In this section
Find out about the people that make up our team and their roles at Hokitika Museum.
Kararaina Te Ira
Photographic Collections Curator
Ask the Hokitika Museum Team
Get to know the team who work in the Museum and feature on TikTok and our other social media accounts.
Vaughan Bradley: I learn something new every day. Well actually, I learn something old (but new to me) if you get what I mean. Research is my passion - I think I missed my calling as a journalist, so going down a historical rabbit hole is the next best thing!
Sue Asplin: Working with old photographs is intriguing. I love zooming in to look at the detail – it’s amazing what you can see when photos are scanned at high resolution. I find all sorts of fascinating things, often in the backgrounds – like a child standing in a doorway, a sign, a dog, a face I recognise, a building I never noticed before, clothing styles, brooches, hats – it’s like looking through a magnifying glass into the past.
Helen Cook: Believe it or not, my job requires a fair bit of detective work. This can be very satisfying, especially when I dig up new information. Some collection items have a very sparse catalogue record (or no record at all), so we need to decide if they are suitable to stay in the collection. I really enjoy investigating their stories, like trying to find out who donated them, where they came from and whether they are significant to our local heritage. We now have a rigorous process for accepting items into the collection and detective work is still necessary.
Sue Asplin: We had a photograph on display of a old-time gold miner titled ‘Old Geordie’ taken by local photographer Heaton Peart whose photos often appeared in the Auckland Weekly News in the early 1920s and 30s. The frame was in poor condition so I took the photograph out to store it separately. I was surprised to discover that the backing board was a mounted photograph taken by Heaton Peart of the Soldiers Hall, a building that stood where the Library is now and served as a base for returned soldiers after World War 1. The photo had an inscription thanking committee secretary, DJ Evans, and signatures of committee members.
Vaughan Bradley: While doing some research I discovered that we have a bible that is related to a significant event in our local history. I was writing an article about the illegally imprisoned Parihaka men (also known as the Taranaki ploughmen) who were sent to Hokitika in the 1880s, and found a Māori Bible with the name ‘Maui Onekura , Solicitor, Hawea’ written on the back page. It was also inscribed ‘Na Maui Pariroa" - which loosely translates ‘This is the property of Maui, from Pariroa’ (this is a South Taranaki settlement near Pātea). It was amazing to discover that Maui Onekura was the son or grandson of one of the Parihaka men who were illegally imprisoned in the South Island.
Helen Cook: One day, when working through the Museum inventory I was horrified to discover an entry stating that we had an unexploded bomb in our collection! After a frantic search in the collection store the potentially dangerous object was located and bomb disposal experts were called in. We were relieved to be told it was safe and not a threat at all. Whew!
Vaughan Bradley: For some reason, we have a stuffed Echidna in our collection. We are not sure why, unless it is from the days when the Museum collected curiosities from around the world. Perhaps it came with the albino wallaby and the sea snake that we also have in our collection.
Helen Cook: No, but I once had an item disintegrate in my hands. One day in the collection store, we discovered a cardboard box that had become brittle and snapped like crackers - an indication that something nearby was off-gassing (release of gas from an object disintegrating). The box contained a 1930s manicure set with handles made of fake mother-of-pearl. As we unwrapped the tissue around each item, we saw that the internal resin had puffed up around the joints and exuded a powdery substance. Every item fell to bits on the spot. Unfortunately, the items were beyond repair so we treated them as hazardous material and had them disposed-of immediately.
Helen Cook: Visitors, especially children used to get a fright when they looked into our old jail cell display and saw a sad old man huddled in the corner. He was a life size-paper clay figure, and in the shadow of the cell he looked quite lifelike. Funnily enough, when we removed him from his prison cell into the light we noticed a slight smile on his face that we’d never noticed before.
Sue Asplin: We have a rather obscure portrait of John Lazar in our collection store. It is very large with a fancy gilt frame and is painted unusually garish colours. There is something about the face that isn’t quite right – the eyes have a peculiar stare and the lips are very pale. Spending time in the collection store with this character gazing at you can be quite unsettling, so we have covered him with a dust cloth and now we can work in peace!
Vaughan Bradley: Charlie Douglas, without a doubt! He was an extraordinary character, living a life of solitude and hardship as he explored the wilds of Westland. Known as Mr Explorer Douglas, he surveyed vast areas of backcountry, sketching, naming and recording features of the landscape. He was shy and humble, but what a guy!
Quick-fire answer from the Hokitika Museum Team: a Haast eagle, kākahu Māori/ finely woven Māori cloak (this did come true, check out our video on Facebook), Okarito 1908 Blue Whale (Hello Canterbury Museum). A map of the 1923 Hokitika Exhibition site, a photograph of Chips the Dog, and a photo of Bully Hayes when he visited Hokitika. A dinosaur.
Our focus it to set our content for younger audiences so that the Hokitika Museum is relevant and enthuses people about our colourful history. With this in mind, new exhibits are being developed that will capture the imagination of all ages.