Helen Doxford Harris is a professional genealogist and historian of more than twenty-five years standing. Her interest in history was first developed when she commenced researching her family history. As a member of the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies (AIGS) interested in cemeteries, she became supervisor of cemetery transcriptions and for a number of years organised field trips and transcribed both monuments and registers; she also volunteered in the AIGS library. Subsequently she served on the AIGS governing Council, and as editor of the Society’s quarterly magazine The Genealogist. In 1985 she was made an Honorary Life Member of the organisation. In 2012 she was invited to be one of the judges for the Alexander Henderson Award for the best family history published, and continues in that role in 2016.
Through a personal connection with the area, Helen founded the Avoca and District Historical Society in 1984, and went on to serve as secretary, president and newsletter editor for a number of years. She also compiled the extensive card index system of over 30,000 entries relating to people, places and organisations in the area. She was subsequently made an Honorary Life Member of the Society, and still contributes occasional items to their Newsletter and archives. The Court House extension is named in her honour.
The discovery of the grave of a murdered constable in Melbourne General Cemetery led her to the Historical Unit of Victoria Police and to an involvement with the Victoria Police Historical Society. She served as secretary of the Society for many years, and gave regular lectures on the usefulness of police records for genealogical research. It was through this connection with police records that she met her husband, Gary Presland, who was Manager of the Police Historical Unit at the time. Together they wrote and published Cops and Robbers. A guide to researching 19th century police and criminal records in Victoria (1990), which is acknowledged as the best resource on the subject. She was made an Honorary Life Member of the Victoria Police Historical Society in 2007.
Helen and Gary moved to Box Hill in 1993 and Helen was soon on the committee of the Box Hill Historical Society. She has served as both president and secretary of the Society, and continues as a regular volunteer in their Heritage Centre, indexing their rate books. In 2016 she was elected again as secretary.
A member of the National Trust for more than 25 years, Helen served as chairman of the Cemetery Advisories Committee for over 14 years, supplying much of the research notes used on the night-time tours conducted by the Trust. The funds raised from these tours were spent on restoring monuments within the cemetery. In June 2011 the National Trust retrenched a number of senior historians, some of whom had given over 20 years service to the organisation, giving them only a few hours to clear their desks and depart. The Advisory Committee, like a number of others, was subsequently disbanded. These actions reflected very badly on the National Trust, and like a number of historians, Helen did not renew her membership.
Helen was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1993 for services to community history; and the inaugural Frances Brown Award for Excellence, awarded by VAFHO, in 2004, for outstanding service and contribution to Family History in Victoria.
She holds a Master of Arts (History) from Monash University. Her thesis, on a Victorian pioneering suffragist was published in 2009 as Helen Hart: ‘Founder of women’s suffrage in Australasia’.
She is a member of the Professional Historians Association.
In 2005 Helen was the first member of the Greens to be elected as a Councillor of the City of Whitehorse, and on re-election in 2008 was the first Greens Mayor of the city. She was re-elected for a third term in October 2012 and was one of two Councillor reps on the Board of the Whitehorse Manningham Regional Library Corporation, serving as chair in 2014 and on the Audit Committee in 2015/16. Within Council she chaired the Heritage Steering Committee, and the Visual Arts Committee, and was a member of the Audit Advisory Committee, the Whitehorse Centre Feasibility Study Working Group and the Box Hill Activity Centre Reference Group. In 2015 she received a badge and certificate from the MAV for her ten years of service as a local government Councillor. She retired from Council at the October 2016 elections.
Helen joined the Victorian branch of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA), in 2005 and in 2010 was elected State secretary. She was re-elected in 2012 and 2014, and retired in 2016 to become State Treasurer. Helen was the longest serving State secretary in the history of the organisation, and was made an Honorary Life Member at the State Conference in April 2016 . She has also become the honorary archivist. In June 2016 she was co-opted to become the Executive Officer of the Victorian branch. The centenary of women being allowed to run as candidates for local government in Victoria took place in 2014, and Helen compiled a listing of every woman ever elected, and researched and wrote a history of the involvement of women voting in and standing for local government. The book includes biographies of the first seven women elected. This publication, The Right to Vote; The Right to Stand, was launched as part of centenary celebrations on 6 November 2014 and is available thru ALGWA at www.algwa.com.au It was awarded a Commendation in the 2015 Local History Awards.
In 2011 Helen was co-opted to serve as the National secretary of ALGWA, and retired from that position upon new elections in December 2012. She was again co-opted as National secretary in 2015 and will serve until 2017.
Member of the Public Record Office Advisory Council (PRAC) from 1991-1993.
Member of the Historic Buildings Management Committee from 1994-1997.
Helen can be reached on hdh1 [at] ozemail.com.au (replace [at] with @)