By Adrienne Rewi
Tapawera is little more than a blip on the map – a tiny rural community of around 400 people in the Motueka River Valley. There’s a school, a Four Square grocery, a pet care store, a garage and this, the Tapawera & Valleys Museum – probably one of the tiniest museums in New Zealand, spotted out of the corner of my eye early one Sunday morning as I was passing through. I slammed on the brakes and went back for a closer look.
The door was wide open. Inside was a single table with an open visitors’ book and waiting pen, copies of old newspaper articles and a few large, book-like photographic displays on two walls. I was intrigued.
It turns out that this cute-as-a-button building – the former Kiwi Railway Station that had spent 50 years prior as a bach for raspberry pickers at Tadmor – was restored and opened as the Tapawera & Valleys Photographic Museum in 2005, to mark the anniversary of the famous sit-in on the Nelson-Glenhope railway line in 1955. (Much of that history is photographically represented in the wall displays). Former local resident, one Lorna Moffitt, who took part in the 1955 sit-in protest, cut the ribbon at the museum opening and Erik Kidson, “whose father was foreman when the station was built 100 years ago, then unlocked the door to allow people in” – a few at a time one presumes.
As with most of these small, rural museum projects, this one would not have happened without the support and ongoing restoration efforts of the local community. I’m always reminded that history never looks like history when we’re living through it, so people in small communities who recognise the worth of their social fabric and who make an effort to preserve some of it – even a thin slice – have my admiration and respect. The representation and presentation of our history will always be flawed to some extent, but it nonetheless provides an anchor of sorts, a reminder how far we have come, what we have achieved and, more importantly, the lessons that have been learned along the way.
And if not for this bright-faced little museum on the side of a rural byway, I would never have known about the demise of the Nelson-Glenhope rail system and the group of women, nine of whom were arrested, who staged a week long sit-on on the line at Kiwi to prevent it closing. That new knowledge of course, is not going to change my life but it is a reminder never to assume our small towns are ‘dead’ and uninteresting. I’m sure many great moments in history have occurred in settlements even smaller and more out of the way than Tapawera.
Image 1: The tiny Kiwi Railway Station is now home to Tapawera Museum & Valleys Museum in Tapawera Village
Image 2: Regional history unfolds as you turn the large ‘book’ pages on the museum wall
Image 3: Copies of old newspaper stories document the actions of local women protesting at the 1955 closure of Kiwi Railway Station