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Showing posts from 2019

The price of progress

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The way some individuals and companies exploit our environment seems to be a very twenty-first century concern. However, photographs published in the New Zealand Graphic one hundred years ago show people were starting to realise New Zealand’s natural landscape and resources had been seriously degraded by extractive nineteenth-century industries and farming techniques.

On 6 May 1893 the New Zealand Graphic published a photo with the stark caption, ‘Our timber trade: the work of destruction in a kauri forest.’ It showed a jumbled mass of logs already felled by bushmen. Bullock teams were being harnessed to drag the logs from the forest; probably to a bush tramway and then to a sawmill.


Sixteen years later in 1909 the Graphic published a page of photos entitled simply ‘How the Dominion bush is vanishing.’ The series showed a doomed kauri tree’s final journey from the forest via bullock team, bush tramway and log dam towards the city sawmill.


Then in 1910 the paper published a photo of tw…

Threlkeld, Biraban, and the Awabakal manuscripts at Auckland Libraries

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Held in the heritage collections at Auckland Libraries are two unique manuscripts written in the indigenous Australian language known today as Awabakal. Prior to colonisation, this language was spoken by the Aboriginal peoples of the Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie area of New South Wales. During the twentieth century, its survival was at risk, however, it is now part of an indigenous language rediscovery movement in Australia.

Original texts are important sources for language rediscovery as they record the language when it was spoken widely. To aid this project, and as a contribution to the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, Auckland Libraries has digitised these two manuscripts – Evangelion unni ta Jesu-um-ba Christ-ko-ba Upatoara Louka-umba and An Aboriginal and English lexicon to the Gospel according to Saint Luke - and made them available on Kura Heritage Collections Online. During August they are also on display in the Real Gold case in the special collections …

The Queen Street Mall Trial, May 1979

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It was the first week of the 1979 May school holidays and Auckland’s main thoroughfare was to be closed for a trial pedestrian mall. A trial was initially approved due to pressure from the Tramways union, whose trolley bus drivers wanted to ensure public safety if a permanent mall was to be given the green light. It was argued, according to The Queen Street Mall Pre-implementation Report that the school holidays allowed the mall “to be seen as an event,” and it also gave an opportunity for the public to experience Queen Street in a carless, fumeless, and relatively noiseless state.

And what an event it was.


A carnival-like atmosphere was created for one week in the Wellesley/Victoria street block. $14,000 was spent on signage, performers, makeshift rotundas and stages, seating, planting, and a research programme to determine its success. Activity wise, there was a merry-go-round, giant draughts and chess, mirror painting, collage and a “wheelchair pancake competition for disabled ch…

Alison Duff: the essence of life

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Alison Duff was a major Aotearoa New Zealand sculptor with a career spanning over sixty years. She introduced new materials and techniques and combined them with a commitment to local subject matter including native flora and fauna, and conservation concerns. She was inspired by her surroundings, without any reference to what anyone else may have done in the same field or in similar media, wrote Peter Cape who interviewed Duff in 1969. “A tui is the sound of a chime as well as shape and movement, and so her tui sculptures have sound as well as form (a carefully tuned bell, or sounding disc at the throat).” Duff carved and welded images of fantails, pied stilts, tui and kingfisher in which she tried to capture the essence of the birds and these sculptures often included acoustic elements. When asked if she observed and then drew birds before creating her sculptures, Duff replied, “No, I’d get him into my heart and then he comes out. I don’t do them photographically…. They’re not natura…

Three Faces of Frank

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There can’t be too many Aotearoa NZ writers who have been immortalised in bronze three times – but Frank Sargeson has been. His three portrait busts were made by sculptors Terry Stringer, Anthony Stones and Alison Duff. They are being shown together for the first time in an exhibition called Three Faces of Frank, in the Angela Morton Room in Takapuna Library from 1 August – 31 October 2019.


Duff produced the first bust of Sargeson, commissioned by The Arts Advisory Council (forerunner of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of NZ) in 1963. However, Sargeson took some persuading because he was annoyed that the Arts Council had turned down funding for a theatre production he was involved in. He finally agreed to sit for Duff, who was also a friend, and in the end he wrote that she had produced a torso which he was obliged to admire: “her work much more than myself.”


Duff depicted Sargeson in animated conversation, and in his shirtsleeves “because he is a writer of the people,” she said. …

Channelling negatives

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When I first came across this photograph from the Auckland Libraries heritage photograph collection I was mesmerised by the uniform yet complex and almost translucent pattern veiling the entire image. Shot from a landing above a stairwell, with a garden just visible through the large gridded window, the subject looks up resolutely towards the camera through what feels like a web of different physical and temporal spaces.


Auckland Libraries Principal Photographs Curator Keith Giles explained that this net-like pattern  - termed “channelling” - is caused by the contraction and deterioration of the cellulose layer in acetate film negatives. This degradation is usually the result of a process commonly known as vinegar syndrome (due to the strong vinegar-like odour) which occurs when the acetate ion reacts with moisture, signalling that ascetic acid has formed. While the issue is unavoidable with acetate film, preventative measures such as cool storage, acid free enclosures and stable rela…