Canterbury earthquake anniversary series: Tania Nutira, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

By Tania Nutira, Knowledge Document Management Advisor, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

Up until 22 February 2011, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu was located in the Christchurch central business district, in a building that is eight levels high, and we were based on six of those levels.  Alongside our working and meeting areas, we displayed most of the items from our artwork and taonga collection.  The items that were not on display were in storage on site.  We also have a corporate library, and retained onsite (for easy access) our photograph collection, some inactive records and some archives.  The Ngāi Tahu Archive, however, is located at Macmillan Brown Library at the University of Canterbury.  So while we have all these repositories of mātauranga and information, we are not specifically in the business of being a museum or art gallery or library or archive.

Following the 6.3 earthquake in February 2011, our work building has been in the red zone.  It had the leaning Hotel Grand Chancellor right behind it.

Our focus went immediately to the safety of our kaimahi and their whānau, and making contact with our iwi members, especially kaumātua, living in Canterbury to ascertain their safety and wellbeing.  We also met with Ngā Maatawaka, City Council, Regional Council and other national and regional-based welfare organisations to help organise and provide a co-ordinated approach to the earthquake response and recovery.  As tangata whenua, Ngāi Tahu also co-ordinated responses from other iwi from the North Island and Hawai’i.  Staff also worked on the earthquake response in a variety of ways including shoveling silt, receiving, sorting and delivering the truckloads of clothing, toiletries, bedding, furniture, homewares and kai gifted by communities throughout Aotearoa and Te Waipounamu.

Damaged framed artwork. Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu relocated to Wigram (a suburb south-west of the city).  Initially we established a “port-a-com city” to house all our staff including our subsidiary companies.  Space was and still is at a premium, and so alternative options needed to be found for the safe and secure storage of our taonga, artworks, and documentation.  We have since transferred from “port-a-com city” to work spaces that have been built and renovated for us, onsite at Wigram.

Within a period of time following the earthquake, and without access to our network drive, I was asked to list all our artworks and taonga and their location, and then prioritise them for retrieval.  This was quite a task, but I walked through each of our floors in my mind, visualizing the location of our displayed and stored collections and plotted them on the floor plans for our building.  My priority list went alongside the other priority lists for the retrieval of working documents for the continuation of business etc.

Because electricity had been cut to our building, we had to carry our artworks (and other items and documentation that we retrieved) down the internal stairwell using torchlight.  The staff who volunteered to be part of the retrieval team needed to wear high-viz vests, hard hats, head lamps, sturdy shoes, large backpacks, gloves, masks, carry torches and be very fit.

Damaged CD of images. Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

Some of our written records and photographs suffered damage from dampness and mould due to being close to where an overhead pipe had broken.  Because of our limited access to our building, it was a period of time before we knew of that damage to those items.  A few of our framed photographs and artworks and some of our display items were damaged due to coming off the wall or display area.  When our items were retrieved we were fortunate enough to be able to call upon our colleagues from the Air Force Museum located just up the road from us.  Therese Angelo, Simon Moody and Matthew O’Sullivan have been extremely generous and helpful in providing assistance by way of storage space, advice and guidance in dealing with our damp and mouldy files and damaged taonga.

A drying space was hastily established to enable us to dry our wet documentation and photographs.  Lynn Campbell, conservator from Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery and founding member of the Canterbury Disaster Salvage team, has also been generous in providing guidance and advice to us on how to remove mould from documentation once it is dry, and how to then re-file for storage to mitigate against any cross-contamination.

Damaged wooden item. Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

We decided to store some of our items in a container at our Wigram facility.  It is not the best, but it is the best that we have been able to do under the circumstances.  After every major aftershock I have checked on our taonga and so far, nothing has moved!

Our Library collection only came out of our inner-city building last month, and still needs sorting.  We still have decisions on make on how best to treat some taonga items that were damaged during the quake.

We are extremely grateful to our colleagues and friends from other repository facilities who have shared their expertise and time with us to help us to best look after our collections .  As well as the Air Force Museum staff and Lynn Campbell,  I am appreciative of the communication, guidance and offers of help from Victoria Esson, Kylie Ngaropo and Judith Taylor (National Services Te Paerangi), John Kelcher (Archivist, Radio New Zealand Archives), Michelle Hacker (News Video Research Manager, TVNZ), the CANTAGE (Canterbury Heritage) community, Te Rōpū Whakahau (Māori in Libraries and Information Management) and colleagues from Archives NZ, ARANZ and heritage/arts for bringing archives, heritage and arts groups together for training and post-earthquake debrief, help, advice and forward planning.  Ngā mihi nunui ki a koutou katoa.

Tania Nutira

Knowledge Document Management Advisor

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Image credits:

1. Damaged framed artwork. Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

2. Damaged CD of images. Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

3. Damaged wooden item. Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.