Out of the ashes

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Glass bottles damaged during a fire. Collection of the Southland Museum & Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha. Gift of Murray Alexander Gunn, 1990.
Glass bottles damaged during a fire. Collection of the Southland Museum & Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha. Gift of Murray Alexander Gunn, 1990.

IN 1894, future Prime Minister Thomas Mackenzie looked at the vast landscape of snow-capped peaks, awe-inspiring fiords, and icy lakes nestled in tussock in Fiordland and had a light-bulb moment: let’s protect this beautiful taonga for future generations.

On February 23, 1904, his dream came one step closer when an area of 1 million hectares in the region was declared a national reserve.

This achievement led to an even greater one in 1952 when this area was officially made a National Park.

Today, it is not only home to key conservation efforts, such as the Takahe Recovery Programme, but is recognised on the international stage as a site of great significance with the park now boasting World Heritage status as part of Te Waipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

Among the most unusual and strangely beautiful items from the region to have made their way into the collection of the Southland Museum & Art Gallery is a small selection of fire-damaged objects salvaged from Hollyford Camp.

Hollyford Camp was established by the Government in 1938 in order to provide accommodation for the small workforce which had been assembled to construct a road through the Hollyford Valley.

However, this task was soon cut short by the outbreak of World War II.

As a result, the camp was abandoned until 1952 when the land was bought from the Government by local farmer, David Gunn, and began its new life as accommodation for those walking the Hollyford Track.

Following David’s death in 1956, the operation was taken over by his son Murray, who later added a small museum devoted to local people and their stories regarding the site.

Tragedy struck on February 5, 1990, when the building housing the museum, caught fire in the early hours of the morning.

While the paper and wooden artefacts were reduced to ash, other items showed a keen determination to survive.

Among them were the glass bottles and soft metals, many of which melted and fused themselves into the interesting, sculptural forms we see today.

These items are a tragic but beautiful example of how the significance of heritage objects can change over time.

In addition to preserving the memory of people who built and lived at Hollyford Camp, they now also help to recall the more recent history of the site.

  • Kimberley Stephenson is collections manager at Southland Museum & Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha
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