Working in the role of Museum Assistant at Ashburton Museum last summer was an extremely valuable and rewarding experience. Having returned for my third stint of museum work, it had once again been an absolute pleasure working alongside my talented museum family in presenting, preserving, and displaying the social history and cultural heritage of Ashburton.
2019 was the third and final year of my Bachelor of Arts at Otago, majoring in history and minoring in anthropology, and so being able to gain so much experience in the museum sector as an undergrad student felt less like work and more like a dream come true!
Time well spent
Looking back after just over half a year of total experience at Ashburton Museum, including mid-year break and last summer too, I can’t believe I had the chance to do so much under one role.
On the very first day I started at the museum, back in November 2017, I was put to task proofing and editing information panels for our MindPlus Kids Curate exhibition. Much later, I was delighted to hear that all our hard work had been recognised nationally, as we ended up being highly commended for Most Innovative Public Programme at the 2018 NZ Museum Awards.
Following MindPlus, I helped with the installation of Sounds Like Us exhibition from Radio New Zealand, which we set up in both the Kate and Hank Murney Room and the changing exhibition area.
Aside from various daily tasks, I spent most of January and part of February 2018 working on Hakatere Hack – our very first digital interactive game. Hakatere Hack was a blast to make, and when I came back to work in the middle of the year, I got to see people playing and enjoying the game.
During my two week stint between semesters, I helped proofread for, arrange, and set up our winter exhibition Tekau: Don’t be Dull!
As well as these major projects, smaller jobs have comprised a lot of my time at work. I have written over twenty articles for the Ashburton Guardian Heritage Page, spent hours drilling, sawing, and painting in the workshop, covered front desk customer service whenever required, and have otherwise helped out in pretty much every area you could at the museum.
Fairies? In my museum?
Summer 2018-19 has been my favourite so far, as both my fellow intern Rosie Twamley and I stepped in as archivists for a month and a half, and had the chance to better familiarise ourselves with our own archives and archival work in general. We answered research requests, oversaw enquiries through the museum research email account, and hosted and directed visitors wanting to access material in the research room.
I always relish the opportunity to learn more about our local history, as well as being able to share in the stories that people come to discover about their families’ pasts, and the past of Ashburton.
Rosie and I also worked in the collections store, where we catalogued, examined, organised, and cleaned collection objects. I also learned how to fill out condition reports on objects, which I put into practice with an old stock saddle that we had been evaluating.
Following the Great Santa Hunt, we decided to put together another activity trail that was to tie-in with our very popular summer exhibition, Dig In Mahi Mara. One of our first ideas for this was to somehow incorporate fairy doors. As a team, we decided to get crafty and make about a dozen fairy doors for this activity, of which I made three, and then I spent some time putting together a colourful, cartoony map of the museum for the trail.
The end product was thoroughly enjoyable for the kids, and was especially popular through the last weeks of the summer holidays. I did find myself wishing at times though, that kids would stop trying to open the door of my “Fairy Borough Council building,” since I’d keep finding it broken off and lying in front of the doorframe! (Maybe the fairies were curious about what happens in a council meeting, we can’t know for sure…)
Digital and beyond
I am a firm believer in digital archives preservation. While nothing can replace original copies of archival material, we need to preserve these as much as possible. As per every museum’s modus operandi, it is also important that we digitise material for indefinite archiving.
In my eyes this process should be pushed one step further whenever possible – to make digital collections accessible to the public in easy, user-friendly, and even fun ways. This was part of the philosophy behind using collection photos in Hakatere Hack, which stressed the “fun” aspect especially, but this is also what I tried to do with a collection of Halma studio glass plate negatives.
Using a very simple website interface, I had started to arrange these glass negative photographs in groups of ten per screen, with a search function and index. Once this project is complete, the glass negative index will be available to the public here at the museum, so that anybody can explore the collection on a computer and perhaps even recognise some of the people and places in the photographs. This would definitely speed up and perhaps be a crucial aspect of the end-goal of the glass negatives project – to have all the glass negatives’ subjects identified.
Overall, my time at Ashburton museum was an absolute blast and I am extremely grateful to the Ashburton District Council and Ashburton Museum for affording me the opportunity to work here for the third time.
Hakatere Hack is available to download for Android phones and tablets on the Google Play store.
By Connor Lysaght
- A screenshot from our game Hakatere Hack, which centers around my version of Ashburton as a 3D cartoon caricature.
- My favourite photo from the Halma negative collection. Not only is he cute, but this photo also shows how the pug breed has changed over a hundred years.
- Probably my number one object in our collection is this badger head sporran with particularly ‘munted’ features. We still love him regardless.
- Connor working in the museum archive.