Human Rights: Lessons from the past

Guest blog by Steven Sedley, Holocaust Centre of New Zealand


The concept of ‘Human Rights’ didn’t exist for most of the history of mankind. It is a concept that evolved gradually during the Age of Enlightenment culminating in the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. However, that all should have the equal rights of citizens (including Jews, slaves, Romanis, colonised indigenous people, women and children) took many decades to take hold.

In most of Europe Jews didn’t have the rights of citizenship until near the end of the 19th century, and when they did get such rights they had a price to pay. They had to give up their language and learn to speak, and ultimately think, in the vernacular of their host country, be it French, German, or Hungarian. They had to give up their distinctive garb, they had to buy into a national consciousness, national celebrations, local patriotism, at the expense of their long standing Jewish traditions. Jews became French, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Italians, of Jewish persuasion, Jews by religion, but by identity the nationality of whatever country they lived in. It was not their rights as individual human beings, but their rights as citizens that mattered.

Sargeant in the Palace Guards, Hungarian by nationality and Jew by religion.

It was not until Nazi Germany deprived Jews (and others) not only of their rights as citizens, but also of their rights as human beings that the question of ‘Human Rights’ came to be considered by the community of nations. They were demonised, made invisible, their properties expropriated, exiled, identified by number not by name, and ultimately, they were murdered.

German sign
The sign (in German) reads, “Keine Gesundung der Voelker vor der Ausscheidung des Judentums!” [There will be no health for the people until the removal of the Jews.]  US Holocaust Museum
 In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that stated, among other provisions, that:

  • Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile

Human Rights - HOLOCAUST

Perpetrators of ‘attacks directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population’[1]  genocide and atrocities against people were brought to account for ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. The first prosecution for such crimes took place from 1945-46 at the Nuremberg trials. These considered the formal punishment of leading members of the Nazi regime for war crimes during World War II. Since then the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court were set up to deal with those responsible for mass murder in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others.

Nuremberg Trial
Nuremberg trials – Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. The main target of the prosecution was Hermann Göring (at the left edge on the first row of benches), Wikipedia

New Zealand as a country and New Zealanders as individuals had only a limited knowledge of the atrocities that were committed in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. When faced with refugees seeking a haven, New Zealand shut its doors. Of the thousands who were fleeing for their lives, New Zealand admitted a mere 1100 approximately[2]. There were indeed individuals who spoke up on behalf of the refugees and many refugees encountered kindness on a personal level, but there was also a good deal of opposition to admitting people who were not British, and Jews in particularly. There was a deeply ingrained anti-Semitic prejudice under the surface.

The Nazis and their allies went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their crimes. People taken to extermination camps to be murdered were told that they were to be resettled. When extermination camps were abandoned they were not only destroyed, but the lands on which they were sited were grassed over to conceal all the evidence. The stories of mass murder were so horrendous and unbelievable that many put them down to propaganda.  It was a New Zealand diplomat, Paddy Costello, who was the first to report, through reliable diplomatic channels, the evidence of mass murder in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Maidanek.

New Zealand, like the rest of the world, failed to stand up for the victims, the persecuted. If there is anything to be learned from the Holocaust, it is that every individual must do their utmost to resist prejudice, fight injustice and to care for others.

The bottom line of the rights and obligations of every human being is summed up in the saying in the Talmud:

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”  Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.

 1Crimes against humanity, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
2Ann Beaglehole, 2007 (updated 2013), Government response to Jewish refugees,

Human Rights and Museums
from Nik Bullard, Social History Curator


Historically museums have tried to remain politically neutral. But to address the huge amount of human rights abuses and issues, historically and contemporarily, we need to bring these stories into our museum. To hear these stories, especially in people’s own words, is a valuable tool in creating an inclusive and participatory museum, one that isn’t afraid of telling difficult or hard stories.

I believe there is a social justice issue involved here – to tell the truth about what is happening on a local and global scale, thereby raising awareness and bringing about greater understanding, empathy and tolerance towards others. And just as importantly, to help prevent human rights abuses and atrocities of the past from ever happening again (eg, unbelievably fascism and slavery are on the rise!)

Holocaust Gallery Auckland
The Holocaust Gallery,  Auckland Museum

These museums and organisations address human rights:

  • The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, Wellington
  • The Holocaust Gallery, Auckland Museum
  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg (established in 2008) – dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights
  • International Slavery Museum, Liverpool (opened in 2007) –hear the untold stories of enslaved people and learn about historical and contemporary slavery
  • The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, Seoul, South Korea
  • War Remnants Museum (formerly Museum of American War Crimes), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Osaka Human Rights Museum, Japan
  • EMSA Museum of Remembrance and for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • National Museum of Memory, Medellin, Colombia
  • FIHRM (Federation of International Human Rights Museums) – about sharing, working together, learning from each other, and encouraging each other; about being active – looking at the ways our museums can challenge contemporary racism, discrimination and other human rights abuses.

Museum campaign for human rights

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana)

Wellington Museum Acknowledges Arts Access Aotearoa

By Rachel Ingram – Head of Learning and Programmes, Museums Wellington


This blog was originally delivered as part of the Arts Access Aotearoa Panel at the 2017
Museums Aotearoa Conference: He Waka Eke Noa, Museums of Inclusion.
The topic wasDiversity and Disability: Including who? Including how?’

Museums of Inclusion logo

In 2014 Wellington Museum was at the beginning of our accessibility journey, and at the same time our thinking around proposed exhibition – The Attic – was taking shape.  We were naively assuming that accessibility was something we would achieve, and hadn’t quite realised it was something we would always be working towards. Our approach, although well intentioned, largely involved doing it for the disabled community. Thankfully, and with perfect timing, it was at this stage our relationship with Arts Access  Aotearoa and the Arts For All Network began.

Arts Access

We were given a first edition printed out copy of Arts For All and seized on particular pages of the book Getting Started, First Steps, Ten Things You Can Do Now, What Words to Use, and Where to Go For Advice and Information. Our thinking began to change.

We attended an Arts For All Network hui and met members of the disability sector. Our thinking changed a little further.  We were chatting with the team from Arts Access Aotearoa about an Accessibility Policy for our Museums when the Attic came into the conversation. They suggested the Museum host a Network hui, share our plans and ask for input. Our practice began to change.

Our designer brought a tactile scale model of the floor and the display cabinets/furniture to the hui. He talked the Network through his designs and they fed back to him. The hui was constructive and collaborative. Network members with lived, familial or community experience, along with representative organisations, talked through all aspects of the design, answered questions, and gave information on guidelines and minimum requirements. They introduced us to Standard 4121, suggested contacts and readings, and told us about their experiences and how we could incorporate or learn from them. They were positive about the thinking to date, and encouraging about what we could aspire to – what would be the very best we could do at this time for this exhibition.

The Attic entrance
This shows the double glass doors into The Attic. They are open. They open automatically through a sensor, a loud click indicates the opening. The doors are labelled and partially frosted. The lift nearby (no image) has braille numbering and a voice that announces each level of the Museum and what can be found there.

Our designer acknowledges The Attic is what it is due to the conversations he had with the group. He credits these as making him both aware and mindful of accessible design aspects and has indicated that without the network’s input The Attic would have been vastly different. He notes that the feedback the network gave him has resulted in a more accessible/inclusive experience for all. These days Standard 4121 is embedded in his thinking and community consultation is a natural part of any planning process.

The Attic inside
The Attic – a long shot that shows pathways, cases and seating. The pathways are wide – a minimum of 1.2 metres. There are clear spaces between the display cases. Seating runs the length of the space providing places to sit and quiet areas.

The curatorial team speak from a content point of view. For them, thinking around interpretation and story selection were enhanced at the hui. It was here they realised the importance of engaging with the disability sector, planning with a person not for them.

This led them to collaborate with World Champion swimmer and Paralympian Mary Fisher on an exhibition in The Attic, and not only that, but after the opening, for them to work together again to make adjustments that would improve the experience for visitors who are blind or with low vision.

Mary Fisher
A close up from the Mary Fisher exhibit showing part of a display case housing a selection of objects: a swimming costume (shoulder to knee), a pair of darkened goggles, a poster in support of Mary and a towel. The display includes three medals: gold, silver and bronze, but they are not showing in this image.

What are our learnings from The Arts for All hui regarding The Attic development?

 1. Engage with the disability sector/Arts For All Network early in the process

2. Keep communicating throughout the process, and afterwards

Or more simply put: CONNECT, LISTEN, STAY IN TOUCH

To hammer it home the Network gave and continues to give us:

  • The opportunity to form and maintain relationships
  • The opportunity to listen
  • Support and learning
  • Connections and networks
  • The opportunity to participate in training
  • Next steps in our accessibility journey

Finally, and this is key, before the hui we had accessibility champions in the Museum – now we have relationships with disabled people and disability organisations, and a culture of accessibility and inclusion.

This shows an old Bakelite telephone with winding dial. Next to it is a label captioned ‘Will to Win’. The receiver is off the hook and lying next to the telephone. When a visitor lifts the phone to their ear they will hear an audio description of the ‘Will to Win’
story and objects, as well as Mary Fisher herself talking. We are collaborating to provide a transcript of this audio.

Intl Day of the disabled

The Same but Different: Musings on Museums

By Paul Thompson, Deputy Director and Head of Content

The modern museum often sees its ancestry as stretching back to mediaeval and renaissance Wunderkammer (cabinet of wonders). At times they actively use them as models or metaphor for how they present things.

Wunderkammer are those wonderfully eclectic collections of art, curiosities and natural history specimens that the wealthy created and used to show off their resources and their knowledge. But while museums have no trouble with the form or derivations from the Wunderkammer they can find the function a bit trickier. Times have changed.

Photo ref: Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

The Colonial Museum was created when Wellington became the Capital in 1865. After morphing through the Dominion and then the National Museum, it was the precursor to Te Papa. Some things are exactly the same, such as the whale skeleton hanging from the roof, the glass cases, the waka in central place and the labels. The major difference to a modern museum is that now the birds would be in one section, Māori artefacts in another and the Kohorn mortar in a third, and there are probably no stuffed animals.

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The Attic in Wellington Museum. Photo: Mark Tantrum

A new display (a whole floor actually) at Wellington Museum has reverted to, or rather been informed by, the idiosyncratic jumble of the Wunderkammer. We used the idea of an attic as the design metaphor but the individual items and associated stories that we call ‘the dispersed model’ means stuffed animals, paintings, carved portraits, civic history, Māori taonga and colonial and modernist detritus sit happily side by side. The Attic is a giant Wunderkammer and of course the word ‘cabinet’ was traditionally applied to a room as well as a piece of furniture.

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Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

In another display called Jack’s Boathouse, this time more like a traditional Wunderkammer, or curiosity cabinet, all the objects sit together in a case with no labels. They are based on the Collections acquired when Wellington Museum’s focus was maritime so they have a more restricted range of objects than a traditional Wunderkammer. But they certainly have variety within the overall theme.

Early Wunderkammer had an effective way of classifying the world that was stunningly straightforward – articifialia or human artefacts including art, musical instruments, exotic clothing and weapons and ‘objects of curious manufacture’.

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Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

Or naturalia (natural objects). At times we get lovely combinations such as this painted shell.

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Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata
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Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

But these binoculars, pieces of artificialia, can perhaps show us that while we have installations that look like Wunderkammer we may have the signs but not the spirit. When we look at or through these binoculars how many of us would read brass binoculars as metaphor or muse? This is how we have interpreted them:

‘Binoculars (brass). Binoculars replaced telescopes for long distance viewing because they are easier to hold steady, have a wider field of view and give brighter and sharper images’. Well it’s all true but rather prosaic.

In an earlier time their presence in a Wunderkammer may have turned our thoughts to higher matters. We may have regarded them as being symbolic of the all-seeing eye of God and then developing this up to encompass all the objects in the cabinet as confirmation of his (as God was conceived of then) wonderful works. Or as you looked through the bigger end and saw objects as diminished in size this could be a lesson in morals warning us of the dangers of hubris (pride). Humans may think and act ambitiously but in reality are specks in a material universe. Whether one is a believer or an atheist there is room for speculation. The Wunderkammer acts as a philosophical and speculative prompt.

This type of thinking is recognised by some museums by the phrase ‘visitors make their own meanings’. In this we know that the visitors may see meanings and ideas in objects that are not at all related to the reasons why we (the museum) have decided to put them on display. A good example at Wellington Museum would be the dozens of black and white portraits of Chairmen of the now-defunct Wellington Harbour Board that line the wall of the Boardroom. The other day I saw a couple of visitors slowly examining each one. “Looking for ancestors?” I asked. “No, comparing them to 1930s silent film stars”, was the reply.

Von Kohorn Boardroom in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

So in modern museums we may have the form and we occasionally have the function of the Wunderkammer. But in a post-Enlightenment world, with its focus on rationality and classification, are we in danger of losing the Wunderkammer’s poetry?

Predicting the future of Wellington’s heritage buildings through ‘Plimmer’s Ark’ at the Old Bank Arcade

By Nik Bullard, Curator Social History

The inaugural Wellington City Heritage Week kicks off this year and runs from 23-29 October. This is brought to us by Historic Places Wellington, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and Wellington City Council. It will be a week of community hosted events that will provide the public with the opportunity to experience the city’s social, built, and cultural heritage close-up.

Museums Wellington has three of its four sites based in heritage buildings – The Carter Observatory (Space Place) which opened in 1941, The Bond Store (now Wellington Museum) built in 1892 by renowned architect Frederick de Jersey Clere and Nairn Street Cottage built circa 1860 by early settlers Catherine and William Wallis. Our fourth site, the Cable Car Museum, contains the heritage-listed Cable Car Winding House.

4 Museums

We also look after another heritage site – the found remains of the Inconstant sailing ship (or ‘Plimmer’s Ark’) at the Old Bank Arcade on Lambton Quay (a Category 1 listed BNZ heritage building). Recently we refurbished this display to modernise it and simplify the interpretation. Here we tell the story of early settler and successful entrepreneur, John Plimmer, and his bonded warehouse ‘Ark’ (built in the wrecked Inconstant).

Plimmer’s Ark. Photo: Museums Wellington

As part of the refurb, we included a timeline of other notable Wellington buildings (the Ark is, after all, the story of an old building within an old building!). It was also a great way of celebrating the ethnic diversity of Wellington as seen through the various cultural sites, churches and halls.

A number of the sites we included are listed with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (HNZPT) – Te Aro pā, the de Luxe Cinema (now the Embassy Theatre, 1924), the first Labour government’s first state house in Miramar (1937) and Futuna Chapel in Karori (1961).

(1937) First state house in Miramar. Heritage New Zealand
The first Labour Government’s first State House. Photo: Heritage New Zealand


Futuna Chapel. Photo by Wills, Tony

HNZPT doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for buildings to be listed, as this would be “inconsistent with contemporary conservation philosophy and with the perception of the past and present as a continuum, particularly for iwi and hapū”.

(1974) Img 2 Tapu Te Ranga living marae, Museums Wellington
Tapu Te Ranga living marae. Photo: Museums Wellington
(1974) Img 1 Tapu Te Ranga living marae, Museums Wellington
Tapu Te Ranga living marae. Photo: Museums Wellington

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the sites on our timeline that aren’t yet listed: Pipitea pā (marae), the Chinese Mission Hall on Frederick Street (1907), the Greek Orthodox Church on Hania Street (1950), Tapu Te Ranga living marae in Island Bay (1974) and the Congregational Christian Church in Newtown (1984). Perhaps it’s time for people involved in these organisations (or interested others) to look at protecting these significant buildings?

(1907) Img 1 St Peter's Chinese Mission Hall. Museums Wellington
Chinese Mission Hall Photo: Museums Wellington
(1950) Img 2 Greek Orthodox Church. Museums Wellington
Greek Orthodox Church. Photo: Museums Wellington
(1984) Img 1 Samoan Church. Museums Wellington
Congregational Christian Church. Photo: Museums Wellington

I can see that there may be perceived drawbacks to registering your building or site. However, entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero does not automatically equal protection or create regulatory obligations on the property owner. Nor does it create specific rights or control over the property. But it may lead to the property being protected under local government’s district plan heritage schedules.

So if registered buildings and sites aren’t assessed against an age criteria, how are they assessed? According to HNZPT, all proposed historic place entries on the List are assessed according to the following criteria: aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historical, scientific, social, spiritual, technological and traditional, and must meet at least one criterion to be eligible for entry.

This implies that we can apply to register any building or site that we feel fits the criteria. Currently there are no Wellington buildings listed by renowned architects Ian Athfield  and Roger Walker. It would be a crime against architecture if some or all of these were lost (as Walker’s Wellington Club already has been).

I wonder what other buildings on our timeline will become listed in the future? The new Bharat Bhavan Indian Hall in Kilbirnie (1997), the Wellington Masjid (mosque) in Kilbirnie (2000), Te Raukura/Te Wharewaka on the waterfront (2011)? They all appear to fit HNZPT’s criteria.

(1992) Img 1 Bharat Bhavan Indian Hall. Museums Wellington
Bharat Bhavan Indian Hall. Photo: Museums Wellington
Wellington Masjid (mosque). Photo: Museums Wellington
(2011) Te wharewaka o Poneke. Lighthaus Ltd
Te Raukura/Te Wharewaka. Photo: Lighthaus

Are there any buildings or sites that you can think of that may need registering to be listed as historic?

Wellington City Heritage Week at Museums Wellington:

Nairn Street Cottage Open Day

WHEN: Monday 23 October from 10am-4pm
WHERE: Nairn Street Cottage, 68 Nairn Street
COST: Gold coin entry

Magical Mystery Drawing Tour

We’re celebrating Heritage Week with a drawing tour – and that’s all we’re saying! Come along with your preferred materials and we’ll take you to surprise locations where you can put your pencils, charcoal or paint to paper. In the week before, we’ll send you heritage clues that will disclose the meet up spot… Rain date Sunday 29th October.

WHEN: Saturday 28 October from 11am – 2pm
WHERE: To be disclosed!
PRICE: $20 (bookings essential)

heritage week

Film Review: The Square

Earlier this year a group of peeps from Museums Wellington went to see the ‘The Square’, a Film Festival movie.


Here’s a summary of the film from the movie website Rotten Tomatoes: “Christian (played by Claes Bang, pictured above) is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis.”

So this is what we thought of the movie…


Paul Thompson, Head of Content
A Nordic black comedy that raises important considerations of the semantics of the phenomenological signifiers ‘black’ and ‘comedy’ – does it not?



Brent Fafeita, Curator History
Is a square still a square if the square’s lines are incomplete? For instance, is a square paddock still a true square if a gate is left open or a fence line not finished? Is a square defined by its border, or more by its footprint, its content, or even something more irrational?

I left the movie early so for me the ‘Square’ was incomplete. Perhaps this feeling goes beyond the movie’s length however. I could just as well have felt this state of incompleteness at its conclusion. The question then is whether anything is ever truly complete. Our Museum is prone to change, more-so it seeks and welcomes it. Thus the Museum is also never complete – just like the ‘Square’. Maybe that was truly the movie’s point.



Brian Wood, Marketing and Development Manager
A movie that polarised people into two defined camps. LOVE it or HATE it. Personally I am in the LOVE it camp, mainly because it was genuinely thought provoking without providing answers or solutions and managed to be extremely funny in the process. The film highlighted many problems that cities around the world are currently facing including major ones like poverty and homelessness but it also touched on other issues like are museums connecting with their audiences? Overall for me the main point of the movie was, how bad can things get before someone or society has to step in? Definitely recommend A++ watch it and make your own conclusions.



Nik Bullard, Curator Social History
The opening scene of ‘The Square’ pokes fun at the inaccessible and elitist language of the contemporary art world. Interesting…

The central theme is based on an art installation with the premise: ‘The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations’. Great, that’s thought provoking.

Then there were frequent references to homelessness on the streets of Stockholm. Excellent, this is going to look at poverty and inequality as seen through the eyes of the rich art curator. And it does, somewhat.

So, all good so far.

But then… It gets increasingly disjointed and esoteric (and downright disturbing in parts!). And it ends up not making any of the conclusions or exploring the insights into society that I thought it would. I like to think that there is hope for humanity!

Maybe if it hadn’t been 2.5 hours long it would have worked better? Maybe not. I left feeling deeply frustrated and embarked on a week-long therapy session with my other work colleagues who saw it (some of whom were struggling to make sense of it too).



Tom Etuata, Communications Co-ordinator
It’s good to have a laugh at yourself sometimes. The movie ‘The Square’ certainly does that.

Working in the marketing side of Museums Wellington, I couldn’t stop grinning while watching the scene when the two young PR creatives and the museum management team discuss what would be the best way to promote ‘The Square’ exhibition via social media. What they come up with was certainly over the top and very ‘Monty Python’, and to its credit the film does that well – poking fun at the image of Museums and Art Galleries and today’s world of social media where it’s all about creating ‘buzz’ to generate more likes and comments amongst the clutter of snapchats, Trump tweets and cat videos.

Overall the film is an interesting watch and certainly funny and thought-provoking in parts, but it runs out of steam in the last hour and could’ve done with some major editing (like getting rid of the last hour).

By the way, don’t get a seat up in the R Row at the Embassy. There’s absolutely no leg room whatsoever.



Raukura Hoerara-Smith, Assistant Curator Māori
‘The Square’ was not an easy film for me to watch. My anxiety levels were creeping in, and by the end of the movie, my thoughts were incomplete and I was frustrated at the whole thing.

Perhaps it reflected what different societies consider to be humane and inhumane?

‘The Square’ is the type of film that stayed in my mind and would occasionally still pop up randomly in my head. I give the director kudos for playing with my emotions!

Overall, a sensitively sophisticated piece of film that creates an experience like no other.



Tamsin Falconer, Project Manager
In ‘The Square’, an ambitious and potentially contentious exhibition is being launched alongside a major fundraising event with an amazing entertainer.  And it is a professional disaster, magnified by personal disasters.

In ‘The First Monday in May’ (which I also saw recently), an ambitious and potentially contentious exhibition is being launched alongside a major fundraising event with an amazing entertainer.  And it is a glorious success, resulting in professional kudos.

‘The Square’ made me feel slightly queasy, not because of the exploding kitten, but because sometimes there seems to be only a thin line between glorious success and personal disaster.

Film lover of Waikanae
Vicissitudes and Volvos – the quintessential Nordic combination.

Cassini’s Final Farewell

By Dr Claire Bretherton, Curator Science

On 15th October 1997, Cassini-Huygens blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on its way to Saturn, the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the ringed planet. In the two decades since Cassini-Huygens has completely changed our knowledge of the planet, its stunning rings and dynamic moons, and taken some of the most awe-inspiring images of the Solar System we have ever seen.

The Cassini mission has always been dear to my heart. It launched on the 15th October 1997. I was 18 at the time, and just a couple of weeks into my degree at Leicester University studying Physics with Astrophysics. Seven years, and a long long journey later, which for Cassini took it half way across the solar system, and for me took me through an MPhys, teacher training and half of my PhD, we were both ready to do some real science. We’d both dabbled a little along the way, but now, as it entered orbit around Saturn, to begin its initial four year science mission, Cassini was ready to revolutionise our understanding of the mysterious ringed planet and change the course of future planetary exploration.

Cassini 1

Cassini-Huygens was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and involved scientists and engineers from 27 different countries. NASA and ASI were responsible for the Cassini orbiter, named after the 17th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s moons and identified a gap in Saturn’s rings, which is now known as the Cassini Division.

View of Titan
First colour view from the surface of Titan taken by the ESA Huygens probe. NASA/JPL/ESA/University of Arizona

ESA contributed the Huygens lander, named after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. On the 14th of January 2005, Huygens was dropped onto Titan, braking in the moons dense atmosphere, and parachuting down to the surface. On its way down, the lander collected ground-breaking new data on Titan’s atmosphere, clouds and surface features.

Meanwhile, Cassini continued to study the Saturn system from orbit, providing tantalizing evidence of the diversity and dynamism of its many moons and studying the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic fields and ring system in unprecedented detail.

With its initial science goals completed in 2008, Cassini’s mission was extended. The two-year Cassini Equinox mission included 60 additional orbits of Saturn and over 30 flybys of some of its moons. It also allowed the spacecraft to observe Saturn’s rings as they were lit edge on by the Sun, revealing stunning new detail and previously unseen structure.

In 2010, the mission was extended again. Known as the Cassini Solstice Mission, this second, seven year long extension would take us all the way past Saturn’s northern hemisphere summer solstice. Having originally arrived just after the northern hemisphere winter solstice, this allowed us to observe a complete seasonal period and to complete more in-depth studies of both Titan and Enceladus.

Saturn hguens
A huge storm churning through the atmosphere in Saturn’s northern hemisphere overtakes itself as it encircles the planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

There are so many highlights from the Cassini-Huygens mission that it’s hard to pick a favourite. The mission discovered seven new moons, revealed new structure and activity in Saturn’s rings, observed the changing colour of the planet’s north-pole hexagon, and witnessed the aftermath of a massive reoccurring storm seen in 2010. But to me the mission’s greatest successes come from its in-depth study of some of Saturn’s many moons, which have resulted in some truly surprising discoveries.

These natural colour views compare the appearance of Saturn’s north-polar region in June 2013 and April 2017. 

Cassini-Huygens has found rivers, lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane covering Titan’s polar regions, complete with rain from hydrocarbon clouds, whilst the moon’s equator is marked by icy ‘sand dunes’ hundreds of kilometres long and 100 metres high.

Near-infrared, colour mosaic from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan’s north polar seas. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

It has tasted Titan’s thick atmosphere to find a rich and complex chemical soup that still can’t be fully explained and revealed conditions that may be similar to the early Earth. Meanwhile, gravity experiments have revealed evidence for an ocean of liquid water and ammonia deep underground.

Exploration of the icy moon Enceladus has revealed a hot spot at the southern pole, icy jets spewing out from the surface and a vast salty ocean below the ice.  These jets contribute directly to Saturn’s diffuse E-ring and further study of the ring’s chemistry suggests the existence of hydrothermal vents, not dissimilar to those found on Earth. Together, these astounding new results promote Enceladus to one of the top candidates in our search for life beyond our own planet.

Cassini’s last Enceladus plume observation. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. 

In April this year, after almost 13 years of discovery, and with its fuel running low, Cassini embarked on its Grand Finale, a series of death defying dives between the planet and its rings, before plunging into Saturn on the 15th September, just a month out from its 20th birthday. Even in its final moments Cassini continued to send data. Whilst the space craft is gone, its legacy lives on in our new understanding of the jewel of our Solar System.

In Saturn’s shadow. Saturn eclipses the Sun allowing Cassini to capture this spectacular view. Look out for the tiny pale blue dot just outside the brighter rings – this is our own planet, the Earth. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.


Te Reo Māori me ōna tikanga: A window into language revitalisation

By Raukura Hoerara-Smith, Assistant Māori Curator,

Museums Wellington

He reo e kōrerotia ana, he reo ka ora.

 A spoken language is a living language.

te reo 1

Tēnā koe,

Te reo Māori is of great importance to me. My mother and father raised me in a Māori-dominated world, where te reo Māori was my mother tongue. It wasn’t until my last year at intermediate school where I transferred to a mainstream class that I started to adapt myself to a more westernised world.

Today, I feel like every day should be a celebration of our language, wherever we are. I find myself only talking Māori when I’m around kaupapa Māori (environment), which is why I need to challenge myself more to speak the language that was given to me since birth. It is my mission in the future to provide my own children with the same intrinsic values my parents gave to me.

This week we are celebrating Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week). This acknowledges the Māori language as a unique cultural taonga (treasure) for all people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Each year, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) sets a theme for the week, and a range of activities, promotions, and events that encourage the use of te reo Māori. The theme this year, ‘Kia ora te reo Māori’ was selected to honour New Zealand’s indigenous greeting – an exact description aimed for new partnerships for te reo Māori revitalisation between the Crown and Māori under the new Māori Language Act 2016.

As the Māori language started to significantly decrease in the 1970s, Māori language week was used to help create awareness about the revitalisation of our language. I’m writing this blog to give you an insight on this taonga of ours, in the hope that you will be able to take something away with you.

Te reo Māori has had an official language status since 1987 and numerous Māori language revitalisation activities have occurred to date. Despite these efforts, statistics continue to show a decline in the number of Māori language speakers.

The objective of Māori language revitalisation is to re-establish the language in today’s world. I am in support of the idea that Māori language is the heritage language of all citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a cherished taonga that all citizens have a duty to help revitalise.  Some see that current trends among the most dominant languages, like English, Mandarin, German and Spanish, have a higher chance of survival than most other languages. Some may see this as a result of globalisation, indicating that languages are forever changing and adapting to the times.

Why should the language be revitalised?

The Māori language is embedded in the geographical naming system of Aotearoa, New Zealand’s cultural heritage and Māori is recognised as the de facto heritage language for all New Zealand citizens (Waitangi Tribunal, 2011). If it does not survive here it will not survive anywhere in the world. For the most part the Māori language is not being passed down through the generations, in homes, neighbourhoods and communities. The Māori language is significant because it is the carrier of the Māori culture as “without it the Māori identity would be fundamentally undermined, as would the very existence of Māori as a distinguished people” (Waitangi Tribunal Report #262, 2010:48). For Māori to exist the Māori language is a key identity indicator.

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Promotional  material from

For a bilingual speaker of Māori language, intergenerational transmission is a key objective. The value of the language is seen to motivate language choice, which promotes a change in language practices. This suggests that the fundamental values and beliefs are transferred from our parents, grandparents or from our social environments. Language value depends on perceptions and choice, illustrating the complex relationship between existing communities. Within these communities, bilingual speakers make their language choice based on the normalised language within a social setting. For example, a speaker has a higher chance of talking on the Marae, where te reo is normalised.

The findings of the Te Paepae Motuhake report, Te Reo Mauriora (2011: 63), identified seven primary values attributed to the Māori language:

  1. Intrinsic value
  2. Educational value
  3. Social value
  4. Cultural value
  5. Intellectual value
  6. Spiritual value
  7. Monetary value

These seven attributes regulate the attitudes that people have towards the Māori language. A person may decide to move towards, or away from these values. In terms of language acquisition, these values can be overwhelming for some people in learning the language and can have a positive or negative effect on a person depending on their particular position.

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Māori word map from

The establishment of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori promotes the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal and produces resources that recognise the language as a taonga, more importantly, as intrinsically valuable to Māori. Having said that, the establishment of the Māori Language Act, the discourse surrounding the Māori language continues to resonate a language under threat.

For the Māori language to truly flourish, the government should enact the recommendations of Te Puni Kokiri, and the Waitangi Tribunal language reviews must also be considered. Let us hope that the Māori Language Act will help with the revitalisation of our language so that it can survive for evermore.

Ko tōku reo, tōku ohooho; tōku reo, tōku mapihi maurea; tōku reo, tōku whakakai marihi.

My language is my inspiration, my special gift, my precious treasure.



Breaking into the museum

Guest blog by Matariki Williams, Curator Mātauranga Māori, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

I’m afraid this isn’t an instructional post on navigating the labyrinthine corridors of our nation’s museums, instead this is about a pathway in to working at a museum.

The route I took was by undertaking a Masters in Museums and Heritage Studies at Victoria University, a path that involved 600 hours of internship, some of which I spent with Wellington Museum. Though most of the internships are unpaid, I will forever be grateful to Wellington Museum and the Museums Studies programme for allowing me to use a short term contract as my placement.

It doesn’t feel like this is acknowledged enough. Although the Masters programme is a popular pathway into the museum, however because of the internship factor, there is an immediate financial filter on who will be able to apply for the programme. Perhaps this explains why I was the only Māori person in my intake and why there was only one Māori student the following year. It is very problematic that the most obvious pathway into the museum involves an immediate socioeconomic filter – this is part of the reason why eventually getting a museum’s role felt like I was ‘breaking in’.

This blog is running the risk of sounding defeatist but there are many reasons why people want to work in this sector so let’s change tack and focus on why people want to work in the sector. First for me is the taonga, the objects of mana that are inextricably linked to people, stories and the immeasurability of time. Through taonga our museums unlock hidden and visible connections between people and places. For Māori in particular, so much of our mātauranga has been covered by introduced knowledge systems, and taonga serve a reminder of what endures, waiting to be discovered. From a Māori perspective, it is also important to understand that it was in recent history that we had no autonomy in being the kaitiaki of our taonga, so being in the museum still feels like a revolutionary position.

Aside from the taonga, it is people that keep me here. I have come across so many who have inspired, encouraged and challenged me. One of the most supportive groups of people I have come across are my peers, both inside Te Papa and out. My peers are an upwardly mobile and fiercely engaged bunch. Almost two years ago my friend Nina Finigan (who completed the same Masters, has also worked at Wellington Museum, and is currently the Curator Manuscripts at Auckland Museum) and I started a website called Tusk – Emergent Culture.

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Photo: Antalis glaucarena (Dell, 1953), collected 04 Nov 1950, Chatham Rise, New Zealand. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (M.005678)

The impetus for this was that we were feeling unfulfilled in previous roles and felt like we had no way to affect change in the sector. Through Tusk we’ve been able to provide a platform for ourselves and our peers to write about sector issues in a supportive environment. Crucially, it has afforded us the ability to shed light on our peers and advocates through two columns of profiles: Tuakana and On the Level. Through this online platform, we’re able to provide diverse perspectives of the sector which is one of the most satisfying aspects of the website.

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Photo and linocut artwork: Matariki Williams

People are the glue for museums, when the going gets tough, we have each other. In saying that, I would also say that museology is evolving as museums continue to work with their source communities and eventually start to divest power in collecting and curating.

When I say that people are the glue I mean all people, from our donors to our audiences, from the people walking through our doors every day to the people on the other side of the world accessing our collections and research online. In this respect, I’m glad that it’s a lot easier for our audiences to break into museums as we continue to digitise our collections and make our research / public programmes/talks etc available online.

The winter holidays were ‘Far from Frozen’ at Space Place

By Claire Bretherton, Curator Science, Museums Wellington

At Space Place we inspire our visitors to look up at the wonderful southern skies and to learn more about our unique place in the Universe. What better place to start than by turning our attention to our own planet, and to the effects our way of life is having on Earth’s future.

Could it end up like Venus, with a runaway greenhouse effect heating the planet to the temperature of an oven, or perhaps a frozen wasteland like our neighbouring red Mars? Antarctic science can provide vital clues to our planetary fate.

Over the July school holidays, Space Place was delighted to host Otago Museum’s Far from Frozen exhibition. The exhibition used the latest technology to bring Antarctica to life. Combined with examples of the polar equipment needed to survive and work on the seventh continent, profiles of Antarctic scientists, and hands-on, interactive exhibits, Far from Frozen allowed our visitors to explore the latest Antarctic science, to learn about our changing climate, and importantly, to gain a better understanding of the impact we are having on our home planet.

far from frozen 1
Photo: Tom Etuata

The exhibition was based on a Royal Society of New Zealand ‘Ten by Ten’ talk series by Victoria University scientists Tim Naish and James Renwick, called ‘Ten things you didn’t know about climate change‘. Naish and Renwick outlined ten facts that New Zealanders might not know about global warming, its impact on our oceans, climates and weather systems, both globally and locally, and how our actions have and will influence Earth’s future.  You can read more about it here.

Photo: Tracy Stedall

Far from Frozen was a fantastic opportunity to try something new at Space Place. We were able to open up a part of our building that is not normally visited by members of the public. We expanded our horizons in terms of content, moving away from outer space, to look at the science of our own planet. We also involved a variety of volunteers to help host the exhibition, including scientists involved with the Deep South National Science Challenge. These volunteers not only made sure that everything ran smoothly, but also provided an invaluable insight into the current, cutting edge research going on today.

The exhibition also provided the perfect backdrop to host a variety of different and exciting programmes, including Climate Conscious Cinema in the planetarium and two panel discussions on the science of Antarctica and climate change, and how we can adapt to it.

We have recently rearranged part of our galleries to open up the space a bit more, so we made good use of this new area with the Cool Science shows, held twice a day every weekday of the school holidays. This was another new initiative for the team and we wowed our younger visitors with exploding balloons, bubbling, colour changing chemical reactions, and a home made comet, all linked to the Far from Frozen exhibition.

far from frozen logo
Photo: Tom Etuata

So what did our visitors think?

Well first of all they voted with their feet. Space Place has seen its busiest July school holiday since we reopened in 2010, with over 7000 visitors through our doors. Over 100 visitors also filled in our feedback survey, and nearly 80% told us that they loved the exhibition (only 1 person didn’t like it), 62% that they learned a lot from it, and another 30% that they learned a little.

far from frozen 4
Photo: Tracy Stedall

Nearly 98% said they would like to see the same amount or more about environmental issues in the future, and a similar proportion would like to see the same amount or more about astronomy/space science and other topics.

Particular highlights included the ‘cool new technologies’, the ‘great mix of movies, static displays & interactive, experiential options’, real scientists and the Cool Science show.

Overall, Far from Frozen was a great experience for all involved. The excellent feedback we have received from our visitors, the positive responses from our staff and volunteers, and the fantastic visitor numbers have inspired us to see our exhibitions and spaces in a new light, and I’m excited to see what we can do next.

Photo: Tracy Stedall

Far from Frozen was developed by Otago Museum in association with Antarctica New Zealand, the University of Otago and the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute with support from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s Unlocking Curious Minds fund, and was brought to Space Place with support from the Deep South National Science Challenge.

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