Julie Asher, ODT , 02/09/2023

The stories of Central Otago’s history in the words and voices of those who were there can now be heard online from anywhere in the world.

Volunteers from the Central Otago Oral History group had their first view this week of their work being available online at a launch at the Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery.

The Central Otago Oral History programme began in 2019 as a Central Otago Heritage Trust (COHT) initiative.

The trust supported and coordinated heritage activities across Central Otago, while the oral history group’s initiative specifically collected diverse stories from the community.

COHT co-ordinator Maggie Hope said it was always the group’s intention to publish the oral histories online.

‘‘We researched the pros and cons of different software tools, but these options were unaffordable. So we decided to publish them on our website.

‘‘There [are] a few on the site now with many more about to be published. This is an exciting step for the project.’’

The oral history group aimed to collect up to 30 oral histories a year. They had 84 oral histories in the collection, with 13 now available online.

Each oral history can involve up to 16 or more hours of time in preparation, pre-interview meetings, recording and follow up with editing and abstraction. It was estimated since 2019, volunteers had devoted 2167 hours to the project, she said.

The group’s manager Carolyn Squires provided support and training for volunteers, managed archiving and storing recordings and co-ordinated new candidates for interviews.

‘‘The volunteer interviewers are what make this project a success. They have all committed to intensive training and bring a wealth of expertise and sensitivity to every interview, allowing the stories to flow naturally.

‘‘We are so grateful for the hard work and commitment they have contributed to get the project to the stage where it is at now, with a significant body of interviews in the collection and many more in the making,’’ Mrs Squires said.

A grant of $11,430 from Central Lakes Trust (CLT) last month would be used for the programme’s operational costs during the next two years.

CLT had supported the project right from the start, Ms Hope said.

COHT co-founder and member Graye Shattky said he had been involved with conserving heritage buildings in Central Otago since arriving in the area in 1999.

The trust created a database to record the area’s heritage and they found funding to employ a part-time manager to populate the Central Otago Memory Bank, Mr Shattky said.

The role went to Terry Davis, now Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust secretary and projects manager, and he suggested an oral history record, Mr Shattky said.

‘‘It was Terry . . . he said ‘Graye, there’s so much stuff out there. We’re pulling out these documents but there’s people with these stories to tell.’

‘‘It was that comment and observation that led on to ‘how do we do that?’.’’

Mr Shattky researched the idea of oral history — an interviewer recording someone telling their life story in their own words.

A grant from Central Lakes Trust enabled eight people to be trained in 2019 and ‘‘the rest is history’’, Mr Shattky said.