It’s an overcast Sunday, the beginning of the school holidays, when we meet on the steps of Auckland War Memorial Museum, and any thoughts that the blustery weather might serve to deter the crowds are quickly diminished.
There’s a real buzz around the building as tourists and families throng the forecourt. Waiting there on the grand steps, I am privy to snatches of excited conversation between those coming and going. Of them all, I am most intrigued by a young father who peels off to stand quietly at the stone cenotaph before re-joining his family. “Had to pay my respects,” he explains, as the group wanders towards the entrance.
Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira – is first and foremost a living shrine, built to remember the fallen from WWI, and its roots as a war memorial are not forgotten by the people who visit it, or by those who oversee its ongoing development. However as the museum continues to adapt and reflect its cultural heritage, so too does the building, and the collections housed within.
Auckland War Memorial Museum was opened in 1929 at a time when nearly a third of the more than 18,000 New Zealanders who died in WW1 remained missing – presumed dead – or were buried in overseas graves. It was eventually proposed that the Auckland War Memorial Museum was the best way to honour those lives, but before that was achieved, the future of the facility was already being shaped by a quiet conflict between the provinces.
The Auckland Institute had long been planning a new museum on Te Wherowhero’s Pukekawa (Hill of Sorrows) for the Auckland Museum’s burgeoning collection which was on its third relocation, having already outgrown its recently built-to-purpose home. The Government of the day gifted £25,000 to the cause – and a furore broke out when the capital’s Dominion newspaper got wind of the story.