At the heart of any museum is its collections.
Ashburton Museum is no different, with its vast archive and diverse object store. But, while physical things are relatively easy to collect, the really difficulty thing to do is to collect experiences.
Diaries, for example are a great source of experiences but all too rare.
The few diaries that museums do receive tend to be donated upon the death of the owner. They can sometimes also be hard to put on exhibition, as the more loved and used an object is, the more worn and therefore delicate it is by the time it is donated.
Photos are another example of how we can contain experiences. For example, in the photos we have of the Radiant Hall, it is easy to see familiar emotions of joy and concentration in the eyes and expressions of dancers at the Hall.
Yet, seeing and understanding these experiences requires interpretation. You don’t get the true experience straight from the person’s mouth, so something can be lost in the translation. Is that look of concentration due to fun or wishful thinking hoping that someone else would ask them to dance?
In 2019, the exhibition Ashburton: Feels Like Home gave us a chance to overcome this difficulty. In the exhibition, we asked our visitors to tell us, in their own words, what makes them know they are home?
With nothing more than a few one word prompts, visitors left us with an amazing variety of responses, some of which are described below.
According to these museum visitors, the most common thing that makes a place feel like home is friends and family.
Many people left comments about their family as a whole. Responding to the question “I know I’m home when…” with ‘I am with Whanau’, ‘I’m with the people who love me’ and ‘I am happy and with my friends’.
Some chose to comment on a specific person, usually Mum and Dad. Siblings rarely got a mention although we presume Anna is a sister when the answer is ‘When Anna annoys me’. For others it was when ‘I see the house’, ‘I see the cats’ or ‘When I see the pool’.
There were a few that mentioned just Mum as that feeling of home. Some were very sweet, such as ‘snuggling mum’ and ‘Mum is there’, whereas others were not so positive or weirdly funny: ‘When Mum get’s grumpy that I say EYEBALL!’ or ‘My mum tells me to do the dishes…’
After friends and family, pets were the most common thing that let’s Ashburtonians know they are home. Many people will realte to knowing they are home when ‘My dog starts barking by our gate’, and some lucky people when ‘The lambs are annoying me’.
One of my personal favourites is one about pet fish because it also evokes a sound that could be easily taken for granted, feeling at home when ‘I hear the filter for my fish tank going’ is something that is so familiar but could easily escape attention.
I can imagine how many hours have been spent watching the fish, and how the steady hum would be a reminder of that.
My Dad is a school teacher, and he used to have a tank with axolotls in his classroom. The hum of a fish tank always meant school holidays to me, a memory I had forgotten until reading this visitors comment.
And this is exactly why we want to collect experiences.
Like objects, experiences are a way that communities can connect. The better we can vocalise our experiences, the more people are likely to understand our perspective, the easier it is to communicate and find shared experiences that help make Ashburton feel like home for so many people.
We hope today’s images also spark a memory or experience and are reminders of home.
By Max Reeves
This article has been altered for publication on this blog, and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 26th of November 2019.
- A young John Carter and Billy the goat at Elgin.
- Attending the circus and seeing the elephant is an experience many will recall in Ashburton.
- Going on picnics and adventures with your friends and family in an experience that feels just like home away from home.
- Home is where the heart is, as demonstrated by the Vucetich family here.
- I know I’m home when… cards from Ashburton: Feels Like Home.