Wealth of material in old newspapers
Former newspaper photo librarian Carolyn Cameron has created a new niche for herself as a history researcher. Catherine Healy went to meet her.
Spending hours scouring old newspapers is a fairly solitary pursuit. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun but to researcher Carolyn Cameron it’s a wonderful life.
New Zealand’s early broadsheets are a rich source of historical information for her books.
‘‘I read almost every page in every newspaper,’’ she says.
She explains that relying on a computer to find your key words in old newspapers isn’t good enough. A blot of ink or a badly printed page means the word won’t be found and a vital piece of history could be missed.
Ms Cameron is a ‘‘Devonportonian’’ who moved to Parnell in 2005 and became fascinated with the stories behind Auckland’s oldest suburb.
She believes history should be shared.
Going right back to the source and looking at original documents is the only way to get things straight, she says.
‘‘If you just quote from books you repeat other people’s mistakes, and then those mistakes become history.’’
For years Ms Cameron worked as a librarian and a photo librarian for newspapers. It was a job she loved and still misses.
On leaving school she wanted to be an air hostess or a librarian but her options soon narrowed after she discovered she was afraid of flying.
She ended up working in a bank.
‘‘I could do it well but it was just a job, there was not much satisfaction in it.’’
It wasn’t until she was about 40 years old that she finally got her dream job working at The New Zealand Herald as a librarian.
She’s passionate about photography and enjoys taking photos. Finding the right images to illustrate her research is one of her favourite aspects of her work.
She has recorded the history of the first 20 years of European settlement in the Parnell area from 1840-1859. It began as a way to fill time but has become her occupation.
‘‘I took voluntary redundancy and decided that while I was looking for work, I’d write. It was going to be one book on the history of Mechanics Bay, Parnell, St Georges Bay and Judges Bay. It would have been big, even as a softcover it would have sold for around $80. And given that I’m selfpublishing I thought that was impossible for me to sell.’’
By dividing the book into three small booklets Ms Cameron aims to make the information more accessible.
She hopes families will buy the booklets so that young people can learn about the suburb.
‘‘There’s so much to write about, I’m going to keep going and try and churn out one a year.’’
The first booklet on Mechanics Bay is available at Parnell Paper Plus, White Heron Dairy, Gladstone Road and Hilltop Superette for $20. The booklets on the Village of Parnell, St Georges Bay and Judges Bay will be published in 2014.
Satisfying reading: History researcher Carolyn Cameron says going right back to the source and looking at original documents is the only way to get things straight.