Ever wondered what really lies down below the ground floor of the library? Blitz sat down with Head Archivist, Katie Bird to discuss the times of UNSW gone by. NB – there are alligators involved.
What does UNSW Archives do and why is it important?
There are two reasons. Firstly, the UNSW Archives was established under to the State Records Act to keep records appropriately, and secondly, for the university to maintain its history. In addition to the records that it must keep, like business records, it also keeps things such as photos and films, as well as records of student clubs and societies.
What services do you provide for students?
Students can book an appointment with us for assignments that are related to the university. For example, we’ve done past projects with students from History and the Built Environment, where we provided historical records and information on UNSW buildings. We also retain records from clubs and societies, and any member is free to come and search through them.
From your archived materials, do you think the university has developed a unique UNSW culture? If so, can you describe it?
Oh, that’s a difficult question! I guess one of the things from the early years of the university has always been its focus on international students. Being the second university in Sydney, UNSW has had a more flexible study approach from the beginning, providing opportunities for students to work part time during the day and attend courses at night. I guess there’s also that culture of competitiveness in the university, as we’re always striving to be better than Sydney Uni.
I know archiving has changed a lot in recent times, particularly with the advent of the digital age. Can you tell me how digital archiving works and how it has impacted the archiving process?
The staff of the university use TRIM, an electronic document record management system. That way, you can retrieve your files instead of putting them on paper, as well as having long-term retention ability. The Archives uses the system for our digital materials too.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened in UNSW in the past? Any historical scandal that you can divulge?
In 1964, a group of students kidnapped an alligator from Taronga Zoo and released it on campus, in the old lake of the Village Green. And that is true, because we have a video of it. The students eventually notified the zoo to pick it up, but afterwards they denied that it was even gone!
You can read more about the event here.
Do the secret underground tunnels at UNSW exist?
I don’t know! I’ve never seen anything in reality about them.
Favourite artefact and why?
The “Errol” trophy, made in 1961. It was given to students for the most deliberate wrecking of scientific equipment in the School of Metallurgy (now School of Material Science). Rupert Myers, former vice-chancellor of UNSW, then head of the School, was awarded the Errol one time for hiding a piece of equipment in his room and getting students to search for it after he asked to see it. I like it because I think it’s fun! The hand’s visual quality also makes it stand out, particularly because of the amount of paper in the archives.
What is the oldest building at UNSW?
The huts in the Whitehouse area were from the 1890s, part of the old Kensington racecourse. The oldest building constructed by UNSW would be the Old Main Building, opened in 1955.