The migration into a newly developed content management system; transcoding of the digital files into new formats; and a complete re-write of the delivery public system means that the Australians at War Film Archive is preserved, accessible and usable in new ways. Researchers and family members of the interviewees can now search, view, save and download the interviews themselves, without needing mediation, help or permission from our team of archivists, which makes everyone happy. Michael Caulfield's vision of a national, open, freely accessible archive has reached the next level. We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from researchers and interviewee's relatives, particularly those family who have found their relatives interviews by surprise. One of the most useful new functions we added is the ability to easily make and save a clip. This has been widely used by museum curators for exhibitions, relatives for family events, school children for projects, and lecturers for presentations.
The archive project has spanned 23 years so far, and has involved over 500 project staff and 2,000 participants sharing their stories. The dedication and commitment of all is admirable. Having listened to several of the interviews and extracts, which often run for 5-9 hours each I am struck by the broad range and wealth of content, which was previously not easily accessible. It is wrong to assume the archive is only about war because of its branding and name. Recording the experiences of Australians in war and conflict was the driving force, but it is more accurate on reflection to say that the interview corpus covers the social history of Australia from Victorian times to present.
Interviewees describe in detail their lives, upbringing, families and places lived both before and after their war experiences. The most fascinating information is offered up to researchers as the interviewees chat away. One man described his early swimming exploits as a young lad in hand knitted swimwear, and in detail the meals his mother made him for tea when he went home afterwards. These interviews give snapshots of not only people, but also the places they grew up in, or passed through, with many small rural regional towns getting mentions. Each interview has a transcript which is full text searchable and synced to the audio and video recording. For example if you search on 'Queanbeyan' you will find 56 different interviewees describing their experiences in this town. It is good to hear some of their light hearted, fond memories from childhood and pre and post war as well as more difficult ones. It goes without saying that the war recollections are an invaluable original research resource for military historians, holding great depth and context, more so as time passes by.
I always describe the transcripts as being the 'gold' since they are what enable the full text search of the film/video/digital files. But more than this, the transcripts have had context and value added to the war recollections by a team of eminent historians over several years. We await with interest feedback from historians, researchers, authors and post graduate students on how they have used and interpreted the data.
If you want to know more about how the project was carried out from 1999 to now, who was involved, and how it was planned a longer overview is now available.