Here is what I know about Wellington Anniversary Day: It is a day of the year we get a PUBLIC HOLIDAY, and that most cities in New Zealand have one. This one is ours.
So really, Jack all.
I decided that if this a big deal enough to give us a PUBLIC HOLIDAY, I should know why we are celebrating, right? So I called in "The Big Guns". I got in touch with the Wellington Museum and asked them to enlighten me about why we were all getting a bit tipsy on Sunday night when we can't do that for most of the year round. And also, why wasn’t this PUBLIC HOLIDAY better spaced out when we need more public holidays in August - September period (well, I didn't quite put it as bluntly as that - but you know what I mean).
Luckily, Brent, head curator of the Wellington Museum and communications guru Juliet were on hand to help. They kindly showed me around the Wellington Museum, and did their best to ask my questions about what the heck this whole thing was all about. As they explained why, I got to look around the Wellington Museum (holla!).
It was so amazing I wanted to share 10 reasons to check out the Wellington Museum this Anniversary Weekend. Apologies - I was having a bit of an ugly fringe day. It would not be tamed!
1. The Architecture is seriously amazing.
From the moment you go into the Wellington Museum it is like you are going back in time (cue Michael J Fox in sailor costumer - I wish). The outside of the Wellington Museum was recently restored and re-painted - and boy does the old girl look fine from a bit of a makeover.
You can just imagine the building being the old bond store - the first place European settlors saw when arriving from England to New Zealand. At the same, despite it's historical context, it is a real living, breathing institute. The staff all have their offices here. Indeed, Brent and Juliet came down the old-style lift, all chic and stuff. The museum now goes right up to the attic (more on that later). It really makes you feel like you are somewhere special. The building itself is fully Taonga.
3. Re-discover childhood memories
Ok - I confess. I am a bad Wellingtonian. Even though I walk past every day, I admit - I hadn’t been to the museum since I was about 10. But I do remember going here before. I was struck by a wave of nostalgia as we came through the main entry. Some of you might remember it used to be the New Zealand Maritime Museum (ahoy there!) - and then the Museum of City and Sea. Today, the name has changed, and some of the exhibits, but the awesome curators have made sure the best bits are still there.
As we entered the museum on Friday 22 January 2016, I got very excited by the replica dock, complete with rats and holographic mice (this bit I remember). It smells, feels and sounds just like how it would have if you came into Wellington on a ship in the 19th Century (a sort of straw-like, earth/dungy smell - actually not as gross as it sounds).
There is even a running rat to watch out for and a mechanical cat asleep! Bad mouser! Does anyone else remember this being an amazing childhood experience (also looking at you, Staglands)?
2. Pick your favourite objects from the Wellington story
The pieces on display in the Wellington Museum typify what it means to be a Wellingtonian.
The exhibits go back to first discovery, all the way through to today. Brent explained that as well as documenting the past, the Wellington Museum showcases what Wellington has become - and who we are today.
For example, on the ground floor is the history of Wellington, all laid out, with all the different eras of New Zealand marked on the walls - curios fill the cubby holes where they nestle. These objects mark pivotal events in Wellington’s history through the 20th century up until today.
The staff picked 100 stories to share. This is a great way to quicky find out what has happened to Wellington over the last 116 years. My two favourite objects were the model of the bond store (I love dolls houses and miniatures) and the replica crown jewels (also, I love dress ups - is there maybe a problem I need to address?? Am I really just wanting to not work and go back to playing with toys?). But there are also more modern aspects to the museum, like the room where all the notes on the wall are (more about this soon).
4. You don't have to follow the rules - because there are no rules!
I find that museums are different for everyone. Some people like to spend ages reading all the wall plaques and examining paintings, while others just want a brisk walk to check out the best bits and then go for a coffee or get a tea towel at the gift shop. The Wellington Museum is great because methods of display, and subject matter, vary throughout the museum. “There is less of a structure than some other museums to reflect visitors preferences to look around at their leisure” Brent says. That means you don't have to follow a structures and spend ages in the Museum. You can come and go as you want, and browse at your own pace.
5. Find an old story - and write a new one.
Also on the ground floor is a meeting area to debate important issues (the flag debate is currently displayed - R.I.P. Red Peak).
On the other side of the room, people were asked to tell a story and write it on a piece of paper. This was my favourite room - I wanted to read every story. People responded by their hundred, covering the wall in paper. Each month a new question would be asked. “If you looked at each one, you would be able to see what people feel as Wellingtonians” Brent comments.
The room is all about connections, memories and sharing stories. On the floor is a large mural and a picture on the wall by Shane Tuffery and some students he got to help out. The images represent Maui bringing up the fish of the north island. “You can see where Wellington’s place is in the country, but in a mythological sense as well”. What story will you write on the wall?
6. It's Wellington Anniversary Weekend - the best time of year to go, right?
Wellington Anniversary Weekend was my inspiration for this self-directed assignment. I wanted to find out why we celebrate. My first question to Brent and Juliet when we go to the museum was - why the 22 January?? Why when we could have much better spaced holidays throughout the year?? It is simply too long between Queens Birthday Weekend and Labour Weekend.
It turns out, according to Juliet, that this is the day in history that the New Zealand Company’s first settler ship, the Aurora, arrived at Petone (which was Pito-one), founding the settlement that would become Wellington. Wellington was named in honour of the first Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo. In an eerie connection, we were actually there on the actual date “I just clicked!” exclaimed Juliet, looking quite thrilled. Of course, we always observe this on the first Monday (did I mention that I love PUBLIC HOLIDAYS?). These guys also mentioned that the Early Settlers Museum in Petone was a great place to go to check out the story of what Wellington was like back in 1840. So I will certainly be heading out there sometime really soon too.
7. Test out your sea legs.
So while we probably did the least amount of stuff looking at the maritime collection, this is a big part of the museum still. After all, Wellington is the 'harbour city'. The Wahine Disaster is honoured, and the maritime tradition of New Zealand, from model ships to a life size dingy. In particular, I really liked the ship cabin. I just wanted everyone else to clear off so I could play imaginary games of being at sea! Matt was pretty sceptical of the cabin though. The bed was tiny! They must have been pretty hard to get to sleep (let alone any other hanky panky that might have gone on).
8. Sit in a really big chair - plot global domination.
We got to sit in the harbour board room, which is an experience in itself. After all, for much of it's life this building was the home of the Wellington harbour board. It is a pretty intimidating room to be in. You can just imagine the fights that would have broken out in here between old angry white men! As a matter of fact. Matt has a story to tell because his grandfather worked for the harbour board for most of his life. Brent and Juliet were pretty stoked to hear this. Everyone has a story, they reminded us. I didn't naturally take to being in a big boss chair, but Matt settled in quite nicely.
9. Get lost in the Attic - and meet the Wakefields
The highlight is the new exhibition, The Attic. The area used to be office space. “It is what we imagine people to envision a museum attic to be” Things are grouped together, sometimes without an obvious link - but there is a link. Juliette draws our attention to two objects side by side, an old camera from Avalon Studios next to a large old standing gun from war - “They both shoot people” Juliette says.
You can use almost all of your senses to immerse yourself in the exhibition. It is a group of things that have been borrowed, sourced, and installed by artists (like the walking sticks). It is heavy on Wellington stories. “We opened it to coincide with the Wellington 150 festival in 2015” Brent says. “We always try to link history to now” - for example, Rusty, one of the last Lions to be taxidermied at the Wellington Zoo is paired with the first lion ‘King Dick’ (named after Richard Seddon, who was the Prime Minister at the time).
Another cool story to understand Wellington is the history of the Wakefield family. Brent explained that the three Wakefield brothers (and one nephew) were instrumental in making Wellington a settlement. William Wakefield was aboard that first ship, who surveyed the land. Petone (unsurprisingly for any Wellingtonians) wasn’t suitable for settlement due to its tendency to flood. Nevertheless, by the end of the year 1200 settlers had arrived in Wellington. Wakefield hoped Wellington would be picked to be capital, but Governor Hobson chose Auckland instead (but we got it back in the end so it all worked out ok).
This is just a cool area to explore - there are costumes from the movie 'What we do in the Shadows', art installations, a time machine and more. We didn't get time to look at everything but we will come back soon!
10. It's open - and best of all it's free!
The Wellington Museum is open all Wellington Anniversary Weekend. As for any community, there is a barrier to get people from the community to come to visit the museums. “I think it is getting harder for people to connect” says Brent. “We have lots of ideas but it is sometimes hard to find funding to get these programmes up and going. On the other hand, it makes us more creative”. We also love the fact it is a free museum - so really there is no excuse not to go.
As for Brent and Juliette - what will they be doing for Wellington Anniversary Weekend I ask? Juliette will be in Palmerston North, making a fuss of her dog and hanging out with her boyfriend. Brent says he will be looking after his 7month old baby on Wellington anniversary Weekend and maybe going to the cricket if his wife lets him. "It's going to be at the town basin" he smiles "so that's kind of historical right??"