The trials and tribulations of historical research

Rachel Power

When first assigned the task of researching the Mackillop stables, I felt that while perhaps time consuming, finding records about the building would be relatively easy. After all, the stable is where Mary Mackillop first began teaching (in 1866) and as such, is the accepted site of the foundation of the Josephite order. The aim of the research was to find any information that could help in determining where on the property the building was located, in preparation for the excavation of the site (which took place in September).

The stables in 1866 (State Library Pictorial Collection B 23828)

My first stop was Land Services, where I found a digitalised copy of the Certificate of Title dated 1882.  While an interesting document in itself, the title unfortunately made no reference to any buildings on the site. Undeterred, I headed to State Records, where an extremely helpful archivist walked me through the steps of ‘requesting’ documents for viewing. Over many subsequent sessions, I poured through records of the Penola district relevant to the timeframe. But again I am sad to say, little was found in regard to the property.  While the boundaries of the allotment were marked on town plans, there was no indication of where the stable, let alone any other buildings, may have stood.

It can be quite frustrating to spend hours trawling through documents yet failing to find anything. Patience is the key ingredient to getting it done. In the case of the stables, the lack of information can primarily be attributed to the early date of the building and its remote location to Adelaide city.  While I was disappointed with how little I found I also learnt a valuable lesson, one which archaeologists must come across on a day to day basis: research does not always yield results!

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