The Hamilton Public Library Youth Oral History Project

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"That's when life really started to live" is a quote from one of the interviewees in the 1995 Youth Oral History Project. It also forms the title of the display created to portray some of the results of the project which focussed on Waikato teenage experiences spanning 1930 to 1960. Fifty three interviews were carried out -- 48 of these were recorded on tape. Many of the contributors supplied photographs to further illustrate their lifestyle in the display, which also incorporates interviews, extracts and newspaper clippings. These are all arranged under the themes: Socialising (Milkbars, movies and the maxina), Families (Love and a clip 'round the ear), Working ("Five pounds a week -- an absolute goldmine!"), and Fashion (Creating the look).

The idea of a youth culture was conceived several years ago by Sally Parker, Waikato Museum of Art and History Curator, who plans to involve present day teenagers in recording their own views and activities for posterity, and then exhibiting it in an historical context. In 1995 the Hamilton Public Library limited itself to interviewing today's 50 to 75 year olds about their lives as young adults in the 1930s, 40s and 50s in the Waikato.

Participants for the first two decades were obtained by asking the Hamilton Age Concern Council to help identify a representative sample for 20 articulate 60-80 year olds with an interesting variety of experiences as teenagers in Hamilton or the Waikato, who were willing to share their reminiscences. The Library participated in the Age Awareness activities, part of the Hamilton Fifty Fest, by presenting some taped extracts from interviews at a gathering to mark the launch of Hamilton Age Concern's own video "A Wrinkle in Time," and facilitated a panel discussion among four narrators on the experience of being interviewed.

Youth from the 1950s were sought by newspaper publicity. A 'snippet' in the Hamilton Press mentioned the project and attracted 20 to join the earlier interviewees. Other contacts were made through the Waikato Classic Motorcycle Club.

Community Task Force Programme volunteers recorded and abstracted most of the interviews during 2.5-3 day weeks for 8 months. A part-time Assistant Reference Librarian carried out 8 interviews, compiled tapes of extracts and designed the display. One of the aims was to support the Hamilton Fifty Fest in celebrating the 1945 declaration of Hamilton as a city. A reunion was held as part of the Fifty Fest. The offer of assistance from a member of the community enabled the subsidiary theme of the Hamilton Women's Auxiliary Volunteer Corps to be explored. Joan Keiller interviewed three women specifically about their home front wartime exploits as 'Hilda's girls.' This topic also came up as part of other interviews.

Interviewees, teenage friends, interviewers and other helpers were invited to an audio presentation made up of extracts from the interviews. This compilation along with that from the September occasion forms part of the volume of abstracts. The display "That's when life really started to live" was mounted in the main library foyer in January/December 1995/96 as part of the Fifty Fest. It attracted much attention including some from a 1950s milkbar cowboy who recognised his car in one of the photographs---and was subsequently interviewed to round off the project. The display has since been exhibited in an edited version at the Founders Theatre and branch libraries. Tapes and abstracts listed in the contents page are available at the Central Library Reference Section.

The Youth Project On-line

More recently the collection -- stored on paper and audio cassette -- has moved "on-line" through a digital library project at the Department of Computer Science, University of Waikato. Using multi-media technology, it is now possible to search the abstracts using a computer and then have the corresponding parts to interviews played, all done without ever having to leave your seat! Click here to start a search.


Thanks are due to Megan Peinell (Reference staff), Christene Mauchline, Jan Lindsay, Sarah Smith and Glenn Ede (CTF volunteers), Joan Keiller (Volunteer interviewer), Karyn Kee, Liz Horne, Hane Mortimer and Stef Clark (Library staff), Hamilton Age Concern and all the interviewees.

Jeff Downs, NZ Librarian, Hamilton Public Library, Hamilton, New Zealand.