Mackey Archives Launch

Thursday morning, 26th May 2022, we, as well as family and friends, were guests of Clarence Valley Council and the library staff of the Clarence Regional and Grafton Branch Libraries, for the ‘Launch of the Mackey Archives’. Although Covid restrictions still apply for all Council functions, it really was a wonderful morning.

I was asked to give a short address, a summary I which I have included here. For publication I have removed people’s names or have used only their initials in keeping with privacy laws.

“Good Morning everyone. Thank you for coming today.
‘Launching the Mackey Archives.’ What are the Mackey Archives, and what does ‘launching’ mean?

The Mackey Archives is a private collection of thousands of books, microfilms, microfiche, photographs, maps, newspaper clippings, documents and ephemera on Local and Family History, the majority of which showcases the Clarence River District, in Northern NSW.

Historically, this district stretched from the Macleay River northward, including the Clarence, Richmond, Brunswick and Tweed Rivers and up to Moreton Bay. (Brisbane). It also encompassed the area from the east coast of NSW westward to the New England Ranges.
Today’s ‘launch’ is a celebration of the transfer of this collection into the care of the Clarence Regional Library.

How did this all come about and why now?
As you all realize a story spanning more than fifty years, is long and complicated, but this morning I will confine myself to a few highlights.

I have always had a certain passion for history. This was fostered by my Maternal Grandmother, with whom I spent many hours as a child, listening to stories of goldmines, bushrangers and colourful family characters. She also encouraged me to trace our ancestry, which has been a life long journey, not yet completed.

My forefathers were not early pioneers of the Clarence River District, not having arrived on the Tweed River until the 20th Century.

In the 1960’s I was appointed to the teaching staff of Westlawn Public School, Grafton, and was soon introduced to ‘Schaeffer House’, the then newly opened home of the Clarence River Historical Society. I just loved all this history in one place, even though there was no connection with my families. I have been a member of the Clarence River Historical Society for 48 years and was recently awarded Life Membership. For eighteen years I served the Society on the Executive Committee, firstly as Honorary Secretary and later as Honorary Research Officer. During this time I soon discovered what an incredible and unique part of the world the Clarence River District is. Particularly the Clarence River area itself, including Grafton. How todays communities are made up of descendants not only of three Aboriginal nations who have been here, for perhaps, thousands of years, but also English, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Swiss, French, White Russian, Dutch, Greek, Chinese, and Pacific Islander immigrants, all of whom settled here in the 19th and 20th Centuries. You could say a melting- pot of humanity.

Have you heard of Sir Grafton Elliot-Smith, the eminent Egyptologist and anthropologist; William Kirchner, Australia’s First German Consul; Virginia Bassetti and the Drummond Sisters, great Opera singers; Sir Ivan Mackay, the great war hero; Sir Earle Page, Surgeon, Politician and Leader of the Australian Country Party ? I could add many more men and women to this impressive list.
Are these some of my illustrious ancestors?
No, but these famous and inspirational people were all connected to the Clarence.

Now back to today’s story. Throughout the 1970’s-80’s I continued my research into my ancestors and that of my husband. I also helped those interested in tracing the ancestry of Clarence River families.
During this time I undertook professional studies in Family, Local and Applied Histories as a distance education or external student through Sydney and Armidale educational faculties.

Due to the fact I lived so far away from the large cities, where the big libraries and archives were, and although, I had the help of the staff of the Clarence Regional Library with Interlibrary Loans, I found it difficult to get the necessary research material for my assignments and theses. I invested heavily in books, microfilm, microfiche and copies of original records from libraries and archives throughout Australia, to complete my studies. Remember this was long before the internet!
This was the beginning of the Mackey Archives. When I say Mackey Archives, although it has always been my obsession and I have been the driving force, I could not have achieved such a collection without the support and help of my husband, and our children.

In the early 1990’s family circumstances required me to step down as research officer for the Clarence River Historical Society, and teaching in the public and private school systems, but I was able to move into my dream job as a Professional Historian, and I opened my own business. This allowed me not only to continue to invest in more books, microfilms and CD’s etc., but I was also able to acquire copies of original material, which allowed me to rise to the top of my profession.

I wrote and published more than 70 publications in book and microfiche formats. Over 40 of these were on the Clarence River District. Not forgetting three of those were co-authored.
I have not only had the support of my family, but a large network of friends from all walks of life, far too numerous to name, but who helped me track down and acquire copies of original material from libraries, archives and private collections all around the world. These people are individually acknowledged in each of my publications.

I must say the aim of my collection was to supplement and complement, not duplicate, material held by other private facilities such as Historical and Family History Societies throughout the region. Over this time I also shared my expertise and interest to help others achieve their goals in recording family and local history too. My private library and archives was always open to students and friends for research.

However, I would like to specially mention a few people who have stood the test of time over many years. Of course my husband, who after retirement joined me in the business and took on the task of digitizing all my card indexes, newspaper cuttings and documents some 30,000 images- so far, and there are many more to come. He also tagged them so they are easily accessible.

JB and AB, who not only helped in many necessary excursions to Sydney libraries and archives, but also joined us on private archeological surveys in old gold mining towns on the Upper Clarence and assisted with photographic and computer work.

NE helped curate and catalogue the books into the library Dewey system. She has also been my chief proof reader.

JK helped with transcribing original records held in Sydney as well as locally and as an excellent typist, typed some of the early book manuscripts.

GB who co- authored the book on Clarence River German Immigrants and helped track down out- of -print, and obscure books for my library.

MH, formerly Historical Officer with the Crown Lands Office, who educated me in the use of land records and helped me acquire a large collection of maps of the Northern Rivers area when the Lands Department went digital and no longer required the hard copies.

I am very appreciative to have some of these people here this morning. For various reasons the others could not be here, but sent their best wishes.

In 2012, after twenty years in my dream job, due to ill health and other issues I closed the business. Although I still planned to carry on researching our families, the problem arose what to do with this huge collection of thousands of books, microfiche, microfilms, photographs, maps, newspaper clippings, documents and ephemera of the Clarence River District?.

Ideally, I wanted it to stay locally as a collection, available both to the hobbyist and students starting out on their own tertiary journey.
I always had a great relationship with the Clarence Regional and Grafton Branch Libraries, but in 2012 they were busy trying to find new homes themselves, and were not interested in adding to their problems, by taking my collection, so it stayed on my shelves.

Fast forward to 2018. We had a new Regional and Branch library complex in Grafton city. A new Regional Librarian, an experienced Local Studies Librarian and a highly qualified Archivist and Restorer now on the library staff.
We also had a new educational-hub for tertiary students next door.
I approached the library staff about my collection and after a visit, they were very keen, especially when they learned we wished to gift it to the city.
You would think it would be easy to just hand over this collection to the library. However, there were many hurdles, not only legal ownership, copyright and documentation of such a collection, but the cataloguing to make it available to the public.
For the last four years I have been documenting and cataloguing this collection, not only to make it available to the public, but also in a way for it not to become a burden on the library staff.
I believe it is not the size of this gift to the community that is important, but why we have chosen to make it.
With the rapid advance of the digital age and instant gratification, I believe as a Society we are now becoming emotionally undernourished, in terms of understanding and feeling a kinship with our heritage.
Only history can provide the basis for an understanding of time, through the perception of change-that is a past, present and future.
History provides us with insights into past societies, cultures and values and of course mistakes, which we do not want to repeat, but it is also the frame of reference with which we understand ourselves. In other words ‘Knowledge is Power’, and aided by experience, leads to wisdom.

My hope that this collection is the core of a community based collection that is unique, and from time to time is strategically added to, by others, in the future. A source of information and inspiration for the next and future generations so they have the knowledge, confidence and courage to go out into the world and do great things, just as their ancestors did. “

Below are photographs and report on the Clarence Valley Council website.

Mackey Archive launched at Grafton Library

A unique collection of books, photos, maps, newspaper clippings and documents depicting local history has found a new home at Clarence Regional Library.

The Mackey Archive is the lifelong collection of historian and genealogist Nola Mackey including more than 1000 books, 1000 maps and 30,000 digital scans of The Daily Examiner.

All of these items have been meticulously recorded and catalogued by Nola and her husband Vernon and are now available for members of the community interested in exploring local history and heritage.

“It’s not the size of the gift that is important; but why we did it,” Mrs Mackey told guests at yesterday’s launch at Grafton Library.

“History provides insights into past cultures, values and mistakes. It is also the frame of reference from which we understand ourselves. In other words, knowledge is power.”

The Mackey Archive Reading Room is located in Grafton Library and open Monday to Thursday 10am to 3pm (by appointment only). Visits are by appointment only. To book please call (02) 6641 0111 at least one working day in advance.


A report in the local newspaper, “The Independent”,1 June 2022


4 thoughts on “Mackey Archives Launch

  1. What a wonderful legacy for so many years of work to place it in the hands of the community via the auspices of the library. Your generosity in not only donating the collection but documenting and cataloguing it is an impressive gesture of true generosity.

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