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Viewing of Rewi Alley Documents at National Library of NZ

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John Sullivan, Curator of the Rewi Alley collection, Alexander Library, presents one of several photo album of Rewi Alley’s photos. Photo by Mark Beatty, Alexander Turnbull Library | National Library of New Zealand

As part of New Zealand Chinese Language Week, 12 – 18 September, 2016, the National Library of New Zealand invited about 12 people from various organisations to a viewing of material about Rewi Alley at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. As our national president Dave Bromwich and others were unavailable, I [Dave Adamson] went along for what turned out to be a fascinating insight into this remarkable man. We were shown through the display by Senior Advisor Winston Roberts and Curatorial Services Leader, John Sullivan.

Although there were only about 20 items on display, they were enough to have us all quickly fascinated by the chance to almost feel as though we were in the presence of this remarkable Kiwi. His diary for 1929 was there, and I was able to read of how a man had been killed the day before in a Shanghai factory by a piece of dangerous machinery (Rewi was a factory inspector at the time). After he had discussed it at some length with the factory manager, the manager finally agreed to put a safety device on the machine – but only because he knew it would keep Rewi happy; no thought given to the saving of future lives! That entry was followed by several exclamation marks!

There were three very large photograph albums on display from a collection of over 50. Some had belonged to Rewi, some to his sister Gwen and others from various family members; all fascinating. Other items on display were letters, a school text book and school report, a book of poems and various sketches.

‘Rewi at work in the School’ – Just one of many pages of Rewi Alley’s very large photo albums. Photo by Mark Beatty, Alexander Turnbull Library | National Library of New Zealand

Rewi’s presence was with us; you could sense him there, watching us with a quizzical look on his face reflecting perhaps the thought: “What’s all the fuss for?” I think one day our society needs to make an appointment to revisit our old friend; maybe more will be able to see more documents next time!

– Dave Adamson (NZCFS Vice-president South Island)

(Photos by Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, NLNZ)