Posts Tagged 'National Army Museum'

Life at the National Army Museum – Anna Beazley and Megan Wells


Anna and Megan on the Centurion tank which sits outside the National Army Museum.

You drive down the North Island, cross the Desert Road and wind down the hill to find yourself in the Desert Oasis, a blink and you miss it, truck stop kind of town. But there is one fort-like building, or rather the array of tanks parked in front of it, which makes the place a little more memorable. Every child has their obligatory photo, atop the centurion, somewhere in the family albums. This is the National Army Museum.

But this is not where we work.

As the Assistant Curator in charge of Social History and Accoutrements and the Collection Technician at the NAM (Army loves acronyms), we don’t actually work in the main building. What you may not have noticed as you wove down the hill at the end of the Desert, before you hit the bright lights of Waiouru, is the little red and black sign that directs you into the Waiouru Military Camp where we live and work. This is how we get there.

Us passing security to get to the collections store inside the Camp.

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘why on earth did you choose to move to Waiouru?’ So we want to share some of our adventures and show how working at the NAM is exactly the same and completely different from other museums.

Doing Museum collections work.

Doing Museum collections work.

As you can see, we spend our days doing pretty normal stuff. And then we glance out the window and remember what a strange place we are in. It’s full of distractions and hazards and people do actually patrol past in camouflage with rifles… RIFLES!

Recruits practicing rifle drills outside the office window provide distractions.

Recruits practicing rifle drills outside the office window provide distractions.

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

The Museum used to be entirely manned by soldiers, which has left an interesting legacy in collection work; but now we have only one officer on staff – making us a civilian unit in what sometimes feels like a sea of green…

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

However, between field trips, mess functions and big events, the Army community has welcomed us in.

Donation offer of military plaques.

Donation offer of military plaques.

Working for the Army can be interesting. When the Museum was offered a donation of seven boxes of plaques, Liz, our Assistant Curator in charge of Heraldry asked for photos to help her choose. This is what the sergeant sent back!

The Ruapehu District is beautiful and although the NAM is isolated – it’s either in the middle of nowhere or the centre of everywhere depending on how you look at it – ‘Waiberia’ makes a great base camp.

Anna Beazley and Megan Wells

Living in the shade of Mount Ruapehu with Kaimanawa horses and piles of snow.

Living in the shade of Mount Ruapehu with Kaimanawa horses and piles of snow.


News Update 25 August 2011

Kia ora

The news is full of openings and events, with excellent coverage of the opening of the Rugby Museum and Oceania (Te Papa/City Gallery Wellington) and lots of rugby-oriented exhibitions, as well as the people of Ashburton arguing about the future of their museum and art gallery – see the round-up in our members’ area here (you need to be an MA member to log in).

Earlier this week I attended the Human Rights Commission’s Diversity Forum in Hamilton. The presentation made to the plenary session by delegates from the weekend youth forum was especially encouraging. While they identified the expected issues of discrimination such as gender, religion and race, they also came up with solutions for including young people fairly and actively in all aspects fo society.

Diversity in practice – focus on youth

Following the plenary presentations, about 20 people gathered at Waikato Museum for the museums and galleries session. This was warmly hosted by staff at Waikato Museum, and supported by Museums Aotearoa and National Services Te Paerangi. We were welcomed on the museum’s marae ātea, and then taken through the Ngaa Pou Whenua exhibition by concept leader Moana Davey. She explained their exchange approach to concept and exhibition development, where ‘ownership’ is shared with iwi, and most of the material generated for the exhibition is to be given to the various marae at the end of the 3-year lifespan of the exhibition.

Sarah Morris shared her experience of developing The Mixing Room, a ground-breaking Te Papa exhibition developed with young refugees. Sue Superville and Kristelle Plimmer who had worked with Sarah were also there, and the project had clearly had a huge impact on their thinking. They had consciously stepped up from consultation and collaboration to co-creating, where the young subjects of the exhibition determined what and how their stories would be told. The young people’s refugee backgrounds were often traumatic, and the long period of project development raised many issues, especially in the personal relationships developed and the responsibility of museum professionals when their role blurs into social agency.

Puke Ariki curator Ruth Harvey shared what she had learned on her 2010 Churchill Scholarship study tour of the USA. Ruth had packed in visits to 30 organisations in 7 cities in 5 weeks. Although she must have been exhausted, she came back inspired with some great ways to work with young people, and has already put some ideas into practice at Puke Ariki. Ruth focussed on what is meaningful to young audiences, and how to make engagement meaningful, for instance through using museums as social spaces. Her excellent report can be downloaded from our site, here.

The fourth speaker was archaeologist Tarisi Vunidilo, who has held positions at Creative NZ, Te Papa, Waikato and Fiji museums, and is now secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Museums Association. Tarisi is particularly interested in young Pasifika engagement in museums, and highlighted the opportunities which have been developed through individual passion, personal connections, and building relationships with other organisations.

Forum attendees – from Taupo, Thames, Te Awamutu, Taranaki, ATTTO as well as other places that don’t start with ‘T’ – had a lively discussion about the issues raised. All agreed that the topic is important and fruitful, and it is very rewarding for museums and galleries when young people are actively engaged. I thank the presenters who opened their practice to scrutiny, the participants who took up their challenges, and look forward to more opportunities to inspire each other to explore meaningful engagement with young people.

On the way back from Hamilton I called in to the National Army Museum. Their exhibitions continue to evolve, with the medical services display evoking hospital smells, and Khaki and Black highlighting the Army’s active rugby tradition. They too are aware of their young audience, with signs on some tempting displays reminding parents that “we have trained our motorbikes not to climb on your children”.

A brief stop in Palmerston North was also a reminder of the looming rugby event. It was great to see the NZ Rugby Museum now fully operational upstairs in Te Manawa. The enthusiastic volunteers were very welcoming, and the displays successfully offer context and insight to their unrivalled collection of rugby memorabilia. Downstairs, Te Manawa was a hive of activity, with staff installing new permanent exhibits before its final stage opens in late September.

All the best to everyone as the kick-off draws near!

Ngā mihi,


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