Museum head marks 25 years

David Clarke.
David Clarke.
David Clarke has officially shed his reputation as a job flitter.

Twenty-five years ago, the Invercargill-born, University of Otago-educated man successfully applied for the job of director of the Lakes District Museum in Alexandra, having previously turned his hand at, among other things, being a freezing worker, an oil seismic researcher and hospital orderly.

He got the job - a good use of his history degree and building skills - which was a good excuse to exit his struggling landscape gardening business.

Staying in a job for 25 years might not be the norm these days, but he says the area's history has been a big pull.

This included European pioneers William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann making their way into the South Island's interior in 1860, looking for places to farm.

''And then you have one of the world's biggest gold rushes, with thousands of people from all over the world coming here.

"You've still got all their relations coming, trying to trace where they were.

''The gold rush adds a fair bit of pizzazz to a district's history.''

The mantra for his museum work has been: ''The public will forgive you anything except boring them.''

When he started, Arrowtown was thought of as a pretty little town.

Now it's a pretty little town known for its history.

Mr Clarke was instrumental in helping save and restore various buildings, such as Arrowtown's miners' cottages, the town's post office (run by the museum) and postmaster's residence, and Williams Cottage, in Queenstown.

Mr Clarke reckons he has raised between $2 million and $3 million for museum-related and external projects.

During his tenure, the museum has established a gallery space, used for more than 130 exhibitions, a bookshop and information centre, and a top-floor extension housing the archives and boardroom.

The museum has an education officer now, paid for by the Ministry of Education.

Long-serving museum board member Ann Bain says Mr Clarke's contribution over the years has been amazing.

The man himself says he has opened the museum's door about 6500 times and clocked up about 60,000 hours at work.

While he has been a dedicated director, he has had side projects - including two terms as the Queenstown Lakes District Council's Arrowtown ward representative and becoming a planning commissioner.

He has promised his wife, Wendy, he will think about taking another job but his commitment to moving on is shaky.

There seems an appetite for at least one more major project.

''If there was one more thing I could do, it would be a time traveller travelling back to downtown Queenstown in 1863 - although it's probably much the same today: fighting, brawling, drunkenness, vomiting.''

david.williams@odt.co.nz