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Preserving Treasures Of The Past - 11
Tawhiti Museum
Dorothy - 8/9/00

A unique and entertaining way of presenting Taranaki history

When I wrote recently about Hawera and its attractions I promised to write a separate article about the Tawhiti Museum, which has a unique way of presenting New Zealand history - a series of hand crafted dioramas depicting life in South Taranaki during the last 150 years.

How did this fascinating place begin?
Nigel and Teresa Ogle took a leap of faith in 1975 and bought the seventy year old Tawhiti Cheese factory and turned it into a museum.

Nigel was the art teacher at Hawera High School and decided that he could use his skills to create lifelike representations of scenes from history which would vividly convey to people of today what life used to be like in South Taranaki. In particular he wanted to show children that museums can be exciting and colourful, not just collections of dusty old junk. As the years have gone by the number of displays has increased and filled more and more of the building.

Nigel at work
Nigel at work
Photo source Tawhiti Museum
The project has been so successful that Nigel now works full time creating more life size figures and more small figures to set in dioramas that extend the scope of the museum displays.

Appreciating the Museum takes time.
The first advice I have for visitors to the museum is, "Allow plenty of time for your visit." To rush around the displays in a hurry is to miss the detail in the displays - period clothing, collections of old tins and packets for the domestic scenes and shops, and old fashioned equipment for farmers and people in a variety of trades, such as the ironmonger, the stable keeper, the farrier shoeing the horses, and the farmers at work.

Displays depict life at work and at home
The displays represent life in many settings. Some show people at their jobs. - a mining village, farms, a dairy factory and a bush railway with a waterfall.

Diorama of mining village
Diorama of mining village
Photo source Peter Hunt
Domestic scenes
Some are set in the home. One life-size display shows a woman with butterfly clips in her hair to set the waves. She is cooking at an early electric stove like those used in the 1930s and 1940s. It is typical of Nigel's work that there is interaction between the characters that are portrayed. The mother is checking on the contents of an enamel saucepan while she holds a baby on one arm. The baby is pulling at the front of her dress and a small child behind her is tugging at her mother's apron to get her attention. Washing hangs drying above the stove.

Kitchen scene from 1930s or 1940s
Kitchen scene from 1930s or 1940s
Photo source Alister Hunt
Another kitchen scene from a similar period shows a mother in the clothes she might wear to entertain visitors looking aghast as the small child, also in her best dress, has just upset a jar of pickle on to the floor. The kitchen of the day is faithfully represented with match lined walls, a wooden bench and an enamel sink.

Disaster in the kitchen
Disaster in the kitchen
Photo source Alister Hunt
Other scenes in the home include people singing around the piano, and a couple dressing for a ball in the 1920s while a child has the hand mirror and is about to apply the mother's lipstick. In another a child plays with a Hornby train and a stereoscope and has an Our Gang Annual to read.

Other displays include farming scenes depicting the tea break for the men making and baling hay, a chaff cutter, a woman carrying pails of water, a spring dray with the father lifting down his daughter, a tractor with the farmer and his child, and a father sharpening his cutter while his child takes the mouse from a mousetrap. Other displays show shearing and wool pressing.

Shops of bygone days
The toy shop shows the toymaker making Pinocchio toys. Toy soldiers are on the shelves. The general store is stocked with typical containers used before World War 2. There is also a brewery and a gun repairer.

The butcher's shop has carcasses hanging in the window, old butchery equipment and an antique cash register. The butcher with his waxed moustache is wearing the traditional striped apron and looking into the street for customers.

Butcher's shop
Butcher's shop
Photo source Alister Hunt
Maori Pa and stockade
The fortified Maori pa at Turuturu Mokai is shown in a detailed diorama which includes the storehouse, the fish trap, and people trading for flax, exchanging one ton of prepared flax for one or two muskets.

Early regiments
Other displays show the uniforms, tents and weapons of the early regiments and the forces in action in Taranaki.

Bush railway
Outside the museum is the Tawhiti Bush Railway which illustrates timber milling in South Taranaki. It travels up a bushclad hill and passes model houses of the bush workers all busy with their daily routine. This railway runs on the first Sunday of each month, every Sunday during school holidays and most public holidays.

Tawhiti Mill Pottery
If you are interested in pottery check out the Tawhiti Mill Pottery named after the Tawhiti Flour Mill which was operated by Nigel's great-grandfather on a site near the museum during the late 1880s. Local Tangahoe clay is processed and refined to be used at the pottery. Both unglazed terracotta ware and highly glazed ware crafted there are on sale in the museum foyer and the adjacent conservatory.

Badgers Cafe
When we realised that we were hungry and thirsty we went to Badgers Cafe next to the Museum. We not only had good coffee and a good choice of food, but saw Mr Badger himself sitting in the corner and viewed some dioramas depicting Sheppard's coloured illustrations for Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows". These were small scale dioramas, one twelfth of life size. It's a great place to take children.

Be sure to include Tawhiti Museum on your itinerary for your next trip through Taranaki. Both adults and children will really enjoy their visit.

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