Judith's Diary

National Services Te Paerangi has been working in collaboration with Canterbury museums to provide support since the September and February earthquakes. A small team gathered in March to give hands-on assistance for packaging and transportation, and we are providing Helping Hands Grants for museums that need assistance with moving items to safe storage. Many museum people have expressed frustration at not being able to give on-site support for recovery of cultural material. Museums and collections are still being assessed, with some unable to gain safe assess to their buildings. Many needs are being met locally with the assistance of unaffected museums. Collections that have been removed to safer storage include parts of collections from Lyttelton, Methven, Sumner, and COCA (Centre of Contemporary Art). Assessment will continue for many months, and needs will become clearer as time goes on.

Thinking outside the square

For those who found the story about the Blackball Museum of Working Class History interesting in my last diary, there is a follow up article in Heritage Matters (March 2011 issue). That story still has me thinking about new ways to present what’s important about communities and history beyond collections of historical items. Collecting brings with it responsibilities and expense, and requires people on hand to open buildings, care for the collection, and carry out maintenance.

There are ways ‘outside the square’ to interpret history. Some of the most compelling and fascinating museums I’ve visited have fewer items or even a single object, but in-depth interpretation that explores themes inspired by the object. Outside New Zealand, the Vasa Museum in Stockholm with its preserved ship is an example of one of these. Closer to home, the Edwin Fox at Picton, and The Torpedo Boat Museum near Lyttelton also have an in-depth single focus. Nicol’s Blacksmith in Duntroon (pictured below) is in early development of a project to preserve a unique building and its associated collection, and will not collect anything that doesn’t belong to the site. 

 You can also present stories in location using weatherproof panels, or develop a display centre that doesn’t collect objects. This can be a good test for levels of support in the community. Are museums only about historical and contemporary collections? We work with a broader range of institutions and groups involved with interpretation of all kinds.

Thinking outside the usual square can result in great interpretation and a fresh look at the world; Orokonui Ecosanctuary is inspirational. Its innovative, beautiful, award-winning building and stunning surroundings are high above Blueskin Bay just north of Dunedin. Complemented by clear, interesting and varied interpretation in the Visitor and Education Centre, the Ecosanctuary also provides a ‘living classroom’ experience.

Many endangered South Island species are protected there in a regenerating forest ecosystem. Like all museum sector projects, this is a very long-term one. Manager Chris Baillie says ’It will take many years to restore the ecosystem to close to what it was like before humans came along with pests, farming and forestry.’ It has taken 10 years to develop so far, has 1400 members, hundreds of active volunteers, and hopes to attract approximately 25,000 visitors annually to enable it to be self-sufficient financially.  

Any organisation that is involved in interpretation and collections can find the resources we offer useful. Join in our workshops and meet others who are working in all parts of our exciting sector.

1 Comment


  1. This is an excellent post, Judith. Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts on alternatives to holding big collections and instead leaning more on the side of interpretation of local history. This gives me much to think about with our own little museum in Otautau.
    Cathy

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