Tomorrow's history today

By Christine McKay

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Pat Mills president of the Dannevirke Gallery of History in front of the former court house which is celebrating 25 years as our district's museum with an open day on Saturday, October 5.
Pat Mills president of the Dannevirke Gallery of History in front of the former court house which is celebrating 25 years as our district's museum with an open day on Saturday, October 5.

Today's things are tomorrow's history, Pat Mills of the Dannevirke Gallery of History says.

"I tell people don't throw anything away, but if you are going to throw, give your things to us and we'll decide if it's relevant to the history of Dannevirke," Miss Mills, the president of the Gallery of History said.

With 10 volunteers, the Dannevirke Galley of History plays a vital role in protecting the heritage of our district.

Occupying the former court house the Gallery is home to a fascinating collection, including many valuable items such as six chairs, described as national treasures, which found their way home to Dannevirke in 2011, 111 years after being made here.

The six chairs, crafted from kahikatea by Thomas Bates, survived destruction when the September 2010 earthquake ravaged William Cottrell's Gunyah Country Estate, at Darfield, 45km west of Christchurch, to find a new home at the Gallery.

Phillipa Nilson, a volunteer at the Galley of History said the chairs are regarded as the best set of colonial chairs in New Zealand.

"This is absolutely superlative furniture and it's pretty amazing they've come back home," she said.

A recent display of clothing gifted from the Gaisford family, owners of a huge estate which stretched from Dannevirke south to Kumeroa, now features in the Gallery. The adults and children's clothing is mainly 1920s, although some items are Victorian.

"The Gallery is a living history of Dannevirke and we're hoping plenty of people will come along to our open day," she said.

Gallery volunteers are holding their open day on Saturday, October 5 to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

"In 1985 a new court house was built in Gordon St. But what was to done with the original one built in 1906?" Miss Mills said. "Although outdated for modern use, the brick building with its match-lined native timber and pressed iron ceilings was a solid edifice. It deserved to be retained as part of Dannevirke's heritage. The questions were, what could it be used for and how could it be purchased from its Government owners?"

A public meeting was called to discuss the fate of the building and a committee of 17 was formed. Hugh Barclay was chairman and an enthusiastic leader.

"It was resolved to buy the building and set it up as a safe repository for documents and artefacts of historic importance pertaining to the past and ongoing history of the Dannevirke district," Miss Mills said.

The committee set the ball rolling by donating $1600.

"From then on it was an all-out effort to buy the building and the public was invited to contribute to the fund," Miss Mills explained.

To enable the building to be purchased, painted, refurbished and set up as a gallery, the committee set a target of $30,000. By October 10, 1987, through grants and donations, three quarters of the money had been raised.

The Gallery of History was officially opened by John Falloon, the MP for Pahiatua on September 17, 1988.

"It's an interesting place to visit and browse or to research family and historic happenings," Miss Mills said.

On October 5, volunteers will be at the Gallery to show visitors around, answer questions and chat over a cup of tea or coffee. Videos of the opening in 1988 and Dannevirke's 60th anniversary celebrations will run continuously.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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