“A breath of fresh air in more ways than one” Inspirations from the National Digital Forum, NZ 2019

From the 18 to 24 November 2019 I was afforded the wonderful opportunity to briefly escape the Australian bush fires and choking smoke, and travel to the the windy city of Wellington in New Zealand to clear the lungs and mind and speak at the National Digital Forum.

All the presentations from the National Digital Forum 2019 are online and freely accessible here:

My presentation was entitled  GLAM to the power of “x” (the full version of the presentation is here: https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2019/12/03/glam-power-x/) and explored the ancient yearnings for universal knowledge through a kaleidoscopic journey of GLAM Labs, renaissance and Elizabethan magic, supernovae, dreams, universal keys, black Aztec obsidian mirrors, Plato’s Alcibiades & the ancient & future art of memory.

My presentation covering the digital and its how we got here through the history of magical ideas and philosophy felt right at home in the National Digital Forum, which has been going on for the past 17 years. There were a number of persons who had attended every single one since its inception. (They all received a gold star) It’s obvious that it’s a GLAM gathering of outlier minds on the edges of their respective professions, exploring the unknown, which is what makes it so compelling and enjoyable to be among.

The Hon. Grant Robertson, New Zealand’s Minister for the Arts, Culture and Heritage (yes they actually have a Minister for that!) told us that his mother was an archivist. He opened the NDF2019, telling the assembled throng of GLAM people “You don’t get paid enough for what you do looking after our culture.” To which the audience erupted in applause.

The emphasis was not only on the “digital” as a means in itself, but for what purpose digitisation and digitalisation, as things, were doing in the service of people and life, to make the world a better place. I really appreciated the heartfelt convictions of all speakers, their breath and span of knowledge and the way they wove history, philosophy, literature, art, and Hollywood into their ideas.

Our very first keynote speaker Chris McDowall (19/11/2019) provided a great overview, along with his artistic and literary inspirations in the art of map making, sharing the trials and tribulations along the way of his amazing New Zealand mapping work with collaborator Tim Denee. I loved the references to Pixar’s WALL-E, a beautiful representation of an audio visual archivist in a dystopian future surrounded by junk. (Wait a minute? Are we there now?) If you love maps, map making and atlases, watch his presentation:



And the background and evolution to Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling:

Keynote speaker Hīria (Ngāti Porou, Tūwharetoa) told us of her work with sensors and data loggers measuring the temperatures variations that community housing people, such as her late grandmother, had endured. Her research help provide evidence that the lack of insulation across community housing was creating an unacceptable risk to people. Watch her story here:

Other highlights:

If you are interested in projecting digital content on anything, check out Sean Monaghan:

If you are interested in digitising anything and everything and making it look cool – Dave Sanderson:

CD-ROM digitisation, what’s the best machine that lives up to the hype? – Flora Feltham:


CD Rom digitisation

Understanding the difference between free and open access to digital materials, see Victoria Leachman and Douglas McCarthy:

Underground Toilets? Archival plans brought to life in 3D virtual reality by Alison Breese:

Bots you might like to meet with Paul Rowe:


Sighted on a walk through the streets of Wellington: “This is GLAM”


Quotable quote:

“What isn’t measured, isn’t managed.”

Quotable Quote: “What isn’t measured isn’t managed.”


A visit to the Weta Workshops was also inspirational. Our young tour guide Issac showed us how they create amazing sets from trash; in fact I have not been able to view any rubbish anywhere in the same way every again. Everything now is a potential futuristic set, especially discarded computers. From a grain of dust, a marvel. Reminiscent of the quote from the  7 Faces of Dr Lao (1964):

“Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand, every time you stop and think, “I’m alive, and being alive is fantastic!” Every time such a thing happens, Mike, you are part of the Circus of Lao.” – Dr Lao



Form, texture and colour are the keys to their models, and it was amazing to see how their digital and physical innovations had made its way into hologram exhibits, statues, replicas, and a variety of installations across Wellington streetscapes, public buildings and GLAM institutions.

Here is a sample hologram from Te Papa, as well as a variety of extraordinary physical and digital installations across Wellington with the help of Weta Workshops and Weta Digital:


No place for racism in NZ




Besides the National Digital Forum, the fresh air, New Zealand in itself was a metaphorical breath of fresh air for the soul.

To watch the Prime Minister on morning TV answering questions, honestly, without minders, or a script was refreshing, and her heartfelt leadership and compassion infused the whole community (and the world around us everywhere we went).

I had arrived boxing at shadows, worried about the digital not replacing the physical world, anguished by the destruction of books, lack of value of physical collections. But by the time I left I had realised that I had come from an oppressed country, and so enjoyed the basking in the humanity and commonsense of New Zealanders. No one would consider binning their Picasso, just because they took a picture of it. Nor trashing a Roman statue, just because they had a cool 3D scan of it. No, the idea of the digital replacing the physical was a librarian mindset, not necessarily shared by other professionals across GLAM. So I calmed down, just a little. Thank you NZ.

All the presentations from the National Digital Forum 2019 are online and freely accessible here:

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist, Chair, HLH

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