Fresh favourites from ’fourteen

Another year has flown by here at the National Library! As we welcome 2015, the Arrangement and Description (A&D) Team at the Alexander Turnbull Library wanted to take a look back at the year that was, and share our experiences creating descriptive records and finding aids for over 300 new unpublished collections.

These and other newly described collections are Fresh off the bench, meaning they’ve moved off our work benches and are now available for you to use!

Here are just a few of our favourites that we’ve worked on in 2014.

Albert Wendt papers

– Tim Lovell-Smith

Tim Lovell-Smith with a large volume of papers.Tim Lovell-Smith. Photo by Valerie Love.

I spent a large portion of this year arranging and describing 48 boxes of papers of the prominent Samoan writer, Albert Wendt (MS-Group-2218). Wendt has been an early Samoan scholarship student in New Zealand, a school teacher, school principal in Samoa, poet, playwright, essayist, novelist of international recognition, short story writer and academic at both the University of the South Pacific and the University of Auckland.

Processing this large collection of assorted papers of a living writer was daunting at first, but also intriguing. The progressions of drafts were fascinating – seeing draft short stories (and the occasional poem) mined for material for his novels, and unpublished drafts of novels never reaching fruition. His correspondence stretches back to the late 1950s and features many figures from the literary establishment, both in New Zealand and overseas.

Writing, university politics, and the life of his extended family in Samoa, Europe, and North America are only a few facets of his life and career covered. His concern and interest with new indigenous Pacific island writers and his linking of them with world literature is also enlightening. I welcome further accessions of Wendt’s “work in progress”.

Paul Jenden papers

– Merryn McAulay

Merryn McAulay with colourful costume design sketches.Merryn McAulay. Photo by Valerie Love.

A favourite collection of mine this past year has been the Paul Jenden collection (MS-Group-2279, DPP-Group-0007, and PA-Group-00899 – all from one accession). Paul Jenden was a well-known and prolific Wellington based writer, director, choreographer, and set and costume designer. This collection contained photographic prints, correspondence, reviews, costume and set designs, and other material relating to shows that Jenden designed costumes and sets for, wrote, danced in, or was otherwise involved with. It was fascinating to see costumes through from the initial sketches, to photographs of them being worn in performances, to reviews of the shows.

Leslie George Kelly photographs and drawings

– Ariana Tikao

Ariana Tikao with an album of photographs and drawings.Ariana Tikao. Photo by Valerie Love.

One of my favourites from this year is a small photograph album by the journalist, engine-driver and historian Leslie George Kelly (PA1-o-1887). Kelly took the photographs of pā sites (including battle sites from the New Zealand Wars) between 1928 and 1930. He also drew some beautiful coloured maps that are included in the album, and strongly relate to some of the photographs.

There is a lot of detail in his descriptions, which (I find) are quite delightful, including the vantage point that he took the photographs from. At times, he has also written captions about how the various photographs and maps relate to each other, and dates and other details for particular battles that occurred there – an arranger/describer’s dream! He has even dated the various images – bravo!

Earlier this year, I curated an exhibition in the Turnbull Gallery called Borderland: The world of James Cowan, which had a large section devoted to the battle and site of Ōrākau. In Kelly’s photograph album, he has taken images of Ōrākau and related sites including churches and whare at Rangiaowhia (a small settlement in the Waipā district which was invaded by British troops just weeks prior to Ōrākau (in 1864). There has been a lot of work done recently by Heritage New Zealand on various sites relating to the New Zealand Wars, so I believe this album will be of interest to mana whenua and researchers who are dealing with registering and interpreting these historic sites. The pā sites include sites from Kaipara District, Auckland, Taranaki, Kawhia and Waikato.

Lynn Horgan registration certificates

– Dolores Hoy

Dolores Hoy with one of the registration certificates, showing a family portrait and fingerprints.Dolores Hoy. Photo by Laura Mirebeau.

One of the descriptive tasks we undertake is to enhance the descriptions of collections Turnbull Library has received in the past. I opened a couple of scantly described folders from the Lynn Horgan collection of Registration Certificates (MS-Group-2277), and was immediately fascinated by the vivid content within. The collection comprises eight certificates of registration which were issued between 1901 and 1915. They were issued by the Collector of Customs to resident immigrants who travelled from New Zealand on a temporary basis. Each carries photographs, fingerprints, handwriting, descriptions of physical appearance, and details of travel which identify the origin and status of eight new Chinese and Syrian immigrants to New Zealand. A great deal of information about each individual and the times in which they lived, is captured in the certificates.

The certificates are fragile due to the friable nature of the crackling sealing wax used as the official seal on the documents. The care taken, and still needed, in their preservation, illustrates the importance of the documents to the lives of these individuals and probably to their families. They are a great material contribution to our understanding of the social conditions in which these people lived. I’m hoping the improvement of the description will help researchers find these wee gems.

Owen Cecil Mitchell photographs

– Catherine Bisley

Catherine Bisley with an album of photographs.Catherine Bisley. Photo by Valerie Love.

This year I had the chance to work on two photographic collections relating to the Chatham Islands. One of these was created by Owen Cecil Mitchell, a local farmer and amateur photographer (PA-Group-00911). Mitchell took the photographs circa 1900-1930, with a majority of the images featuring the Chathams in the 1920s.

The prints, negatives, and album provide insight into a number of aspects of the isolated island community. Moriori leader Tommy Solomon (also known as Tame Horomoana Rehe) is featured in a number of images, though other photographs show unidentified children, farmers, workers, and community groups. As one would expect, there are some stunning photographs of coastal landscapes, but also images of kahukahu draped on a hydrangea, shark jaw trophies, and excellent photographs of animals (including possibly the most disgruntled-looking sheepdog I’ve even seen).

Serendipitously, just as I was completing the arrangement and description process for the collection, a couple from the Chatham Islands visited the Library and requested to see the material. I was then able to talk with them about the images, ask questions, and enhance the descriptive records using their local knowledge. These personal interactions with collection materials are part of what makes the work so rewarding.

New Zealand Olympic Committee records

– Kevin Stewart

Kevin Stewart with hundred of boxes of records.Kevin Stewart. Photo by Valerie Love.

My favourite collection among the many I processed during 2014 was the records of the New Zealand Olympic Committee (MS-Group-2301), the official body that organises New Zealand’s participation in both the Olympic Games and the British Empire/Commonwealth Games. The records, which comprise over 200 boxes of materials, cover the Olympic Games held from 1908 to 2012, the British Empire/Commonwealth Games from 1930-2010, and the 1911 Festival of London. More recent records from the past 30 years are restricted; however, the bulk of the collection is available to researchers.

The records are arranged chronologically under the name of the games they relate to, and the reports of the chefs de missions (managers of the New Zealand teams) are particularly interesting, as they discuss how the New Zealand athletes fared, and raised issues that needed to be addressed before sending teams to future games. Also of interest are the records relating to the nomination and selection of team members, and the collection of programmes and ephemera from the games.

NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd mosaic negatives

– Ingrid Foster

Ingrid Foster and Kirsty Willis working with extremely large map negatives.Ingrid Foster (standing) and Kirsty Willis. Photo by Mark Strange.

NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd was a company based in Hastings that carried out aerial mapping around New Zealand and the Pacific for 78 years. The Library holds collection of 3,600 large mosaic negatives from the 1940s to the 1990s, taken by NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd, (PA-Group-00055), which are housed off-site in Whanganui. I’ve been a member of the A&D team for four months, and recently took a trip to Wairere House along with Assistant Curator for Photographs, Kirsty Willis, to take part in an ongoing project to re-house and describe the negatives. Photographic collections require a controlled environment for long-term preservation, and we performed our work in the 12 degree Celsius cold storage facility.

The Aerial Mapping Ltd negatives offer a fascinating glimpse at what New Zealand looked like from above sixty years ago. And as well showing rolling hills and farmland, there are views of coastlines, rivers, volcanoes, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, ships and the shadows of planes. Some images have been digitised and are available online through the National Digital Heritage Archive. Through the ongoing work to re-house and describe these negatives, people will be able to find and access these images for years to come.

Wendy Collings photographs

– Kirsty Cox

Kirsty Cox working at her computer on a digital photograph collection.Kirsty Cox. Photo by Valerie Love.

One of my favourite collections from 2014 was a set of digital photographs of bands and musicians (PA-Group-00914). This collection comprised 2,312 born-digital images photographed by Wendy Collings of Tymar Lighting, a Wellington-based stage lighting company, between October 2012 and January 2014. Although the photography is taken from the perspective of the stage lighting for musical performances, it documents the live music band culture in New Zealand by including not only well-known New Zealand bands and performers, such as Trinity Roots, the Mutton Birds, and Dave Dobbin, but also the less well known and my personal favourite, tribute bands ‘Whole Lotta Led’ and ‘GnFnRs’ and underground international acts such as Ariel Pink.

Some of the bands photographed were so short-lived that they appear to have only performed live several times. The names of the bands, and my research into some of the less-well known bands and their membership were also incredibly interesting. Seeing the same faces appearing in photographs of multiple bands concurrently demonstrated the interconnectedness of New Zealand’s music culture and how small it really can be! An added bonus to this collection is that despite these images still being under copyright, the donor has allowed permission for them to be accessible online.

Albert Armitage Salmon photographs

– Valerie Love

Valerie Love with a photograph of Milford Track.Valerie Love. Photo by Ariana Tikao.

Much of my time in 2014 was devoted to arranging and describing the Diva Productions Ltd: Records of the Topp Twins (MS-Group-2258). However, a smaller collection that I thoroughly enjoyed working on this past year as well was a collection of photographs by Albert Armitage Salmon (PA-Group-00933). This collection contained 150 silver gelatin photographs taken by Salmon - an Australian photographer and avid hiker and rock-climber - on a tramping holiday across New Zealand from December 1936 to January 1937. In my research on Salmon, I discovered that a few images in the collection had been previously been digitised and placed on Flickr with additional contextual information that I was then able to include in the Library’s description of the photographs.

Silver gelatin photograph of a woman crossing a stream on Milford Track.Silver gelatin photograph from the Salmon photographic collection (PAColl-10262-1).

The photographs in the collection were all mounted on board, and each includes commentary by Salmon. They not only show breath-taking scenery across New Zealand, but also depict the highs and lows of tramping – including moments along the Milford Track where his companions look entirely ready for a nap! My favourite photograph in the collection shows Queensland school teacher Mary Hansen deftly crossing the Roaring Meg stream from Jervois Glacier while wearing a pair of ankle boots with small heels. I’m absolutely certain that I would be in the water if that were me!

Dame Christine Cole Catley papers

– Michael Brown

Michael Brown with dozens of boxes of Dame Catley's papers.Michael Brown. Photo by Merryn McAulay.

In choosing my favourite collection of 2014, it would be hard to go past the papers of Dame Christine Cole Catley (1922-2011) (MS-Group-2254). Christine Cole Catley had a long and varied career. She worked as a journalist in the 1940s and 1950s, including as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s first foreign correspondent in Indonesia. Returning to New Zealand, Catley became one of this country’s first television reviewers, founded the first full-time journalism training course (at Wellington Polytechnic) and later served on the Broadcasting Council. Well-acquainted with many New Zealand writers, in 1972 she founded the publishing house, Cape Catley Ltd, which would build up an impressive catalogue. As Frank Sargeson’s literary executor, she established the Sargeson Trust in 1982. Furthermore, Catley wrote several works herself, including the acclaimed biography of astronomer Beatrice Tinsley, Bright Star (2006). As if this were not enough, she also reputedly invented the word “kiwifruit”!

As her résumé suggests, Christine Cole Catley’s papers comprise a very large collection: 546 folders or 81 boxes of materials. Unpublished papers includes drafts, notebooks and diaries, and voluminous correspondence files (including with her good friend, writer Michael King), together with extensive research files of articles, newspaper clippings and the like. Perhaps the biggest challenge in describing this collection was the length of time required to process it. However, with a life as interesting as this, I found there were always surprises in each new box.

Robert Percy Moore panoramic photographs

– Win Lynch

Win Lynch working on a large panorama negatives, which is sitting on a lightbox.Win Lynch. Photo by Valerie Love.

For the past year or more, I have been working one day a week on describing the Robert Percy Moore collection of panoramic photographs of New Zealand (PA-Group-00376). This is a massive collection of 2,489 original black and white panoramic negatives taken from 1923-1928. I get excited explaining to friends what the collection is about, how large it is, the enormous size of the panoramic negatives, and the importance of item descriptions to facilitate researchers’ search of the images in the collection. In my descriptions of the photographs, in addition to including place and name authority headings, I try to also add information that might help researchers studying New Zealand life in the 1920s, by pointing out distinctive features, such as plants, clothing worn, or styles of houses that appear in the images.

Moore did provide information about most of the images, but some information is fairly minimal, and his spelling sometimes creates problems in creating correct name headings. In some cases there no clues as to location, and no names, so I have to try and describe the image in such a way that it could be possible for someone to identify it. It is my research on Wise’s Post Office Directory, NZ Topo Maps, and other tools that makes the work so interesting.

For more information about these, or any of the other collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library, please contact our friendly Research Enquiries team.

By Valerie Love

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

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Heather Mackay January 6th at 12:28PM

Enjoyed seeing the people doing the projects and the range of work. Lovely publication thanks.

Wendy Gogel January 6th at 4:10PM

What a wonderful way to share collections. I hope that researchers know to consult this blog.

Bill Macnaught January 6th at 4:29PM

What a fascinating glimpse of the work done last year Valerie! I too was taken with the footwear used by Mary Hansen for river crossing. I think she should have a speech bubble saying "In these shoes? I don't think so!" Really great blog - thank you!

Pauline Porteous January 7th at 7:59AM

Thank you for these notes on the 2014 A&D collection work. Interesting to see what has be done and to see the people who have done the work. Great photographs.

Valerie Love January 7th at 12:32PM

Thank you all for the wonderful comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the small glimpse of some of the collections we've worked on. Heaps more await us in 2015!

Tiena Jordan January 12th at 10:39AM

Thank you very much for sharing these glimpses of the very interesting collections the staff have been working on.

I don't think the Mountain Safety Council would endorse the footwear worn by Mary Hansen while crossing that river somehow!

Corrina Gordon January 12th at 1:21PM

What treasures we have. Thanks for sharing all, and thanks to Valerie for putting this great blog together!

Marion Townend January 13th at 12:44PM

Dear A+D team,
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories and seeing photos of you all. A great round-up Valerie. What a huge collection the Catley papers became!
I hope you all had great summer holidays, and wish you another great year of arranging and describing.