Here, there and now

Last updated 11:00 02/12/2011
OUT OF THE DARK: Kerry Taylor and Mr Punch get acquainted behind the scenes at Te Manawa.

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Where we came from, where we are going and how we built our lives have been encapsulated in a book that sheds light on the glorious artefacts that are in Te Manawa's archives. EMMA GOODWIN talks to a man who has helped pull the project together.

Walking through Te Manawa it's easy to marvel at the number of artefacts on display. Every exhibition seems to bring forth more and more delights that are collated, pulled from behind the scenes and placed on display for the public to peruse.

It's a simplistic version of what takes place to pull an exhibition together and, of course, there are many pieces that get left behind the curtain because they don't quite fit into a show's scheme.

But a group has come together to look deeper into the archives and find items that reflect the diversity and depth of local history and how the district has grown and been shaped over time.

These items have then been given a story to tell and photographed for a book Te Hao Nui: The Great Catch released this month by Random House.

"There were about five of us at the start and the idea came up because we were looking for something to do for an anniversary idea, says Kerry Taylor, a founder member of the Te Manawa Museum Society.

The museum society was put into hiatus for a while but has been reborn and this is a project that has emerged from its new energy.

The Manawatu Museum Society is 40 years old this year so it seems fitting that a celebration is given to an organisation that is responsible for much of the museum's treasures.

As well as being an integral part of the museum society, Mr Taylor was active in the Wellington public history community before becoming head of the School of History, Philosophy and Classics at Massey University.

"The book started as an anniversary idea, 40 years of Te Manawa, 40 objects, that sort of thing. We started off with a list of about 100 and then we had to narrow it down."

Mr Taylor said that was an interesting part of the journey, deciding what should go in and what should be left out.

"Everything had its merits but some more than others. It was well argued at times but argued nicely."

From the clumsy industrial design of an early portable computer and a delightfully crafty pine-needle tea set made for the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition, to a fragile kahu kiwi and the intricately built optometric refractor head, the new book celebrating the collection of Te Manawa Museum provides a fascinating insight into the Manawatu region and its broader national history.

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Te Hao Nui: The Great Catch is on sale now and is a visually stunning and fascinating collection of the treasures held within New Zealand's only regional museum. Te Manawa is special in the fact that it weaves together the three disciplines of history, art and science.

Te Hao Nui features a diverse and impressive list of contributors from a range of backgrounds and fields, including leading historians, curators and Maori scholars, as well as descendants of the people who donated the objects, and an informative text that delves far deeper than providing mere captions for the objects.

Each brings an item to life and give it new meaning.

Thirty-five authors have collaborated on the project with Mr Taylor and Fiona McKergow, also a a foundation committee member of the Te Manawa Museum Society, editing the tome.

Ms McKergow has been an editorial officer for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and the social history curator at what was previously known as the Science Centre and Manawatu Museum, now Te Manawa.

It's a wonderful pictorial journey of local history with many items bringing a smile to faces with recognition.

Mr Taylor becomes animated when talking about the process and it's plain to see his love of all things quirky and unusual.

"It's about objects that tell a story and that relate to local history, and how the district can be linked to the world as a whole. Telling us not only about what it means to be a New Zealander, but how we have come to be this way."

Each author has spent time researching each item and telling a little of its history and how it fits into the district.

Many of the objects in the book are introduced with the name of the local resident that it once belonged to, such as Joyce McKelvie's Queen Carnival costume.

"It needed to be much more than just a collection of photographs, the words with each photograph bring each item alive."

The photography by Te Papa photographer Michael Hall is exquisite and the book's high production values and bold design make it a treasure as beautiful as the objects it contains.

Objects as diverse as the delicate and pretty pine needle tea set alongside a Longburn freezing works black wool shirt with stark white writing. the totally feminine next to the completely masculine. Both link back to mother England where tea parties were a necessity and meat travelled back to be consumed.

Then there's the Polish military paperweight that came to New Zealand through women writing to military men in Europe and Africa.

The friendships that ensued resulted in many unusual objects arriving by mail.

There's pale, fragile and slightly politically incorrect birds eggs. Devoid of their internals the eggs have travelled thousands of miles and survived relatively unscathed.

Today there is no way they would be allowed through customs, even if they survived the baggage handling.

There's the whole cast of Punch and Judy puppets, plus accessories, that evoke memories of summer days on the beaches with icecream fast melting.

And the early portable computer while a statement of modern technology in its time, now probably has the technological capacity of a musical greetings card.

"It shows how far technology has come and what portable really means to us now."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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