‘No less than everything’: a tribute to Dame Janet Paul

Brendan O’Brien, who has curated the current exhibition at the Turnbull Gallery (first floor, National Library of New Zealand), spoke to a crowded meeting of the Friends of the Turnbull Library on Tuesday 23 September on ‘the art and times of Dame Janet Paul (1919-2004)’. Brendan has just published a limited edition book of her poems and drawings, and his talk – illustrated with images from the collections of the Turnbull Library – drew attention to her artistic talent and flair for design.

After a significant career (with her husband Blackwood Paul) as an innovative publisher and bookseller, Dame Janet became widely recognised as a painter and art historian, as well as a friend and mentor for many artists, writers and especially poets. Brendan noted that she carried a sketchbook everywhere – like a mobile phone today – and many of these sketchbooks are now on display at the Turnbull Gallery.

Caption: Brendan O’Brien at the National Library of New Zealand on 23 September
Brendan O’Brien at the National Library of New Zealand on 23 September

Operatic history: the inside story

Having an opera company in the family was an enjoyable experience, but not really a huge advantage when historian Doug Munro set out to research the 17-year span of the New Zealand Opera Company. Doug – younger son of the founder of the company, opera singer Donald Munro – has been driven in part by a sense of urgency in capturing the living memories of some of the participants. Speaking to the Friends of the Turnbull Library on 27 August, Doug entertained his audience with many insights into the background of key figures, the circumstances of the company’s establishment, and – most of all – the ups and downs of precarious funding and turbulent backroom politics which his father always tried to shield his singers from. There is very little of this story on the public record so far; Doug notes that Adrienne Simpson’s 1996 book, Opera’s Farthest Frontier, allocated just 15 pages to the New Zealand Opera Company.

Musical parents (his mother Jean played in the string orchestra) meant that Doug’s early years included vivid memories of singers and musical performances. He also grew up with an awareness that his father’s artistic career needed to be supported by temporary work in wool stores and abattoirs, as well as considerable travel as a singing adjudicator. Looking back now on these years, his research has been frustrated by a lack of company financial details and missing minutes of board meetings, but there is still a wealth of material in the Turnbull collections – including oral history interviews, and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings – and Doug is immensely grateful for the FoTL Research Grant of $10,000 which was given to him in 2013.

A major study of the Opera Company was needed, and Doug’s research has been unravelling and documenting a significant and lively period in New Zealand’s cultural history.

Doug Munro at the National Library of New Zealand on 27 August.
Doug Munro at the National Library of New Zealand on 27 August.

Founder Lecture 2014

Charlotte Macdonald
Charlotte Macdonald, photo by Kate Fortune

Charlotte Macdonald, professor of history at Victoria University of Wellington, presented the Friends of the Turnbull Library Founder Lecture on Thursday 19 June, at the Adam Auditorium, Wellington City Gallery.

Her topic, Looking down the barrel of history: tragedy and heroism at Te Ranga, 21 June 1864, was the story of the last major engagement of the “New Zealand Wars”, when more than 100 men died in a battle between Māori led by Ngaiterangi, and British troops under Colonel Henry Greer.

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Book on Gothic architecture presented to Turnbull

140506_Bk to ATLOn 6 May, 2014 Rachel Underwood, president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library, presented Chief Librarian Chris Szekely with a copy of Imperial Gothic, a recently published book on religious architecture and Anglican culture by Alex Bremner, of Edinburgh, who received the Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL) Research Grant in 2006 to assist in his research in New Zealand. The book contains many examples of church architecture from New Zealand.


Research Grant for 2014 awarded

Auckland researcher Elizabeth Treep (known as Lucy) has been awarded the 2014 Friends of the Turnbull Library Research Grant of $10,000 to write a biography of Maurice Shadbolt, one of New Zealand’s major literary figures, a writer of novels, short stories, non-fiction and a play. Shadbolt won almost every major literary prize and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Literature by the Univerrsity of Auckland in 1997.

“This biography will be an important contribution to New Zealand literary studies,” said Rachel Underwood, president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library. “Lucy Treep will have access to the Shadbolt papers in the Alexander Turnbull Library.”

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Women and the demon drink

Sue Upton
Sue Upton, photo by Kate Fortune

In a public talk to the Friends of the Turnbull Library on 20 March 2014, Wellington researcher and historian Sue Upton presented some of the images and stories from her book, Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid: Women behind the bar in New Zealand 1830-1976, which was published by Victoria University Press in 2013.

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Letters by or about James Hector

Simon Nathan talked to FoTL members on 13 March 2013 about ‘The changing face of James Hector’. Simon has been involved in a major project of transcribing letters written by or about James Hector, and agreed to give us more information about how to access the letters.

James Hector (1834-1907) was the dominating personality in late 19th century scientific circles in New Zealand. As the first professional scientist to be employed by the government, he founded the Geological Survey (now GNS Science), the Colonial Museum (now Te Papa) and the New Zealand institute (now Royal Society of New Zealand) as well as supervising weather forecasting, the time service, and the Colonial Botanic Garden. Continue reading “Letters by or about James Hector”

Wellingtonians, a Turnbull book

Wellingtonians: From the Turnbull Library CollectionsTurnbull manuscripts curator David Colquhoun has produced a winner with Wellingtonians: From the Turnbull Collections.

Readers will enjoy a delightful variety of aspects of Wellington’s past, in a satisfyingly offbeat selection from the Turnbull’s pictorial treasurehouse of photographs, paintings, cartoons, manuscripts, posters, sketches, and novelty postcards. The book was published by Steele Roberts late last year.

Earthquakes in Christchurch

The PapersPast website is widely consulted by researchers of local and family history, and deserves its status as an essential research tool. Recent searches on ‘Christchurch earthquake’ produced some interesting results – especially surprising if you thought that the destruction experienced in September 2010 and February 2011 was unprecedented in the Garden City.

It is evident that there were “slight” or “sharp” shocks on numerous occasions in the 19th century.  On 10 June 1869, the Grey River Argus advised of  “Another Earthquake in Christchurch: A smart shock was felt at five to two this morning.” A quick survey of other reports indicate there was a slight shock in August 1871;  an earthquake was “felt in Lyttelton and Christchurch” in November 1880; and other reports appear in July 1881, January 1884, and January 1888.

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Governor-General marks Library’s 90th birthday

Libraries are fundamental pillars of a working democracy, as vital to its health and wellbeing as a free press, said the Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, in his 2010 Founder Address to the Friends of the Turnbull at a special function marking the Turnbull Library’s 90th anniversary. The birthday celebration was held in the Grand Hall of Parliament Buildings on Wednesday 16 June.

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