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Maharey Speech: Treasuring our cultural heritage

Treasuring our cultural heritage

Steve Maharey Speech to New Zealand on Air Archiving Symposium at New Zealand Film Archive, Wellington
Good morning. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today.

NZ On Air’s Archiving Symposium is a welcome opportunity to celebrate audio-visual archiving. It is an important means of preserving unique elements of our national identity.

This symposium is also a chance to combine forces in thinking through some of the challenges of today’s environment.

Venue and host

This is the first time I have had the pleasure of visiting Mediaplex. I have heard all about it, of course, and can see the accolades were well justified.

What an appropriate venue for today’s symposium.

This is a superb repository, entrusted with many precious items that reveal our collective history. I understand that there used to be a Volvo showroom on this site. Perhaps this repository is a bit like the Volvo – a safe and reliable vehicle for the nation’s visual moving images, and stylish with it!

But Mediaplex is also a true public resource, catering to the needs of locals, international visitors, families, schools and academics.

I am sure many New Zealanders appreciate the efforts of the New Zealand Film Archive in making its collections accessible throughout the country – with its video access sites and film screenings.

Cultural archiving

To go back to basics, briefly, public records play a key role in ensuring government is accountable and its activities open to public scrutiny.

Traditionally there have been arguments about what exactly the public record should be. Generally, what has been termed “the public record” has been the record of government function.

Today’s discussions, however, will be more about keeping a cultural record – not just of political and legislative history, but also of social, cultural and artistic developments.

This government believes that preserving the places, treasures, stories and cultural practices of our past is vital if we are to understand ourselves and continue to evolve as a society.

Cultural archiving, including audio-visual archiving, contributes a key part of the overall picture of our past.

Cultural identity

These days the idea of “cultural identity” has taken on a new significance. New Zealanders of course appreciate the possibilities of global “connectedness” – like, for instance, being able to sit at a computer and listen to the BBC live.

But we need to know about our own past - to understand the paths we have taken to arrive at the present. And so the government has put a great deal of thought and money into enhancing the protection of New Zealand’s heritage.

This is reflected in government initiatives such as: the funding of the Kerikeri Heritage Bypass project the $15.2 million heritage package of last year's Budget amendments to key pieces of legislation such as the Historic Places Act 1993 and the government’s ongoing support of the Regional Museums Policy for Capital Construction Projects (which, incidentally, has helped with the development and fit-out of Mediaplex).

This year’s Budget increased operating funding to Te Papa and made a $1.87 million contribution to the refurbishment of its storage facility.

And we committed additional funding of $380,000 a year for the New Zealand Film Archive, which almost doubles its annual funding.

Local content

Our colonial past is truly past. We know now that New Zealand culture - including New Zealand programming on television and radio at its best - is second to none.

Recent studies such as the cultural experiences survey and a very recent NZ On Air survey have shown that New Zealanders are enthusiastic about local culture and that we want more locally produced TV and radio programmes.


Despite my portfolio responsibility, I do not believe I am being partial in saying that broadcasting must be one of the most important vehicles for the promotion of contemporary culture.

I know of no other medium that can provide such a degree of “shared experience” and that can exert such a far-reaching influence.

I agree with my colleague the Minister of Sport and Recreation that sitting in front of the television is not a recommended leisure occupation to indulge in too often, or for too long.

The fact remains that many New Zealanders watch and enjoy lots of TV.

You just need to listen to the playground talk of children. Television culture has entered their language and expression to such an extent that we know broadcasting is part of who we are.

This is one of the reasons for the changes the government has made in broadcasting: our emphasis on local content (in which NZ On Air plays a key role) and the Television New Zealand Charter. We want to make the most of this capacity of broadcast media to “tell our story”.

Last year we announced a $10 million baseline funding increase for the New Zealand Film Commission and in this year’s Budget we committed an annual $20.6 million package for radio and television, including an additional $12 million to NZ On Air and an additional $4.7 million to Radio New Zealand.

The audio-visual archives of the future are being created right now, and the government’s support for local content and the screen production industry is ensuring that there will be plenty of quality material from which to choose them.
Importance of audiovisual archiving

What people are watching or listening to at any given time is an enormously powerful reflection of the culture of the time.

We all know the feeling of watching a re-run of a programme that dates from earlier in our lives - that blast of recognition you get when you see those hairstyles, clothes, mannerisms, accents, and language idiosyncrasies.

If any of you have been watching the excellent Festival documentaries on TV1 you will know what I mean. Programmes like Sheilas remind us of the way we were in the 1970s; profiles of Michael King, David Lange and Marti Friedlander have drawn on priceless archival material to recreate memorable new programmes.

Sound Archives supplied taped interviews with early Antarctic explorers to breath life into the recent highly successful Antarctic heroes exhibition at Te Papa.

But archiving is not just thinking about the past. To create a collection archivists must be savvy about what to record and store now. No doubt quintessential New Zealand programmes like Bro'Town will be as fascinating to a generation to come as they are to today's audiences.

Radio, television and film are a unique kind of record as they actually capture a particular moment in time; they are like a window through which you can look back on the past and see or hear it in vivid, living detail.

Effective audio-visual archiving is vital if we wish future generations to be able to tap into their past in this way.

Impacts of information technology

We all appreciate keenly that technology is advancing at an exponential pace and having a considerable impact on organisational practices and on public expectations of ready and reliable access.

In terms of archiving, digital technology offers enormous opportunities not just for storage capacity, but also for linkages between organisations and interactive public access.

It heralds a whole new era in the role of archives in people’s lives.

The digital age also poses a few headaches - in fact, possibly migraines.

In television, for example, the digital scene and the steady increase in the volume of material and range of formats being broadcast will vastly change the number of options available to the New Zealand viewer.

This makes the concept of taking “representative samples” increasingly difficult. As well as raising issues of selection, it further complicates issues of property rights, cataloguing and access. There is a real risk of missing the boat and failing to get the processes underway.

Archiving is one of many fields in which the digital revolution is forcing us to rethink past practices - not only of selection and storage, but also of access and interaction between organisations.

One important aspect of digitisation, which is being explored increasingly, is the unprecedented capacity it presents for sharing resources – for working together to create a whole bigger than the sum of the parts.

The government has been keen to encourage key institutions to get together and engage in some strategic thinking about how to maximise these opportunities.

Some of you would have been involved in the third Digital Forum yesterday and the day before. This forum continues to be a most welcome indicator of how our museums, archives, art galleries and libraries can work together to facilitate a common approach to building digital cultural heritage resources.

The development of Matapihi, for example, could be a foretaste of many potential future collaborative projects across the sector.

This, along with projects such as the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s on-line Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Te Ara, and its Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, is an exciting illustration of what can be done when material goes electronic.

It is evidence that new technologies are not just about storage of historical knowledge but also about our whole sense of ourselves as citizens with a right to access and explore our lively and unique past and present culture.

Gaps and overlaps

One of the points noted in the NZ On Air Archiving Report was the existence of “gaps and issues of coordination” in the audio-visual archiving sector.

While full of highly professional, effective and committed people, I am sure you will agree that at this point in our history our audio-visual archiving sector could not exactly be described as a seamless group of organisations with complementary roles and responsibilities.

There are, for instance, many areas of overlap between various institutions – archives, production libraries, specialist media archives, libraries, and universities.

Today’s symposium provides the kind of opportunity that is needed to look at how these interfaces are working. I would encourage you to try to follow up with more get-togethers over the ensuing months and continue that process.

Public Records Bill

This is a significant time for New Zealand archiving with the recent introduction into Parliament (by my colleague Hon Marian Hobbs) of the Public Records Bill, which will repeal the Archives Act 1957, taking into account changes in technology, legislation and recordkeeping practices over the last 50 years.

Among the changes proposed by the Bill is an enhanced role for the Chief Archivist in facilitating and coordinating archival activities in New Zealand.

This change recognises the important work being done by archivists in the community and provides an opportunity for improving coherence across the sector.

The Government recognises the great potential of archives to provide a significant and valuable cultural resource. This is reflected in the proposed purposes of the Bill, which reads: “through the systematic creation and preservation of public archives, to enhance the accessibility of records that are relevant to the historical and cultural heritage of New Zealand and to New Zealanders’ sense of their national identity”.

I am sure many of you will agree with me in hoping that the Public Records Bill will provide an opening to ensure that cultural archiving is taken more into account as the record of the nation is compiled.

The Bill is currently before the Government Administration Committee, which has called for submissions. These are due by 5 November – so for any of you who have not yet got your ideas in, you have two days to do so!


I have touched on just some of the issues facing our archiving sector in the new millennium. In today’s symposium you have a valuable opportunity for working through some of these issues together, and for identifying common goals.

I would like to express my appreciation for the work of NZ On Air and Antony Shaw in particular; as well as Roger Horrocks and Brian Pauling for helping to put the Symposium together.

Looking at today’s programme, it certainly presents a lot of challenges and I very much look forward to hearing later on about the themes that are discussed here and the ideas proposed.

I urge you to make the most of this opportunity - exercise your imaginations, think around the obstacles, and dare to envisage things done differently. Discover the audio-visual archiving world of tomorrow.

Thank you and good luck.

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