A new chapter has opened for Thames Museum Te Whare Taonga o te Kauaeranga, which it is hoped will mark a move away from the image of a European-centric settlers' museum.
With full consultation of local iwi Ngāti Maru, a new Taonga Māori Gallery has been created, and on July 2 a blessing and official opening ceremony was conducted.
Museum chair Carolyn McKenzie says it has been an ambition for the museum for many years to tell the story of the earliest settlers, and not just the arrival of James Cook and the history of the goldrush.
To create the unique gallery, a room was constructed within the former open space of the main gallery.
A starting point was the collection of Gottfried Lindauer prints the museum has had for a number of years, copies made from the Auckland Art Gallery collection of Ngāti Maru ancestors and other notable local Māori.
The collection now has a place to hang in the Taonga Māori Gallery.
The dominant display is the model of a fortified pā, some say modelled on a historic local landscape.
The model itself has its own interesting history, having been constructed in the 1960s by amateur historian and archaeologist Doug Pick, a Hamilton orchardist who helped establish Sunfruit Orchards. It is understood Doug would transport the model on a trailer, visiting schools and events.
Before being donated to Thames Museum Te Whare Taonga o te Kauaeranga it was in the Cambridge Museum collection, after having been at Mystery Creek.
Carolyn says work to create the new gallery got under way at the beginning of 2021.
She says a number of significant contributions were made that enabled the project to be completed.
COGS funded an expert in gallery lighting and layout to give professional advice to the museum committee.
The fortified pā model sits on a base constructed by Thames Menz Shed.
A Creative Communities grant allowed the museum to commission a Ngāti Maru artist to create the waharoa (entranceway) – which represents a "welcome or insight to the mind of ancient Māori".
A Pub Charity grant paid for the light rails and The Sir Walter Scott Lodge No. 15 and Freemasons Charity New Zealand purchased three display cabinets.
Thames Community Board funded gib stopping and painting the gallery.
Carolyn says a number of volunteers were instrumental in bringing the project to fruition, but she paid a special tribute to Ngāti Maru trustee and museum adviser Craig Solomon, who she described as tremendously helpful and vital to the project's success.
A Covid Recovery grant from the Museum Hardship Fund was partially used for lighting in the new gallery, as well as other improvements throughout the museum.
Schools will gain the opportunity to learn about many aspects of life in this area before the arrival of Europeans through the use of storyboards that cover games, music and pā construction.
The museum is located at 503 Cochrane St and is open Monday to Saturday 10am-1pm, closed on Sundays.