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Anthony Pitaluga – Gibraltar Government Archivist

in Features

The need for a new home!

He’s experienced the workings of many – if not all – government departments, ending up in Culture and Heritage which may have been a sign of what was to come next…`Can you look after Gibraltar’s archives?’ some senior body must’ve asked. Daunting as the prospect was, he took it on with unstoppable zeal… and the passion has grown within him to the present!

Perhaps it’s not surprising, considering since childhood he’s always been interested in history, Gibraltar’s in particular. He’s been in the job now for the best part of five years constantly on the go. “If we just mention the work involved in digitising all our archives which includes newspapers, government papers, documents, press releases, parliament Hansard records etc., personal accounts and reports going back to the 1800s and beyond including UK dispatches, we’ve so far digitised just about half of one per cent of our records and we’ve been at it for a number of years now taking over from my predecessor Dennis Beiso, who got it started before I took over.” All happening in the archives offices which are becoming extremely cramped… and more documents and papers continue to arrive at the archivist’s door!

But history buff Anthony doesn’t sit on his hands watching paint dry. Recently an exhibition celebrating 50 years of Gibraltar’s records has been on display at the Fine Arts Gallery in Casemates and the work continues. To date we’ve seen a number of exhibitions since Anthony took over: `Mapping our Past’ in 2016, `Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum’ in 2017 and `Archives at Night’ – a scary event – later in 2017, `Centenary of the end of the First World War’ in 2018, `Frontier Closure’ anniversary at the beginning of 2019 and the latest one in November 2019 highlighting the archives’ 50 years. “A lot of work goes into setting up these exhibitions and with the help of my staff, Gerard Wood and Owen Adamberry we get stuck in sorting out and choosing what to exhibit at each event.” Anthony tells me he never ceases to be amazed at the amount of interesting stuff they come across. “For example, the Dutch forces which assisted the British in taking Gibraltar in 1704 had already been this way sinking Spanish galleons in the Bay 100 years earlier. These were the days of the 80 year war when everyone was at war with each other.” I can imagine interesting gems popping up in archive rooms 1 and 2 when least expecting it. The first record of Gibraltar’s inhabitants goes back to 1777. That very old book set out in beautiful hand writing, was on show at the last exhibition in November. It’s a constant learning curve I’m informed. Work at the archives however consuming, is made a little easier thanks to the Parasol Foundation and the Friends of Gibraltar who have provided the department with two scanners which provide a great input to the work undertaken.

2018 was an important year for Gibraltar’s Archive Department as it became part of the Heritage and Antiquities Act, recognising the archives as part of Gibraltar’s public record whilst also recognising the office of the archivist as the custodian of the Gibraltar archives. The Act instructs the Gibraltar Government’s archive office to keep between 7 and 10% of anything emanating from the government that’s 20 years or older. On the lighter side, the archives department is also interested in personal accounts which may be of historical interest and Anthony welcomes individuals who may hold stories or documents of events – personal or otherwise – which may be of wider interest relating to Gibraltar’s past. “They may be emotional for the individual but historical for us!” As historian and Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Garcia – whose idea it was to get the digitisation started – stated at the 50th anniversary exhibition: “Our history cannot be lost” he said, “misinformation is important to put right and must be recorded.” Too true, and archivist Anthony also spends time visiting schools to `tell the Gibraltar story.’ Also, as the digitising continues lots can be derived from visiting the website from the comfort of your home wherever you may be in any part of the world without having to visit the office, although many students from here and abroad and visitors to the Rock do, and they are very welcome. Anthony is a talker and is very happy to meet them and inform them of anything they may need to know and more, and as an example on the website, evacuation of Gibraltarian women and children to the UK and elsewhere during WW2 can be found online where you can search for what ship any family member may have travelled on to Casablanca, the UK, Madeira or Jamaica. Check the website at, www.nationalarchives.gi

Meanwhile our busy archivist keeps in touch with archives in the UK and elsewhere which he finds very useful to ensure he’s kept well informed of the latest developments in the world of archiving and especially when it comes to storage, the need for which is forever growing. Clearly the Gibraltar archives can’t continue to live in their present premises at the back of the Governor’s residence in Governor’s Lane. “It’s fast becoming too small and cramped. Also, during winter water seepage is not uncommon when it rains heavily. I’ve had to come down at night on one or two occasions when it pours down and the last thing we want is for our records to suffer water damage, we’ve even spent hours drying out page after page of some documents to minimise the harm done!”

So yes, very interesting stuff can be found in our, bursting at the seams, archives. They are crying out, no, yelling out for a new home! Duke of Kent House in Cathedral Square has been earmarked as a possible location but we’ll have to wait and see where else might be suitable. Keeping them in the town centre or nearby would be ideal and perhaps in the next 12 months of 2020 we’ll see our historical documents move to a better home. In the meantime there’s no rest for the wicked and the ongoing recording or digitising `lifetime of lifetimes’ programme continues. Anthony’s degree in Information Technology and Computing with Natural Science is certainly being put to good use at our Gibraltar National Archives. There certainly is a lot of laptop, key tapping to keep Anthony and his staff busy at their bulging offices for some time to come… very, very busy!