Memory Collector

By Anna Dowd

When Coffs Coast born and bred Nerida Little returned home to take up a job as Digitisation Collections Officer with the Council, she was a little shocked.

I had no idea how ignorant I actually was about where I come from! “ You really can live in a place and be doing your thing but not understand much of what and who came before you, how it all came to be.”

As the brains and hands behind the Coffs Council’s digitization project Coffs Collection, Little is excited about opening the digital doors to the rich heritage and culture of the region.

The Collection brings together the local museum, gallery and library heritage collections including hundreds of films, photographs, artworks, audio files, documents, maps, newspapers, objects and more from the Coffs Coast region.

“Basically we are putting everything online so anyone can look at them, whether it be for research or for fun,” explains Little, who brings a Masters of Museum Studies and experience in research and archiving with her to the sizable job.

“The thing with museum collections is you only get between 1 and 10 percent of them on display at any time so there’s a lot of stuff in storage people never get to see.”

From a cloth and leather bound log book from the Coffs Harbour Fire Brigade in 1928, to the earliest films promoting tourism in the region during the 50s, every entry tells some part of the story of who we are.

Little gives the example of a packing case chair handmade around 1920, an example of Australian ‘bush carpentry’ that was common from the early 1900s until the 1950s.

“It was made by a couple who moved here from Sydney from old kerosene packing crates, as a gift for their neighbours, and was passed down through three generations of that family. I think it really shows that attitude of making do that was necessary back then.”

Local characters come to life like George Hardacre, Coffs Harbour’s first taxi driver and an avid inventor who in 1897 invented a flying machine he called an ornithopter.

“Members of the Hardacre and Millward family donated the specifications, patent and models of his creation. You look at this thing and think there’s no way that could’ve flown, but it’s a  particular type of brain that thinks “I’m going to build something that flies!””

Oral histories such as a 1971 recording of local elder Harry Buchanan telling stories and singing in Gumbaynggirr language are also significant.

“We’re very humbled to be able to include something like this in the collection with permission from his son and granddaughter,” says Little.

While history can be thought of as the long ago past, Little says their team has big focus on collecting contemporary material that will tell the story of the Coffs Coast experience of the recent bushfires and global pandemic.

“Coffs Collection is definitely a living thing that’ll be growing all the time, and we really hope everyone will continue to contribute to and enjoy it.”