Trailblazer of history signing off

By Charlotte Wooldridge | posted on July 10, 2020

LOCAL historian Malcolm Traill has been awarded for his efforts in promoting Great Southern heritage, an accolade that recognises his 26-year-long career, as he steps down from his post at the Museum of the Great Southern.

The 2020 Western Australian Heritage Awards saw Mr Traill presented with the Professional Contribution award, acknowledging him as a prominent figure in the promotion and awareness of history and heritage in the Great Southern region.

“It’s really quite exciting,” Mr Traill said.

“It’s actually come at a really nice time for me, with the changing focus of life and work and things.

“For me, it means recognition of this region, because we’ve got some really great stories but often Perth people don’t necessarily recognise the history down here, so from that point of view it’s great that the area and the history and heritage has been recognised.”

Mr Traill’s love affair with stories that are found throughout the Great Southern began with his decision to become the local history librarian in 1994, a step which only let his passions grow.

“I think it puts current life into perspective, because in many cases what has happened now has happened before,” he said.

“So you can go back and hopefully learn from mistakes, and there should be more of that around because we learn a lot from the past.

“I’m just interested in people and how our lives were lived and how things have changed.”

Of all his achievements and experiences over his two-decade stint, Mr Traill said there were two events that stood out to him as highlights of his career.

The first being a formal handover of Robert Stephens history collection, which involved his descendants.

“[Robert Stephens] was a historian from the 1940’s-60’s, and he was really the first Albany historian,” he said.

“His collection was left to the Government, and we did a formal handover and presentation, so that was really nice with his children and family.”

Additionally, Mr Traill was part of the team that helped organise helicopter flights to Breaksea Island.

“That was really great because it’s one of those places that you see out there and never really can get to,” he said.

“All 20 people who went thought it was a real highlight, and it probably was a real one-off.”

While he will still be seen around the Museum of the Great Southern in a voluntary capacity and through his freelance work, Mr Traill said he was looking forward to the change of pace in his retirement, and has taken away many positives from his experiences as public programs officer at the museum.

“There’s a real enthusiasm from people for history, if you put it out there and present it in a way that’s interesting and relevant then people really enjoy it,” he said.

“In school people tend to be quite bored of history from remembering dates and everything like that, but that’s not the important bit really.

“It’s about putting yourself in the place of the people who were living there at the time.”