Katoomba High history student starstruck meeting Stasiland author Anna Funder

Former Katoomba High student Annabel Pettit couldn’t believe her luck when she recently met the author of the history text that inspired her History Prize-winning project.

Annabel had taken a gap year to go travelling, and was in Berlin, when her roommate doing an internship at the Australian Embassy in Berlin, mentioned the author Anna Funder would be speaking at an event about the German-Australian cultural exchange.

Funder wrote Stasiland, a non-fiction account of life in divided East Germany under the watch of the secret police, the Stasi. Annabel won the Blackheath History Forum’s history prize last year for her HSC history project about East Germany, the Stasi and the effect of communism on Germany, inspired by Funder’s novel.

A starstruck Annabel seemed a little lost for words when she met the Australian author.

“I just managed to string together something probably very incoherent about how much I love both of her books, and we talked a little bit about the quote I used from her book as the basis for my project – ‘What is more dangerous, to remember or forget?’”

Annabel said she’d been thoroughly enjoying the time in Germany.

“Being here in Berlin has been extra enriched by my extension history course, where my major project was about the GDR [German Democratic Republic], the Stasi and the effect of communism on Germany. That was so delicious to research, and there's just fascinating and unique history overflowing here at every turn – you can almost feel it in the streets,” Annabel, from Blackheath, said.

The Blackheath History Forum sponsors the History Prize for year 12 students to recognise excellence and encourage students in the study of history. This year they have extended the prize to the best history student at Blue Mountains Grammar School as well as Katoomba High. 

“Understanding the past is critical to navigating present concerns. We are keen to encourage people of all ages to engage with history, both through reading and studying as well as by attending our series of lectures, now in their 10th year, said Blackheath History Forum committee member Catherine Bishop. 

The lectures held in Blackheath, run from August 4 to October 27 and include authors, historians, and university history professors.