Wellington Museum [Wellington, NZ]

Do you know what is generally incomparably delightful? A well-done city museum.

I know of what I speak.

We saw it in the wonderful Manaus museum in Brazil, and we see it again in the Wellington Museum. During my visit, I carefully selected my photo choices, ending up with a discerningly curated 50 or so. I, uh, will not be using all of them.

In the late 1800s, the museum’s building was the Bond Store, a warehouse for bonded cargo. I do have a video of the little holographic rat that runs around the storage room display, but WordPress issues require a workaround to post it and I’m not prepared to put that energy into it today. Use your imagination.

The first floor, Telling Tales, recounts the history of Wellington in the 20th century in vignettes and related artifacts.

Having just crossed the Cook Straight myself, I can confirm there was no sign of Pelorus Jack.

The little displays cover things like establishing libraries, local lawmaking, and social issues–including the banishment of a Chinese immigrant diagnosed with leprosy to a tiny island in Wellington Harbour in 1903, where he lived in a cave until his death the following year. His food was delivered by boat or by flying fox, and whether that was a zipline or actual giant bat is not clarified.

Time for labour rights struggles!

The general strike that year–following a broken miners’ strike the year before–nearly led to civil war, according to the display, with the striking workers ultimately on the beaten end of street brawls with the better-armed cops. The strike lasted a week.

The Turnbull Library is now a division of the National Library.

During World War II, the country had its own internment location on Matiu/Somes Island in the city’s harbour. Some internees were out-and-loud Nazi sympathizers. Some were just people with German names. The island’s prisoner population ended up including Jews, Pacific Islanders, Italians, Japanese, and actual Nazis all together. Shockingly, this led to some “tension and strife.”

Some prisoner art from the island internment camp.

And so on, around the room to the present day, as this blurry-ass photo somewhat illustrates.

Squinting won’t help.

That’s most of the ground floor. Next floor is devoted to the maritime history of Wellington.

Throughout, the museum has little interactive elements and multimedia displays, which of course I appreciate, and which I thought I’d mention here because I hadn’t yet, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the photos.

“By the Sea We Live”

Part of the floor is devoted to the sinking of the Wahine ferry in the Wellington Harbour (Cook Straight has seen many shipwrecks) in 1968. Two storms–Cyclone Giselle moving south and another moving north from Antarctica–merged over Wellington as the ferry came out of the straight, in just about the worst possible case scenario. Fifty-three of the 734 people on board died.

Several items from the ship are on display.

A short film is shown in the Wahine area.

This man recounts how his friend and he each grabbed a child before going overboard. He lost his grip on the child and couldn’t locate his friend after he reached land. The friend’s name is on the victims list to the right.

The storm was truly a disaster; it also killed nearly 200 albatrosses in the Wellington area–birds that do not readily succumb to harsh sea conditions.

It’s the nature of history-focused museums to have some pretty emotionally difficult sections to them, and hopefully the physical space of the building is used to help ease the visitor back into the collections. In this case, the Wahine disaster is at the end furthest from the staircase, and so you do have the walk back to it to decompress a bit before ascending to the next floor.

The Ngā Heke floor houses a beautiful work of Māori art, Te Whanganui a Tara, and other works of contemporary Māori artists, and it also presents objects with imaginary histories “as a way to think about what history is and whose voice tells it.” Visitors can take tokens to choose which story they prefer for the objects.

Don’t mind the cat there; he had his own exhibit and appeared throughout the museum. More on him later.
Choose your own history with the tokens.

There was a Māori stories exhibit on this floor that was closed for a booked group when I was there, so I look forward to returning to see that.

Instead of making this just crazy long, I am going to Tiny Tour the Attic, which definitely has its own vibe, as well as the temporary exhibit on Mittens, noted Wellington cat. In the meantime, you can find the Wellington Museum on the city’s waterfront, being generally awesome from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week. Entry is free, so hit that amazing gift shop on the way out.

The Cemetery Series: Karori Cemetery (Wellington, NZ)

It’s the first Cemetery Series entry outside of Argentina!

Like most of the Wellington area, it could be described as “frequently windswept”

I’d like to start by thanking the Friends of Karori Cemetery, who (in addition to researching its history) organize tours of cemetery, and led us around during our visit. That visit occurred on Suffrage Day, so the tour was focused on a few of the women who in life signed the 1893 women’s suffrage petition. You can read more about how New Zealand was the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote, if you want to get deep in your feels about the deficiency of your own home country, a depth I think many of us have some solid recent experience with. But I digress.

Karori Cemetery was opened in 1891, following the stuffing-to-the-seams of the cemeteries closer to the center of the town. Karori at the time was still rural, and so the first burial, that of premature infant Frederick Fish, remained alone on a windy, bare hill for six months, when the next burial took place.

Freddie didn’t have a marker until the Friends got him one, but he does have a lot of neighbors now.

Karori Cemetery is the second largest in the country, and has about 83000 burials (and counting). Being so big, I didn’t see all, or even most, of it–but broadly, the big sections are the Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, and public sections.

I happened to park near the Jewish section, near the cemetery shelter.

There is also a Servicemen’s cemetery (established in 1916 for obvious reasons), as well as a few dozen victims of the SS Penguin shipwreck. The dead of the 1918 Influenza pandemic are marked with white crosses. Boy, the 20th century sure was something!

Also, earthquakes.

Naturally, as I took photos, I assumed that I would remember at least the basics of the people mentioned. I assume this every time I take photos on a tour, and I am wrong 100% of the time, but hope springs eternal, along with wildly unearned optimism.

Annie Liez was a widow who signed the petition and lived to 94.
Christina Archibald was a signer, one of thousands of women who were asserting to the government what they already knew–a penis is not required.
Susan Hoar signed the petition, but did not live long enough to participate in an election.

Let’s take a look at some of the grave symbolism, a thing that modern graves are often woefully short on (although I did not upload any photos of stones inscribed with the disconcerting euphemism of “fell asleep on” such-and-such date).

Broken chain, symbolizing the broken chain of life. This headstone has been professionally cleaned, which makes a crazy difference.
The anchor refers to the man’s profession.

I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to know much about Maori symbolism, but here’s a couple of graves I passed that include some.

The koru symbolizes new beginnings, as in the Maori proverb, “As one fern frond dies – one is born to take it’s place.”

Let’s look at the inside of the chapel and crematorium, since I did not get a photo of the outside for some reason. It was built in 1909, which you know because that’s the large number chiseled on the wall.

The walls are lined with…I dunno the term. Ash cubbies?

The glass windows were commissioned to memorialize members of William Ferguson’s family, including 8-year-old daughter Louisa (I know, but you can’t talk about cemeteries without mentioning some real raging bummers). They came from the Irish workshop An Túr Gloine, world renowned glass artists. “Faith,” shown below, is one of two created by Wilhemina Geddes, noted glass bad-ass.

This is “Wisdom” by Michael Healy, commemorating William Ferguson himself.

The windows held to be real gems of stained glass art by those who are into that sort of thing, and having done a tiny bit of stained glass work in my teens, I can vouch for its hardcoreness, in terms of blood shed.

Before wrapping this entry up, let’s have a peek at a couple more gravey vistas.

Memory garden near the entrance. I’ll be honest; this was a drive-by photographing and I do not have any deets on this one.

The Karori Cemetery is open every day, and I believe you may go in even at night, although the road gates are closed at dusk. There are a couple of self-guided tours (linked above, for soldiers and the SS Penguin victims), and the Friends offer themed tours on the reg, so consult their page for information.

The Wool Shed: New Zealand’s Museum of Sheep and Shearing [Masterton]

WHAT’S UP MOFOOOOOOOOOOOOS

Ok, so, like probably everyone, I’ve been doomscrolling various social media feeds as a primary activity. It’s not great! But despite all the hot garbage everywhere, I managed to find a job, and now here I am, trying to find my blogging rhythm again. I don’t know how readable the post will be, but I’m opting to dig into a museum that was a very sweet visit for my little knitter’s heart.

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You know, I generally have a good time in little museums that look like houses.

 

This is the Wool Shed, and here you will learn about the wool industry and its history in New Zealand. Two old, authentic wool sheds are packed with sheep- and wool-related artifacts, as well as vaguely unsettling mannequins, yet another museum feature that is near and dear to my heart.

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Do not ever, ever change these mannequins.

Sheep and sheep products used to be a seriously critical aspect of the New Zealand economy, and even today, there are 27 million sheep here–almost 6 sheep for every person.

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The town of Masterton hosts The Golden Shears, an International Shearing and Wool Handling competition, which describes itself as “three days of non-stop action and entertainment,” a claim I have no reason to doubt. I had no idea it existed before I visited The Wool Shed, and it is now on my bucket list. Sure, you can see it on TV, but as the website says, “you can’t beat the excitement of being there to witness history being made and to soak up the lanolin infused atmosphere as the sweat drips off competitors brows.”

Footage of the competition is shown at the museum, and it is indeed a richly lanolin-infused atmosphere. I deeply regret not capturing on video the part where the announcer says a competitor is “having the shear of his life.”

I’m gonna go some day, mark my words.

But back to the museum!

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an old-timey wool shed, but probably smelling better these days

The displays in the wool sheds show how the sheep were penned and various tools of the wool trade. Also, yes, that is an insane rat up there on that post. Having apparently just had a litter and munching on a weta.

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but why

But nevermind that! There are historic shears! Including this pair of left-handed ones, which as a lefty, I very much appreciate.

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You’ll also read some history related to labor issues for shed workers:

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As well as many examples of shed vocabulary and terminology.

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Absolutely sure the code “69” had no in-joke connotation whatsoever and would never besmirch the honor of early 20th century shed workers by suggesting otherwise.

As regular readers know, I also approve of interactive displays in museums, so I was of course very pleased to see this:

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An excellent teaching resource, where just about every single person can learn that they do not want to be a sheep shearer prior to electric clippers.

But maybe you’d rather familiarize yourself with some of the grimmer aspects of animal husbandry. No worries; the Wool Shed gotchu.

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Well off the top of my head, can’t think of many more traumatic ways to lose testicles.

One room of the museum houses this old hut along with examples of historic machinery and old wool presses. In the hut, you can select the oral histories of several people involved in the wool trade…

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…while simultaneously viewing more unsettling mannequins.

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HAHA OK THEN SO WHAT ELSE IS THERE

Well how about some fiber education!

 

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Any knitter will tell you, merino is some very nice stuff.

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*wolf whistle*

Suzy the feral sheep got her maiden shearing done at the museum by world record shearer Peter Casserly, losing about 15 kg of wool right before summer.

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the only mandatory summer weight loss

The museum also hosts spinning and weaving demonstrations and has a lovely collection of spinning wheels.

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But sheep are not only good for wool, of course.

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Finally, let’s have a look at some wool-related art, because this little place truly has it all.

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“The Golden Fleece” by Paul Jenson, 1994. Created for the World of Wearable Art event.

Obligatory Lord of the Rings entry:

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I mean, will I be going to the shop? Obviously.

So there you have it! Wonderful museum, chock-full of information and artifacts, good-sized shop full of wool swag. Open all week, 10am-4pm, $10 for adults, $3 for children under 15, $20 for families (two adults & four children). Children under 5 are free. Of course, if you just wanna shop or see the Golden Shears Wall of Fame, those areas are free.