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Vinnies’ precious memories preserved

Looking back: Suzy Nunes and John Campbell with the minutes of the first meeting in 1907 of the Society of St Vincent de Paul's Particular Council of South Brisbane


Vinnies’ precious memories preserved

The reason behind the return of an artificial limb to the St Vincent de Paul Society makes up one of the interesting tales unearthed with the establishment of the society’s state archives, library and a new exhibition. Journalist PAUL DOBBYN takes a look

THE return of an artificial limb purchased by the St Vincent de Paul Society to help a Brisbane man down on his luck at first probably baffled organisation members.

However, there was logic to the man’s decision as Suzy Nunes, archivist and organiser of the recently opened state archives, library and exhibition at the society’s South Brisbane state headquarters, explained.

“The one-legged man had been begging on the streets when society members decided to help him with the purchase of an artificial limb,” Ms Nunes said.

“He quickly discovered that he had been able to collect more sympathy, and funds, with one leg so returned the limb.”

Ms Nunes, who took more than a year to put the collection together with the assistance of the Queensland Government’s Q150 Community Funding Program, said this was one of the many interesting stories she had come across in the project.

The associated exhibition, known as “115 years of a Hand Up not just a Hand Out”, also features a timeline starting with the society’s arrival in Queensland in 1895 and relating it to significant national and state historical events.

One of the oldest items on display is a book containing the minutes of the first meeting of the Particular Council of South Brisbane in 1907.

Among other interesting items located included a family Bible from the 1870s.

The archives, library and exhibition were officially opened late last year to mark the society’s 115 years of visitation to communities throughout Queensland.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Oudeman blessed the exhibit which was opened on November 29 by State Member for Everton Murray Watt representing Premier Anna Bligh.

Speaking at the opening, Mr Watt noted that “the first recorded activities of St Vincent de Paul Society in Queensland were at St Bridget’s at Red Hill, one of Brisbane’s poorer areas in the early days”.

“No doubt this was one of the areas that felt the effects of the 1893 global recession, (and) Great Depression (1930s) as it was called then, the most,” he said.

“How far we’ve come since then.

“Red Hill is quite the opposite these days, and today the society’s core services have expanded to include refugees settling into their new home.”

Mr Watt also noted that “one of the earliest archived documents (was) the minutes of the first meeting of the first council of South Brisbane which amalgamated the three conferences of St Bridget’s, St Joseph’s (at Kangaroo Point) and St Stephen’s (in the city)”.

Ms Nunes said it was the location of these conference minutes and other items during a clean-out at the society’s Sumner Park depot that had sparked interest in mounting the exhibition and starting the archives.

“It all started with the finding of five boxes of records,” Ms Nunes said.

“The society then applied to the (State Government’s) Q150 fund and once approval was gained, I was employed to get the project underway.”

The former University of Sydney reference archivist said the project had also been personally beneficial.

“As a young school student I volunteered with a Canberra St Vincent de Paul shop as part of my work towards the Duke of Edinburgh Award,” she said.

“Dealing with these records on a daily basis has given me a deeper understanding of the good work the society has done in Queensland in the 115 years since it started here.”
Ms Nunes said it has been difficult to collect records from Queensland’s 215 St Vincent de Paul conferences.

“So far we’ve only received material from twelve conferences and most of these are in Brisbane,” she said.

“However, it’s in the interests of all conferences to have their records stored at a central point under proper archive conditions.

“Several conferences said they had lost records due to fire and flood which is a real shame.”

Former state president John Campbell said the society was grateful to the Q150 Community Fund in recognising the St Vincent de Paul Society’s contribution to Queensland’s history.

“We are grateful that the Q150 Community Funding has assisted us to give the broader community a rare glimpse into this side of our past as well,” Mr Campbell said.

The archives, library and the “115 years of a Hand Up not just a Hand Out” exhibition can be viewed by appointment.

For further information contact the society’s state office on (07) 3010 1000.


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