New president elected at AGM

The Friends are delighted to welcome Katherine Baxter (pictured on left) as incoming president, after Kate Fortune stood down after three years in the role.

Katherine Baxter is a former deputy chief executive at the Ministry of Culture & Heritage, who has been a public policy consultant in retirement. Kate Fortune will continue on the committee as past-president.

Dr Caroline McDonald was farewelled at the AGM, having resigned from the committee. Two new members were elected: Dr Anne Phillips and Robin Anderson.

Rangatahi impress in popular competition – Smart Alex

‘Imaginative and entertaining’, ‘top quality’ and ‘skilfully composed’ — these are the judges’ words to describe the incredible creative work of our rangatahi (from more than fifty schools) who entered the 2020 Smart Alex competition. Entrants drew on current experience of COVID-19 pressures as well as responding to emotive issues such as climate change and the environment, Māori and Pasifika traditions, social inequality and unrest.

The winners, runners-up and highly commended entries will receive cash prizes and book tokens totalling more than $3,000.

See 2020 Competition Results for full details and all the prize-winning entries.

This was the third and final year of the competition, attracting nearly 120 tamariki from secondary schools around Aotearoa who were asked to respond to an image found in Alexander Turnbull Library’s online collections. They could showcase their creative talent through writing or a graphic drawing.

The competition has been organised by Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL) in conjunction with the Alexander Turnbull Library and the Services to Schools branch of the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. It was developed to celebrate the centenary of the Turnbull Library, which first opened its doors to the public on 28 June 1920.

Call for Papers: Turnbull Library Record

We are now inviting contributions for the 2021 issue of the Turnbull Library Record.

The Turnbull Library Record is a journal in the humanities, published yearly by the Alexander Turnbull Library in association with the Friends of the Turnbull Library. It is the longest-running humanities journal in New Zealand. It publishes information relating to the activities of the library, as well as articles covering a wide range of research, with special emphasis on the societies and cultures of New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Its purpose is to increase knowledge of the library’s collections by showing their scope and richness, and the ways researchers are using them.

Articles or pictorial essays should be between 2,000–6,000 words in length. Contributions that have not been previously published are welcome and, before acceptance, will be independently refereed. Articles should have a scholarly underpinning and be written in a lively and accessible manner for an informed but not specialist readership.

The Editorial Board reserves the right to decline to publish an article, whether solicited or unsolicited.

The deadline for submitting articles is Friday 11 December 2020. Publication is scheduled for August 2021.


Literary scholar and writer Sarah Shieff will receive the 2020 research grant to assist her latest project, to publish a collection of the letters of poet Allen Curnow ONZ CBE (1911-2001).

Noting that Allen Curnow is widely recognised as New Zealand’s most distinguished poet, Sarah aims to “tell the story of his long life in his own words”. She believes that publishing his letters will go some way to make up for the fact that he never wrote his own autobiography.

Sarah Shieff is Associate Professor of English in the School of Arts, University of Waikato. She has previously published Letters of Frank Sargeson (Random House, 2012), and her Letters of Denis Glover (Otago University Press, 2020) is forthcoming.

From her previous research on the letters of Frank Sargeson and especially of Denis Glover – who was Allen Curnow’s oldest and closest friend – Sarah is ideally placed to make use of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s extensive holdings. As well as preparing a scholarly edition of Curnow’s letters for publication, she plans to develop a fully-searchable database that will assist future scholars.

Kate Fortune, president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library is delighted that the 2020 research grant will be $20,000 in the centenary year of the Alexander Turnbull Library. She said “This is the first time we have been able to offer $20,000 to a researcher, and we feel that Sarah’s project is particularly apt for the Turnbull’s centenary year.

“This latest grant brings the total number of projects assisted by the Friends of the Turnbull Library to eighteen since the first grant (of $5000) was awarded to Philip Norman in 2004 for his biography of Douglas Lilburn. Six biographies have been awarded research grants and a very diverse range of other projects including a history of rugby league (awarded in 2017), and Nick Bollinger’s current project on New Zealand’s ‘Counterculture 1960-75’ (awarded last year).

“The Alexander Turnbull Library – a world-class research library that attracts scholars from around the globe – provides fertile soil for many diverse research projects. We would love to be able to support more researchers,” Ms Fortune said. “We encourage people who might be able to make donations or to set up bequests to come and talk to us about how they could help.”


Rangatahi take part in popular creative writing competition

‘Outstanding’, ‘high calibre’ and ‘skilfully composed’ — these are some of the words used to describe the incredible creative work of our rangatahi who entered the 2019 Smart Alex competition. The winners, runners-up and highly commended entries will receive cash prizes and book tokens totalling $3,000.

See 2019 Competition Results for full details and all the prize-winning entries.

The competition, now in its second year, attracted tamariki from secondary schools around Aotearoa who were asked to respond to an image found in Alexander Turnbull Library’s online collections. They could showcase their creative talent through writing or a graphic drawing.

The competition is organised by Friends of the Turnbull Library (FOTL) in conjunction with the Alexander Turnbull Library and the Services to Schools branch of the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa.

This year’s entries from about seventy schools were both diverse and captivating. Entrants responded to emotive issues such as the horrors of war, the environment, and Māori and Pasifika traditions.

The judging panel this year consisted of noted children’s author Eirlys Hunter, Susan Wallace from National Library Services to Schools, and FOTL members Elle Green and Rachel Underwood.

Kate Fortune, President of FOTL, said that all the judges were very impressed with the high calibre of entries submitted.


Please join us at the Takapuna Public Library, Level 1, for the second of our Auckland public talks, on Friday 26 July 2019 at 6.00pm.

Wellington historian, author and digital communicator Jock Phillips ONZM, who created and developed the online encyclopedia, Te Ara, has been busily researching in the Turnbull Library some of the wider issues behind the Royal visits to New Zealand.

Māori and Royal Tours is a fascinating story of how Māori used the visits of royalty to emphasise their special relationship with Queen Victoria and her successors, and hoped through that special relationship to alleviate some of their issues with the New Zealand Government. It begins with the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869; looks at the great Māori hui in Rotorua in 1901; then surveys Royal tours in 1920, 1927, 1934 and 1953. Finally, Jock briefly examines subsequent events at Waitangi. The talk is richly illustrated.

Jock Philllips has published 15 books on New Zealand history including: “To The Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials”; “Settlers: New Zealand Immigrants from England, Ireland and Scotland, 1800-1945 (with Terry Hearn); “Going Public: The Changing Face of New Zealand History” (with Bronwyn Dalley); “In the light of the past: stained glass windows in New Zealand houses” (with Chris Maclean); and “A Man’s Country: The Image of the Pakeha Male”. His recently published memoir is “Making History: A New Zealand Story” (AUP).

Refreshments at 6.00pm, talk starts at 6.30pm.

Entry is free, but donations welcome. Hats and flags optional!

 Please RSVP on Takapuna Library Website, or  call Lester Chung at 890 4919 or email

Award for Past-President Rachel Underwood

Congratulations to Rachel Underwood, immediate past president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL), who has been awarded a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Rachel has served on the FoTL committee since 1987, and led the organisation as president from 1996 to 2018. She has been an inspirational leader, notably developing and maintaining a broad national membership in support of the Library; and initiating and organising the highly effective advocacy that successfully achieved changes to the National Library Act 2002.

Her energy and drive has also led to the successful establishment of the Friends of the Turnbull Library Research Grant that has now provided funding of almost $120,000 to assist seventeen separate research projects since 2004.

Sarah Gaitanos at the Auckland Writers Festival

Sarah Gaitanos spoke about her new book, “Shirley Smith: An Examined Life” (VUP, 2019), on Sunday 19 May at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. This popular event was sponsored by the Friends of Turnbull Library, as the inaugural talk of three years of celebrating research in the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Sarah says: “The Turnbull Library has been like a home to me for many years since researching for my biography of Nola Millar. In that case it was not just a treasure trove but also a subject of my research as Nola Millar worked there in the 1930s and 40s, becoming reference librarian until she gave it all up for theatre. The Shirley Smith papers are in the Turnbull, my oral history projects are too, and I belong to the FoTL so I’m delighted to be the inaugural speaker.”

Sarah Gaitanos is an independent writer, researcher and oral historian.

Researching the life of Alexander Turnbull

In May this year the Friends of Turnbull Library reaches a milestone anniversary, celebrating 80 years of supporting and promoting the work of the Alexander Turnbull Library. One of the ways we have begun to mark this special birthday year is by commissioning two writers to produce research essays on the life of our benefactor, Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull. Both Robyn Maree Pickens (of Dunedin) and Redmer Yska (of Wellington) will be writing biographical essays on Alex Turnbull’s life for us, and will be investigating areas such as his alleged homosexuality and drug addiction.

Redmer Yska (pictured left) has already produced a preliminary article (“A Collector’s Habit”) for the NZ Listener, 22 December 2018. For those who missed it, there is a link below to an online version of his piece, which begins:

“In 1901, wealthy Wellingtonian Alexander Turnbull, founder of New Zealand’s greatest private library, enjoyed an idyllic Christmas cruise in the Marlborough Sounds on his yacht Iorangi. Within a few years, he spiralled into depression and cocaine addiction. What went wrong?  He’s the handsome devil with the waxed moustaches who died a century ago. Alexander Turnbull, the millionaire bookman whose 55,000 volumes made a library, has been the toast of Wellington in 2018. There’s been a “Smart Alex” writing contest, a memorial walk, an iced cake as big as a shelf of encyclopedias …”

Numbers Tell the Story!

(Updated after second and different OIA response from Archives NZ)

 In 2010 Cabinet approved a proposal to incorporate Archives New Zealand and the National Library into the Department of Internal Affairs.  It was justified on essentially financial grounds.

It was claimed that the incorporation would lead to:

  • the futureproofing of both entities
  • lower corporate overheads
  • the achievement of cost savings and economies of scale.

Once implemented, the incorporation was said to be part of the “wider machinery of government changes to improve the performance and service delivery of public sector agencies.”

So, what happened?  The financial numbers tell the depressing story.

Over the period 2013 — 2018:

  • Vote Internal Affairs INCREASED 12.4%
  • Total National Library budget DECLINED 9%
  • National Library overheads INCREASED 25.7%, and together with Depreciation and Capital Charge they account for 51.9% of the total National Library budget
  • Monies under the control of the Turnbull Librarian DECLINED 9.7%
  • Total Archives New Zealand budget DECLINED 1.4%
  • Archives overheads INCREASED 279% and together with Depreciation and the Capital Charge, account for 67.4% of the total Archives budget
  • Secretary of Internal Affairs remuneration INCREASED 49%
  • According to Stats New Zealand, average NZ weekly earnings INCREASED 18%.

It is clear that lower overheads have not been achieved.  Declining expenditure, it can be argued, is evidence of deliberate under-funding, not the achievement of cost efficiencies, or proper support for important legally mandated roles.

The Internal Affairs CEO has eight Deputy Secretaries assisting him as part of the Executive Leadership Team, which does not include the National Librarian or Chief Archivist.

Dr D.M. Gilling FCA  FCPA

11 December, 2018