Learning on the job

Working with old machinery
 Jacqui Jackson
Governor-General Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO with NFSA cadet Jacqui Jackson in an NFSA workshop

I’m currently in my third year undertaking a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) at RMIT University. My position as cadet with the NFSA began with a two-week stint in July 2011 and continued from November 2011 through to February 2012. I worked in PATS as an engineering technician, and I was fortunate enough to work alongside Wayne Young, the mechanical engineer in the motion picture lab, and George Zerial and Dave Heffernan, the electrical engineers in Video and Telecine Services (VATS) and audio services.

Although my time at the NFSA was short, there are no words to describe how much I appreciate the time taken by my colleagues to explain the work they do and the origin and applications of various formats. I gained invaluable knowledge by being able to observe the engineers solve problems that arise in the equipment used around the archive.

The age of much of the equipment means that there aren’t instruction manuals to refer to and required parts are no longer being produced. However, the archive needs to keep this equipment running in order to play, copy and preserve content from the range of historical film and sound technologies in the national audiovisual collection. There’s not many other workplaces that call for engineering maintenance of equipment like this and how these problems are addressed is what drew me to working with NFSA.

I had the chance to work on a Studer A800 24-track audio recorder, which was found with heavily degraded pinch rollers. I pulled apart the tape transport, cleaned it up, put it back together and, with help, checked that it was still in working order. It worked briefly until two capacitors blew, in a great display and smell of smoke. With a bit of research, equivalents were found and now it runs as smoothly as it ever did.

I also experienced first-hand the variety of work undertaken at the NFSA. I received training on how to wind film for storage and transport, and I cleaned records and components of the racks used in the film processor. I spent a few days at the NFSA Mitchell facility seeing how collection material is stored at specific temperatures and humidities, depending on the item. Each film, recording, document and artefact is handled with the utmost care to ensure it is preserved under optimum conditions.