Anchoring past and present

    Margaret Hopkins has volunteered at the Stewart Island museum since 1978.

    IT has an award-winning design, but for long-time volunteer Margaret Hopkins, the focus of the Stewart Island museum is community.

    Rakiura Museum, Te Puka O Te Waka, means the anchor stone of the canoe.

    Also a trustee, Ms Hopkins had volunteered at the museum since 1978 and said its name served it well.

    The new museum on Stewart Island/Rakiura holds the community’s past. Photos: Laura Smith

    “It’s kind of anchoring the past to our present-day community.”

    Previously, she chaired the trust which worked towards the new building to house the island’s history.

    With a project budget of $3.7 million, the new museum was opened last December and, so far, comments had been positive.

    “I like to think the new museum is a combination of the old-fashioned cluttered museums we used to have that were object-rich and we’ve not gone too stark like some modern museums.’’

    Ms Hopkins said 12,000 people had visited the new museum during the past seven months. “In the old museum, we would probably average 7000 a year.”

    She attributed the rise in visitors to both domestic tourism increasing and the museum’s extended opening hours.

    The original museum opened in 1960 and, until recently, had solely been run by volunteers.

    However, having someone working the front desk, allowed for the volunteers to focus on things they preferred to do, which included sorting and housing items, as well as answering the weekly requests for information.

    A steady stream of requests for photographs and details of people’s ancestors kept the team busy, but also provided an opportunity for them to expand their own collection and knowledge, she said.

    “You get some people doing in-depth studies on family or whakapapa and they ultimately might give us as much information back, they’ll share their research.”

    Research was one of her favourite aspects of volunteering.

    “It’s quite exciting when you see a photo you’ve never seen before.”

    The museum housed a varied collection including natural history and artwork.

    Various industries which had supported the Stewart Island/Rakiura community over its long history were also covered.

    “When it was first set up, they put out a call for every household to donate an object that might be useful in the collection.”

    The team was particularly pleased with the balance of early Maori history the museum now housed as well as European.

    Children, however, were drawn immediately to the jars of specimens.

    The newly built Stewart Island museum has a varied collection on display.

    Although the jars had been at the old museum since 1970, the contents were cloudy and needed some care.

    Museum curator Elaine Hamilton was desperate to have them displayed, despite their bad condition, Ms Hopkins said.

    “We had this wonderful conservator from Otago Museum. She came down, looked at them and said, ‘oh yes, it can be saved’.”

    Other objects were also able to be restored during the move to the new building, which was fitted with environmental monitoring to keep them all safe.

    “All of us get this huge sense of satisfaction, because it’s so lovely to work in.”