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Silent oral history signs the way ahead

Oral history in New Zealand will break new ground following this year's allocation of awards for recording memories and life stories. For the first time a video oral history project will be recorded in New Zealand Sign Language, the country's third official language, with money given to members of the Deaf community.

Northland Parents of Deaf Children has received $12,000 from the Australian Sesquicentennial Gift Trust Awards in Oral History to interview parents and their Deaf adult children. It is planned that interviews will be a pilot for a larger project.

Alison Parr, Senior Oral Historian with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, says the project is very significant. “This is a really exciting new phase for oral history. It now means that each of New Zealand’s three official languages will be represented in our national oral history collections.”

The grant to the Northland group is one of eleven allocated this year, with a total of $101,500 awarded. Other oral historians who received awards include those who will record interviews with Wahine survivors and rescuers, residents of Okains Bay on Banks Peninsula, seniors in the Whangarei district, members of Impulse Dance Theatre and Limbs Dance Company, Somes Islanders and Picton train drivers.

The money for the awards comes from a trust that began with a gift from the Australian government in 1990. Since then more than 300 oral history projects have been completed and deposited in the Alexander Turnbull Library’s Oral History Center in Wellington, where they are available to researchers.

Further information about the Awards in Oral History and a full list of this year’s recipients can be found at

Updated on 23rd July 2015