By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Co-ordinator, Radio – Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
If you have been to see Taika Waititi’s film The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) you will remember the scene in which the two main characters discover the long-believed-extinct huia bird, while they are deep in the bush.
In real life, the last authenticated sighting of a huia is generally believed to have been in 1907 in the Tararua Ranges, north of Wellington. Sound recording technology was in its infancy when the huia died out, so there are no recordings of the actual bird call itself. However, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s sound collection holds several recordings about the huia, including eyewitness descriptions of it – and a re-creation of the bird’s call by a man who remembered them well. You can hear me talking about these recordings with RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan here or listen to the full recordings below.
The sad tale of the huia holds a great deal of fascination for many people – both Māori and Pākehā, as well as people overseas. In my role as Client Services Co-ordinator, I handle requests from people who want to hear sound recordings from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s collection. In the case of the huia, these might be ornithologists, academics interested in aspects of extinction, or artists and musicians inspired by the melancholy idea of being able to hear the call of the bird that has long been silenced.
This usually leads them to one particular recording, which is the re-creation of the huia’s call.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision audio conservator Sandy Ditchburn has found that local knowledge and a great phone technique can be handy tools when researching archival sound recordings.
I’ve been really honing my research skills lately, mostly due to having a number of discs to preserve that contain recordings of events that happened in or around Invercargill – where I lived for four years while studying sound engineering. I’ve found that there’s not usually a lot of easily searchable online information about historic Invercargill events, so have taken to calling places such as the Southland Museum, the Invercargill City Library, and the Invercargill City Council, who have all been helpful verifying names and answering my obscure questions, such as:
“Who was the Mayor of Riverton in 1952?” (Answer: Dr Ninian Trotter, who was mayor for 28 years and something of a local legend.)
This week however, I had to branch out a bit further.
I had come across a disc with the title, “R.S.A. Memorial Hall Opening Ceremony.” I ascertained from the recording that this Memorial Hall was located in Invercargill, and, other than the names of a few speakers, that was the extent of the information given. I knew that having a date for this event would be extremely helpful in terms of information to put into our database, so set about searching for one. I found the number for the Invercargill R.S.A. but an unhelpful voicemail message explained that they were only open on Tuesdays from 1:30 to 4pm – not ideal on a Wednesday afternoon.
My next call was made to the Invercargill City Council – another dead end, although the woman there did suggest that she walk past the building on her way to work the next morning and look for a plaque. Looking at the stack of discs still waiting to be preserved, I was eager to track down a date as soon as possible and this is where my local knowledge came in to play. If there was a plaque on the side of the building it would most likely contain the building’s date on it. I had walked past this memorial hall many times and remembered there being a free health service (Number 10) in an attached building. I even had their number stored on my phone from my poor student days! The very confused receptionist at Number 10 assured me that she wasn’t allowed to abandon her post to search for a plaque.
Feeling like defeat was near, I wandered into our main office and explained my situation. After explaining the building’s location, and a quick search of Google Street View, we were looking at the R.S.A. Memorial hall on my colleague Camilla’s computer monitor. My other colleague Sarah then pointed out a grainy, black square on the side of the building next to the front door, that was most certainly a plaque.
The closest manned building to that plaque (other than Number 10) was the H&J’s Flooring Xtra store, on the opposite side of the road. A moment later I was speaking to one of their flooring specialists, and asking if she would do me a favour by nipping across the road and taking a note of what the plaque said. She hesitantly agreed and, after taking my information, hung up. My phone rang after 10 minutes and I had my answer – the building was opened by Governor General, Sir Willoughby Norrie, on the 13th of March 1956. I explained to the woman from Flooring Xtra why I wanted the information, and she was almost as happy as I was to have cracked the case.
Sometimes picking up a phone, thinking outside the box, and acting on a hunch can do wonders when researching!
- By Sandy Ditchburn (Digital Transfer Operator, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Our Digital Transfer Operator Sandy Ditchburn came across an enigmatic audio recording this week.
Sandy and the rest of the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision sound archivists have been working on a project to digitise our valuable audio heritage. One of the discs she came across in her digitisation work was a mysterious one, with minimal descriptive labelling, containing this recording:
[Archival audio from the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of Copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact firstname.lastname@example.org]
One of our preservationists suggested that it may have come from the Pitcairn Islands. Or is this avant-garde band?
Can you help us solve the mystery? If you can shed any light on this recording, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact email@example.com
This disc is part of the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision D-Series, which is an assortment of over 10,000 audio disc recordings spanning 1935-1958. Amongst the recordings in the D-Series are wartime radio newsreels, election addresses, current events programmes, and numerous recordings of music by New Zealand composers, including early broadcasts by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
In part two of our guest blog from Russell-based local historian Lindsay Alexander, the tale of a 1930s documentary filmmaking venture continues… and questions arise about the fate of the final footage.
Chasing The White Whale: The Mystery of the Missing Whangamumu Whaling Film
by Lindsay Alexander
How did Woodard know to contact Herbert Cook? Possibly through a marine scientist. Herbert Cook was regarded as an expert in Bay of Islands whaling and the Discovery Reports, research papers from the scientific RRS Discovery expeditions of the mid 1920’s, say that the Bay of Islands whaling section ‘is compost almost entirely from conversations with Mr H. F. Cook manager and part owner of the station at Whangamumu, who visited the RRS Discovery at Auckland…’. Continue reading →
This two-part guest blog from Russell-based local historian Lindsay Alexander tells the incredible tale of a 1930s documentary filmmaking venture: Hollywood movie-man Stacy R Woodard’s mission to find 74 year old Herbert ‘Bertie’ Cook (legendary Bay Of Islands whaler), build a replica American-style whaleboat and go harpoon whales the old way.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is very pleased to be able to share Lindsay’s essay with you. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Chasing The White Whale: The Mystery of the Missing Whangamumu Whaling Film
by Lindsay Alexander
On December 12 1933 Stacy R Woodard, “of Hollywood”, and his wife Margaret boarded the steamer Niagara at Auckland bound for Los Angeles via Honolulu. With him was a priceless Bay of Islands legacy. Stacy had arrived in New Zealand some four months previously. He had a mission to “depict whaling in the olden days … to resurrect and to preserve for all time a record of those old methods…the risks to life and limb were many and various”.
The place to do this was Whangamumu. Though the whaling station had recently closed in 1931, Stacy knew that “one of the last whalers of the old school… ‘Bertie’ [Herbert] Cook” was still living in Russell. Herbert Cook had “over 50 years’ experience of whaling in all its phases and in many seas”. He was from a Bay of Island’s whaling dynasty. His grandfather, father, uncles and brothers had all been whalers. Born in 1859, he had cut his teeth on whales while growing up in the Bay of Islands and then honed his skills when he joined the American whaling barque Alaska of New Bedford on the 29th September 1879, at the age of 20. He was on a “170th lay for the balance of the voyage”. This was a very small share of the profits indeed. Captain Fisher had anchored the Alaska off the old whaling port of Russell, both to refit and provision; and ‘refresh’ his crew.
When the Alaska reached New Bedford in May 1880, at end of her voyage, Herbert was described as “[from] New Zealand, twenty years old, 5 foot 10 inches, Boatsteerer”, i.e. harpooner, and, as such, had risen rapidly through the ranks, increasing his earnings as he did so. Herbert was aboard when the Alaska left New Bedford on her next whaling voyage in September 1880. He was now most likely one of the mates, the most experienced of the whalemen on this crack American whaler. Eventually when she returned to Russell, Herbert left the Alaska in the mid 1880’s.
After arriving at Russell Herbert was back whaling again alongside his brother George Howe Cook, as one of the founders of the Whangamumu whaling station, run under the business name of “Cook Brothers”. The Cooks hunted the humpback whales which passed the Bay of Islands on their yearly migration to and from the tropics. Continue reading →
A distinctive accent may be the key to matching a second of the mystery voices of Gallipoli to an identity: Hawke’s Bay navy veteran, Captain Alexander McLachlan.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s ‘mystery voices of Gallipoli’ are five unnamed men interviewed by the late Napier broadcaster Laurie Swindell in January 1969. Swindell used the interviews to create a powerful radio documentary, simply called ANZAC.
[ANZAC (1969). Archival audio from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of Copyright. To request a copy of the recording, please contact us.]
In ANZAC, the anonymous veterans recalled the brutal conditions they experienced in Gallipoli. The first speaker describes his service as an officer aboard the Saturnia, the Royal Navy vessel that transported ANZAC troops to Gallipoli in 1915. The man’s rich Scottish accent adds to the weight and emotion of his story, which describes how poorly prepared they were to receive the unexpectedly high number of casualties that had to be evacuated to hospitals in Greece and Egypt. Continue reading →
Jane Paul, our Community Screenings Coordinator is curating a WWI programme of films held by NZFA including some that have been repatriated recently from Archives overseas. Once the programme has been curated Bill Hickman and other musicians will be composing and recording a soundtrack. The result will be freely available to loan by community groups throughout New Zealand in 2015. Its an exciting project, and is requiring a great deal of viewing to decide on the final selection of films. The WWI films in the programme are mostly newsreel clips and Government films, providing official views of the war. One film that Jane is interested in finding is a drama called Shattered. It was made post war in 1931, by Robert Steele. Shattered, from newspaper reports is a drama about the terrible effects of the war on returned soldiers. Continue reading →
Rosemary Steane heard an excerpt of the recording on Radio New Zealand’s “Morning Report” last month and realised one of the men was her great-uncle, Joseph Gasparich.
Joe was a young Auckland school teacher when World War I broke out and signed up to serve with the Auckland Infantry Battalion. He was wounded three times in the course of the war, serving not only on Gallipoli but also the Western Front, where he was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant, before being discharged on account of his injuries and shipped home in April 1917. Continue reading →
- By Sarah Johnston (SANTK Client Services Archivist)
Can you help us identify the voices of the five unidentified Gallipoli veterans who feature in this radio documentary?
["ANZAC" (1969). Archival audio from Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of Copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact SANTK.]
The men’s recollections of landing at Gallipoli and the brutal conditions they encountered form a powerful documentary simply called “ANZAC”, which late Napier broadcaster Laurie Swindell made in the studios of station 2ZC in Napier in January 1969.
The programme has been kept since then in the collection of Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero in Christchurch. Continue reading →