Some of Australia's most treasured recordings are to be saved from decay after the government allocated $5.5 million to the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.
Many of the old film and audio recordings of big news events and television and radio programs are decaying so, in a race against time, they are being transferred from tape to digital forms.
The Archive has been lobbying hard for more money as its funds have become more and more stretched. It called the project Deadline 2025 to emphasise how time-critical it was.
The federal government has now announced the money to help the transfer happen before it's too late.
Among the recordings to be transferred to digital forms are:
- Recordings of iconic television programs, including Young Talent Time and A Country Practice
- Decades of news events from the last 60 years
- Sporting events like the Melbourne Cup
- Thousands of hours of radio serials and broadcasts of big historical events
- Master tapes of recordings by Australian musicians as well as live performances
"With this funding, we will be able to save thousands of radio, television and music before the tapes that contain them become unplayable," the Archives' chief executive, Jan Muller, said.
"By digitising the collection, we are not only preserving it for future generations; we are also making it more easily discoverable, accessible and re-usable."
To transfer the material from tape and disc to digital means playing it in real time on tape machines and record players and video players.
That, in its own right, has been a task because many of the old machines have been discontinued as useless.
The Archive has scoured the country for machines that still work and received donations of video cassette recorders otherwise heading for the dump.
On top of that, people who understand the old technology have been retiring.
All the same, the Archive digitised 14,726 items last year from its collection of more than three million items. By 2025, the archive aims to digitise 40,000 items a year.
The work proceeds in a warren of rooms at the Archive on the campus of the Australian National University. Each room contains a different type of machine, from turn-tables for shellac and vinyl records to audio and video tape machines.
The material has to be played in real time - hundreds perhaps many thousands of hours. There are no short cuts.
Preservationist Gerry O'Neill said he listened to every second of the discs when they were playing. There was no slipping out during the process in case the needle jumped when he had left the room and the transfer was imperfect.
He knew the technology inside-out, knowing, for example, which stylus produced the best sound on different types of record (a stylus was the old needle which was put into the groove on a disc).
His favourite was "When Dewey Comes Sailing Home", a patriotic American ballad from 1899.