Ngā Heke: Bringing Māori Voices into Wellington Museum

Te Whanganui a Tara is the name of one of our most prized taonga at Wellington Museum, the tukutuku and poupou panel created for us by Rangi Hetet, the late Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and their whanau. It is currently sitting quietly, almost alone on level two of the museum while we prepare new exhibits to be installed, but not for long. Soon a noisy family of other taonga will surround Te Whanganui a Tara, keeping our poupou and tukutuku warm with different voices, creating a conversation of sight and sound and diverse perspectives, just like a whānau. Te Whanganui a Tara tells some of the Māori origin stories of Wellington. The new taonga continue those stories and bring voices from contemporary young Māori artists and poets into the Museum.

To have the full experience, you will need to visit level two when it re-opens as Ngā Heke during our Steampunk Weekend on 26th November 2016. In the meantime, below we profile the wonderful artists who have created new work for Wellington Museum. Continue reading “Ngā Heke: Bringing Māori Voices into Wellington Museum”

Trams on Film: History of Wellington Transport

This fantastic old Pictorial Parade covers the development of transport in Wellington up until 1970. Worth watching for the narration alone. But the visuals are also brilliant. Many thanks to Archives NZ, quoted below. Also, Brownies! Wellington tourism! And unfortunately offensive use of taonga Māori, as well as some jolly good old-fashioned sexism… These historical films are always eye-opening.

Continue reading “Trams on Film: History of Wellington Transport”

Our Science Wahine

Sexism in Science has been a fairly well-publicised issue in recent months, with several articles and the publication of a new BWB text Why Science is Sexist by Nicola Gaston. I have been wanting to write about our Science Curators for some time as they both have fascinating and diverse backgrounds, they’re both women with international careers, and they’re both curators primarily at Space Place at Carter Observatory. Strong evidence of why it’s important to make sure prejudice doesn’t hold girls & women back! Here are their stories in their own words:

Dr Claire Bretherton


As a child I was always fascinated by the stars, looking up to the sky and wondering what was out there. I remember  going outside with Dad to see Halley’s comet in 1986. I grew up in a small village near Winchester in the south of England. We had pretty dark skies with no street lights along our road, but even so it was pretty hard to spot and didn’t quite live up to the spectacular previous visit in 1910 when Carter Observatory’s Cooke Telescope was amongst the first in the world to photograph the comet. Rather than being deterred, this just inspired me to find out more.

Continue reading “Our Science Wahine”

Curating Māori Wellington Part One

About 15 months ago I began work as Museums Wellington’s first Curator Māori. I was pretty excited for many reasons: love of history and Wellington; curiosity to know more about Wellington’s Māori history; the many possibilities I could see for improvement in how we (as a city) remember our Māori stories. How you feel about these topics depends where you are on the vast spectrum of different kinds of local people. I am local now, but not as local as those born and bred here. I have ancestral connections here, but not in a way that means I have mana whenua in this place. In comparison with some, I know a bit about the history of this area; in comparison with others, I know hardly anything at all. But I am always keen to understand these things better, so I figure that’s a good place to start.


The confusing and conflicting histories of Wellington are not just legendary to some who work in this area, but also to some who come from here*. In a post like this, of few words and less-than-deep analysis, I won’t try to lay out the reasons for this, suffice to say the process of colonisation has been so lengthy and disruptive you need a shovel and several decades to get down to the bottom of it, no matter where you are. What I do want to write about in this post is layers, and whakapapa, and invisibility. Continue reading “Curating Māori Wellington Part One”

Space, and a Certain Time and Place

As happens regularly in museums, we have recently been updating an exhibit at Space Place at Carter Observatory. This means ‘resting’ objects that have been on display, swapping in objects that have not been on display, returning items that we have on loan from generous individuals or institutions, and refreshing graphics and interpretation panels. Along the way we might go through the archives and rediscover stories hidden away like old scrapbooks at the back of a cupboard.

My beautiful picture

Peter Read, the People’s Astronomer, was an iconic figure on 1960s and 70s New Zealand television. There is a special place for him at Carter Observatory, and at NZ On Screen. Digging through one of our digital cupboards, we rediscovered these wonderful old images from a 2010 Carter Observatory exhibition about Peter. Some of them are from his time in the US witnessing the Apollo 15 launch. They are affecting for capturing a specific time and place while focusing so fervently on space and the future. They also tell part of Peter’s story, as do the film clips of his long-running television show ‘Night Sky’. The refreshed Peter Read exhibit should soon be installed at Space Place at Carter Observatory; in the meantime enjoy this online exhibition. And look out for a special Wellington feature at the end featuring a whole lot of history you won’t want to miss (but you may want to forget!)

My beautiful picture

2-3in 2in 4in cooke 4 in gregorian Continue reading “Space, and a Certain Time and Place”

I was photographing everything – Alison Jones

One of the great pleasures of opening The Attic at Wellington Museum has been seeing visitors spot themselves or their family members in the exhibits. We’ve had a visit from the granddaughter of the architect of our 1890 building, Frederick de Jersey Clere, and from the grandchildren of Ken Coles who features in the 1956 Chimpanzee Tea Party film. One of our most popular exhibits has been ‘Working on the Job’, a series of images of New Zealand Rail in Wellington in the 1990s, taken by then-clippie Alison Jones. It is with some delight that people recognise places and faces in the images, and sometimes even see themselves. Our Social History Curator, Nik Bullard, has curated an excerpt of the show for our first online exhibition. Also featured below is a brief but exclusive interview between Nik and Alison. If you want to see more, you can find it in The Attic




2005-5043-6 Continue reading “I was photographing everything – Alison Jones”

Nairn St Cottage – View of a City

One of the lesser-known treasures of our collection is Nairn St Cottage, built in 1858, considered to be Wellington’s oldest residential house (restored as near as possible to original condition). The cottage sits on a hill above Aro Valley, overlooking the entire city, which was slightly obscured by a light drizzle the day I took this photo. Even so, one of my favourite things about the cottage is how you can immerse yourself in the story of an English settler family and their home in the same moment as you can look out over a 21st century New Zealand city. It’s impossible to do so without thinking about what used to exist on these streets, what you might find if you dig underneath the apartments, how the city has transformed since the New Zealand Company obtained the land from Māori in the mid-nineteenth century (which Māori, you might ask? That’s an excellent question that we might revisit in a future post).


Some favourite spots inside the house. From top: wash house, master bedroom, kitchen, scullery

Continue reading “Nairn St Cottage – View of a City”

Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi

Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi – The Expansive Pathway to the Heavens. It’s a beautiful name that carries with it quite different connotations than ‘Space Place at Carter Observatory‘, and adds depth to our understanding of what the observatory is for, and the roles it plays. As I mentioned in my last post, there are heaps of genuinely cool things about the heritage buildings of Carter Observatory and its surrounds. Spend some time in the Thomas Cooke telescope room and it’s hard not to be awed and floored by the technology of the 1860s. I’m sitting under the telescope as I write this, and am reminded of our tendency to underestimate the knowledge and pure experimental guts of our forebears, who figured out how to build such a thing from scratch:

Think, then, how awe-inspiring it is to discover astronomical knowledge hundreds, if not thousands of years older: Polynesian people from many nations had such a keen awareness of the stars and their movements that they could confidently travel throughout the Pacific by reading the sky. They didn’t build telescopes or compasses like the Thomas Cooke, but that doesn’t mean their knowledge was any less substantial. They bet their lives, and the lives of their families, on the strength of their astronomical matauranga (knowledge) and they ventured far beyond their own ocean neighbourhoods to settle places like Aotearoa. Continue reading “Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi”

Time Balls, Kings & Telescopes

Wellington is an extraordinarily beautiful city, especially when viewed from the Botanic Gardens lookout at the top of the Cable Car on a day not like today (gale force winds etc). But few visitors to this stunning summit are fully aware of the heritage around them. In the picture above, the cool little building lit up on the left is the old Dominion Observatory, currently occupied by the geographx map designers. In the centre of the image is a German-built Krupp field artillery gun from World War One, which marks the location of the ‘Botanic Garden Battery’ that stood here from 1894-1904 as part of our response to ‘The Russian Scare‘. To the right of the gun is a small dome which once housed an astrolabe, an instrument that measures the altitude of stars and planets. Behind this scene is the Thomas King Observatory and Carter Observatory (images below).  Just like Wellington Museum’s Bond Store, Carter Observatory’s building and surrounds are the first taonga (treasured objects) in our collection.Welcome to our potted history of the weird and wonderful history of observatories in Wellington.

Thomas King Observatory Historic Places Trust
Thomas King Observatory

Continue reading “Time Balls, Kings & Telescopes”

Blog at

Up ↑