History of Aotea Utanganui
The Patea Historical Society was established on 31 October 1967. Its inaugural president was Mr G. Livingston Baker, QSM. In early 1973, Mrs Reti (Eva) Kershaw and Mr John Heremaia were approached by Mr Baker, who asked for their help to develop a Māori court section in the new museum they were planning to build at the corner of Egmont and Bedford Streets. The two elders consulted their people and it was agreed. Tragically and suddenly, Mrs Kershaw died the day before work was to have started on it. The people, under the tuition of the Reverend Napi Waaka, saw it fitting to dedicate this court as a memorial to her. After one year of dedicated planning and work, the Hon Matiu Rata, Minister of Māori Affairs, opened the Patea Museum, Aotea Utanganui, in April 1974.
Image: Hon Matiu Rata, Minister of Māori Affairs, opening the Patea Museum now Aotea Utanganui, in April 1974.
In 1976, an additional building was erected to house the growing collection of farm and other machinery. In 1981, which was centenary of the Patea Borough, the Council offered to gift the Patea Historical Society the land on which the Museum now stands. By 1982, the Museum had outgrown its existing building, which was relocated to its present site and extended with the help of the Patea Lions Club and local volunteers providing additional space for exhibits, collection storage, archives and a workshop. The Museum was re-opened by the Hon. Venn Young, MP for Waitōtara, on 28 April 1984. Since that time, the collection has continued to grow as a result of public gifts and loans.
Founders of the Museum: Mr G. Livingston Baker, QSM, Mr John Heremaia, and Mrs Reti (Eva) Kershaw.
In July 1993, the Patea Historical Society approached the South Taranaki District Council requesting that the Council assume the operation of the Museum as a district facility. Thus began the gradually increasing involvement of the Council. In 1994, Mr David Butts from the Museum Studies Unit of Massey University was commissioned to assess the Museum and make recommendations for its future development. His report strongly recommended that the Council fully fund the Museum. In 1998, the Patea Historical Society gifted the Museum and its collection to the newly formed South Taranaki District Museum Trust.
By January 1999, the new Museum Trust, was asked to prepare a development plan and policy for the future of the Museum so that the Council could make an informed decision about its own role in the Museum’s future. The report was received by the Council and at a special meeting held on 30 May 2001, the Council agreed to support the Museum Trust with an annual grant, which would be reviewed at three-yearly intervals. After some time, the inadequacies of the Museum building were becoming apparent, especially as its roof was beginning to fail.
In 2002, the Council began a process of consultation to ascertain the issues facing its many small communities. This uncovered a desire by the people of South Taranaki to be involved in more cultural pursuits and to acknowledge the heritage and stories of their place. These are captured in the Cultural Community Outcomes that were adopted by the Council in 2004. The Council also decided to develop an Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy to determine how it might best respond to the needs of its community in these areas.
As the Council already had an existing relationship with the Museum, included in the research undertaken to develop the policy was an evaluation of that organisation. As part of this, the Council commissioned an architect to assess the viability of the Museum building for its purpose. He recommended that a new and simpler roof be built over the existing one before the building could be considered as suitable to store and display artefacts.
The Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy, which was adopted by the Council on 31 May 2006, provided for the development of a formal partnership between the Council and the Museum Trust so both organisations can work together to provide heritage services throughout the district. An annual operational grant was used for this purpose has also been included in the Council’s Long Term Plan. The policy also allowed for the Trust to access funding from the District Community Projects Reserve for the purpose of upgrading the Museum building to make it suitable for housing its archives and collection and hosting visiting exhibitions.
With this seeding support made available from the Council, the South Taranaki District Museum Trust was able to move forward with its plans to redevelop and upgrade its building. Over the course of 2007 and through to 2009, the Trust raised $900,000.00 along with a loan of $100,000 to complete stage one of the building redevelopment project. The new building is architecturally beautiful as well as practical, providing environmentally-stable storage for the collection. There is also a dedicated reading and research room, an education space and two large exhibition spaces. One of these exhibition spaces will be dedicated to a long-term exhibition and the other, smaller, space will be a changing exhibition space.
Re-Opening in 2011
With much anticipation, Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki re-opened on Saturday 30 April 2011. The official celebration comprised a powhiri and speeches by kaumatua representing local iwi and our manuhiri (guests). David Crompton, the Chairperson of the South Taranaki District Museum Trust and the Mayor of South Taranaki, His Worship Ross Dunlop also spoke. After a karakia from Syd Kershaw, the ribbon was cut by Mayor Dunlop and puhi, Hinetawhirangi Kershaw. Jenny Kershaw, the mother of our puhi, had performed a similar function when the original museum opened in 1974. Visitor reaction was very positive with visitor comments including “awesome“, “amazing” and “much better than we expected“.