History of Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank – Frank Cooper

This recording is of a talk by Frank Cooper (deceased 2019) to his fellow Rotarians. Frank was a volunteer at the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank and the principal oral history interviewer of people on his large contact list, who contributed their life stories to the Knowledge Bank to be made accessible to all via the Knowledge Bank website.

The recording is undated but is probably 2015. It is missing the initial opening words, beginning mid-sentence. It also ends abruptly.

Frank Cooper: We’re 911 [901] Omahu Road. [Stoneycroft] It’s owned by the Hastings District Council and was leased by the Hawke’s Bay Digital Trust for periods of eighteen years. It started on December 1st 2012; it was the brainchild of a group called the Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust. The Trustees of this group are Dr David Barry, Peter Dunkerley, Angus Gordon, Heugh Chappell, and James Morgan. James was entrusted to run the day-to-day operations. Funding is by way of membership, Trusts, donations; and they need something like $30,000 to $40,000 a year running costs. The operation is driven totally by volunteers who come from all walks of life, all ages. They scan documents, films, hand-written notes, minute books, and index, as well as local history research. So there’s a wide group of people that work there. We have a link with National Archives and a direct link to National Library, which is a very, very important contact because we’re right up at the forefront of New Zealand archiving.

Since the start we’ve been receiving contributions of material from Hawke’s Bay citizens sometimes by the box load; and when I say that, you know, fruit boxes full of stuff that’s been collected for two, three, or four generations. The Knowledge Bank is a repository for such information; however, it’s not a museum. At the Knowledge Bank we encourage people to save their precious pieces as family heirlooms. What the Knowledge Bank seeks to do is to copy and store this information forever, from these heirlooms. This information is stored at four points around the country, not overseas – here in New Zealand, away from the cudgels of foreign entrepreneurs.

Residents are coming to us from as far away as Wairoa, Porangahau. We also have a purpose-built recording studio for recording oral and visual presentations, although most of our recording is off-site with portable recorders. The people who mean so much to the Knowledge Bank are those who are devoting their energies to help store the information we are receiving. The material you have in your shoebox adds another perspection [perspective] to everyone’s knowledge in Hawke’s Bay.

We have between seven and forty volunteers per day, and many of these volunteers can only give maybe one day or half a day, but it’s the numbers of people that we need to come. And you don’t have to be totally skilled in computing; yes, you can become a scanner, you can sort, you can edit. There are lots and lots of things that can be done, but it runs totally on volunteers.

Now the big question is: how did I become involved? A retiring Rotarian to become involved … I wasn’t sure initially, but Kay said to me one day, she said, “Don’t you think you should find another interest?” And I said, “Why?” [Chuckles] She said, “Well you can’t have coffees and meet with your mates all the time. You should do something.” And I thought, ‘Hello!’ You know, ‘this is mirroring what happened in the early days of the ladies and their coffees, and [?] and all those lovely things’. Anyway, I said, “Oh, I don’t know – it’s all computer stuff; I’m not sure that I’m ready for that.” And I just let it lie for a couple of weeks. And I thought, ‘I’ll go up to the Knowledge Bank.’ And I met James Morgan; and there must be a lot of you that probably know James Morgan – he’s a very enthusiastic person. And as soon as I arrived he said, “Oh”, he said, “we’d love to have you helping. We can put you on this; we can put you on that.” I said, “Hold it, hold it – I really … I’m computer illiterate. I don’t want anything to do with them.” “Oh”, he said, “we can find something for you.”

So anyway, one of the girls as I left said to me, “Maybe you’d like to do some interviewing of elderly people.” And I just left it at that. I went back another couple of weeks later and said to James, “Look, there’s nothing here that I really want to do. I don’t want to sort papers, I’ve done that all my life … don’t want to do this. But”, I said, “one of the girls suggested that I might like to do oral interviews.” And he said, “We’ll give it a go.” So he said, “Well, come in and we’ll give it a trial run.” They have a proper studio on the top storey of this building, a beautiful desk and a big screen with graphic things going up and down as you talk into it, and a big computer keyboard at your desk front. And he said, “We’ll show you how to do it.” “It’s just a replica of computer work”, I said, “no, no, no! It’s not what I want to do!” [Chuckles]

And at the same time one of our past Rotarians had also gone to the Knowledge Bank – Jim Newbigin, who was showing some interest in becoming an interviewer as well. So between the two of us we decided that we would invest in a portable machine … a recorder … that we can take out onsite, because the first interview I did was Noel Sutherland. I had trouble getting him up the stairs, and I had more trouble getting him down. So it wasn’t really practical; and then, of course, all these keyboards and all these flashing lights.

So we started going offsite to do the interviews. We started probably about the beginning of August, and since then we’ve done around thirty interviews. Some of these take two or three hours; some of them may only take an hour. And in these interviews we target people who’ve got some history, or been in the community for some time; obviously of some age as well. And they tell us about where their people came from; where they landed; what did they do when they first came to New Zealand; and building a mosaic of their family through until the businesses or interests they were involved in during [over] time. It’s probably one of the most interesting things that I’ve ever, ever done in my life … sitting down, prompting elderly people who have history that you didn’t even know was there. And some of it is Hawke’s Bay; and some of the people might’ve started on the West Coast; they might have moved somewhere else, but it all is building up this area of history for the local …

The enthusiasm of James Morgan and the other people that are there has certainly rubbed off onto those that were there, because it’s easy to go there, you know – it’s not an effort to do any of this. With the interviews, mainly I will ring someone and book two or three interviews a week. I try not to spend more than seven or eight hours a week on interviews, because we’ve got to do them, because the people that are here will not be here forever. We’re dealing with an age group who are holding this history, so there is a certain amount of urgency. And of course, people like myself, we’re not sure how much time I’ve got to do it either. But when you do the interview, it builds because it unlocks thoughts people haven’t had; because normally, [I’d] ring them and say, “Can you just hunt out some photos or something before I come along? And then we can have a chat.” When you go along, some have got lots of photos. And when I say photos – one chap has the whole history of Porangahau and Herbertville on plates … on these photo plates they used to have once. We’re able to copy all of that with our very sophisticated machinery. I couldn’t believe the history we got of that area – it’s going back into the 1890s.

So, the information that comes … every group that we do or every person we talk to … might take say, two hours for the interview. All I do is prompt them to keep them on the subject. But that creates something like ten or twelve hours work back at Stoneycroft. Why? Because the first thing we have to do is to edit the speech, because there’s ‘um’s’ and ‘ahs’, and in the case of one interview I did there was sprayers and tractors moving up and down in the headlands while we were doing it; and people drop a pen, or cough; so we condense the speech. We don’t alter it; we don’t alter it in any way, we don’t enhance it, but any gaps that we have, we leave them as such so that they become natural pauses, because nobody speaks non-stop. Once that’s done, then the hard copy is typed up; then if we have photos the photos are then scanned, and they’re attached to the edited speech. And then that becomes a historical digital documentary in the person’s voice, forever. People throughout the world – if they have a relative here, or they want to find something out about canvas-making, they dial this in [enter an online search] and up come[s] the subject you’re [they’re] looking for. So it’s really the most amazing thing I’ve been involved with; and I really have to say, “Thank you, Kay, for the introduction.” Because I would never have found it in a hundred years. But that’s it – that’s the Knowledge Bank. It’s open from ten till four-thirty; only during the week, only because volunteers run it; they can’t operate it on the weekend. There’s no paid staff at all.

But everyone’s welcome to go along – we’ve got a public room with about ten monitors … history rolling over; you look … We’ve got a room that’s full of all the memorabilia from the Hastings County Club – all the caricatures, all the things that were historical. We’ve just got all Lovell-Smith’s plates from the last fifty-odd years. That doesn’t mean anything to new people to Hawke’s Bay, but he was one of our favourite photographers that did weddings and all those formal things. We’ve just photocopied, scanned, fourteen years of the Hawke’s Bay Photo News. The ability we have is huge, but we need people. That’s it – thank you very much. [Applause]

Question: Yes, Frank – how do you get the people to get this knowledge from? ????

Frank: Some of us have a … quite a big community contact, because of, you know, where we’ve operated in life. A lot of the people I deal with, and Jim Newbigin deal[s] with are people that we know of. We have people who work in rest homes … we interviewed a ninety-eight-year-old down in Mary Doyle. There are people all over the place, it’s just a matter of putting your finger on them. Somebody, somewhere knows. But we have a foot in the door – it’s much easier to ask for some contribution in either paper or talking, than to go and ask, say, for money or other things.

Question: Frank, twenty-four years ago I was incapacitated for quite a long time, and I used to get from the library tapes of history – are those kind of tapes recorded digitally now? Or do they still remain in the libraries?

Frank: I really don’t know. The libraries have their own archiving system, and whether they are doing it digitally now or not, I don’t know. But when I took the Havelock Rotary Club records to be archived, they went next door to the library here; and they’re just hard copy – there’s no digital. Eventually they will all be digitalised, because we can’t store the stuff; there’s too much of it.

Question: Frank, you say that they’re digitalised – if you wanted to access it, would you access something in writing or ..?

Frank: No, you just have to go to …

Questioner: You can actually listen to them?

Frank: Oh, yes, the whole lot comes in; well eventually, all the history at wwknowledgebank.org.nz. [Correction: https://knowledgebank.org.nz] It’s all there; the speeches you will hear in the voice [of the person who was interviewed] ; any family, anyone who’s doing research, and it’s there forever. It’s not here for the life of the disk. So you can imagine – I’ve only been in this organisation for seven months, eight months. Imagine what it’s going to be like in twelve years. [Chuckles]

Question: Yeah, Frank – two hours to interview someone about their life isn’t very long, so do you go back and re-interview?

Frank: We can add an addendum to anything. Nothing’s finished, because … because we edit things we can add in; we can move the speech apart and slot things in. We do have several people who have said, “Look, I didn’t tell you about my great grandparents in the [?] coal mines.” We say, “That’s fine”, so you just go back and you just introduce the subject, whoever it is you’re interviewing, and that ‘This addendum is going to be about such and such, to be placed in the beginning of the first interview.’ So nothing is shut forever. We can open any speech up later, because we’re holding it. Yeah, it’s amazing really. So anyway …

Question: Is there any ability or attempt, Frank, to validate the information? Sometimes you get a [??] say, and someone tells you something that’s a bit different. Do you attempt to ..?

Frank: Most of it we can check, because we have … the photographs for a start have a time on them; the people that were there have been farming in the area from 1895, and so we have time factors there. We’d pretty soon, I think, identify if someone was gilding the lily.


Frank: Hello.

Mandy: Are you getting local Maori history in Ngati Kahungunu where various … or do they do their own?

Frank: The closest I’ve got is I’ve interviewed two people whose whanaus were from Māori princesses. And we’re working our way through freezing works … we’ve done managers, we’ve done freezing workers, so … this is only seven months. That’s another area; and we’re going from Porangahau to Wairoa, so we’ve got Napier; we’ve got people from Porangahau already; Waimarama; but we haven’t had any Maori people as yet. But they will come. We know they will.


Original digital file


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Rotary Talk (undated);  approx 2015

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