AN ONLINE collection of images of Wairarapa tupuna (ancestors) has attracted huge interest, garnering thousands of views since being posted on Facebook. The images were uploaded to the Rangitane o Wairarapa Education Facebook page in December, and within days 20,000 people had viewed them, with some using the page to connect with whanau, arrange get-togethers and share whakapapa.

The page's creator, Joseph Potangaroa, explains how a childhood discovery sparked a lifelong interest in photography and preserving history:

"I spent most of my first 30 years living in the family home in Watsons Rd, at Te Ahipanepane, Te Ore Ore, Masterton, and so grew up around old, interesting things. The land was my adopted grandmother's with a direct line of ancestry having lived there since the 1700s.

"We had the house, remains of an older house, old village site, marae reserve and family urupa all on the same block. Just the existing house and land held many surprises, the biggest one being a car buried in the backyard along with beds, machinery, stable and kennel foundations, plates, bottles, tools, etc, and old hangi holes all over the place.


"My adopted dad, Maurice Potangaroa, returned to his childhood home in the late 1960s when the house was empty and condemned. I arrived sometime after 1971 and had a great childhood in that rickety old place. One day while playing in the ceiling cavity, I came across some old portrait photos amongst the rafters.

"Another time, a bunch of old documents were discovered when I found birds' nests in the roof. Underneath were accounts, records, letters and other papers. Those that weren't too badly damaged are now in the Wairarapa Archives.

"Around 1980, my dad came home with beautiful large photographs of his paternal grandfather and grandmother in intricately carved golden frames. I remember carrying it in and going, 'Whoa, look at all these amazing photos'.

"Cousins of mine asked if they could take the four photos of my dad's parents and grandparents, so that quality prints could be made of them in Auckland. After a long think, I agreed. My dad had died in 1991 when I was 20, which left me thinking about how quickly most things can be lost. I wanted to try to ensure that the images would be around for as long as possible so believed duplicating them would help this.

"As this was before digital photography, and I was unaware of anyone who specialised in quality copies of large items in Masterton (I now know Nikolaisons could have) the photos went to Auckland and were copied.

"When we left Watsons Rd, the photos from the ceiling came with us. About 10 years ago another cousin, Robin Potangaroa, who also lived in Auckland, asked if he could have the ones from the ceiling to make copies. Again I thought that was a good idea. This time Robin gave good-quality copies back to Te Ore Ore marae.

"Around 2000, I started archiving local history, mostly Maori. Visiting old places saw me start to take photos of sites. Eventually it was suggested by Jason Kerehi that doing some photographic study might be useful. So I did a photography diploma, attended a workshop dealing with Maori taonga, read some more and practised.

"One of the most useful techniques I learnt was how to take high-resolution photos of old photos to avoid flash spots, shadows and reflections.

"I started the Rangitane o Wairarapa Education Facebook page in October to share some of the photos, maps and events. It was hoped that people might see a place such as a wharenui and get interested, or they could explore a scholarship for a child.

"If they started connecting with their relations that would be awesome. If teachers used the material to encourage students to learn about themselves that would be good too. As it is turning out, the historical material is the most popular.

"The album Tupuna Portraits and Photographs was posted on December 10. It contained 18 photographs. Within five days, more than 20,000 people were looking, with many whanau discussing their connections to the tupuna. Some shared whakapapa, some arranged get-togethers and some saw their namesakes for the first time.

"Most of the photos can be found on the internet but in low resolution. Most of them are ones I have taken to create high-resolution copies.

All photos are in triplicate in different locations, so that if one is destroyed another copy is safe."