Wellington Museum

I have absolutely fallen in love with Wellington. And I’m saying this before having visited Te Papa, aka the main reason why we’ve come here. I literally select my next holiday destination based on what museums I am really wanting to visit. As well as Te Papa, I was looking forward to visiting the Wellington Museum which is located in the old Bond Store on Wellington’s waterfront. Originally, the building housed a small maritime collection. Over time, however, it has been transformed into a museum that tells the story of Wellington.

Like quite a few museums I have reviewed in the past, the only significant issue I had with this museum was that it was text-heavy. I was pretty much finished with reading after the first level. In saying this, however, there were some really interesting labels – I’ll talk more about this later. I’m going to go level-by-level and comment on a few highlights.

Overall Highlight

Not to pick a favourite, but, I’m going to pick a favourite. When you first walk into the museum there are a few maps on offer. There were two quite traditional ones – a highlights tour and a kid’s tour. There was also a map for those wanting to engage multiple senses and one specifically focusing on Māori culture and mythology.

These maps were fantastic as they offered new visitors a number of options and repeat visitors with a new perspective. I took the highlights map and the senses map so I could see where displays were located that could offer a break from simply reading a label. 

Level 3 – The Attic

This was by far my favourite level. It reminded me of a cabinet of curiosities, but, actually done properly for a modern audience. This is also where I really loved the labels. Each object was accompanied by what looked like an old noticeboard with a number at the top. This gave the visit some structure as we could go through number-by-number logically seeing everything on display. The labels were long, but, each revealed quite a captivating story. They got right to the point and were genuinely interesting to read. I would also argue that they were accessible to a wide range of ages as they sat a little lower than standard adult height and were straight-forward with their interpretation.

One of the object highlights for me on this level was seeing costumes from the film What We Do in the Shadows by Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement. I adore this film and it was fantastic to see the costumes on display. A lot of thought went into the display with the mannequins posing like the characters and one even positioned to look as though it was jumping off the side wall.

Other objects on this level included beads made by patients of Porirua Mental Hospital and a taxidermy lion. There was a button next to the lion which I assumed was to trigger a light. Instead, it played a lion’s roar and scared me right into 2019. The label for the lion explored the popularity of natural history collections in the Victorian era and what it can reveal about our relationship to animals.

Level 2

The second level felt a little disjointed from the rest of the museum, but, the display was quite fun. On first entering the space there is a wall of eight objects where visitors could create their own labels. Next to each object was a magnetic board and numerous magnetic strips with words on them. As you can probably imagine, the wall mostly consisted of random words stuck next to other random words.

The rest of the exhibition space had some objects with one label, such as the love letter machine, and some objects with two label options. Visitors could vote on what the object might be.

Below was my favourite example because it really could be either hipster art or a drapery and general importing company window.

Level 1

Level 1 was basically dedicated to maritime history. There was a lot of text on this level, but also, a lot of interactive elements. For example there was a machine that allowed you to crank a machine that once provided oxygen to deep sea divers. Maritime highlights included the story of Paddy the dog that wandered around Wellington harbour and a memorial to the TEV Wahine, a passenger and car ferry that sank in 1968.

The greatest highlight on this level was the cameo installation by Genevieve Packer. Wellington Museum commissioned Packer to create an artwork consisting of female silhouettes in order to recognise the acknowledgment of amazing women in New Zealand’s history. Considering this was on display in a room that celebrated the leadership of men, it was an important addition for balance. It would have been great to have a little booklet or something that listed the women and why they were included.

Level Ground

The ground level basically provided an overview of Wellington’s history. We walked around and stopped to read more whenever we saw an interesting object. I am a huge fan of incorporating objects into a chronological timeline so this got a tick from me.

Here are a few photographs of the display.

Wellington Museum

Wellington Museum is located at 3 Jervois Quay, Queens Wharf and is open 10 am to 5 pm every day except Christmas Day. Admission is free.

Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator, Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

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