Wellington History

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”

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”

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Save the Date! Opening Weekend Saturday 14 November 2015.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part Two – Getting Busy)

Our collections team are busy installing the Attic exhibitions right now, so this seems like a good time to reveal a few behind the scenes antics. According to Assistant Registrar, Taila Roth, they’re actually ‘pre-installing’, which means bringing in cases and large objects, organising mounts, lighting and other technical stuff, like painting the giant’s castle. It sounds really fancy, but what it looks like most of the time, is pictured above. Continue reading “Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part Two – Getting Busy)”

The Little Wellington Museum by the Sea

“Wellington Museum? Oh, you mean Te Papa?”
“Where is it?”
“On the waterfront, about ten minutes walk from Te Papa, towards the Railway Station.”
“It used to be called Museum of Wellington City and Sea?”
“Ah… I love that museum!’

It can go either way really – complete puzzlement or absolute delight. There are around twenty staff who work at Wellington Museum daily, and we’ve all had a version of this conversation, multiple times. It can seem like Wellington Museum, as we are now called, is one of Wellington’s best kept secrets. Continue reading “The Little Wellington Museum by the Sea”

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