Visitors to Toitu Otago Settlers Museum enjoy the museum's new brightly lit Josephine foyer, at the north end of the complex. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Our ancestors must have looked down with pride on the
reopening of Toitu Otago Settlers Museum yesterday. It felt
like a celebration of Dunedin's past, present and future.
A majestic pounamu greets visitors at the entrance. It
insists on being rubbed and will, in time, be worn by hand
like a Stone Age visitors' book. It also heralds the
interactive nature of the refurbished museum. Several
footsteps in the door and you are enveloped in a mesmerising
audio-visual presentation created by Dunedin film pioneer
The presentation sets the stage for an experience that feels
like entering a living organism which has observed, and
continues to mirror, our lives.
A highlight is a ship's cabin, complete with bunks, drying
washing, swinging lantern and sound effects, which offers an
insight into what pioneers endured to make a new home in
Dunedin, while an 1848 wattle-and-daub cottage also invites
There is the macabre, such as the 1838 surgical kit of
Dunedin's first doctor, Joseph Crocombe, while a contender
for the most bizarre exhibit is a bejeweled ram's head on
casters, which served as a mobile snuff mill for powdered
Much of the old museum remains in the new. The Art Deco
railway departure lounge still echoes with old ghosts and
familiar faces like Waikouaiti whaling boat Maori Girl, and
Josephine the steam engine still hold sway.
The traditional portrait gallery now features huge
touchscreens, which enlarge images and reveal information at
the touch of a finger.
The interactive theme continues with the adjacent costume
gallery, which allows visitors to try on 1850s garb and see
how they would brush up as a Dunedin pioneer.
An Otago Witness printing press is accompanied by copies of
the first edition, on February 8, 1851.
Iconic Dunedin-ana includes the Tiger Tea trolley bus and
Barton's Butchery's neon pig sign, while a Dunedin Sound
section features 1980s music videos and the equipment which
created it, including guitars, amplifiers and a four-track
recorder used by artists of the era.
Even Dunedin's long-running children's television programme,
Play School, gets a nod with a display which includes a
beheaded Little Ted ''following a tragic accident after the
final episode in 1989''.
The success of the new museum is that there does not appear
to be a part of Dunedin history or culture which has been
This is a place the young will enjoy exploring as much as the