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A peep at happenings in the early days

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 23 September 2017 00:00

On the eve of the 58th death anniversary of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on 26 September, this rather unusual picture appeared in a Facebook entry announcing the release of 1,000 historic photographs by the Government Information Department on the internet. Though a caption of the picture did not identify the location or the event, I racked my brains going back to my reporter days on the Dinamina. 

Having joined the paper immediately after the formation of the MEP Government under SWRD in April 1956, I was assigned to cover most of the events that he attended. If I remember right, this picture may have been taken on the occasion of the takeover of the British naval base in Trincomalee in keeping with the election promise made by the Prime Minister that British military bases would be taken over once he came to power.

We were given a Volkswagen Beetle whenever we had to cover events in the outstations and invariably the vehicle was shared by the Dinamina and Daily News, the morning Lake House papers. The big, burly photographer Wally Perera, being one of the most senior press photographers at the time, accompanied us on these coverages. He did the trip to Trincomalee along with me and Dalton de Silva of the Daily News news desk. Wally was ideal company on long trips – he had so many stories to relate of the bygone days. He always dressed smartly, often sporting a bow tie with a short-sleeved shirt.

The release of such a large number of pictures is indeed laudable. It’s obviously the brain-child of Ranga Kalansuriya, Director-General of Information with his years of experience related to media. Following the link given by him on Facebook, I did a quick glance. It was a treasure hunt. To have preserved such valuable pictures since the formation of the Department in 1948 is indeed praiseworthy.

As reporters we used to visit the Information Department regularly. By mid-1950s the office had moved to Fort from the Secretariat building. The Government Record Office (later named the Government Publications Bureau) continued to be in the old place, with almost all the ministries and most of the Government departments being housed in the Secretariat building behind the old Parliament (present Presidential Secretariat). 

The venue was most convenient for the public to pick up the Government Gazette (out every Friday) and other Government publications including the Acts passed by Parliament, Hansards recording Parliamentary proceedings and administration reports when they came to attend to any other matters with a Government office.

Getting back to the collection of pictures, they have been divided into 19 categories. Most of the pictures (152) show community development activities with another 129 under the category ‘Government Officials’ which really deals with the tenures of the Bandaranaikes – SWRD and Sirimavo when they were prime ministers – while a separate section carries 57 pictures of the D S Senanayake era. 

The allocation of pictures and titles could have been better. For example, ‘Current Affairs’ section is not current since the events have taken place many years ago. Though short captions have been used to identify the pictures, most of them are vague. The use of dates of the events can enhance the value of the pictures. So is the spelling of some names. ‘Thevis Guruge’, for example, is spelt ‘Themis Guruge’. 

Apart from the present generation these pictures will be looked at by future generations, hence the information, names and dates must be accurate. These mistakes can be easily be corrected.

Let me once again thank Ranga K and his team for their effort. There will be many like me who will remember the bygone eras and enjoy these pictures recollecting old memories. For those interested the link is www.dgi.gov.lk – GFU Gallery.

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