Saturday, December 08, 2012

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

We went to check out the much overhauled Otago Early Settlers Museum today, now called the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, since the word settlers now covers a wider range of people than it used to.  Both Maori and Chinese get a good look in now, compared to virtually nothing in the past.   There's now a good flow from the new and expansive foyer to the 'stunning, original Edwardian galleries' and the building that used to house the NZ Road Services ticket offices and buses.

The museum has something for everyone (the only thing missing perhaps, are a couple of jacuzzi tubs for those whose feet get weary after trying to cover everything in one go).  There's video everywhere - a huge screen just beyond the foyer thrusts you into a kind of cosmic founding of the area with the word Toitu hammered home - in case you'd missed the point that the Maori were here first.  I was slightly bemused by the screens scattered around the place that show people either talking directly at you and explaining something of their history, or just looking in what seems to me to be a slightly dazed fashion at nothing in particular, but there's plenty of other video to check out.

There's a good deal of touch-screen, interactive material around too, and this is certainly interesting.  However, with the big crowd that was in attendance for today's public opening, it was a bit difficult to get onto some of these, even though we didn't go until later this afternoon.  Nevertheless, there's been a lot of thought gone into these screens, and the information is certainly of value.

The portrait gallery has been done up: no longer a higgledy piggledy jumble of photos from the past, it's now all in order and you can access who these people are in more detail on one of four screens in the room.  And there's a memorial room for the soldiers who died in the First World War, a sobering place where the names of everyone of the Otago soldiers who died is listed, and where there are books showing where they died and when.  My great-uncle, Frank Hannagan, is there.  He died at Passchendaele.  The rather damaged photo on the right is of him and one of his sisters, taken before he went overseas.   His photo isn't in the book at Toitu, for some reason, though the photos of many of the other soldiers are.

The museum has gone beyond its original concept of being a place focused on those who came to Otago in the 19th century (it had already started to do this before the renovation).  There are now a wide range of 20th century artefacts and vehicles, and of course the original 'Elsie', the computer that drew the Bonus Bond winners, as well as the first huge computer that was at one of the Dunedin factories.  And there's the Tiger Tea bus - which I rode on in the past - and the Maryhill cable car, which used to have a terminus outside the house I now live in, and in which I road on a number of occasions as a boy.  And fell off once, when I tried to get off before it had stopped.  That was outside my house too.

Plenty to see.  Make the most of it.  37 million dollars of your money has gone into this refurbishing!
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