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“We could lose this.” - Buried treasure?

Photos and story by John Pratt.

The history of the Waikato and Coromandel Peninsula is as rich, as colourful and as important as the history of New Zealand itself. Preserving 150 years of records, and more importantly making them available on-line, is crucial to enlarging our understanding of our history.

The Treasury project was an ambitious project, right from inception. Originally founded by a group of Thames volunteers who started out collecting artefacts, volunteer efforts and contributions have played an important part in establishing what is one of New Zealand’s largest and most important archives. Volunteers still play an important role in the work of the treasury. Almost everyone that works at the Treasury is a volunteer, from the Board on down. There are only 5 permanent staff, working a mixture of hours.

In spite of its humble origins, The Treasury is a state-of-the-art records facility. The environmental management of the archive room is World class and comes complete with a Halon fire suppression system should the unthinkable happen.

The range and scope of the collection at The Treasury is amazing. There’s everything from an artificial limb there, to old business records. The prize for the earliest and most interesting snapshot of history probably belongs to an 1877 ledger book kept by merchant Hoani Nahe of Ngati Maru and is written entirely in Te Reo. Other ledgers, from Brown, Barrett & Co, and from Henry & Sons at Driving Creek provide similarly interesting glimpses into the lives of pioneer settlers and miners, what they ate and how they lived.

As fast as the Treasury has been digitising its collection, that collection has continued to grow. The professionalism and the integrity of The Treasury has meant that museums, libraries and other institutions from Te Aroha to Cape Colville have donated their own collections to The Treasury, making this easily the most important collection in the region, and one of the most significant archives in New Zealand.

The Treasury has also undertaken an outreach to capture the personal archives of people in the Hauraki area. Last weekend, the Treasury team ran an event at the Paeroa Information Hub, called “Fizzing with History,” where they were able to capture local residents’ own historical artefacts to add to the digital collection.

Permanence has always been an issue for The Treasury. Relying on grant funding for operational costs, means that the Trust has operated virtually from grant to grant, and staff turnover has been impossible to stop. With that turnover, goes a lot of local and institutional knowledge that takes time to rebuild and replace.

The other problem with the necessarily short-term focus, has been the lack of a long-term plan for The Treasury. While the operating costs of things like the Treasury’s archival environmental systems are well understood, lifecycle management of capital items like the fire suppression system and the organisation’s IT systems, has mean that upgrade costs have bitten hard into the Treasury’s meagre budget.

And then there’s funding. While The Treasury attracts membership fees and donations, it has never been enough to maintain its’ operations. Previously, grants from the Lotteries, the Community Organisation Grants Scheme, Hauraki and TCDC have made up the bulk of The Treasury’s budget, but recent events have meant that public bodies now have some higher priorities, and other sources of funding are all contested. “We apply for everything,” says Board member Lise Cook, “but this year we’ve had no luck at all.” All of the institutions that have sent their collections to The Treasury are in the same boat. We were in the same basket of applications as Foodbanks and Women’s refuge.

The situation is now perilous. It’s grimly ironic that an organisation dedicated to the history of the region, may have no future. Several staff are already working restricted hours to try and save costs, but even that won’t be enough. The Treasury is facing the very real possibility that it may have to close, running the risk of “burying” the region’s Taonga all over again. People have rallied to the cause, and private donations have ramped up recently, but again, that may not be enough. Our history is the story of who we are. Our sense of ourselves, of our identity and of our place in the World has probably never been more important. If you are able to help in any way, please contact The Treasury today.

The classic of the two buildings that make up The Treasury in Thames is a Carnegie library building built in 1905. It is perhaps the last and certainly, the most original of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, still functioning as a library in New Zealand. This is thanks to a faithful restoration undertaken by the Thames Coromandel District Council in 2007.

Andrew Carnegie who lived from 1835 to 1919, was the richest man in the world in his time and gave away 90% of his fortune some of it to the building and equipping of 2509 libraries around the world, 18 of them in New Zealand. One of those libraries is our Thames Treasury building.

This is not just a reassure. It is a treasure for all New Zealanders and its function enables the treasures of history to be remembered, recorded and accessed into the future. Your organisation, your club, or you as an individual might be able to help.

The full details on - How to donate, how to become a member and How to receive newsletters is on the website:

Caption: Treasury Building.

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