“Our generation of young people need to know who they are,” says local historian, Rangi Parker.
This attitude has led her for over twenty-four years to gather photographs, journals, audio recordings, letters and other historical artifacts from around New Zealand and other parts of the world.
Supported by her husband, Vic, Rangi has gathered thousands of historical items — primarily focused on missionary work among the Maori people — which dates back to 1854 when the first Elders arrived in New Zealand.
She says that her concern for the younger generation of Maori losing their connection with their ancestors was and still is the driving force behind her interest in history.
Rangi’s interest started in the early 1970’s when she was a young mother with children at home. But her busy life prevented her from doing more than think about her desire to gather information. Later, after her children were grown, she had more time to dedicate to her gathering of histories, photographs and other items.
Maori history, for many years, was communicated orally. The early missionaries brought their cameras with them, unwittingly providing valuable photographs later to be added to the collection.
“One of the joys of this work,” she says, “is when someone visits with us, and sees a photo of one of their ancestors. They are thrilled.”
Some of these photographs have greater significance to Sister Parker as she has come across some that feature her own mother and grandmother. These treasured photographs are in a prominent place on her office wall.
The collection continues to grow as former missionaries and their children and grandchildren learn of her work and they donate photographs, journals and other memorabilia.
Even though she has done most of the work on her own, she quickly acknowledges her husband Vic’s vital contribution. “I would never be able to accomplish this work without the support of my husband. He has been by my side through the years giving me strength and encouragement.”
Overseeing the collection, Rangi and Vic coordinate tasks and keep up on correspondence with their many contacts and friends. Together they generously give their time to people who visit the collection’s temporary home in Temple View.
Sister Parker’s demeanour is quiet and unassuming, but her knowledge and love for those documented in her collection is remarkable and feels personal. She knows many details about those photographed and remembers them by name and their stories even though she may not have met them personally.
Her work is valued and recognized widely. In 2008 she was nominated by a member of the New Zealand Parliament and awarded the Queen’s Service Medal. She has also been featured in three documentaries aired on national television in New Zealand and featured in many articles in newspapers and magazines.
Last year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acquired the collection. Rangi and Vic continue to dedicate many hours each week overseeing the operations of a history centre in Temple View. The Church is exploring ways to maintain the collection, making it available to visitors as well as online.
Librarian Randy Olsen and wife Margaret are on special assignment from the History Department to catalogue the collection. “Once the collection is catalogued,” Olsen says, “then some documents and photographs will be digitized. While today relatively few people can see the collection first-hand, in the future it will available worldwide over the internet for all to enjoy.”
The collection is currently located on Mission Road, Temple View, Hamilton. On the left side of the entrance are the words ‘Kia Ngawari,’ which means ‘be kind, loving, humble and patient,’ and was the motto of well-known missionary and Apostle, Matthew Cowley.
Those who know Rangi and Vic Parker best say that they exemplify these same qualities.
The centre is open Monday through Friday 10am to 3pm, or by appointment. Admission is free and visitors are welcome.