HISTORIAL archivist Brett Weinberg feels as volunteer, he is master of his own time. Mr Weinberg can come and go to work as he pleases and, at times, he can really delve into a story without watching the clock.
Often a case will lure him in as he chases the twisting fate of this city’s destitute from the 1860s into the 1900s.
Mr Weinberg has manually uploaded 10,000 entries with up to 18 piece of information on each person from handwritten records of the Ballarat District Benevolent Asylum and Lying-In Hospital, which is now Ballarat Health Services’ Queen Elizabeth Centre.
Full names, birth dates and places, religion, parents, when a person arrived in the colony, reason they are in the asylum, personal characteristic and demeanour – there is so much information about each person.
Occupations fascinate Mr Weinberg, too: fellmongers (dealing in skins and hides) or fancy women (offering fine lace and embroidery, although it may sound like prostitution) on the Goldfields.
And there were still many records to transcribe for the Ballarat Historical Society.
“I chug through it a couple of afternoons each week,” Mr Weinberg said. “Doing it myself offers a continuity...Unfortunately there is no real history written of it (the asylum). There is unfinished work to be done.”
Mr Weinberg took up the role four years ago after hunting his own family history and finding the tales of the city’s poor of fallen were often overlook. He felt they were just as important to this city: inexperienced miners injured or blinded by explosives, unmarried girls, married women who could not afford to give birth in hospitals, those with no-where to go.
All their records were in a storeroom, previously only accessed by Freedom of Information. Mr Weinberg’s passion to the project was recognised in Ballarat Heritage Awards last week.
Mr Weinberg is one of about 300 BHS volunteers. His volunteer role is unique but BHS volunteer services manager Sue Jakob said each and every volunteer, from patient contact to support, across all organisational work was invaluable.