By Moya Sherriff, Intern, Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre
One very lively group in the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre is the Kaiapoi Historical Society. Their mandate is to run Kaiapoi Museum and they have kindly agreed to share their story with us.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Canterbury, Kaiapoi is 17km north of Christchurch within the Waimakariri District. Settled by Ngai Tahu, this area is steeped in history. The keystone to the area is the Kaiapoi River which acted as an important highway for travel and trade. In later years the Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company made the township world famous. I am sure I am not the only New Zealander whose Nana owned a tartan Kaiapoi blanket that still survives in their household today!
Kaiapoi Museum was housed in the old Courthouse building, where the Society created exhibitions for the public, conducted tours and created presentations for school and community groups. They also provided extensive research facilities for those inquisitive folk who walked in the door.
On September 4 2010, when daylight spread over a broken Kaiapoi, two people on bicycles rode into town. “We saw the liquefaction on the road and thought, um this looks a bit serious!” When they reached the Museum, one of the side walls had fallen in and was propped up by a cabinet housing the Museum’s textiles. Members of the Museum committee entered the building to assess the damage, but before long an authority figure arrived with the message “Everybody out, I am not risking lives for a bunch of trinkets”. A few days later a society member received a call from the owners of the business next door to the Museum. “You had better get down to the Museum, there is machinery there and they are going to demolish it”. The Council had signed off the Museum for demolition, not knowing the collection was still inside the building. In the end the group were given the okay to rescue the collection and the team, under car lights and head lamps, worked tirelessly through the night to hastily empty the building. Kaiapoi Historical Society members note “The Council were really good to us, they got a shipping container and paid Don Woods Carriers to assist us with the wrapping of our framed works. This was all done on the side of the road”.
From Kaiapoi the collection was moved into storage in Christchurch. Unbeknown to the group, the collection was placed right in the line of fire again as the building was damaged in the February 22 earthquake. Kaiapoi then had to move out of this damaged building to a Council owned farmhouse in Cust, 35 minutes north of Christchurch.
The Cust house was filled to the brim. As Kaiapoi Museum staff explain “This is where we started to catalogue, photograph and arrange the collection into categories. The downside was there was no room to work, the farmer used to place sheep in the surrounding grounds, it was infested with cluster flies and security as well as fire was a concern.” On the positive side “Cust’s lunches were great, we used to sit outside, have a picnic and everyone would bring a plate”. After 18 months in the house at Cust, in March 2013 Kaiapoi made the decision to move their collection into the Recovery Centre with the help of staff from the Air Force Museum.
One of the disadvantages of being away from their community for so long is that while Kaiapoi Museum are out of sight they are out of mind. Membership has dipped as stimulating public interest, when you are not visibly there, is a challenge.
While reflecting on their experiences Kaiapoi say the positives that have come out of these challenges are “we have had to handle the collection, we know it better now”, we have become “more professional in our attitude” and we are “able to concentrate on the management of the collection”. The Recovery Centre has been “a God-send really”, we now have the room to work with our collections and the ability to take part in workshops, such as the upcoming Expert Knowledge Exchange on textiles. Currently the group “are still cataloguing what has survived and soon we will be preparing items for exhibition in the new museum”. In January 2015, Kaiapoi will move into a new Council owned building which will be shared with the Library and an art space.
All images courtesy of Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre.
Other posts by Moya:
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 2