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Museum building prepares for big milestones

April 30th, 2012
[by Pauline Westall, Curator, Motueka District Museum]

The Motueka District Museum and Motueka High School will celebrate common milestones within the coming year. The old brick building that houses the museum will be 100 years old in 2013 and the museum will have been open to the public for 25 years in November.

To celebrate, the museum will be putting on an exhibition from December 2012 about both institutions, and wants Motueka people to contribute with memories, anecdotes, photographs and paraphernalia.

The old "High School" brick building was built in 1913, replacing the old wooden structure built in 1866, and housed the high school students and then primary students.

From the outset the building has provided a centre point for the community, as it still does today. In 1922 the war memorial was placed in the grounds, but was removed to its present location in Pah Street in 1955-6. The school also provided a place for civic functions: visits from dignitaries such as Lord Bledisloe and Governor-General Sir Charles Fergusson, dances, boxing, flower shows and school balls.

1943 saw the removal of partitions in the building, creating an assembly hall. By 1950 the building was deteriorating. There was no central heating, no security, and worst of all no toilet facilities. (I'm not sure how they had coped with that one for almost 40 years.) There was also an insidious invader growing on the outside of the building - ivy, causing much damage and leakage.

In that year something else was of note, and certainly never to be repeated today - a tobacco crop was grown and harvested in the school garden with the help of seniors boys, to raise funds.

In 1955 a new and separate high school was opened, leaving the old brick building to carry on as an assembly hall. With a climbing school roll, the building was once again divided into classrooms for primary students.

During its life as a school, the building survived the 1929 Murchison and the 1968 Inangahua earthquakes, ivy, and vandalism. In 1969 it was declared an earthquake risk, finally closing its doors as a school. In 1970 the then Education Department pronounced it as surplus to requirements and gave it to the Motueka Borough Council on the condition it was used as a museum.

An article in the Nelson Evening Mail, 1974, summed up the condition of the building:

"In 1974 when the above photograph was taken, the building faced a bleak future. The cost of the needed renovations was rising and nothing was being done.

"A meeting was being planned with the Motueka Historical Society to see how anxious it was to proceed with the museum but the assistant town clerk, Mr K Searle, felt that it would never be used for that purpose. 'People have begun to lose interest in the scheme,' he said.

"By 1975 however, it was a different story. Meetings had taken place and the building was well on the way to being restored."

Many years and much hard work (by the community and council) later, the goal was achieved and a steering committee was formed in 1983. Fundraising and a membership drive started in earnest and money from these and help from the Council meant the work on restoring and repairing the old building could begin.

By November 1987 the museum was ready to open its doors to the public for the first time. Since then there have been many alterations to the internal layout, and new displays both permanent and temporary. Redevelopment work continues today.

The Motueka & District Historical Association continues its great work of providing information for locals and visitor alike, working from the Research Room. They have amassed a huge amount of history over the years: photographs, local family histories, old newspapers (providing a fascinating insight into early days of Motueka), magazines and other archival material.

They are well worth a visit if you are doing your family history, or a school project, or just for a look into our past. Access to the Research room is available during museum open hours, but the room is staffed on Tuesdays only.

To celebrate these two milestones the museum will be putting on an exhibition from December 2012 about both institutions. We would greatly appreciate any memories, anecdotes, photographs, paraphernalia etc that you may have of either attending the school or the early days of the museum. Not to keep of course, but to have copies made and thus increase our knowledge and database on both subjects.

A few examples, from a few years back:

"I think the best years of my life were spent in Motueka. When I commenced teaching at Motueka in 1921 I was amazed to discover the whole district enjoyed hop-picking holidays, schools reopened about the middle of January and continued until the last week in February when they closed for hop-picking for the next three weeks." - Dan Wilkinson (Staff 1921-26).

"It was covered in ivy. At one stage when I was teaching in there they stripped some of the ivy off, it had been working for them for many years and the building just started leaking like a sieve." - Miss Black, teacher.

"Remember the breaking of windows at the back of the school with a hockey ball? If a window got broken at 20 yards range, the culprit was a moron. If he achieved the same success at 50 yards he was a hero."

To end, a couple of snippets of information from the "Early history of the museum" file:

The Motueka District Museum Trust composed entirely of volunteers, has created a substantial museum to sow the development and history of Motueka. After a hard fight and with little financial assistance, the old High School was acquired to house the museum.

The original Statement of Purpose reads: "The Motueka and District Museum Trust has been established to tell the story of prehistory and the founding, settlement and development of Motueka and District.

"The Museum, owned by the Motueka Borough Council and the citizens of Motueka, and operated by the Board of Trustees, will collect, preserve, research and exhibition a collection of historical artefacts ..."

We still carry on those ideals.


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