Oral Archive

Preserving the New Zealand Heritage of Antarctic Exploration through Oral Interviews: Interviews associated with the 1956-58 TAE and IGY

Since 1996, the New Zealand Antarctic Society with funding from the New Zealand Lotteries Board has been collecting oral archives from many of those involved in New Zealand's early work in Anatrctica. The goal is to talk with, record, preserve and make available audio tapes of all the members of the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Expedition (TAE), 1956-58. Many people are aware that New Zealand undertakes research in Antarctica today, but few know of its earlier vital contribution during the TAE and IGY. The oral histories will preserve this information and provide a historical review of the period from a New Zealand perspective.

New Zealand has a unique connection to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. We have long been involved in its exploration ever since the heroic pioneering work of Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen. New Zealand too was one of only 7 other States to take up the role of foundation members of the Antarctic Treaty System and has been prominent in its development and in the struggle to protect and understand the fragile Antarctic environment. New Zealand will soon lose a generation of pioneering scientists, explorers and support personnel who led the way for advances in Antarctica.

The people who participated in the expeditions of the 1950ıs and 60ıs including those who participated in any way in the Commonwealth Transantarctic Expedition and the International Geophysical Year (IGY), established the modus operandi for field operations and field research still in use today. They possess a wealth of firsthand information and perspectives about the development and history of Antarctic investigations that has never been completely recorded; they are also in the final years of their lives, some have passed away in the last several years. All these people have a story to tell and their stories, photos, and memorabilia is of historical value to New Zealand at large and also to the New Zealand research community. We should complete the recording of this valuable information for future generations before it is lost, using the best available technology and recording media presently at our disposal.


The goal will be to talk with, record, preserve and make available audio tapes of the members of the TAE that have yet to be recorded. The NZ Antarctic Society received funding from the Lottery Grants Board in 1996. That project enabled the histories of 10 surviving TAE members to be recorded. These are now archived with the Canterbury Museum. Six other members of the TAE party, including Sir Edmund Hillary, have yet to be recorded. The remainder of the men from the expedition have passed away, interviews with their widows will be conducted once the original member interviews are completed. The hope is to complete this valuable collection.

So far 35 oral archives have been recorded. The tapes and transcripts are archived at the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Future uses for the histories

It is envisioned that the histories could be used in a number of ways. Their value is two-fold: First, as a research reference collection. Use in this way is accomplished by adding the materials to the Canterbury Museum. Secondly, it is hoped that the histories could be utilized by schools, libraries and museums. The histories could be edited and posted on the Gateway Antarctica or ALC web site to be used as a teaching tool or for the general publicıs use. It is also envisioned that during 'anniversary years' that the histories could tour New Zealand and perhaps form part of an international exhibition which celebrates and commemorates an Antarctic event.

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