Down the Great South Road to Papakura Museum
More often than not, when we greet people and tell them we work at Papakura Museum, we are met with a furrowed brow, and the phrase, “I didn’t know Papakura had a Museum!” But, in fact, Papakura Museum has been an integral part of the community since it was founded in the 1980s, and acts as a space for locals and visitors to connect with Papakura’s natural and cultural history.
Papakura has long been a strategically located town in South Auckland. The Great South Road played a large part in the Waikato Wars of the 1860s; the road was established as a means for British troops to transport artillery from Auckland, in order to launch an offensive against Waikato iwi. It was the construction of the Great South Road that transformed Papakura and the way people associated with the area. It encouraged an increase of population and commerce into the region, and the road soon became, and still remains, an artery of the bustling township.
Fast-forward 150 years, and Papakura is now a vibrant town, with a diverse population and distinct cultural flair. Originally founded by the Papakura and Districts Historical Society (who themselves were established in 1962), Papakura Museum is, and always has been, located in the heart of the community. We are situated on the Great South Road, and share a building with the local library, a café, and an education shop.
Papakura is semi-rural, yet still located within the Auckland region. During the Second World War this meant that the town was in a prime location to train and house troops, as the nation rallied to support Britain. The Papakura Military Camp was constructed in 1939, and still acts as the base for the New Zealand Special Air Services (SAS).
The Ardmore Airport was later established in 1943, as a training centre for pilots about to head into action in the Pacific. Much of our collection is influenced by this military presence, as well as more personal military artefacts and histories from Papakura men and women who contributed to the war effort. Recently, we have been gifted the entire Costar Family collection. This collection represents the family’s colonial presence in the area, and traces the experiences of Walter and Reginald Costar during the First World War through their letters, diaries, trench art, personal belongings, and kit.
The Museum’s day-to-day running is handled by four part-time paid staff members, and upwards of twenty volunteers. Operational costs are taken care of by the Papakura Local Board (Auckland Council) and the Papakura and Districts Historical Society. Exhibitions are funded by grants from various sources. Many of our volunteers have been involved with the Museum since its conception, and play a vital role in our day-to-day operations.
We also provide work experience for Museum and Heritage Studies and Tourism students. As we are a smaller institution, we are able to offer a wide range of hands-on opportunities within the Museum and support the students through one-on-one academic mentoring.
On the whole, our collections reflect the early colonial history of Papakura, and the creation of Papakura as a hub for local families. Our objects trace the development of local communities, establishments, schools, and businesses. We deal largely in the personal, with a strong emphasis on social histories. However it is through the micro-histories, that the greater presence of Papakura becomes clear, as a fiercely independent town with a unique flavour, which fought to remain its own city right up until 1989.
Although the majority of our collection does reflect colonial history and early settlement, we do have early Taonga Māori associated with the area, including a range of pounamu. We hope to further develop our collection to include more Taonga Māori, as well as more objects and histories that reflect the constantly changing culture of the town.
Our Museum has three main exhibition spaces – a permanent gallery that explores a general history of Papakura, a gallery with a strong military focus, and a temporary space which features new exhibitions every two to four months. Recently we hosted the Mount Felix Tapestry Exhibition, an international exhibition, which was hugely successful and introduced a range of new audiences to our Museum.
We also use our space to help educate tamariki and rangatahi, as well as youth-at-risk organisations and elderly groups. We have two standard education programmes in place, which have a focus on interactive experiences and an opportunity to handle taonga, allowing visitors to engage with Papakura’s history in a physical sense. We also have a commitment to providing meaningful learning experiences to visitors living with physical and psychological impairments.
The principal aim for our public programming initiatives is to establish relationships with members of the community who may feel like museums have little to offer them. It is imperative that these programmes are affordable and accessible to those living in the Papakura region, and are fun and engaging.
We are also active on social media, and have found this to be an effective way to extend our audience reach. Our posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our blog highlight lesser-known histories from the region, as well as artefact and taonga from our diverse collection.
As our community continues to expand, our aim as a museum is to expand with it. We strive to be an accessible, community-centred space, while maintaining best practice in regards to exhibition development, collection care and education/programming initiatives.
If you’d like to see more from us, follow us on social media @PapakuraMuseum, or pay us a visit.
This story was originally published in Museums Aotearoa Quarterly December 2018 and has been edited for an online readership.