Archives Outside

For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

Temora Community Archive – Part 1: Building the “Underground Archive”

Bill Speirs is the Manager of Temora Rural Museum.


The most important aspect of the Temora Community Archive Project is that through it, Temora has developed a way to effectively preserve and manage its unique community records over the long term.

The problem is, of course, that a multitude of local organizations carefully create an historically valuable record of their participation in the community, only to be faced with the challenge of preserving it. Unfortunately, these records are usually bulky and they have no relevance to the daily life of the person charged with storing them. In practice they tend to be stored “out of the way” which usually means, at least on some level, “in harm’s way”, where they remain inaccessible to the wider community – effectively lost, until such time as they are actually lost.

We worked on the assumption, that if the community had a better alternative that was socially responsible and easy to use, they would use it.

They do.

Our Goal

Temora is a rural shire in southern New South Wales with a population of 7000, centred on the town of Temora. It has a 500mm, winter dominant, average annual rainfall and annual temperatures between zero to 45 degrees Celsius within a 20 degree Celsius daily range. Our Archive was initiated by the Temora Historical Society, a volunteer organization with very limited financial resources, so in seeking a solution, we clearly had to offer a practical, long term storage environment with a low maintenance cost. However, to market the project to our community we also realized that we needed to find an enduring element of novelty – we decided to build an “underground archive”.

The “Hardware” (Construction and Infrastructure)

We had no direct precedent to call upon so we decided to base our facility on a reinforced concrete bunker structure. This would provide physical security, protection from UV light and dust, stable temperature and the capacity to manage any insect or rodent threat. The “unknown” was humidity, but we decided that if necessary we could control that mechanically.

Plan for Underground Archive

Plan for Underground Archive

The dimensions of the bunker were agreed at approximately 4.5m wide by 9.5m long and 3.0m deep – this was determined simply by the size of the available site. Using Compactus shelving, this space could accommodate 405 shelf metres of standard archive storage boxes – well in excess of the forecast size of the collection 25 years into the future.

Initial Construction

Construction (beginning)

The Archive was to be developed at the Temora Rural Museum (which was run by the Temora Historical Society). As this site is owned by Temora Shire Council, the Council was successfully approached to help fund the project.

Council contributed $30,000 to underpin the foundation of the adjoining museum building to a depth of 3metres, excavate the site and construct the bunker and its access staircase. The heavily reinforced concrete floor and walls were poured on site within a double layer of heavy gauge plastic sheet. A rubble drain and sump was also built around the base of the bunker in case moisture built up in that zone. After the concrete roof was poured, the Rural Museum volunteers built a verandah over the site to shade the new facility.

Construction 3

Construction (midway)

When the Temora Shire Council was approached to construct the bunker, the Temora Historical Society undertook to fit out the facility and manage the archival collection to be stored in it. In the first stage, tracks for the Compactus were installed along the length of the vault and the first six (of a total of nineteen) bays of shelving were placed upon them. These bays comprised two that were sufficiently deep to accommodate broadsheet newspapers and large ledgers, and four suitable for foolscap document boxes. This was considered adequate for our collection at the time.

Soon after the bunker was constructed it became apparent that the storage space would require more ventilation than could occur passively via the stairwell. The “well effect” combined with the drying of the concrete and paint, raised the humidity in the vault into the 90% range.

To address this, a “chimney” was installed at a point just below the roof of the vault, through the stairwell wall and then upward through the roof to a height of one metre. This ventilation shaft was constructed from 150mm PVC pipe and topped with a 150mm wind driven exhaust fan. Within days, the relative humidity in the vault had stabilized at approximately 50% – a level which has not varied significantly in the eighteen years that the facility has been in use.

Construction completed

Construction (almost complete)

As the collection grew, we were faced with the cost of adding shelving to the Compactus. Since commencing the project, the retail cost of the shelving units had doubled, blowing out to $16,125 (plus freight) to furnish the vault – well beyond our resources.

Fortunately, the type of shelving we required is kit-based. We purchased the components of a compatible Compactus at the dispersal sale of a Sydney based business, added extra components from a Wagga Wagga based second-hand office furniture dealer, made what we could not find, and completed the project for just on $5,000.

All pictures and images reproduced courtesy of Temora Rural Museum.

Coming up Part 2: The archival collection

  • William Oates says:

    Dear Bill

    I really appreciate getting to see the construction diagrams and photographs. While I have not seen the Temora facility, I was impressed by a similiar facility constructed in Coonamble. I would hope that a lot more use of this type of construction occurs over time.

    A question about the design on the stairway. Is there much of a problem created by having to carry archives up and down the stairs? Is there a lifting device you use that is not shown in the plans?

    Many thanks


    August 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm
  • Bill Speirs says:

    Hi Bill,
    Thanks for the response.
    The Coonamble facility was built in 1993. The folk there successfully applied for a $50,000 grant using my project report as the basis for their application. I was very flattered.

    The facility doesn’t have a lifting device. In terms of the records I regularly consult, the only items in the collection that are heavier and more awkward than a standard archive box are the old Valuation Books. We usually access these without bringing them upstairs.

    Currently the only electrical supply in the vault is to four equally spaced light sockets along the roof of the access passage and to a floor level alarm switch near the door at the base of the stairwell. This alarm rings outside the museum building and can only be switched on or off at this switch. As another safety feature all doors between the vault itself and the outside of the museum building open inwards so that no door can be accidentally blocked while the archive is in use.



    August 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm
  • June Sutherland says:

    I have come on the site ourely by accident. What an amazing solution to the stage of the valuable collections.
    A lot of what one is looking for is had to find. What is the key here to finsding what one wants?
    For example, I wanted to find out about the road which went from Sydney to Port Phillip and on the net itis most proabably hidden away like a peeble.
    conratuatiosn to everybody. It appears to have been well hidden for 18 years.

    September 9, 2009 at 5:40 pm
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    Hi June,

    Thanks for your comment. If you are interested in how to access Bill’s collection he explains a little bit about his finding aids in his second post on “The Archival Collection”.

    Researching roads can be tricky and not all resources and finding aids are available online. One online starting point for you could be some of the sources outlined in our post on NSW Maps Online

    September 10, 2009 at 10:53 am