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Brisbane archivist Kate Ashton wants to share the Church’s own historical treasure trove

Keeping records: Brisbane archdiocese archivist Kate Ashton working at her desk in the cathedral precinct.

A COLLECTION of suitcases topped Kate Ashton’s list of her favourite odds and ends kept in St Stephen’s Cathedral Archives.

Ms Ashton, who has worked in multiple other collections from New South Wales to far north Queensland, took over from archivist Fr Denis Martin as Brisbane archdiocese’s archivist this year.

As International Archives Week came to an end on June 14, The Catholic Leader spoke to Ms Ashton about the unique role archivists had to play in the Church.

Her job was all about collecting and preserving history.

“And one step further than that – it’s providing access to that history,” she said.

“It’s not just (that) you’re collecting and preserving this for one day for future people to look at 150 years from now; you’re collecting and preserving it so that people today can access it.

“Family historians, genealogists, basically anyone from the public can walk in and say, ‘I’m interested in the history of the Catholic Church in Brisbane, what can you show me’.

“That’s what I love about it.”

It was more than just a passion; it was part of canon law (Can. 486).

“It’s actually part of canon law that each archbishop has their own archivist and archive,” she said.

“It’s actually to record and store everything relating to the archbishop of Brisbane and former archbishops of Brisbane along with the history of the archdiocese of Brisbane as well.

“There’s records going back over 150 years of Brisbane’s Catholic history.”

Ms Ashton, who is Brisbane Catholic Historical Society’s vice-president, said she started off as a library technician working for the NSW State Library to digitise for the centenary of the First World War.

Digitisation was part of the future of archives everywhere.

“I think there’s this perception that (because of digitisation) your job no longer exists in the future, where that’s not accurate at all because there are such things as digital archivists,” Ms Ashton said.

“It is one of my aims for the Brisbane (archdiocese) archives to eventually digitise some collections so that they are available online for people to view.

“It’s just about creating a wider access to that material while also preserving the original content.”

Even so, some pieces had to be viewed in the flesh.

“We do have a safe-room – that’s a temperature-controlled room – and that’s where there’s beautiful artworks held, and it’s my hope eventually to have some of them restored and put on display,” Ms Ashton said.

There was a bit of everything in the archives from old editions of The Catholic Leader to film reels of different bishops going to Rome.

For now, the archives stayed closed as COVID-19 restrictions were in place, but as Ms Ashton worked from home, she was still eager for people to send requests to view items, donate items of Brisbane Catholic historical significance or even to volunteer to help in the archives.

She said she was grateful to have a couple of volunteers already, but being such a small department, was always interested for people to put their hand up.

“Being such a small department, I am open to the idea of people who are interested in archives, interested in the history of Brisbane, and Catholicism and the Church’s role in Brisbane to come on in,” she said.

“The more the merrier.”

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