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The installation of a new community water tank. Children playing in shallow waters of a reef. Displays of modern farming equipment and exhibition stalls at an agricultural show. Women showing off their handcrafted goods. The opening of a new community hall. The harvesting of taro. New housing built after destructive hurricanes. Young men taking part in athletic events.
These are some examples of the wide range of subject matter documented in photographic images taken in the early 1960s by a New Zealander and WW2 veteran, Harry Coleman, who took up a post as a public servant in the Niuean government at that time.
The March 1986 issue of Pacific Islands Monthly gives us a few biographical details about Coleman and his activities in Niue as they reported his retirement and return to New Zealand after 34 years living on the island. Coleman had arrived in Niue in August 1959 to take up a role as a senior clerk in the Public Works Department. Over the next few years he would go on to supervise the establishment of the Community Development Office, which entailed setting up a regular bilingual newspaper Tohi Tala Niue and organising a broadcasting station on the island.
Due for retirement in 1969, he instead went on to establish a radio repair business on the island and at one point served on the Niue Tourist Board.
A few months prior to Coleman’s arrival in August 1959, a devastating cyclone hit Niue with full force followed by another less than eleven months later in January 1960. The two cyclones became a driver for many Niueans whose lives and livelihoods were upended to seek better fortunes in New Zealand. Coleman and his camera stayed on however, and his collection of images give a sense of the resilience with which Niue faced rebuilding and getting on with life after those two major events.
Harry Alexander Coleman was born in 1913 and passed away in 1995. A collection of close to 400 of Coleman’s photographic images of life in early 1960s Niue was donated to Auckland Museum in the early 1990s. Although there is a short inventory that describes some of the images, our collection records for these images lack any further information about the people, places, and events pictured in them.
If there's anything we have learned in our time working with Pacific Documentary Heritage collections it's that we know people in the wider internet-savvy Niuean community now based in New Zealand will still recognise individuals in many of the images. This has been the case when we have brought photographs from Coleman’s collection out to view at past community events held at the Museum. However, we are always welcoming new information that can help us identify people and create more accurate descriptions of subject matter in our photographic collections, so please get in touch with us if you have any leads.
The majority of Coleman’s negatives have been digitised and are available to view on Auckland Museum’s Collections online.
Auckland Museum holds issues of Tohi Tala Niue (call number: AP7.7 N12 TAL) from the decade of the 1970s to early 1980s which are available to access and view in our Reading Room Tuesdays to Thursdays 10am- 3pm.
Header image: Coleman, Harry (1960s) Performance in festive costume. Auckland War Memorial Museum neg. M1660.9