Arranged, described, and ready for you!

Hokinga mahara

As we finish another year, the Arrangement and Description (A&D) team at the Alexander Turnbull Library take a moment of hokinga mahara, looking back at a few highlights from 2017. This year, the A&D team worked on over 250 unique collections, in order to make these materials accessible to the public.

Each collection is described and made discoverable on the National Library’s main search box and in Tiaki, the Turnbull Library’s catalogue for unpublished materials. The A&D team also houses the collection items in appropriate archival enclosures. For digital content, the files are loaded to the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA), and made accessible via a link from the descriptive record in the catalouge.

Collections that the A&D team worked on in 2017 include the company records of the iconic Kirkcaldie and Stains department store in Wellington, which traded from 1870 to 2015; a World War One nurse’s emergency passport issued 11 August 1914; illustrated graphic scores by noted composer Jack Body and poet Cilla McQueen; photograph albums documenting New Zealand road trips in the 1940s and 50s; digital cartoons offering commentary on the 2017 general election; sound recordings from Te Upoko o Te Ika Māori Language radio station; and much, much more.

While every collection has a story to tell, here’s a glimpse into just a few of our favourites from the last year.

Published and unpublished works by Avis Acres (ATL-Group-00207) – Merryn McAulay


A collection that stood out for me in 2017 was works and original drawings by Avis Acres, the New Zealand children's writer and illustrator most famous for The Adventures of Hutu and Kawa. Highlights include a scrapbook of newspaper strips about ‘twinkle twins’ Twink and Wink, drawings of birds for the junior section of 'Forest and Bird', and a photograph of Acres at work. The collection also included 113 drawings which told the stories of adventures of an unnamed teddy bear and toy panda. The drawings are small and square approximately 165 x 165 mm each and they look to have been prepared for a book. I didn’t recognise the toy bears, they obviously weren’t Hutu and Kawa, but nor were they other Acres characters I could find: Willy Wiggles, Sally Snail, Opo, Toby, Topsy, Tipity, Cocky Sparrow, or Mrs Quackling.

I mentioned the bears to my colleague Mary Skarott (Research Librarian, Children’s Literature) who remembered reading in I saw a flower move: a biography of Avis Acres by Olwen Ireton about some toy bear stories. In the biography I discovered that when Acres moved to Levin in 1958 she became friends with a child named Christopher who owned a teddy bear named Sherbert. Acres illustrated cartoons about Sherbert and her own toy panda Gerald which were published in 'New Zealand woman' magazine for four years until 1969. It seems the stories of Sherbert and Gerald were never published into a book form but their adventures can be seen here in the drawings now described and preserved at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Robbie Duncan recordings and master tapes (ATL-Group-00209) – Ariana Tikao


I have chosen this small music collection donated by Robbie Duncan of Sausage Recording Studio, and later of Braeburn Recording Studio as one of this year’s faves.

I recorded my first CD with Robbie at his Braeburn studio in 1993. I have fond memories of the week I spent there recording our album ‘Mihi’ with Jacquie Hanham (now Walters) and our producer James Wilkinson. The three of us were all based in Christchurch at the time, so we had to get the recording done in a short space of time. Intense but fun!

Getting back to this collection – the three master tapes are in the form of 7 inch reels, and contain recordings of bands from the Wellington post-punk and folk music scenes of the early 1980s. They include the master recording of the compilation **** [Four stars] which contains music from Beat Rhythm Fashion; Life in the Fridge Exists; Naked Spots Dance; and Wall Sockets; including tracks with splendid titles such as ‘Euthanasia’ by the Wallsockets, and ‘Have you checked the children?’ & ‘First death take’ by Life in the Fridge Exists. There are also a couple of CDs containing recordings by the Toro Pikopiko Māori Puppet Theatre.

Photographs relating to Hinemihi ki Te Wairoa (ATL-Group-00255) – Melissa Bryant


This is a small set of beautifully detailed photographs of the whare whakairo Hinemihi ki Te Wairoa (Hinemihi I, Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito). Hinemihi was carved by the master carver Wero Taroi with Tene Waitere, his then apprentice, who later became a renowned master carver in his own right. Ngāti Hinemihi rangatira Aporo Te Wharekaniwha commissioned her for his people, and personally participated in her construction. She is named for the powerful tipuna wahine (female ancestor) Hinemihi, of Te Arawa, and has sometimes been known as 'The House with the Golden Eyes', as gold sovereigns were used instead of paua shell in some of her carvings.

Hinemihi sheltered many of her people under her protective roof during the eruption of Tarawera in 1886, allowing them to pick up and start anew in other areas safe from the volcanic destruction and the tapu which had accrued to the area. In 1892, the Earl of Onslow, who had been Governor of New Zealand, had her moved to his estate Clandon Park in Surrey, England, and she stands there still, having recently survived a fire which gutted the mansion house of the estate in 2015. These photographs, taken in the 1980s, show the now prominent academic Ngahuia te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Waikato) visiting Hinemihi. Since those years, Ngāti Hinemihi has regained contact with Hinemihi the whare, and are caring for her along with the National Trust and with London-based Māori groups united as Te Maru o Hinemihi.

Holland Family Papers (ATL-Group-00213) – Kirsty Cox


Working with family and personal papers you come across items which can really affect you on a personal level, move you beyond words and stay with you. For me this was a specific letter which came with a collection of Holland family papers that we acquired this year. Harry (Henry Edmund) Holland was the leader of the Labour Party when he died suddenly at Huntly on 8 October 1933, while attending the burial of Te Rata Mahuta, the Māori King. These papers include family correspondence and the last letter Harry wrote to his wife before his death. However the letter that really took my breath away was a letter written by his youngest son Cedric to his elder brother Harry Jr. (Henry Grenfell) Holland.

Cedric Holland was living in Sydney, New South Wales in 1933, when he found about his father’s death from seeing a newspaper headline while commuting to work on a tram (how terrible that must have been!). As you can imagine he quickly got off the tram and then walked back home in Neutral Bay where he was so grief stricken he was unable to tell his wife what was wrong. He expresses disbelief that he will no longer see his father again and reflects on his memories of how good a father he was to him and his brothers. The words are so beautiful and honest that it is impossible not to feel the deepest sympathy for the Holland family.

Elaine Armstrong collection relating to North Canterbury (ATL-Group-00106) – Dolores Hoy


I’d like to give a shout out to the humble spreadsheet. It doesn’t look glamorous - but boy can it be useful! This year I ingested and described a spreadsheet created by Kaiapoi resident Elaine Armstrong which holds detailed information about the photograph albums of Joseph Lowthian Wilson held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Wilson was an influential figure in Kaiapoi as a local journalist, historian, businessman, and politician. His 11 photograph albums hold 2200 images featuring personalities, places, and events of North Canterbury from 1859 to 1925 which are of high interest to local historians (see descriptions at PA-Group-00741). In the spreadsheet Elaine Armstrong has collated the results of her research about individual images in the albums. A hard copy was placed with the Rangiora Museum. The digital file was generously donated by the Rangiora Museum who, with Armstrong’s agreement, gave the Turnbull Library permission to provide online access to the spreadsheet and preserve it in the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA). In this way, the hard work of a local historian can be widely shared.

Helen Brew Collection (ATL-Group-00167) – Tim Lovell-Smith

Tim Crop

The life and times of Helen Brew (1922-2013) has occupied most of my time this year. A speech therapist, mother, television actor and child psychologist involved in the reform of New Zealand attitudes to parenting and child care, Helen Brew was best known overseas for her work as a documentary film director.

Unfortunately, prior to formal accessioning of an impressive collection relating to her life’s work, a house fire accompanied by water damage caused destruction of much of the papers. The scheduled formal, organised handover was transformed into an operation resembling that of “rescue archaeology”, with no guide but the salvagers’ rudimentary box listing of the survivors. The singed and sodden surviving documents ranged from letters, private and with overseas authorities and agencies, interview transcripts and recordings, scribbled notebooks of minutes and memoranda, official and legal papers to formal essays, almost all extensively (and often illegibly) annotated by Brew. I found the arrangement of these materials a truly unique and interesting challenge, and seeing the nearly completed and organised result to be of immense satisfaction.

Watt, James Norwood, 1927?-: Collection (ATL-Group-00175) – Catherine Bisley


In our Arrangement and Description work, we often come across events or characters that completely fall outside our own memory or experience. In this case, I’m talking 1980s Coromandel and a visiting bull elephant seal who locals named Humphrey. While working on an accrual of photographs relating mainly to the history of Whangamata, the development of Moana Point subdivision, and yachting, I came across a bundle of animal portraits labelled “Humphrey. Whanga Harbour”. A search online quickly confirmed his identity (he’s well worth a Google). The Library now holds twelve portraits of Humphrey taken by Whangamata’s James Norwood Watt. Humphry is an expressive beast and Watt’s portraits are great (head only, he’s swimming around).

Humphrey, who reportedly fell in love with a cow at a Coromandel farm during his Northern Tour, narrowly beat out a volume of recipes from the New Zealand Meat Laboratory in Johnsonville for this year’s favourite collection. If you want to make your own sheep dip, salt licks, soap, perfume, cleaning products or many other farming or household essentials, then Peter Dawson: Collection relating to New Zealand Meat Laboratory (ATL-Group-00056) is the collection for you.

Papers and photographs relating to Norman Bramwell Wilcox (ATL-Group-00122) – Susan Skudder


The collection that stood out for me this year was the Wilcox family collection of papers and photographs relating to Norman Bramwell Wilcox (1914-1993), mainly about his service in World War Two.

Norman Bramwell Wilcox was working as an insurance agent when he joined 2NZEF at the outbreak of World War Two. He served in Greece and attended officer training at Maadi, before being captured at El Mrier in 1942.

This multi-format collection was donated by his daughter. It includes his letters home while a POW in Italy and Germany, a photograph album recording his time in the Middle East, and ‘souvenirs’ of his time as a POW. The photograph album is a lovely object in its own right; it has a tooled leather cover with an inset hammered metal image of David’s Tower. It was fascinating to see what he kept from his time as a POW, and what he did while in the camp. The souvenirs included a contract bridge manual he compiled and a report of a mock court action about an insurance claim conducted by the "insurance personnel" and "the lawyers of this prisoner of war community". There were also hand-drawn maps of south-western Germany, which I speculated had been created by prisoners in anticipation of escape or liberation (but there could be another explanation). The collection also included obituaries for, and reminiscences about, Norman Wilcox. They gave the impression that he was what men of his generation probably called ‘a good bloke’, something that also came through in his letters home, and one of the reasons why this collection has stayed in my mind this year.

Joanna Elizabeth Turnbull’s autograph album (MSX-9534) – Sascha Nolden


Reflecting back on a year of working with a range of fascinating collections, this is a gem that stands out, as not just a beautiful physical object, but for the richness of its content, and relationship to the Library’s founder.

Joanna Elizabeth Turnbull (1870-1955), known as ‘Sissy’, and after her marriage on 18 October 1900 to James William Leigh Wood, as Lady Joanna Elizabeth Leigh-Wood, was the younger sister of Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull.

Joanna Turnbull’s album is a fine example of a late nineteenth-century French autograph album, finely bound in black leather with gilt edges and detailing, enclosed in an elaborately hand-embroidered cover, made of linen with blue cross-stitch design and red silk lining. The entries in the album commence in 1888 when Joanna Turnbull was staying with Thomas and Léonie Yeatman at the Villa Léona (Boulevard de Victor Hugo) in Paris. It bears a blue paper Anc[ien]ne m[ais]on Martinet stationer’s label on the front pastedown, with the Parisian address 172. Rue de Rivoli.

The album continues to 1897 and includes entries in English, French, and German, ranging from poetic and musical expressions to artistic portraits and watercolours, along with dedications, autograph signatures, and botanical specimens. But there are also four tufts of dog hair souvenired from ‘Fido’, ‘Sandy’, ‘Badger’, and ‘Tweed’ in the years 1891 to 1895.

The album represents a multi-faceted piece of biographical evidence representing the many social connections of the original owner, and the diverse and creative use of media and forms of personal representation and expression by the contributors who have embellished the pages with mementoes as marks of connection and friendship.

Ans Westra Photographs (PA-Group- 00941) – Win Lynch


I have really enjoyed working on the huge collection of Ans Westra documentary images the Library holds. Ans Westra was born in the Netherlands in 1936, and emigrated to New Zealand in 1957. Her photographs have documented nearly 60 years of history and social and cultural life in New Zealand, including Westra’s deep interest in Māori culture.

It is particularly helpful that many of Westra’s photographs have been digitised, so are readily available to the public. Many of the photographs are extremely good close-up views, so to be able to identify them adds enormously to the value of the collection. Unfortunately there is no information about a large number of the negatives, so much research is needed to identify people and places in the images. However, it is this jigsaw puzzle aspect that I enjoy most -- delving into so much of New Zealand’s recent history.

Letter to Ivan Sutherland from James Cowan, 21 April 1936 (MS-Papers-1225) – Ani Waapu

Ani Crop

As a Librarian in the Research Access team, I leapt at the opportunity to learn from our colleagues in Arrangement and Description through our staff exchange. I’m particularly interested in Māori and Māori-related taonga, so I was thrilled when Ariana introduced me to this letter. The beautiful handwriting was difficult to decipher at first, but after some time, I got to know Cowan’s scrawl and enjoyed reading the famous historian’s thoughts. Dr Sutherland had previously suggested the need for a “Māori historian of the Māori race”, and Cowan was responding in support. Packed with many insights into Cowan’s grasp of New Zealand history, and the methodology of historians at the time, my first A&D assignment brought a lot of excitement and a few laughs as we made sense of Cowan’s reflections. A particularly notable moment for me was when we read the line:

It would be excellent if a competent Māori history-writer arose…I doubt whether there would ever be a man possessing the qualifications needed.

On the back of Ariana and Catherine’s Wāhine exhibition (celebrating the mana of women), we shared a cheeky grin and quipped names of great female Māori historians. There really are some great quotes in this letter! Check out the record, read the transcript, and try your hand at deciphering his scrawl. Heoi, this letter and my time in A&D can best be described in this whakataukī: Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu.

Sisters for Life Oral History Project (OHColl-1032) – Valerie Love


The Turnbull Library is the official repository for oral history projects that receive funding from Manatū Taonga - Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH). Barbara Inch, a graduate of the Christchurch School of Nursing and a Princess Margaret Hospital Student Nurse from 1971-1974, received an MCH Award in Oral History grant in 2011 to conduct the Sisters for Life oral history project about her cohort of female nursing students in Christchurch in the early 1970s.

The first set of eight interviews were conducted in 2011 and 2012, and provide insight into the challenges that the nursing students faced, and experiences of living and working together. The interviews themselves are born-digital, comprising audio files in .WAV format and accompanying electronic documents, as well as a smaller amount of accompanying printed materials. The digital files were received by the Library on optical discs and compact flash cards. We then transfer the files from the physical media carriers, and preserve them in the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA). For reasons of privacy, many of the interviews in the collection currently require permission from the interviewee for access; however, they will no doubt be a valuable resource for future historians.

In addition to documenting experiences in Christchurch in the 1970s, the interviews offer an unexpected insight to contemporary Christchurch life. One of the interviews conducted in September 2011 happened to record the sound of a 4.2 aftershock rattling the interviewee’s house. Uncovering the links between past and present is one of the aspects that makes oral histories - and archival collections generally – so fascinating to explore.

Take a look at some of our favourites from past years as well: 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

You can also visit the National Library’s facebook page for the A&D team’s Fresh off the Bench album, which highlights newly available collections throughout the year.

For more information about these and other collections, contact our friendly Research Enquiries staff.

By Valerie Love

Valerie is the Senior Digital Archivist at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Ellen Faed January 11th at 6:06PM

Cilla McQueen a composer? Were there 2 Cillas> Another in addition to the Dunedin-based poet?

Heather Mackay January 12th at 4:37PM

I love reading these highlights each year, seeing the people involved and the taonga. Appreciate the great work you do making them accessible to us. Thanks!

Gayle January 15th at 9:52AM

What an interesting bunch of archives. This newsletter does a good job of highlighting these unsung heroes

Valerie Love February 8th at 8:53AM

Kia ora Ellen, it is indeed the same Cilla McQueen. The graphic scores were a collaboration with composer Jack Body.

Valerie Love February 8th at 8:55AM

Many thanks, Heather and Gayle - glad to hear that you both enjoyed reading the post! We certainly love what we do, and getting to know the people and stories behind the collections we work with.