22 Nov 2020

New museum set to open on Stewart Island Rakiura

From Standing Room Only, 4:17 pm on 22 November 2020

Stewart Island Rakiura's museum was first built in 1960 - to house an abundance of island treasures. Back then, it cost the thousands of tourists coming to the island 50 cents to get in and see the displays which cover early whaling in the area, sealing, boat building, and natural history.

But the Rakiura Museum - which had been converted from a house - ran out of room, and plans were hatched to build a new one. The $3 million centre is now, after a couple of setbacks, due to open on 1 December.

No caption

Photo: Rakiura Museum

Lynn Freeman spoke to Rakiura Heritage Centre Trust chairwoman Margaret Hopkins and Jo Massey, the Southland District Council's roving museum officer.  

Hopkins said that in the late 1990s it became obvious that the existing museum wasn't coping as tourist numbers grew. Drawings were done for an expansion but they had to be abandoned once earthquake standards were strengthened.

At the same time a building fund was set up and when the Rakiura National Park was established in 2000, the government gave Stewart Island a major grant for more infrastructure. A community meeting supported the construction of a new museum.

Massey said wonderful aspects of the museum's collection include its early shipping stories and the early Māori story.

One substantial Māori collection amassed by an archaeologist was coming back to the island after 60 years because of the completion of the new museum, she said.

Massey said items in the collection date from the earliest settlement of Māori in Aotearoa.

Hopkins said the museum was proud of its expanding Māori collection and part of it was of national significance.

The new building also has far superior storage facilities compared with the old one.

She said the project has made families more aware of goods they have that may be of interest to the museum even though it has a treasure trove of items already.

"There's just thousands and thousands of items there and the good thing is we can actually tell people it's now beautifully packed and stored in conservation materials and it will be able to be accessed by visiting families that want to come and have a look."

Massey said she was interested in gathering oral histories, especially if they accompanied donated items.

"In the museum here they've got enough collections to tell stories for many years but also I think it will be a process of gathering those stories from those people still on the island into the future."

Small museums gave visitors a great taste of what the island is and its relevant stories, she said.