Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Graven Not on Stone / But on the Hearts of Men."

This morning was spent in the lounge of the hostel,  eating my breakfast, monitoring the weather (cloudy again) and watching Mille, Jakob, Selma, and Bodil try and figure out their futures. I had promised Bodil I would proof-read her cover letter for her, but she and the other three ended up leaving for the bus depot before she could complete anything. I told her she could e-mail it to me, and she was very grateful, saying, "You don't know how much this means." I replied back, "Unlike all of you, I only speak one language, so I may as well put it to good use!"

The weather was still looking rather iffy, so I decided to spend the afternoon at the Auckland Museum, located in The Domain, Auckland's oldest public park. Getting there was somewhat amusing... I had copied out directions from Google Maps, but immediately diverged from them and as a result ended up wandering for about twenty unnecessary minutes, looking for a street and crosswalk to get up and over to The Domain. I ended up wandering around the grounds of Auckland University a little bit, including past their School of Music (sigh). Once I made it to the museum, however, it was well worth the walk: located at the top of the ancient volcano Pukekawa's crater, the imposing building is built in the neo-classicist style and has these words carved on its front:

The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men. They are commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands also by memorials graven not on stone but on the hearts of men.

The museum is also Auckland's war memorial, and inside features reverent and respectful memorials, including the names of all New Zealand's fallen soldiers from WWII carved into the marble walls.

Admission to the museum is technically free, but a $10 donation is suggested, and it is certainly worth the donation. Additional fees can be paid if one would like to have a guided tour, or participate in the "Maori Cultural Experience". I declined, seeing as I just like to wander around museums at my own pace. And wander I did... there is so much to see in the museum, I couldn't even begin to describe it all here. Suffice it to say I was there for almost five hours (right up until closing) and I still didn't get to see everything I wanted to! My brain felt suitably overloaded.

A large part of the museum is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting artefacts from the Polynesian peoples, with displays showcasing artefacts from Samoa, Fiji, The Cook Islands, and of course New Zealand's Maori culture, including a Maori house one takes one's shoes off to enter as a sign of respect to the ancestors. While I certainly enjoyed the Maori and Polynesian exhibits, I will admit to being more interested in some of the museum's other collections, such as The Castle Collection of Early Instruments and Music, which as the name implies is a large and varied collection of different (largely European) musical instruments, (brass, woodwind, and strings), including a harpsichord, which made me long to play a piano.

Another neat exhibit was called "Wild Child", chronicling the history of education in New Zealand, and also exhibiting childhood toys and past-times (called "the space between", meaning the unsupervised spaces for children between parents and school, the exhibit even included a tree fort and a stuffed elephant named "Rajah"). One of my favourite parts was the exhibit of the bedroom of a typical 1990s child, the female version being furnished with Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls posters... oh dear. It's kind of sobering to see things that one remembers from one's childhood on display in a museum! Not that I ever had a Spice Girl or Backstreet Boy poster myself, but...

A very cool exhibit was entitled "Weird and Wonderful" and was a hands-on nature area for kids and their parents, including many interesting creatures, both alive and stuffed. Some, like the mealworms rolling around in a tray of sand, one could actually touch! I got to see live cockroaches (ugh), locusts (bring on the plague), a gecko (they look *just* like that gecko in the insurance ads!), and a walking stick bug (which immediately made me think of David Hyde Pierce's character in "A Bug's Life").

Being a total science nerd, my favourite exhibit was the one detailing the inner-workings of volcanos and earthquakes, all the way from plate tectonics and subduction to disaster response and personal preparedness for a volcanic eruption here in Auckland. There is even one exhibit that simulates what it would be like to be living in a home in Auckland when a volcano spontaneously erupted, complete with video, a jerking floor, and impact boom... scary! I had a fascination for volcanos and earthquakes as a child, but I never recall thinking that New Zealand was part of an active network of volcanos.

Time was running short, so I had barely half an hour to explore the final floor of the museum detailing New Zealand and warfare. Perhaps this was a good thing, because spending hours looking at sobering war memorials - while important, and "lest we forget" - isn't something that will put anyone in a good mood. With all the unique and interesting exhibits I had seen so far, including everything from touch-screens to live animals to mounted skeletons to an Egyptian mummy, I was starting to think nothing else could surprise... which was when I rounded the corner and found myself a room with a Japanese "Zero" plane within it (commonly flown on kamikaze missions toward the end of WWII). I can't even imagine how they got it into the building, let alone up to the 2nd floor (flew it there, ha ha), but it was stunning.

I didn't have time to peruse the Holocaust exhibit (likely a good thing), for the museum closed at 5pm. To signal its closure, "Last Post" was played over the PA, followed by two long chimes. I felt like Remembrance Day had somehow snuck up on me. Yet as I left the museum and walked back down through the Dominion back toward the CBD of Auckland, I saw cherry trees in bloom; a symbol of peace, and a surreal reminder that I am in the southern hemisphere, and spring is quite literally in the air.



  1. I would have loved to see that 90s room. I also agree with you that while I never had the Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys poster, I'd still be a little nostalgic. Isn't it funny when you realize you're a part of history?
    If I ever got to New Zealand, I think I will definitely check out this museum.

  2. I think the only time I have seriously thought I was part of history was when I realised had an iPod back in 2002, when no one knew what they were. But come to think of it, we can also likely call ourselves the last generation to go through elementary school without the internet...