Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Winter 2005 Issue
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Volunteers keep rich history alive

The University of Adelaide's 130-year existence is filled with a rich history, and a group of volunteers is playing a significant role to ensure that history is kept alive.

Members of the University Archives Volunteers Group give their time processing documents, photographs, newspaper clippings and other archival records, some over 100 years old.

University Archivist Kylie Percival said the activity is not only important to increase accessibility of records for staff, students and the public, but also to contextualise how important the University is in South Australian history.

"The University was one of the institutions in a small colony, and it was big news at the time. The University played a major part in the development of South Australian society. In terms of the wider history of South Australia, these records are significant and valuable," she said.

The group, which began in April 2003 with only 12 volunteers, has now attracted 40 individuals ranging in age and cultural background--some are retirees, while others are looking for work experience or to pursue a personal interest.

Tupp Carmody, Volunteer Coordinator of the group, said she couldn't be happier with the people involved.

"The depth of knowledge and experience is very strong among the group, and we have recent graduates looking for experience, so there's a diverse mix," she said.

"The quality of people is amazing. All our volunteers have very good skills and they bring a lot to the task."

Other staff members involved with the group include Sue Coppin as the Collection Archivist, and Helen Bruce as Reference Archivist.

Volunteer Nara Barreto, who is new to Adelaide after recently leaving Macau, said doing some volunteer work was a good start in a new city.

"I found out about the archives volunteers through the internet, and I contacted Tupp to see if I could get involved," she said.

Alan Graham, who is retired, had only been with the group for four weeks and said it was an interest for him--a hobby.

"I'm doing this to exercise my eyes as much as anything else," he said.

"I like old documents--I hate it when anyone throws them out. I've got a track record of keeping old documents myself--I've got many personal records back to 1964."

The volunteers meet every Tuesday morning and gather in three main rooms, to conduct their work: in the AP Rowe Room, the Council Room and in the Archives offices in the Wills Building.

The volunteer work contributes directly to the Archives. One of the tasks, the Digitisation project, consists of transcribing the University's earliest correspondence by hand. Many of the volunteers said they had found it difficult to read and "translate" because of the style of English and the handwriting of the time. The transcribed material is then scanned to provide an electronic version and is later catalogued and placed into a searchable database and will soon be available online at the Archives website (www.adelaide.edu.au/records/archives/).

Other volunteers sort through old newspaper clippings, maps and architectural plans for buildings, and some of the University's earliest correspondence, dating from 1872.

Ms Carmody said the scandal and gossip that occurred over a hundred years ago often becomes a topic of conversation for the day.

"There is a sense of ongoing engagement with the work they're doing. It's not unusual for someone to read a letter and say 'Oh, Mawson's been a very naughty boy today'," she said.

Among the volunteers are members of the Roseworthy Old Collegians Association, who are a very active sub-group. They use the time to not only go through important items of Roseworthy's history, but also have a chance to socialise and swap old Roseworthy stories.

"The Roseworthy sub-group is important. There are eight of them, all graduates, and they have lots of stories to tell," Ms Carmody said.

"Having a volunteer group the size that we have is unusual for a moderately sized Archives and the University is getting so much benefit out of it," Ms Percival said.

"The community involvement, that connection between the University and members of the community, is very important." ■

Story Natalie de Nadai

There are many opportunities for volunteering within the University. Visit www.adelaide.edu.au/volunteers

Brian O’Donnell with a special rig he built for the camera equipment used to photograph archival material.

Brian O'Donnell with a special rig he built for the camera equipment used to photograph archival material.
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Volunteers at work in the AP Rowe Room.

Volunteers at work in the AP Rowe Room.
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