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Sharing the region’s history, book by book

With a selection of Wairarapa Archive books, from left, Garry Daniell, Diane Grant, Gareth Winter, Neil Frances and Ian Grant. PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE
The Wairarapa Archive is as much about sharing information as it is about retaining it. The archive’s publishing programme is something of a phenomenon, even by international standards.

The Wairarapa Archival Society and Fraser Books have now published 31 books in 21 years.

“It’s not enough to just squirrel historical information away,” long-time chairman of the Wairarapa Archival Society Garry Daniell said. “So, we’ve been very fortunate with the partnership between the archive and Fraser Books that has resulted in such an impressive list of books.”

Back in 1998, the archive’s publishing started as a way of giving credit to a group of 24 bright Masterton primary school children who, as part of a project working with the Wairarapa Archive, researched the origins of Masterton’s streets.

Street Stories, reprinted several times and now in need of an update, was written by Gareth Winter, who became archivist in 1997, and published by Ian and Diane Grant of Fraser Books.

Checking the proofs of A Long, Long Trail, a book produced in two months, in October 2015. From left, designer Anne Taylor, Adam Simpson, the archive’s scanning expert, author Neil Frances, publishers Diane and Ian Grant.

This enduring partnership had its origins in the research and checking of draft chapters by Gareth Winter, then a nurseryman, for Ian Grant’s history of the Masterton Borough and County Councils, North of the Waingawa, in 1995.

After the success of Street Stories, the society decided to venture further into the publishing game.

The archive is an arm of Masterton Library; the society, a charitable trust, is an independent organisation, although clearly devoted to the archive’s interests.

With a Masterton-born archivist, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Wairarapa history and locally-based publishers who were committed to the telling of local history, this was not a fanciful dream.

Both Winter and the Grants had very similar ideas about the value and importance of telling a community’s story.

Winter is clear about the information flow from the archive.

“While it is the primary role of an archive to seek out and preserve a region’s history, it’s also vitally important to send information out again into the community – mainly in the form of publications – so people can see how interesting and valuable it is, to stir their interest and to encourage more donations of records, public and private, to the archive,” he said.

And as Diane Grant adds: “We need to know our history to value and understand our present.”

The Wairarapa Archive’s second book, Street Wise, which explained the origins of street names in Carterton, Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough, was published in 1999.

Ken Scadden, left, maritime expert and author of Rugged Coast, Rough Seas, did not live to attend the launch of his book in 2016. He is pictured with his brother, Brian Scadden, maker of a suitably nautical coffin.

Members of historical societies in the other towns assisted Gareth Winter with information.

With the success of these two books, and an obvious enthusiasm for local histories, it was decided to plan a little more systematically.

The publishing committee of the Grants and Winter decided to seek out book ideas and authors that told interesting, rarely heard stories about the Wairarapa region.

The resulting books have had a diverse range of authors.

Some, like architect David Kernohan and John E. Martin, former Parliamentary historian and author of A Colonist’s Gaze [2018], the story of Carterton’s Charles Rooking Carter, are experts in their fields.

Other books have been written by Wairarapa residents with special knowledge or interest in a particular topic.

Eketahuna: Stories from small town New Zealand – mostly stories Peter Best originally wrote for Pahiatua’s Bush Telegraph – has been in print continuously since it was originally launched in 2001.

The sixth printing was ‘re-launched’ in Eketahuna earlier this year.

The next three books examined fascinating, but lesser known, aspects of Wairarapa history.

Mike Warman’s The White Swan Incident [2002] told the story of the White Swan’s ill-fated voyage south from Auckland that saw it wrecked on the Wairarapa coast while carrying many of the country’s politicians, and records, to a parliamentary session in Wellington.

The launch of The Eels of Anzac Bridge, with Sally Barclay, granddaughter of the book’s ‘hero’, with author Ali Foster, and artist Viv Walker.

Jan McLaren’s A Night of Terror [also 2002] painted a vivid word picture of the earthquake on June 24, 1942, that changed Wairarapa towns overnight – there has been an increase in sales of the book with every subsequent major earthquake.

Taking Flight [2003] by Paul Maxim told the story of the first flights, near Carterton in 1913, by an aeroplane wholly constructed in New Zealand.

In the same year, Wairarapa Buildings by Kernohan, associate architecture professor at Victoria University, was the first comprehensive survey of the region’s architecture through the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 2004, it was decided that the best way to showcase its impressive and growing number of historic photographs was a series of smaller, largely pictorial books.

“The Look of … ” series, probably the archive’s most successful venture, began with The Look of Greytown [May 2004] by Greytown historian Chris Slater and Ian Grant, closely followed by The Look of Masterton [also May 2004] by Winter. He also wrote The Look of Carterton [2007]. The Greytown and Carterton books were published in association with the historical societies in the two towns, the books boosting their coffers considerably.

All three books have been reprinted several times and there are plans to update them.

The Look of Martinborough, not published until 2017, was written by local historian Mate Higginson, and John MacGibbon, a writer and publisher who had relocated to the town.

It was quickly reprinted.

There has also been a strong military flavour to the archive’s publishing, principally because the country’s most important World War I training camp was near Featherston.

Neil Frances, a Masterton librarian and then archivist, has written five books and is now highly regarded as a military historian.

Dr Sydney Shep, Reader in Book History at Victoria University of Wellington, launching Mr Colenso’s Wairarapa at the National Library in February 2018. At left are author Ian St George and publisher Ian Grant.

The first book, Ketchil [2005], told the story of South Wairarapa pilot Vic Bargh’s World War II exploits in Asia and the Pacific. Then, in 2008, Frances teamed up with Doug King to produce Things Have Been Pretty Lively, the edited and annotated Great War diaries of Carterton’s Melve King.

In Safe Haven [2012], Frances traces the largely untold story of New Zealand’s largest military camp in Featherston.

“It was something of a military operation in itself to produce A Long, Long Trail just two months after the re-enactment in September 2015 of the march that First World War troops training at Featherston made across the Remutakas to Trentham before embarking for overseas,” Grant said.

The book provides more detail about these route marches during the war, with newly discovered photographs, and then covers the re-enactment with photographs and interviews of those retracing the steps of their family members.

Subsequently, Frances has written A Rifle and Camera [2017], which features the lives and photographs Wairarapa soldiers took on cameras – prohibited in war zones – during World War I.

Another very successful series of books dealt with Lake Wairarapa and the region’s coast.

These books were also a considerable move away from the previous conventionally-sized black and white publications.

They are large-format landscape books, lavishly illustrated in colour.

The first, Wairarapa Moana: The Lake and Its People [2012], was commissioned by the Wairarapa Moana Incorporation, which wanted its young people, now largely settled around Mangakino, to know where they came from, and the rather tortured history that led to displacement and ultimate success elsewhere.

On the Edge: Wairarapa’s Coastal Communities [2013], by retired history teacher Jim Graydon, was, like maritime expert Ken Scadden’s Rugged Coast, Rough Seas: Wairarapa’s Maritime History [2016], completely financed by the archive from funds built up with the ongoing sales of previous books.

The archive has published a great variety of books but only, to date, one for young people.

The Eels of Anzac Bridge [2012], by Ali Foster and Viv Walker has been reprinted several times.

“Eels has become, with its very touching true story linking the migration of eels to Tonga to spawn and die with a young Mt Bruce man going to and not returning from the Great War, a children’s classic that will remain in print for many years,” Diane Grant said.

The Wairarapa Archive is now looking to the future, with those most involved reaching an age when succession planning has become as important as working on the next book.

“In the short time I’ve been involved with the publishing programme, I’m really amazed at how much has been achieved,” Archival Society secretary Jan McLaren said.

“We’ve launched three new books this year and reprinted three more.

“The books sell all over New Zealand and I understand that there is no archive publishing programme like this in Australasia and very possibly further afield.”

There is now, however, a dilemma.

Large books have used up the reserves the archive had built up, so it is now dependent as never before on assistance from Wairarapa local bodies and organisations that have charitable funds or are wanting to be linked to the important historical work the publishing programme is achieving.

This not only applies to new projects but there are also several archive books that need to be reprinted to meet a continuing demand.

“The resources and expertise of the archive are available to local bodies, organisations and individuals through the valley,” McLaren said.

“I personally think it is time some made more of a contribution to ensuring that it can continue the work it has been performing so ably for the last 21 years.”

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