Local documentary series looks at Featherston Prisoner of War camp

Brigid Gallagher helps struggling New Zealand museums in the local documentary series Heritage Rescue.

Brigid Gallagher helps struggling New Zealand museums in the local documentary series Heritage Rescue.

The past, it seems, has an image problem. "History is generally seen as unsexy," says Brigid Gallagher.

But the New Zealand archaeologist and conservator, who spent seven years working for the BBC's Time Team, definitely doesn't subscribe to that view. She is returning to our screens in Heritage Rescue, a local documentary series which aims to help turn around struggling museums. 

However, the show isn't simply about dusting glass cases or re-arranging exhibits. It also tells important stories about our past.

Brigid Gallagher learned about important stories of New Zealand's past during the making of Heritage Rescue.

Brigid Gallagher learned about important stories of New Zealand's past during the making of Heritage Rescue.

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"A lot of New Zealand history has been told from a very Euro-centric point of view," says Gallagher. "I've learnt a lot this series because we've focused on some really important events in history that I didn't know anything about."

One of those events took place at a Featherston Prisoner of War camp on February 22, 1943 where a sit-down strike by Japanese soldiers ended in the deaths of 48 inmates and one guard.

"The museum sort of had artefacts telling that story but they didn't feel it was being told well from the Japanese perspective," says Gallagher, 42.

During the Featherston episode, she meets the granddaughter of a Japanese prisoner who was wounded at the camp on that infamous day.

"We took her to the site where the shootings happened and she told the story of her grandfather who was there," says Gallagher.

The episode also features an interview with the granddaughter of a New Zealand guard at the camp along with commentary from historians and a look at file photographs.

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At Pahiatua, Gallagher learns about the Polish refugees who lived in a special camp just outside the town after World War II.

"I met with a number of people who were children in that camp and learned about their lives before coming to New Zealand," she says.

It was decided there needed to be a room in the local museum which "better celebrated the lives, the journey those people made to New Zealand".

Each museum visited for the series, including ones at Kaeo and Eketahuna, had something to offer its community.

"In doing Heritage Rescue you can't compare one (museum) from another in many ways because when you start delving into  their personal histories – the local history, the collections that they see as important – they've each got a very unique story to tell," says Gallagher.

"I think it's really important for those communities to keep hold of that and to feel pride in that, even if perhaps history hasn't always been favourable to all community members."

Heritage Rescue, Choice TV, starts Saturday August 26, 7.30pm.

 - TV Guide

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