Journalist Howard Jones reflects on 40 years of writing history books, a passion that’s still very much in the present. BEN ROBSON reports.
TOO many people think that history is dead but Border Mail journalist Howard Jones certainly isn’t one of them.
In 1974 Jones saw his name published in book form for the first time and 40 years to the month on, he has produced more than 30 books of local histories.
“I found that to know about history you were learning about where you lived and getting an understanding of why things are like they are,” Jones says.
“It’s not just a case of looking back or harking back with nostalgia, it’s how you explain why something is like it is now.
“Like the way Dean Street got developed — it was only because Townsend Street got flooded so they moved up to higher ground.
“A lot of my books have got pictures that show how Dean Street has changed and it’s continuing to change. And that’s what makes it interesting — people can sit for hours saying, 'do you remember so-and-so ....'
“So it is partly nostalgia, but it also jogs people’s memories.”
That first book back in ’74 was a voluntary work, a history of Aberystwyth Borough Council, of which Jones was a councillor, after it was abolished.
“It was something more substantial than a mug that they suggested,” Jones says. “And they printed 4000 copies — one of my highest circulating books.”
And as Jones says, once you’ve done your first it’s almost easy to write your second book.
Place Names in Glamorgan was a sell-out.
“I wrote it between subbing stories in the evening on the South Wales Echo,” Jones says.
Born in the university town of Aberystwyth, a curiosity about the place generations of Joneses had called home began a lifelong interest in history and genealogy.
His father was a university clerk, Jones’ sister, grandfather and three uncles worked at the university, as did wife Hazel when they first met.
“I was very lucky to live in a university town that also had the National Library,” Jones says.
While Hazel worked with computers, one of those “big old-fashioned things” where she was a punch card operator, Jones’ work often took him on to the campus.
“Looking back I suppose a lot of it did rub off on me,” he says.
“It was like going to university without having to go to university.”
But for Jones, lifelong skills were learnt on the job, working the rounds on local newspapers and reporting from courts and squabbling councils — one of history’s lessons is that little changes over time or place.
“My aim years ago was to produce one book a year,” Jones says.
“It’s difficult to quantify but I think I’m on my 33rd book — there are two or three not published and I’ve virtually finished the history of the City of Albury RSL sub branch.
“I’ve written more books than Peter FitzSimons and even got a mention in one of his,” Jones says.
“I wish I could write like him, I’m a big admirer of his.
“I’d also like to compile 50 local people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over the years and I would like to tackle fiction one day.”
Among the books are also commercial and family histories, like on dairy family the Haberfields, grocers the Arnolds and WAW Credit Union. There have been photographic histories of Albury and Wodonga, the latter helping to raise $20,000 for Wodonga hospital. And there are books on the histories of Thurgoona and Baranduda that have led to street names being adopted of pioneers.
History is alive and well, and it’s thanks to people like Jones that it stays that way.