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Preserving priceless history

One hundred years of Red Cross' archives from across NSW are on their way to the State Library to be digitised for future generations.

Monday September 12, 2016

Volunteer archivist Pam Peelgrane. Photo: Lara Cole/Australian Red Cross

One hundred years of Red Cross photos, manuscripts, and memorabilia from across New South Wales are on their way to the State Library of NSW, to be digitised for future generations.

The archive, which dates back to 1914, tells the story of Red Cross' humanitarian work, volunteers, supporters, members and the people we have helped across NSW. Among the cases being donated to the library are some 7,400 photographs, over 500 boxes of manuscripts, posters and memorabilia, 40 framed pictures and a collection of Red Cross publications.

The archive is being handed over in a series of transfers, starting next month and spread over the next two years. The State Library of NSW will preserve the collection, gradually digitising it and making it available to students, historians and members of the public.

Two years getting ready

Red Cross volunteer archivist Pam Peelgrane has, with several other volunteers, spent more than two years helping get the records ready for the transfer.

She says some of the most fascinating photos she has stumbled across include those capturing Red Cross volunteers working in railway station canteens during WWI. "The canteens were for the troops who were going off to war. The train would stop and Red Cross would be there, the women would be pouring tea, having made the scones to give the troops."

Then there is the prose found in an old publication called the Red Cross Record, Ms Peelgrane says. "It has stories and recipes, but what strikes me is the poetry. WWI was a time when the poets became very active … everybody had a shot at poetry. Some of it's a bit ho-hum, but a lot of it is very heartfelt … The Record really gives you the spirit of the times."

Priceless collection

Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, Australian Red Cross historian and Chair of History at Flinders University, says that she has been waiting 30 years for the archive transfer. "I am thrilled that through this generous donation to the State Library, this priceless collection of Australia's pre-eminent charitable organisation will be preserved for future generations."

NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive, Alex Byrne says "this significant archive, dating from 1914 to 2014, is an invaluable addition to the State Library's rich collections relating to life in Australia".

Red Cross was formally established in Australia in August 1914 - soon after the outbreak of the First World War. By November that same year 88 urban branches and 249 country branches of Red Cross had been opened up across NSW.

Some of the photos that will be handed over. Photo: Lara Cole/Australian Red Cross