Knowledge is power

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus Garvey

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”

Pearl Buck

These two quotes, while not intended to defend the value of archival information, nevertheless demonstrate the importance of going back into the past to learn about ourselves, and our world, in the present.

Archives are valuable repositories of information to us at Hames Sharley, but you won’t think of it at first when the next batch of boxes are brought out: crumbling cardboard boxes with dusty files filled with yellowed papers held together by rusty staples and paperclips that crumble into bits as they are pried off. But take the time to go through each individual project file and decades of hard work and the character of a business begins to gleam from beneath 50 years of dust.

Collectively, these archived items are a time capsule of Hames Sharley’s history; from project details stored on fax paper, floppy discs, and polaroid photographs from the 1970s, to printouts of email communications from the mid-2000s – all digitised using modern technology. Past employees and their work come to life from quickly scrawled sketches to precise and calculated designs, formal typed communications and informal handwritten memos, bored doodles in margins, draft notes, scribbled corrections, and messages of congratulations to single out particularly good work.

Commonwealth Bank Blackwood SA, 1980 - I can't believe it's not Instagram

It is not a random task to go through the archives but a deliberate decision to rehouse the items from an out-of-sight-out-of-mind warehouse onto an electronic hard drive by scanning and cataloguing each individual piece of paper. This serves three purposes: reducing the cost of storage, contributing to Hames Sharley’s commitment to go paperless to reduce our footprint, and most importantly, allowing employees to access the information quickly and easily.

But why should the architects, designers, and project leaders of today cast their eyes on projects deemed ‘done with’ yesterday – packed up and almost forgotten? Quite simply, history repeats. Just as we were asked by clients in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s to design shopping centres, school buildings, public amenities, defence barracks, streetscapes, and plan urban development and conduct studies, we are asked today. Lessons may be learned. By studying, or even just glimpsing at what was once done, a new spark to an old idea might emerge. Innovation can lead to new solutions to old and ongoing challenges. Or perhaps an old concept can offer an unlikely solution to a new problem or be reassessed and applied for future contexts.

A faded image of two men standing by railing at Roxby Downs Commercial Development, 1987.
Roxby Downs Commercial Development, 1987

Throughout the unpacking, unbinding and un-stapling, sorting, scanning, and cataloguing inevitably some items catch the eye: Everyone thinks this looks like T is handwritten on a newspaper article about a “femme fatale” accused of poisoning and robbing men in Melbourne. Perhaps ‘T’ was someone involved with the 1980s residential project in whose file this newspaper clipping was slipped in for prosperity? And most surprisingly, one of the very first boxes to be shipped out from the warehouse included the original articles of association of Hames Sharley Pty. Ltd. formalising the incorporation of the company itself dating from March 1976. What a find!

The commitment to digitise the archives is a long and dusty one and comes with the occasional papercut – and did I say long? Who knew just how many items there could be relating to the West Lakes Shopping Centre project from the mid-2000s? I don’t know, I lost count after creating 24 separate sub-folders within the West Lakes project folder, 280 sub-sub folders within those 24 (including 232 individual folders on individual tenants), and many more sub-sub-sub folders in those! But I shall persevere, for scientia potential est – knowledge is power – and archives remain a potent source of knowledge that is available for everyone today and for those who come after us.

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