History at your fingertips

Searching ‘fire’ on the Knowledge Bank’s new website brings up snippets of history not publicly available before Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust was set up, near nine years ago.

There are images of the 1962 Watties’ fire that many will still remember and a fire in Ahuriri started by the 1931 earthquake; a grainy image of a fire from way back in 1893 about which there is little detail; beautiful pictures of olden-day fire engines; and the story of the loss of Hastings’ Sacred Heart Church to fire in 1992.

The organisation’s new website was launched at Knowledge Bank’s home in historic Stoneycroft Homestead on February 15.

A capacity crowd of about 40 squeezed into the homestead’s function room for a run-through of the new website and to hear from Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust chairman Peter Dunkerley, board member David Shand, and founder James Morgan.

The trust started the project in 2011, realising the importance of keeping the local history alive for future generations.

All the material had been donated by members of the public; uploaded to the website by a dedicated team of volunteers – some 90 of them.

“It is about preserving the pieces of history that make up the culture and landscape of the Bay we have today,” said Mr Dunkerley.

“These records would probably not feature in a traditional museum but they are very important; the photos people took at all sorts of events, from family shots at Marineland and the A&P Show to those taken by locals during major disasters such as the 1931 earthquake.”

After the material is digitised the originals are dealt with according to the owner’s wishes, either returned to them or destroyed.

The records are open for the public to see and use under a Creative Commons License that allows them to be reproduced at no cost for non-commercial use.

“We would love to see school children access these photos for school projects; it would help keep these memories alive and instill in the next generation an understanding of how our region was shaped and what life was like in times past,” said Mr Dunkerley.

All of the material from the old website plus some recently processed collections are up on the new site, viewable from today (Feb 15). There are some 18,000 records on-line so far, a mix of photos, local magazines and newspapers, articles and oral histories.

“There is an indeterminate amount that we can add – there are another 900,000-plus records in the Spiller collection alone. And as we make new memories over the next generations they can be added so really, it’s a project with no end,” said Mr Dunkerley.


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