It all began (above) on a warm Winter's afternoon in 1998 at the Dugandan Hotel, near Boonah. I was sitting around a table on the veranda of the pub with a group of friends, climbers, young and old. My school friends Greg Sheard and Ian Thomas were there as was Ted Cais with his son, Bryden. Ted and Bryden were visiting for another stint of climbing at nearby Frog Buttress from Ted's new home in the United States. Greg tossed a copy of Rick White's original climbing guide to the crag onto the table and the young climbers present pored over it as if it was the Holy Grail. It was clear that they valued this moment and the apparently insignificant, hand-stapled collection of words and images. It may have been at that moment that I realised that it was far more than a rockclimbing guide: it represented a historical moment in the origins of climbing in Queensland -- and beyond.
Six months later, I received the news that a small grant application to research Queensland climbing history through Griffith University -- where I worked as a lecturer in Journalism -- had been approved. It meant I could employ a climber as a research assistant to work with me in discovering whether there was any archival material in local libraries and private collections that would help us to tell this story. I discovered many years later that the assessment committee's reception towards my grant proposal was luke-warm until a former Dean of Arts -- a climber in his youth -- argued strongly on my behalf. And so the search for documentary evidence of Queensland's climbing past had begun.
On my first day at the State Library of Queensland with climber-researcher Wendy Steele, I not only discovered a long lost relativen working behind the reference desk, but also met up with Robert Thomson who overheard our conversation. A cup of coffee later and Robert had offered us access to his own collection of archival documents -- many of them newspaper articles -- a research project he had started independently, eighteen months before. Although our trajectories were slightly different, our focus was identical: to document a history of European exploration of mountain landscapes in southeast Queensland. Wendy soon departed to attend to her own pressing academic studies and Robert became the sole researcher. It was he who suggested we delve into newspaper archives and akin to a poisoned chalice, he has spent the best part of his life since then doing just that. This was well before the National Library of Australia's digital newspapers' archive, Trove. Nowadays, following a few well-planned keystrokes, the digitised Australian cultural resource can reveal in seconds what it took Robert months, years to uncover. But despite the wonders of digital search and discovery technologies, a significant number of the sources Robert located manually still do not appear in the Trove database. It was a effort of monumental proportions.
When we started this quest, I had no idea it would produce the volume of data and publications that have flowed from this rich collection, almost from day one. Perhaps if I had known how much it would impact on my life I may never have started it! But seriously, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my long career as a researcher. And it continues...