Inaugural Blog – J. Patrick Greene, CEO Museum Victoria

By J. Patrick Greene, CEO Museum Victoria

17 September 2008

The invitation to write a blog for the new website arrived just as I prepared to set off for a week’s holiday in New Zealand with my wife Julia- so I said ‘yes’ and here it is.

White shark jaws, Russell Museum Ink stand, Waitangi Treaty Ground

I am really excited to be the first blogger on the new NZMuseums website. After my trip to New Zealand I checked out the new website and noticed that all the museums I visited (below) have a presence on the site, whether it be about general information or part of their collection online. There has obviously been a very good response rate from museums and I am sure they will all find it a useful tool, both for their collections, and their museum reaching a wider audience.

In April I spoke about standards for museums at the Museums Aotearoa conference in Dunedin. I mentioned the variety of forms of validation of performance that exist in the UK and Australia, including the International Customer Service Standard that Museum Victoria had just succeeded in gaining- the first cultural organisation in Australia to do so. I also mentioned admiringly the Qualmark scheme that is so helpful to visitors to New Zealand- something that Australia, with its bewildering array of largely state-based schemes is attempting to emulate. Yes, my visit was a holiday and not a fact-finding mission but museums were likely to feature so this was an opportunity to see how the whole experience for this visitor might measure-up. I was especially interested in discovering more about the era of colonisation and the relations between Maori and Pakeha. These are the museums I visited in Northland:

The Russell Museum – a conventional museum, nicely displayed with interesting objects and accounts of the turbulent history of what is now a quiet, respectable place.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds – Of course I’d heard of the Treaty but this visit made it so much more immediate. The buildings, especially the Treaty House and the Marae as well as the Waka are well presented and the story of the signing of the Treaty effectively interpreted. The setting beside the Bay of Islands and the immaculate grounds make this an outstanding assemblage.

The Stone Store and Kemp House, Kerikeri. I rate this the best experience of the lot. The member of staff who greeted us with ‘Would you like me to tell you about the history of this place?’ proceeded to paint a picture of the extraordinary lives of the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society and their interactions with Hongi Hika and the Ngapuhi. A visit to the Kororipo pa completed the memorable visit. I must mention the shop in the Stone Store which has gone to greater lengths to source stock relevant to the location than any other museum I have ever visited.

The Clendon House at Rawene. This visit was also enhanced by the member of staff who told us the amazing and at times tragic story of James Clendon (a signatory of the Treaty) and his young Maori wife Jane.

The outstanding aspect of these visits was the way that at each stop my knowledge of this founding era for New Zealand was enhanced by a different experience in every case that together coalesced into the big story. There must be other examples like this- I’d be interested in hearing about them (and what would you put top of the list for my next visit to New Zealand?) Above all, Julia and I left with very positive impressions created by a diverse group of museums (my personal quality assessment!)

Congratulations to National Services Te Paerangi at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and everyone else that worked hard to make this new website such a success. Not only does this new site benefit museums and their communities, but it also complements a museum visit.