extraordinary journey for many people and I'm privileged to be one of them.”
Throughout the organisation’s 43 years of concerts, workshops, community radio and club nights, their goal has always been to create opportunities for culturally diverse music to contribute to a richer, more inclusive Australia. The diversity of artists The Boîte works with is evident in the line-up from their first Melbourne concert in June 1979, which featured Andean folk band Apurima, Greek musicians the Tsourdalakis Brothers and Pietro & Eleni, Indigenous performers Bwung-Gul and a New Guinean dance performance. Skip forward to November 2023, and their most recent show featured contemporary Indian women musicians celebrating heritage and experimentation.
Therese observes that The Boîte’s story speaks to “Melbourne’s history of migration, and in a larger sense, Australian history of migration, through the lens of music.” Arnold agrees, “It’s a wonderful kind of reflection of who we are as an evolving nation.”
It was this relevance to the bigger picture of Australian history that convinced Therese that “this was a significant arts and cultural entity” and they needed to get a professional historian on board. In 2016 Jen began working with The Boîte to digitise the collection, weaving together the different threads into a timeline which would become The History Project website. The Boîte’s archive already provided a rich resource of video, images and music, but for the first-person perspective, Jen recorded interviews with the people who’d worked on stage and behind-the-scenes across the organisation’s 43 years. She explains how important oral history is to the project:
“Initially it was about ensuring that we could capture the voices of some of the founding members who were getting older. But it’s also meant we’re capturing insights that you’d never find in the official record, like people's personal reflections on what it was like to be at concerts, or why they became involved, why they gave their time. Those sorts of things are the human dimensions to a history.”
Being able to share different perspectives was essential to reflect the ethos of The Boîte, and Jen stresses that the journey along the way has been just as important for The Boîte’s communities, as the outcomes. “People really appreciate being asked to share their reflections. Doing a history project in such an inclusive way gives you an opportunity to connect.”
The Boîte History Project website was completed in 2020, winning that year’s Community Diversity Award at the Victorian Community History Awards and helping to raise the profile of Victoria’s multicultural music scene to the wider public. It has even led to some items from The Boîte’s archive being included in the Australian Music Vault’s exhibition. Jen points out the significance of being part of this display, which is traditionally focused around rock and pop:
“We have, for a long time, had a very active multicultural music scene in Melbourne that doesn’t always get the attention that it deserves in our historical remembering of the city. But now we’re starting to reflect more of the diversity of Melbourne's music past.”
Jen encourages more community organisations to apply for a Local History Grant because, “ the kinds of historical materials that sit in community organisations are important for social history, and the history of our state more broadly. Funding provides the little key for unlocking that history.”
Applications are open until midnight Monday 11 December 2023 for projects that preserve, record and share the diverse histories across Victoria. Follow the link for more information: prov.vic.gov.au/community/grants-and-awards/local-history-grants-program.
Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.
PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples