Magazine Article

James Morgan
Community Foundation Hawke’s Bay

A Digital Shoebox

Stored in shoeboxes throughout Hawke’s Bay are items of memorabilia, references to the life, times and styles of the people who contributed to the heritage of this province, and those who continue to do so.

They can be found in every house and factory from Wairoa to Porangahau. Individually these items are invaluable. Collected together, they become an asset worth millions of dollars to the province, increasingly so as the years advance.

Those fading photographs, letters, personal observations of our forbears need copying before they are lost. So do the tape-recorded narratives and 8mm films.

The Community Foundation Hawke’s Bay is advancing a project to establish a permanent digital window into our past. We have proposed that the Stoneycroft homestead be utilised as a venue for taking digital copies of these privately- held treasures. These copies would be properly annotated and stored for posterity.

Via Stoneycroft’s scanners, computers and fileservers, digital copies of such treasures then become available as a quick reference for researchers, businesses, writers, students of every age, even on the other side of the world.

The copies would also be available to those families who lost or damaged their originals by way of misadventure. It means that precious records no longer disappear once silverfish take control.

Over the past 100 or more years not one body in Hawke’s Bay has seriously been in a position to consider the means of preserving this region’s “personal” history …as opposed to balance sheets, planning applications, road maps, employment records, engineers’ reports and minutes, which are slowly being archived, and for which the tempo must increase by Government decree.

Hawke’s Bay’s own regional archivist, Chris Johnson, employed by three local authorities, has said on numerous occasions that there are “whole collections” of privately-held material which need scanning to a regional archive.

The potential of Stoneycroft is that it could be the most important historical archive outside Wellington. Graham Coe, Wellington, a former director of digital innovation at the National Library, is the man who invented the remarkable Papers Past resource. He predicts: “The Hawke’s Bay digital archive will become a national and international resource of value to everyone for economic, educational and cultural purposes.”

National institutions are clearly better funded than those operating at the local level, but paradoxically it is likely that precious material such as letters, photographs, films and sound held by individuals or local archives far exceeds in volume material collected centrally, Mr Coe says.

At Stoneycroft equipment will be of international standard, mostly superior to that seen elsewhere. It will be used in capture studios geared to complement workrooms of the National Library.

There will be a story booth, a sound-proofed interview and recording studio for oral histories, equipped also with cameras so that narratives can be linked with pictures.

The Stoneycroft project brings together knowledge, thoughts and experiences of companies, private individuals, institutions across the province. The technology will make it a searchable record of Hawke’s Bay’s history. The end result will be a modern encyclopedia of everything Hawke’s Bay.

Inevitably, questions arise as we do our part to inform the community of the detail of this project.

No, the digital archive is not in competition with any museum, large or small, anywhere in the province. The project is complementary. It supplements the work and the capacity of all of them. It is doing work which is not already being done. It will inevitably develop greater links and cross-indexing to established groups and repositories.

As Graham Coe says, the volume of treasures held by individuals far exceeds the volume of material that could be collected in any one place. Nor, with the threat of earthquake, fire or flood is it a good idea to have all your treasures stored in one place.

That is why it will be great to have a digital image of all things valuable while the originals are stored elsewhere (never all of them in one shed anywhere).

Nor will it ever duplicate plant or manpower.

The Hastings District Council has made a significant contribution toward the preservation of Hawke’s Bay’s heritage . . . by making Stoneycroft homestead available as headquarters of the province’s regional digital archive.

This is Hawke’s Bay’s greatest opportunity. It is over now to the community to show their approval of council’s decision by contributing toward the state-of-the-art equipment needed. This is, after all, an initiative of the community, not that of a local authority.

Between $800,000 and $1 million would get the project off to a flying start. It’s not an impossible sum. This project is about doing what is achievable versus an impossible dream.

Stoneycroft is right by the expressway meaning easy access from all quarters of the province. The property is visible.

A covenant signed with the Historic Places Trust binds future owners not to damage or alter Stoneycroft or allow detrimental activity. The beauty of this project is that it will comply.

If you would like to know more about the digital archive and how you can support it, contact the foundation’s administrator, Janice Gilmour, at 06 870 4648 or me at [phone number withheld]

Photo caption – The historic Stoneycroft Homestead in Hastings

Original digital file


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