An archival mystery to solve

A version of this article was originally published in Ōtaki Today. (Spoiler alert! The club has now been identified – see our Facebook page for the solution.)

Can you help us solve a 100-year-old mystery? We are trying to identify which bowling club is featured in footage from 1919.

View ‘The Land We Live In’ . The club in question appears at 9min 57sec.

The role of an archive is to collect, care for and share a nation’s memory, but how can we make sure that memory is correctly recorded?

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s catalogue contains the information that makes the Archive’s audiovisual collection accessible and understandable. Ensuring this information is as accurate as possible is Ngā Taonga Principal Cataloguer, Malcom Duffy’s job. “Names, places, people and events are big ones to get right,” says Malcom. “It’s important to not only be accurate, but also to make sure the notes aren’t ambiguous.” How do you remove this ambiguity? “We investigate what we catalogue, cross reference with other sources and verify as much as possible. Historical resources such as Papers Past and photos from the Alexander Turnbull Library are invaluable.”

Do you recognise this bowling and tennis club pavilion? Screen grab from The Land We Live In (1919)
Do you recognise this bowling and tennis club pavilion? Screengrab from The Land We Live In (1919).

The age of items in the collection can provide challenges. Film reels go missing, they degrade or get spliced together the wrong way round. Audio discs can break or be copied many times. In the early twentieth century, there could be years and thousands of kilometres between shoots as film crews slowly made their way around the country. Old footage could then be re-edited or re-cut, resulting in a totally different item to the original.

Which brings us to a mystery Malcom is keen to solve. The film, The Land We Live In (1919) was produced as an educational item, and depicts the variety of New Zealand life 100 years ago. Of its original two-hour runtime, only 21 minutes remain and there, amongst scenes of Wellington, an unknown bowling and tennis club suddenly appears. Are you able to help us identify the club and solve our mystery?

We had assumed it was in the Wellington region since Te Aro Baths and the Wellington Botanic Gardens feature immediately before and after the club sequence. Of course, towns and cities undergo huge changes in 100 years, and it is possible that the scene was not filmed in Wellington at all. There are other scenes filmed in Dunedin, Hamilton, Christchurch and elsewhere. Could it be in one of those places?

Below is the whole club sequence with the distinctive pavilion near the end. The complete fragment of The Land We Live can be viewed on the Ngā Taonga website with this scene beginning at 9min 57sec.

Ngā Taonga is hoping that ‘crowdsourcing’ the collective brain power and memories of New Zealand will turn up some answers. “It’s really helpful when people get in touch to tell us what they know,” says Malcom. “The memory of an individual can provide a key piece of information. Have a look at the footage and let us know if you think you have any information. You might hold the key to our solving this mystery – we’d love to hear from you.”

You can leave a comment below, or Malcom can be contacted at information@ngataonga.org.nz.

Members of an unknown bowling club in The Land We Live In (1919)
Members of an unknown bowling club in The Land We Live In (1919).

Written by David Klein