Buxton – its past present, people and places – how it evolved

By Julia Foletta

It was a good idea. Buxton’s history needed to be told. This small Victorian town was changing, residents were ageing, and their memories of Buxton’s rich past were needed before being buried forever in the grave.

Our rural landscape was changing too. The dairies and timber mills had become memories. A changing economy and labour force, different family dynamics, plus land rezonings enabling dissection of some of the bigger farms. Houses, no longer humble, now scatter across what was virtually an uninterrupted landscape.

Buxton had been severely impacted by the 2009 Black Saturday fires, but this was not intended to be a book about the fires. Some stories had already been written by former students for the school’s 1975 centenary, but since then many school records have been lost.

In the 1980s dwindling student numbers had threatened closure of the school. Buxton school’s historic roll, a great source of names, addresses and parent occupations, had been sent to Marysville school for safe keeping. Marysville’s school burnt in the 2009 fires and, with those went the roll. Buxton school survived, but not so many of Buxton’s physical reminders. It became important to record the memories of what had been.

By 2014 Buxton resident Nancy Leslie (nee Thomas) believed a history of Buxton was needed. She had already begun interviewing then writing stories from living Buxton residents. Approximately 17 had been gathered with 15 underway, all written with a degree of poetic licence, so they required editing and checking for accuracy with their subjects.

Nancy needed support for the project and gathered ten Buxton people, with various skills and interests, some of whom had a long association with Buxton. Since our family’s land had been purchased in the 1930s, and my own memories of Buxton harked back to the 1950s, I was one of them. The Buxton History Group (BHG) was formed. For various reasons BHG needed affiliation with an incorporated body, in this case, the Buxton Progress Association Inc (BPA).

More stories were needed. Through local media and personal contact, the community was invited to write their personal stories. If, in 2014, Facebook and email had been widespread forms of communication, the message may have spread further.

The BHG met regularly, members were allocated key people to interview, mostly on neighbouring properties.  This was only mildly successful.

By October 2014 we only had 33 stories. More key people needed chasing, but some were reluctant to share their stories. As Nancy and husband Max continued their mission of interviewing their contacts, I too chased, sorted, wrote, and edited more stories with assistance from another local, Graham Eddy.

Some BHG members dropped out but Denis Scott, from the pioneering Scott family, came on board with information about Buxton’s early developments and the Scott family. The Scotts had arrived in Buxton in 1862. Ian Jones who had grown up in Buxton in the 1950s and ’60s sent a copy of his personal story, his illustrated book ‘I still call Buxton home’. This was a valuable reference. Most benefit came from BHG members who had vivid memories of Buxton’s past, including lifelong resident and farmer, David Perry.

Buxton’s Primary School was about to turn 140 in 2015. What better opportunity to call past and present residents together again for a reunion? All I can say is it was a huge amount of organisation for us and the Buxton school community. I had created a database of names, contact methods and timeline for each known resident’s written contributions. This proved invaluable, but some secretarial help might have reduced my workload.

The very successful reunion attracted more than 160 people, most sharing stories, memories, and photographs. More stories dribbled in, some typed, some handwritten. The stories needed to be logged into the computer then edited, at the same time retaining the flavour with which they had been written.

Somewhat prematurely and unrealistically, books were pre-sold at the reunion for $20. A total of 83 copies were presold, creating the expectation that a book would be forthcoming. By now there were about 80 stories, some just promised or unfinished. I set forth to edit them. The pressure was on to put these stories and people into the book. Time was of the essence, but time-consuming door to door interviews, with printed hard copies in hand, were required for fact checking with the subjects. Some of the key drivers were absent as they headed north for winter.

While group members thought the process might follow the path of the Narbethong book, our situation was different. There had been little discussion about how Buxton’s book would be edited, financed, and produced. Thanks to some early small donations, there was money for the materials required for printing of hard copies, the preferred medium for reading, checking, and editing.

By early 2016 I had been working one on one with the locals, sometimes writing their stories before they filled in the gaps. Graham found out more about the town’s historical development by scouring the old minutes of the Alexandra Shire council meetings.

By November 2016, perhaps realising the enormity of the project, plus the fact that they had decided to sell their Buxton property, Nancy and Max Leslie suggested mothballing the whole project. This meant all book purchase money would be returned and the files stored for future use by some interested person. While members of the BHG voted to continue with the project, I abstained from voting. I had other responsibilities.

However, since so much interest and community goodwill had come from the project to date, we could not let the people down. Buxton’s history really needed to be recorded. I, with support of Graham and some BHG members, picked up the gauntlet.

So, a few of us forged on, albeit still with no plan of how we could supply the final product.

The stories were coming to me directly and via Graham. Some had photos embedded into the document, so original photos had to be requested and scanned. Information gaps in Buxton’s history were apparent. Buxton’s infrastructure, businesses, primary production, developments, significant properties and people were not yet documented.

By September 2018 when, we had accumulated 127 separate stories plus photos, Graham consolidated them into one single manuscript. The dilemma was how to organise them into a meaningful book? We needed someone with fresh eyes to look at the manuscript. Stories were still missing, facts had been overlooked, interest by the BHG was flagging but locals continued to ask where their book was!

Early 2019 found Graham in intensive care and me burnt out. Quotes had been sought from various editors and publishers, all deeming the project as totally unrealistic without grants or significant funding.

There had to be a solution. Graham was still very ill, but we took the manuscript to well-known Alexandra publisher, Ann Dulhunty of Ann Friedel Publishing, and Ann’s daughter Emily.

Emily, who was suitably qualified for this editing task, offered a fresh and optimistic approach to our dilemma and came up with a quote. We took Emily’s proposal to members of the Marysville and Triangle Community Development Fund. Thankfully our grant application was successful.

And so, just as the Covid pandemic reared its ugly head in early 2020, Emily and I were able to work together on phase one of the editing process. Emily’s move away from Alexandra to an area with poor mobile phone reception meant that all contact had to be made via email. Along the way we dealt with missing information, people and places who were needed to complete the whole story. The more we delved, the more we realised what was missing. I made appointments with Marysville’s History Centre which proved to be a valuable (and willing) source of historic information and photographs.

While the pandemic held the world at bay, for Buxton’s book it was a blessing. Despite wide travel restrictions, local regional travel was still possible, people were staying home and willing to talk on the phone or meet (masks on, of course). There was little traffic on the highway, but increased traffic on the internet sometimes delayed delivery of emails.

I took many photos to fill the gaps, and, between Graham and myself, 25 newly written stories were added and sent to Emily, causing a ‘budget’ blowout! Graham found a way to deal with that.

Soon Emily had a structure for the stories, a working copy of stories that had been lightly edited for readability, and recommendations of what we should do next. Covid was still rolling on.

Once Graham had checked the whole manuscript it was time to mark the placement and caption the hundreds of photos that had been sought, scanned, labelled, and filed during the preceding years. Many more photos of suitable quality would be needed. Thankfully I had plenty from my years of community involvement.

By 2021 Ann was keen to take the stories and photos to the production stage. Our protracted project needed completing. So, despite no forthcoming funding, we forged on. Ann promised discounted rates, I was just hoping we’d find the money somehow. I even considered ways to fund it myself!

While three willing proofreaders took their turn, I concentrated on the photos, matching them to the relevant text, getting the names right, and writing an accurate caption. Ann worked with the text, editing and formatting, and decided where the photos should sit on each page.

Once production and proofreading was complete, it was time to get some firm quotes from printers. Regrettably, printing a book of the size, quality and style in Australia would have been just too expensive. In August 2022 I obtained more affordable quotes from a very obliging printer in China.

Now, to find the money for Ann’s work and the printing, I met with the BPA, who in principle wanted to support the project. However, I was in trouble for undertaking a project with no guarantee of funding for production and printing.  That bit me hard for a while.

The book also needed an index. I created a list of names in the manuscript, then Graham undertook the arduous task of adding the book pages to the names.

The BPA ultimately agreed to manage the project, but the money was to come from future book sales. Fortunately, a smaller subcommittee of five, chaired by Andy Cowan, was set up to manage the book from there. We still needed an actual ‘book’, something to show the people. We wanted a quality product. Despite a little pushback from some, we opted for a slightly more expensive colour hard cover. We took a punt and some of our little committee chipped in money to get the ball rolling. We paid a deposit to the printers, then, after Ann had been given the go ahead to send the full PDF of the book off to China, they began printing.

May 30, 2023, was an exciting day. The sample printed book arrived and it was of the quality we had hoped for. Thanks to a very generous personal loan to the BPA, Ann could be paid for her work. Thanks also to the generosity of the Buxton community, more donations and pre-sales enabled the printing presses to roll.

By Wednesday, July 19, 2023, five hundred beautiful books had arrived on Australia’s shores, cleared customs and were ready for collection. Importing the books and associated costs were funded by a community trivia night held at the Buxton Hotel on July 20, 2023.

Preparations and notifications to the wider community for the upcoming launch had been running in the background. Through numerous articles in local media, plus emails to the hundreds of people from my database, the message got out.

On July 29, 2023, more than 150 past and present Buxton residents came together for the book launch. After what has been a nine year journey, the people of Buxton could finally hold Buxton’s history in their hands.

‘Buxton-its past present, people and places’ can be purchased via the link historybook.buxtonprogress.org.au and through several local outlets.

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