Southland’s rugby history celebrated

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Southland Museum & Art Gallery operations manager Hayley Browne with a map of Southland's club rugby regions.

ITEMS, stories and images from 130 years of Southland rugby history are on display at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery.

The exhibition, Rugby Southland: Celebrating 130 Years, showcases the legacy of the Southland Rugby Football Union since it separated from Otago in 1887 and has been installed in the Awarua, Dusky and Staircase galleries.

Museum curator of history David Dudfield said the downstairs portion of the exhibition was mostly about the place Rugby Park, while upstairs was more about the people, the heroes and the legends.

The items on display include mascots, memorabilia and equipment such as an old turnstyle, which are from the Rugby Southland archives, its supporters club, life members and local businesses.

It also has photographs which show how Rugby Park has changed over the years.

“We thought it would be quite nice to show how that’s evolved over time and how the teams have evolved over time too,” he said

There is also a tribute to Ranfurly Shield-winning teams, including an E.Scape Glass feature which showcases player handprints and footage of the Southland Stags in action.

Operations manager Hayley Browne said this was hugely popular with visitors to the museum.

“We’ve found, too, with a lot of the people coming in to see it they’re not just wandering through having a look, they’re spending a significant amount of time sitting here, reading all the information and really sort of immersing themselves in the exhibition.”

Museum staff were keen to get involved with the exhibition because it showed a huge portion of Southland’s history, Browne said.

“So many people are connected to rugby down here,” Dudfield said.

One of the memorable shield wins was just before World War 2.

“We had the Ranfurly Shield throughout World War 2 because they didn’t have any games, so we’ve technically held the Ranfurly Shield the longest.”

He said it was a really interesting game as well because it was affected by snow.

“It was almost knee-deep snow and they raked off the trylines and just the outside, it looks amazing,” Browne said.

Some of the rugby boots and balls on display which feature in the exhibition Rugby Southland: Celebrating 130 Years.

Going up the stairs of the museum into the next part of the exhibition is a wall feature by Creation Signs using a photo taken by James Jubb.

It shows three generations of the Rutledge family, former All Black Leicester, Southland stalwart Jason and his son Gregor, who plays age group rugby.

In the next floor of the exhibition is Kevin Laidlaw’s All Black uniform and a list of Southland All Blacks from 1896 onwards.

It also includes information about Southland referees, and Paddy O’Brien’s World Cup jersey.

Along with a wall of “heroes and legends” is a projection of Southland teams from the 1950s until now, and comparisons of how the jerseys, boots and balls have changed.

“The heroes and legends are people who have contributed to rugby – players, coaches, administrators and referees,” Dudfield said.

There is also a touch screen which has more information about the individuals, a map of local rugby clubs and a bench made by former All Black Jimmy Cowan.

Browne said there were some amazing stories in the exhibition.

“It’s quite inspiring, too, for kids who are playing because you hear about the stories of someone like Kevin Laidlaw who started playing for Nightcaps and ended up an All Black,” she said.

“It shows you that there’s such a rich history of people succeeding in their rugby down here.”

The exhibition had been open for a month, with about 12,000 visitors so far, Rugby Southland commercial manager Breidi McStay said.

“It’s really cool.”

She said they were also hoping to work with the team at the museum to have an interactive experience during the next school holidays, and hoped people who came to the city for Stags’ games would take the time to visit the exhibition as well.

The exhibition is on until January 29.

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