The Stewart Island Rakiura Museum was first built in 1960 – to house an abundance of island treasures. Back then, the thousands of tourists who came to the island cost 50 cents to enter and see the exhibits that cover the beginnings of whaling in the area, seal hunting, boat building and the natural History.
But the Rakiura Museum – which had been converted from a house – ran out of space and plans were made to build a new one. The $ 3 million center, after some setbacks, is due to open on December 1.
Lynn Freeman spoke to Margaret Hopkins, President of the Rakiura Heritage Center Trust, and Jo Massey, Southland District Council Museum Tour Manager.
Hopkins said that by the late 1990s it became clear that the existing museum was not coping with the increasing number of tourists. Designs were made for expansion, but had to be scrapped once earthquake standards were tightened.
At the same time, a construction fund was put in place and when Rakiura National Park was established in 2000, the government gave Stewart Island a large grant for more infrastructure. A community meeting supported the construction of a new museum.
Massey said the wonderful aspects of the museum’s collection include its early expedition stories and the history of the early Maori.
A large Maori collection amassed by an archaeologist was returning to the island after 60 years due to the completion of the new museum, she said.
Massey said the items in the collection date from the first Maori settlement in Aotearoa.
Hopkins said the museum takes pride in its expanding Maori collection and that part of it is of national significance.
The new building also has much better storage facilities compared to the old one.
She said the project has made families more aware of the possessions they have that may be of interest to the museum, even though it already has a treasure trove of artifacts.
“There are only thousands and thousands of items out there and the good thing is we can actually tell people that it is now beautifully packaged and stored in conservation materials and will be accessible to visiting families who wish to come and have a look. “
Massey said she was interested in collecting oral histories, especially if they came with donated articles.
“In the museum here, they have enough collections to tell stories for many years to come, but I also think there will be a process of collecting these stories from those people still on the island in the future.
The small museums gave visitors a good taste of what the island is and its relevant stories, she said.