Social historian Dr Lorna McDonald signs her latest book, Treasures in a Tea Tin, based on events in Rockhampton’s history, this time based on letters written to and by Joan Archer in 1906 to 1908 while she attended boarding school overseas.
Social historian Dr Lorna McDonald signs her latest book, Treasures in a Tea Tin, based on events in Rockhampton’s history, this time based on letters written to and by Joan Archer in 1906 to 1908 while she attended boarding school overseas. Sharyn Oneill

Author takes well-deserved break

MOST people are retired by the time they turn 95, but not Lorna McDonald.

The Rockhampton historian launched her 20th published book this week, Treasures in a Tea Tin.

The book tells the story of teenage boys and girls growing up in Rockhampton during the 1900s through a collection of letters sent to Gracemere girl Joan Archer who was boarding overseas at the time.

Born in Portland, Victoria, where she lived on a cattle property, Mrs McDonald has come a long way since her school days at Mount Gambier, just across the South Australian border.

"I was a normal teenager. I didn't really like boarding," Mrs McDonald said from her Rockhampton home this week.

It was after completing her schooling that Mrs McDonald realised she had developed a love for writing history.

"English was my favourite subject in school, but I wasn't really interested in history until I started university," she said.

After marrying in 1938 and raising her three sons in Sydney, she moved to Rockhampton with her family in 1964.

"My husband's family were from Rocky so we visited them a lot," she recalled. "I loved it since the first time I saw it."

Mrs McDonald completed a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history and English, externally through the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

The rich history of Rockhampton became a passion and in 1981 she published her first book, Rockhampton: A History of City and District. It was the first of many histories she wrote about the Central Queensland region.

"My favourite thing about writing history is that you get to know the characters. They come alive," she said.

She received a PhD for her 1985 thesis on the history of the beef cattle industry in Central Queensland.

Once spending six weeks transcribing 500 letters in a library by hand, Mrs McDonald is now a whiz on the computer. "The biggest thing I've seen change is the technology," she said.

"Letters are an endangered species just like the hairy nosed wombat," she laughed.

"But whatever age you live in that's what you know. It will all probably change again."

Mrs McDonald has received awards for her work over the years but her most recent was the John Douglas Kerr Medal of Distinction which she was presented with in 2007.

"It was judged by my peers so it was a great honour," she said.

After decades of history writing, the great grandmother is looking forward to having a well-earned break.

However, she does not think this is the end.

"I hope my books have a place in the future history of Queensland," she said.

The book is available in Rockhampton at Another Story in Denham St, Arcade News and City Printing Works in East St.



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