I was born in 1947, that year of record births when the soldiers came back from the war and began to establish their suburban families. Today it is my privilege to edit Te Ara, a complete encyclopedia of New Zealand on the web (www.TeAra.govt.nz). Not surprisingly Te Ara captures a good deal of the culture and formative events which have shaped my New Zealand.
Te Ara is not the first encyclopedia of New Zealand. In 1966, just as I went off to university, A.H. McLintock’s three volumes appeared in their distinctive blue covers. About 30,000 copies were sold in the first month; the print run was exhausted; and the volumes were never reprinted (until we digitised them and put them up alongside Te Ara). The publisher was the Government Printer and that is how official publications were done in those days. The volumes themselves reek of a previous generation – heavily institutional, the presence of government bodies are everywhere, the text is ponderous, the illustrations minimal, and the New Zealand wars are described as ‘The Maori wars’. Yet there is wonderful material in there – a great little entry on duels, a brilliant overview of expatriates by Ngaio Marsh, a classic essay by Bill Oliver on myths in New Zealand history. The volumes were clearly aimed at the university-educated cultural nationalist of the Landfall persuasion.
Te Ara is unashamedly of a different New Zealand. It is on the web, consciously populist and aimed at many audiences especially younger people. It is multi-media with interactive graphs, thousands of photos, cartoons, maps and sound clips, and hundreds of moving image clips which document the New Zealand in which boomers like myself grew up.
The moving clips have two important sources. From Archives New Zealand we have pulled out many bits from the National Film Unit productions such as their weekly reviews and pictorial parades. Just to hear the fruity tones of the voice-over brings back memories, and we have chosen clips which will be enjoyed by anyone who lived through the Kiwi fifties – a wonderful piece on Opo the friendly dolphin, Denis Glover’s lovely film poem ‘The Coaster’, and a classic piece of Kiwi mythology about the glories of the New Zealand beach. In those innocent days we believed that this was paradise on earth.
Our second great source of moving image clips is Television New Zealand. Television began in 1960. It was a presence in the land by the late 60s when those revolutions in attitude that have transformed this country began to appear on the streets. Te Ara has some great clips of the politicians who adorned those years – Norman Kirk appearing at Waitangi in 1974, an amazing interview of Robert Muldoon by Simon Walker which still leaves audiences spell-bound at the man’s aggression when we show it publicly, and an interview with the highly verbal anti-nuclear warrior, David Lange.
In some of our entries these television clips document how much New Zealand has changed quite dramatically. Take for instance the entry telling the story of immigration. From 1975 comes the famous National Party advertisement telling in threatening tones of a flood of brown people from the Pacific. But there is also a clip from 2006 of Afghan refugees celebrating their arrival here. One of the great changes which have occurred in our lifetime – from Anglo-Saxon bastion of Empire to multicultural nation can be seen just in those two clips. There are hundreds more which document the way New Zealand has changed.
Te Ara is not just for boomers, of course. But there can be no doubt boomers will enjoy it. Take a look.