Update: Radio New Zealand Sound Archives

We have successfully recovered New Zealand’s largest, oldest and most treasured archival sound collection. On Thursday morning, the 23rd of July, we unloaded the last load of crates containing fragile items from the archive. Despite the severity of the ongoing quakes, there appears to be little physical damage to the collection.

The archive recovery operation is part of a larger Radio New Zealand plan called the Christchurch Earthquake – Business Continuity Recovery Plan. Many people in Wellington have been involved behind the scenes to help reinstate our normal operations and cover New Zealand’s biggest news story in recent times.

As well as recovering the archive we retrieved other Radio New Zealand Christchurch equipment and personal items. Our new Cashel Street archive is stacked with grey security crates and pallets of boxes. Most of our equipment is stored nearby in the lock-up space. We have air-conditioning installed in the new space and are keeping a close watch on temperature and humidity as well as other potential hazards.

During the February post quake lock-down, there was a risk of water entering the archive and a potential mould outbreak. Despite the obvious building damage and loss of flashing on the west wall, there were no leaks. This autumn and winter have been exceptionally dry and mild and we were lucky there were no wet southerlies.

So we had sufficient time to plan the recovery, though there were many variables to juggle and we were never completely sure when we would be allowed in. The recovery plan is also a long term storage solution. We are using polypropylene security crates and have ordered industrial strength shelving for the new archive. Needless to say, earthquake bracing and restraint are being incorporated into the new space.

The risk assessment for the health and safety plan was an interesting exercise. Though not particularly scientific, the greatest risk factors that could not be eliminated, minimized or isolated were “emotional stress” and more earthquakes. This was reassuring because despite the damage, the building itself was safe and stress is something we talk about regularly these days in Christchurch. The most stressful part was waiting to get in. Once we were there we soon settled into a fairly brisk, but not hurried routine.

As for more earthquakes, yet again the old leviathan would have the last word. On Monday the 13th of June at 1.01 pm, from across the road, I watched the front of the building flex and ripple, as Tony, Robyn and Nathan ran from the barbecue under the drive-through. Nick Guy and Matthew O’Sullivan were in the archive and Doug and I met them on their way out, a little shaken but O.K. At this point we decided not to re-enter the building. After hearing the quake was centred near Taylor’s Mistake, I headed home to Heathcote Valley to clean up the inevitable mess, before the inevitable post quake traffic-jam. I had just mopped up the last of the milk and broken glass when I held the bench and watched everything not screwed to the walls fall down again: phew! – another big one.

The June the 13th quake meant we were locked out for another week until our engineer cleared the building. There was little, if any, more external damage, though inside we noted more broken windows, cracks in gib and lifting carpet tiles. Good thing we weren’t working on the last disc row, as two of the units toppled, spilling a thousand or more “acetates” on the floor. The final phase took another two and a half days.

Among the recovery crew were ex-RNZ operator, Phil Swallow, who took time out from building work to pitch in. National Library archivist, Nick Guy, brought a cool systematic approach. Timaru’s Museum’s Tony Rippen brought his steel capped boots curator’s packing finesse and Matthew O’Sullivan of the Air force Museum brought his rather large pro-format camera and a highly energetic approach to dealing with collapsed shelving.

Jump movers turned out to be a great little family firm who really took our special archival concerns on board as well as cooking a tasty lunch-time burger. The team work was superb with everyone pitching in and things happened a lot quicker than we expected.

Marie O’Connell and me have a very large sorting job ahead and we are looking forward to this opportunity to create more archival order out of the quake chaos. Its also an opportunity to significantly improve the storage and accessibility of the collection.

I wish to thank all those involved in the project. Big thanks to: Karen Neill (team support and permissions), Trudi Jarvis (safety watch), Marie O’Connell (safety watch), Robyn Crocker (Jump – safety watch) Nathan Crocker (Jump), Tony Crocker (Jump), Doug Dee (Jump), Paul Allerby (Jump) Darian Keane (Jump), Terry Klenner (Jump), Nick Calvert (engineer), Lynn Campbell (Christchurch City Art Gallery – Disaster Recovery Network) and Ian Johnson (driver). Extra special thanks to Wayne Jarvis (technical taonga) who put in many long hours and days away from home.

John Kelcher
Sound Archivist
Radio New Zealand Christchurch

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1 Comment

Filed under Canterbury Quake, Collections, Disasters

One response to “Update: Radio New Zealand Sound Archives

  1. Pingback: Update : Archives and research services in the city « Cantage – Canterbury Heritage

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