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There’s an archive in that tunnel

By johnboy 6 January 2014 34

The ABC has a fascinating story of the Noel Butlin Archives at ANU which is built into the space we know of as the Parkes Way tunnel:

More than 30 years ago a hidden bunker was constructed above the Parkes Way tunnel on the Australian National University (ANU) campus.

ANU archivist Maggie Shapley says the two-storey structure disguised inside the hill includes the Noel Butlin Archives Centre.

“There’s 20 kilometres of records in that structure so that is certainly something to think about when you are driving through,” she said.

“It might look like a very utilitarian building but it in fact holds some of Australia’s historic treasures.”

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There’s an archive in that tunnel
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HiddenDragon 11:53 am 23 Feb 14

HiddenDragon said :

HipBookfairy said :

“Well it’s not so hidden now, is it.”

It was never intended to be actually hidden. It just happens to be where you can’t see it. The tunnel contains loads of valuable material that users can no longer consult in the library, but have to request for it to be brought out.

Yes – I think there have been other stories about it on the ABC or in the CT, so not exactly a highly classified national secret.

So not a secret, in fact, that there is actually a little book about it:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51dOXzq8I0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Saw the book the other day on the local history shelf in one of Canberra’s remaining bookshops (which is not in a tunnel, as it happens….):

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cantys-Bookshop/169200606711

c_c™ 1:38 am 08 Jan 14

Masquara said :

NickD said :

Leaving aside the not-very-interesting topic of the ANU chucking out a bunch of publications over a decade ago, does anyone know why the archives are housed in an underground tunnel? Was it purpose-built for this purpose? (it seems too shallow to have been much use as an actual bunker/air raid shelter, despite looking a lot like one).

I’m pretty sure it was a case of taking advantage of the infrastructure that was being built already. Presumably it was a Commonwealth project to build the road and the tunnel, and it involved resuming ANU land, so it would have not been much of a hassle negotiation-wise to allow a hefty stone/concrete construction already happening to be dual-puposed as an ANU archive bunker.

More an accident of planning than anything. It’s not a bunker and never was, that’s just someone’s attempt to make a dry story eye catching. Which is surprising, since the story of the tunnel is actually quite complex and interesting.

The whole project was the 1970s equivalent of the GDE fight.

NCDC saw traffic becoming an issue and wanted to build a western distribution road and city ring road, the former to be called Molonglo Freeway.

Meanwhile the ANU was making it’s own plans for the area that incorporated the NCDC’s proposed roads and expanded on them. Their planning involved the (current) Acton Tunnel, plus two others, another arterial tunnel (near the Shine Dome), and a longer campus tunnel that was to make the campus virtually vehicle free. At some point the Commonwealth gave some land back to the ANU’s lease so it extended right down to near the Hospital. That gave ANU control of the land where the Acton tunnel would be and the ANU Council approved it.

No idea what happened to the other proposed works, but only the Acton Tunnel went ahead, after a lot of heated debate. The freeway was argued as unnecessary and there were environmental concerns over the remodelling of the lake foreshore needed to carry a six lane road plus lake side road. There were concerns the ANU might pull approval, particular since ANU academics and students groups were opposing their pristine grounds being carved up for cars instead of public transport. Had ANU pulled support, a Parliamentary Committee would have had to adjudicate the dispute between two parts of the Commonwealth.

The tunnel went ahead, they cut out 210,000m3 of fill from Acton Ridge, which they used to remodel the lake and Sullies for the roadway. During construction they established that the space between the tunnel roof and the former top of the ridge would be suitable for two levels of storage space, which the ANU estimated could hold 300 vehicles. And so for a time it was intended to be a carpark with a bit of storage.

Priorities changed over the following couple of years and the ANU hired an architect to make the tunnel into archive space instead, given the Archives of Business and Labor were poorly stored in the HC Coombs Building. This lead to the tunnel’s cavity roof being nicknamed on campus the ‘cataCoombs’.

The ANU faced some problems though, calculations showed that the archived materials would be far heavier than the 300 cars originally intended. In fact part of the tunnel ceiling once collapsed due to fault welds in the beams so perhaps a good call.

Result was they couldn’t use the entire space for the archived materials. What space they could use, they estimated could only hold the collections expansion for another ten years, so through to 1990 basically on those original estimates.

The ANU then put natural landscaping over the top of the tunnel to reblend it with the ridge.

Masquara 11:22 pm 07 Jan 14

NickD said :

Leaving aside the not-very-interesting topic of the ANU chucking out a bunch of publications over a decade ago, does anyone know why the archives are housed in an underground tunnel? Was it purpose-built for this purpose? (it seems too shallow to have been much use as an actual bunker/air raid shelter, despite looking a lot like one).

I’m pretty sure it was a case of taking advantage of the infrastructure that was being built already. Presumably it was a Commonwealth project to build the road and the tunnel, and it involved resuming ANU land, so it would have not been much of a hassle negotiation-wise to allow a hefty stone/concrete construction already happening to be dual-puposed as an ANU archive bunker.

c_c™ 10:33 pm 07 Jan 14

Primal said :

c_c™ said :

Get you’re facts straight, the bunker’s under Mt Ainslie. LBG is where they hid the Minutemen silo, why else would they have the West-German engineers design a dam that can drain the lake in less than 15mins?

I thought the missiles were under Lawson???

Nope, that’s the Anthrax lab.

NickD 10:02 pm 07 Jan 14

Leaving aside the not-very-interesting topic of the ANU chucking out a bunch of publications over a decade ago, does anyone know why the archives are housed in an underground tunnel? Was it purpose-built for this purpose? (it seems too shallow to have been much use as an actual bunker/air raid shelter, despite looking a lot like one).

Masquara 10:01 pm 07 Jan 14

p1 said :

did several summers of casual work in the ANU library work when I was an undergrad in the late 90’s. During this time I tossed out (to be pulped, shredded, recycled, etc) quite a number of metres of publications. As far as I know the stuff we tossed were all none specific periodicals on tax and law from mid last century – no one will miss them, and they are certainly in the national library.

But having seen the inconsistency on the way things were done, I do believe these stories to be plausible.

Yes – as I said, a handful of ackers rescued most of the good material, so most of the good stuff was not “tossed out”. But it is still a travesty that private individuals had to take charge of it all. Did I mention a pile of Australia rail records going back to the early 19th century, with the names and addresses of every railway worker, health records, and the reasons they left their jobs – largely wars? I’ve done a search on the current Noel Butlin Archives holdings, and several of the items that were lost absolutely would have warranted a presence among the “treasures” – but they aren’t even in the catalogue. e.g. I doubt whether the Japanese/Indigenous pearl diver evidence transcript is in any other collection, nor other evidence transcripts where the authorities were sorting out squatter matters. The fact that I can list so many items that I saw in the Coombs archive, but haven’t made it into the collection, means that the process was not a matter of de-accessioning duplicate items or stuff of little value. Definite revisionism on the part of the Archives. Well, anyone would be embarrassed about allowing that to happen!

p1 8:27 pm 07 Jan 14

did several summers of casual work in the ANU library work when I was an undergrad in the late 90’s. During this time I tossed out (to be pulped, shredded, recycled, etc) quite a number of metres of publications. As far as I know the stuff we tossed were all none specific periodicals on tax and law from mid last century – no one will miss them, and they are certainly in the national library.

But having seen the inconsistency on the way things were done, I do believe these stories to be plausible.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd 6:13 pm 07 Jan 14

Masquara said :

HiddenDragon said :

http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/asa//aus-archivists/msg02511.html

Comic and Gamer Nerd: here’s your humble pie.

What? My humble pie? I never questioned anything, merely asked for a source from some one who constantly posts weird acusations with nothing to back them up.

And it appears your source is wrong, bud.

Masquara 6:07 pm 07 Jan 14

tonkatuff82 said :

Masquara said :

HiddenDragon said :

http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/asa//aus-archivists/msg02511.html

Comic and Gamer Nerd: here’s your humble pie.

Actually I think you’d better have a slice yourself, that planned closure never happened due to an incredible effort by the staff of the time and the Friends of the Noel Butlin Archive Centre.

As to the alleged 1999 destruction unrelated to the Archive or its staff, I can’t comment other than to say it sounds like a beat up.

Source: my desk.

It did happen – I personally saw the items I listed above, and they were all removed, mostly fortunately to private collections (hardly a “public good” solution). Items not rescued were disposed of.

tonkatuff82 4:57 pm 07 Jan 14

Masquara said :

HiddenDragon said :

http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/asa//aus-archivists/msg02511.html

Comic and Gamer Nerd: here’s your humble pie.

Actually I think you’d better have a slice yourself, that planned closure never happened due to an incredible effort by the staff of the time and the Friends of the Noel Butlin Archive Centre.

As to the alleged 1999 destruction unrelated to the Archive or its staff, I can’t comment other than to say it sounds like a beat up.

Source: my desk.

Pork Hunt 4:39 pm 07 Jan 14

poetix said :

Antagonist said :

HiddenDragon said :

I imagine there would be many similar stories, including in some public sector agencies which, unsurprisingly, seem to have a habit of forgetting all but the most recent past and repeating avoidable errors.

The only existing stuffed Dodo (now a partial Dodo) was literally rescued from the flames of an incinerator well over a century ago under similar circumstances. There are examples of this kind of ignorance dating back for as long as historical records have been kept.

Or not kept.

The ancient Egyptians seemed to have record keeping down pat…

http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/writing/explore/main.html

Masquara 2:52 pm 07 Jan 14

HiddenDragon said :

Masquara said :

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

Masquara said :

The ANU didn’t mention, did they that the ANU managers made the decision to put an entire economics history library (formed under the aegis of Noel Butlin, and with materials from the 1790s to the 1980s) into a dumpster in 1999? Hmmm, thought they wouldn’t. Not even scanned for posterity. Academics managed to rescue much of the archive for their personal libraries, but it was criminal behavior on the part of the ANU.

You got a source on that?

The remains of the collection fitted in a dumpster only because a handful of academics had room in their libraries to accomodate a partial rescue. I can name two of the academics who rescued around 100 shelf metres of the material, but obviously don’t wish to without their permission. The ANU appears to have wiped the episode from their records. A distressed manager put out a call for the rescue (this was happening at the same time as the ANU got rid of the Coombs Building’s purpose built outdoor wooden furniture and replaced it with plastic). The range of material was amazing – eg the 1862 Census still wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string; state yearbooks going back to the 1860s; hundreds and hundreds of Commonwealth records including early water records; lists of property owners going back again to the 1850s; soldier settler allocation lists; property issue transcriptions; old maps; travelling stock route records and maps; economics journals (full sets); Indigenous records from state governments; early legislation bound in hide; court proceedings involving pearl diving in the Top End, including Japanese pearl divers’ testimony; WWII original documents around Defence funding. It was a very, very distressing matter and a savage loss, and I’m not surprised the ANU doesn’t like to recall it. This also occurred at the same time Sydney University slashed its library funding, so no doubt the resource was the casualty of a similar funding dispute – new managerialists versus the worthies. The worthies lost.

Aside from having vague (and they are only that, and may be colouring my perceptions) recollection of this sad story, a quick perusal of the collection policy of the Butlin Archive lends weight to it (in terms of what was discarded), as does reference to easily googled tidbits such as these:

http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/asa//aus-archivists/msg02511.html

http://asslh.org.au/hummer/vol-2-no-9/noel-butlin/

I imagine there would be many similar stories, including in some public sector agencies which, unsurprisingly, seem to have a habit of forgetting all but the most recent past and repeating avoidable errors.

Thanks for locating this – it looks as though the extraordinary and valuable collection I saw was already only the remnants! As it was probably two years after this posting that I was shown it. Criminals.

Masquara 2:46 pm 07 Jan 14

HiddenDragon said :

http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/asa//aus-archivists/msg02511.html

Comic and Gamer Nerd: here’s your humble pie.

poetix 2:39 pm 07 Jan 14

Antagonist said :

HiddenDragon said :

I imagine there would be many similar stories, including in some public sector agencies which, unsurprisingly, seem to have a habit of forgetting all but the most recent past and repeating avoidable errors.

The only existing stuffed Dodo (now a partial Dodo) was literally rescued from the flames of an incinerator well over a century ago under similar circumstances. There are examples of this kind of ignorance dating back for as long as historical records have been kept.

Or not kept.

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