Reopening of Toitu like celebrating generations

Visitors to  Toitu Otago Settlers Museum enjoy the museum's new brightly lit Josephine foyer, at...
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.

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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 Animation Research.

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 exploration.

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 tobacco.

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 overlooked.

This is a place the young will enjoy exploring as much as the old.


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