Doll display to fund project

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Otautau Museum display and collection manager Suzie Best holds one of the 500 dolls temporarily donated by a Southland resident to the museum as part of its latest exhibition. Photo: Abbey Palmer

BURIED beside an Otautau stream, a set of wheels researchers believe may be linked to Southland’s milling history, were recently discovered.

In a bid to uncover their significance, the town’s museum investors have come up with a unique way to raise funds for their restoration.

From Sindy Dolls to Reborns, Cabbage Patch Kids and Kader Dolls, a once empty room in the Otautau Museum has become a temporary home to 500 dolls dating back 100 years.

Gifted by a Southland collector, the dolls on display only represented half of the owner’s collection, Otautau Museum collections manager Suzie Best said.

“We went through the collection and picked out the most interesting, topical, or the dolls in the best condition that were representative of the maker and put it all together as a fundraiser.”

For a gold coin donation, visitors would have the chance to browse through decades of doll history from New Zealand and afar in From Yesteryear till Today

The exhibition would be on display until the end of February, with the goal to raise several thousand dollars for the restoration and storage of the wheels.

Mrs Best said after extensive research with Heritage New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, and Rayoniers Matariki, whose workers discovered the wheels, it was decided they were most likely associated with the old Southland Timber Company Limited – the company responsible for building a mill in the Longwoods at Otautau in 1902.

“The date and association assumption is made due to the fact the wheels, which are believed to be off an early stationary steam engine, [according to staff from] Edendale Traction Engine, or a slightly later semi-portable engine, were found buried beside a stream with a tramline running to the old mill site.”

An axle with wheels “clearly from a tramline” was also presented to the Otautau Museum.

Because the artefacts were likely manufactured after the 1900s, Heritage New Zealand had given clearance for the museum to carry on the conservation project on its own, she said.

The Southern Regional Heritage Fund agreed to supply half of the funds needed for the restoration of the wheels – only if the Otautau Museum was able to cover the costs of building a shelter to protect them.

Mrs Best said the wheels were an important part of Otautau’s history, a story which had not been told by the museum.

“The heritage engineer I consulted about conserving the wheels has got access to a register of all steam engines brought into New Zealand.

“Once he has cleaned the dirt and rust off the wheels, he will be able to find the maker’s mark. It will be exciting to know finally who they belonged to.”

From Yesteryear till Today will be open to the public on Sundays, 2pm-4pm, at the Otautau Museum, 146 Main St, Otautau.

Under 14-year-olds will require adult supervision.

To make prior arrangements, phone Suzie Best on 027 211 4675.

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