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‘History is more than just dates’

Collecting information about historical events is like a treasure hunt for this year’s Inner West Council (IWC) Citizen of the Year.

Chrys Meader, a historian, has worked on the histories of Enmore Theatre, Henson Park and Vicars Woollen Mill in Marrickville.

“It’s like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you don’t find gold, but many times you do,” she said.

Ms Meader was very surprised when she was nominated for citizen of the year and even more surprised when she won.

“I was almost reduced to tears. Yes, I was speechless actually, and usually I’m not lost for words,” she said.

“I’ve been working on the history in the area for decades and I really enjoy talking to people about the history of the area.”

Ms Meader believes it’s important to preserve history because it honours our ancestors.

“Sometimes we think ‘oh well, that’s the past, we can forget about it’ but I think it’s necessary to understand the past,” she said.

Enmore Theatre was one of her great passion projects.

“It’s been passed down from family to family to family and always with that community feeling for it, and that’s really what attracted me to Enmore,” Ms Meader said.

She believes it’s one of the great icons of Sydney, not just the Inner West.

“It’s adapted to its community, it never lost sight of the fact that there was a community surrounding it,” Ms Meader said.

“It wasn’t just a building where they showed vaudeville or a building where they showed movies and other events, it really engaged with its community.”

Ms Meader’s love of history came from her father, who worked as a groundsman at Henson Park in Marrickville.

“He really loved history and he knew so much and I could always check with him,” she said.

“Even now, although he’s been dead for 20 years, I’d be thinking, ‘Oh dad would be interested in that’ and pick up the phone but no.”

History is about more than just dates, Ms Meader said.

“As a historian, dates are important, but I think what leads up to something is more important,” she said.

“You can say WWI veteran, 1914 to 1919 … [but] when you start looking at the individual stories of these people who went, it actually gives you a feeling more so than the dates and why they went to war and what happened to them.”

One of the highlights of her career happened during a Girl Guides event. Ms Meader used to give out their history badges, along with a talk about local history.

“One year I was as sick as anything. I had the flu and I was having to give a talk … and I was thinking ‘How am I going to get through this?’” she said.

“And this 11-year-old piped up and said, ‘I’ve been listening to you for years, I could help you out’ and she got the dates a little bit wrong but all of it was pretty good and she made the night.”

Ms Meader also enjoys being a contemporary historian.

“During Covid, I kept my own little diary about it all and took photos of children’s playgrounds, shops that had signs up, shops that were able to do the takeaways,” she said.

To help future historians, Ms Meader believes that historical records should be backed up and printed out.

“What worries me is what if the technology changes again?

“You need the machines to read these things and you need the humans to write them down,” she said.

People should also keep a record of their life stories, Ms Meader said.

“We need to, I think, tell everyone they’ve all got to document their own history – the history of their streets, the history of their house and the history of their park,” she said.

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