PARADISEC Collection included on UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register

15 May 2013

PARADISEC's Project Liaison Officer, Amanda Harris, giving CD copies of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) recordings to Tote Tepano from Rapa Nui in 2004.

A priceless collection of rare archival recordings, preserved through research spearheaded by the University of Sydney, has been inscribed on UNESCO's Australian Memory of the World Register.

The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC) collection of audiovisual archives, which chronicles the languages and songs of endangered cultures in the Pacific region, was recognised as being of international significance at a special award ceremony on Tuesday 14 May.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)'s Australian Memory of the World Register provides a selective list of Australia's documentary heritage, with the PARADISEC collection now sitting alongside such invaluable national documents as the Mabo Case transcripts and First Fleet journals.

The University of Sydney's Associate Professor Linda Barwick, Director of PARADISEC, has been the driving force behind the organisation's growth, writing funding applications and building the team that has located and digitised thousands of hours of heritage recordings.

"As the lead institution in the partnership, PARADISEC Sydney is thrilled to have the quality and community engagement of ourwork acknowledged in this way," she says.

The PARADISEC collection is the culmination of a decade-long collaboration between the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, and the Australian National University. The Sydney University Unit is PARADISEC's main operational centre, hosted by the School of Letters, Arts and Media (SLAM) within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Researchers from this cross-institutional facility have built extensive networks in the region to locate and curate more than 5tb worth of archival material, capturing some of the last remaining documentary evidence of endangered cultures from countries including Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and island Melanesia. Among the hundreds of precious items in the collection are 182 digitised tapes from researcher Bert Voorhoeve, who worked from the 1960s to the 1980s to record incredibly rare performances, oral stories, songs and instrumental music in Irian Jaya (modern-day West Papua).

Project Manager of PARADISEC, the University of Melbourne's Dr Nick Thieberger, says the collection originated from the need to preserve analog tapes dating to the 1950s that were at risk of deterioration.

"Without PARADISEC thousands of hours of unique and irreplaceable analog recordings are likely to have been lost. PARADISEC exemplifies researchers taking responsibility to ensure the longevity of their research products.

"We hope that [the inscription] will put PARADISEC on a firmer footing to obtain the funds needed to locate more collections of analog tapes and to make copies available to the speakers who are recorded on those tapes and to their descendants."

PARADISEC has been funded by the Universities of Sydney, Melbourne, New England, ANU, and the Australian Research Council.

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