A unique time to be alive, to be able to say that you were present when the ends of the decade, century and millennium were about to converge. It was surely a time to celebrate, to look forward to new beginnings, to have hope for the future.
Not so. If the doomsayers’ predictions were to run their course, then the global community was in for a bumpy ride.
Years that end in zero are well known for causing fears that the world is about to end. As the first millennium drew to a close, European pilgrims moved in droves towards Jerusalem where Jesus was expected to appear and deliver the last judgment on the final day of 999. Many had given away their worldly possessions in the hope of guaranteeing a place in heaven when the end came, but thousands died before even having reached their destination. On the day of destiny, those who had made it to Jerusalem climbed to the top of Mt Zion awaiting the appearance of Jesus and their salvation. They were doubly disappointed.
Almost a thousand years later, it was a microchip that had difficulty interpreting the year 2000 that would turn the world upside down. The “Y2K crisis” or “millennium bug” was predicted to cause all manner of disasters ranging from the failure of essential infrastructure to the disappearance of food from supermarket shelves. A disaster of seismic proportions was around the corner.
Back in Sydney, while we had one eye on the pending havoc that the millennium bug might wreak, we were probably more – and quite reasonably so – preoccupied with getting ready to host the 2000 Olympic Games. The Games were being held in Sydney for the first time ever and for only the second time in the southern hemisphere. We dared not mess up. With the venues completed on time and the Games’ “green” credentials well established, the remaining potential obstacle to earning that all important endorsement of “the best Games ever” would be our ailing public transport system and, in particular, our temperamental rail network. Right up to the Opening Ceremony we worried that when called to account, it would throw a tantrum (it didn’t).
Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, I had managed to carve a small role for myself in writing the planning documentation for two Olympic venues, one of the most remarkable breaks of my career.
But by late 1997, this work had run out and I was in what I euphemistically refer to as my “between jobs” phase. The more familiar term for this state of inactivity is unemployment.
Enter Rumsey Hall, an unassuming two storey building located at the northern end of Kent Street in Sydney’s historic Rocks district, and home to the Society of Australian Genealogists’ overseas resources. I had found the Society in my cyberspace wanderings and decided that its resources would be of use to me.
It was October, with daylight saving assisted long evenings minus the heat and cloying humidity that would follow a few months later. Fragrant Chinese star jasmine was in full flower and the jacarandas would bloom shortly, populating the metropolitan landscape with splashes of purple. One of the loveliest times to be in Sydney. And a good time to do a bit of research.
I signed up for a year’s membership to gain access to the Society’s resources. On my first visit, a volunteer gave me a quick tour of the various indexes and records, and how to use them. I quickly established that the St Catherine’s House index of births, deaths and marriages in Britain – bound volumes of hard copy which had to be booked in advance – was a logical starting point. After a quick browse of the bookshop downstairs and armed with my booking, I walked out onto Kent Street, to return another day.