EVEN when Vera Deacon’s parents were struggling during the Depression to support their seven children, they never let the family forget their duty to share what they had with others.
She remembers living in the Mayfield West dole camp and watching her mother scrape gravy, which had been set aside for young Vera, onto a piece of bread and offering it with soup to an ill man. “She told me ‘His need was greater than yours’,” Mrs Deacon said. “You had to share what you had. It’s what my father taught me: you must share your wealth, you must do good and you must not be greedy.”
Mrs Deacon, 91, and a range of other donors were thanked for their generosity to the University of Newcastle on Thursday, when they gathered at NeW Space to learn how their contributions had helped conserve the university’s Cultural Collections, which includes archives, rare books and special collections. Mrs Deacon started using the archives in 1995, when her mother suggested she research the history of Moscheto or Mosquito Island and Dempsey Island, where they lived on and off between 1928 and 1951. She made the first of many frequent and ongoing donations to the Cultural Collections in 2001. When her contribution reached $19,000, in 2008, the university established the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund to support and encourage the preservation and study of the university’s regional history archives and collections through acquisition, documentation, conservation and digitisation. More than 40 people have since donated a total of $140,000 to the fund, which has employed six people to conserve and record more than 637 boxes of research archives containing thousands of photographs, letters, drawings and other records. Staff have also digitised more than 2.5 kilometres of maps and plans and more than 209 hours of oral history recordings. The fund also sponsored the creation of virtual reality 3D imaging of Newcastle from 1825 and a smartphone app showing historic sites.
University archivist Gionni Di Gravio said the Samaritans recently gave $15,000 grant to the fund to digitise mostly handwritten records from St Elizabeth’s Home for Girls in Mayfield (and then Singleton). The team has also scanned 13 of the 5500 Aboriginal artefacts retrieved at the former Palais Royale site to create a 3D collection. Mrs Deacon, who is on a part pension, continues to make donations, particularly to support projects around labour history and the environment. “I’m not into fast cars or paying $3000 for a dress like a Parisian model,” she said. “What am I going to do, sit on it? I’ll give what I can. Knowledge of history ignites my life. We can’t change the past but hopefully we can learn from it.”