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Times Are Changing

From Monday 5 August, there will be a new series of objects to compel the viewer’s gaze in Otago Museum’s stairwell cases.

The display has been home to 17 items depicting Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent to the top of the world. The objects, donated by Lady June Hillary, and their children Peter and Sarah, have been on display since the family’s donations were made in 2010. Once taken off display, the objects will go through condition reporting, by Otago Museum’s Conservation Manager Nyssa Mildwaters, as part of our preservation procedure. They will then be carefully packed and kept in our collection stores, awaiting a more permanent display that is being planned. The items will soon be available to view on the Museum website.

The new stairwell display features some rarely seen objects from the Museum’s southern Māori taoka collection. The Museum is the custodian of one of the largest collections of southern Māori taoka (treasures) in the world. This display provides the opportunity to exhibit some of these remarkable objects, as well as to encourage people to explore the collection further, through the online Taoka Digitisation Project portal at

Because the stairwell display is not accessible to all visitors, a digital version of the information has been developed and a touchscreen placed on the ground floor. This enables access to the portal, and includes all information and images of the stairwell taoka. Craig Scott, Head of Exhibitions and Creative Services, said, “We have a continuing commitment to creating an inclusive space that can be enjoyed by everyone in our community, and design that incorporates awareness of disability and physical constraints is a factor in the realisation of a truly accessible environment.”

The Taoka Digitisation Project was made possible with the support of Otago Museum’s Māori Advisory Committee and the Lottery World War One Commemorations Environment and Heritage Committee Fund. It commenced in 2016 with a dedicated team who have assessed the collection, improved its storage and conservation status, updated Museum records, and taken high resolution images of each object for online access.

Robert Morris, Director of Collections, Research and Education believes the project has brought many benefits beyond the online presence of one of the finest collections of its type in the world. “I would like to acknowledge the work of Anne Harlow, Fiona Glasgow, Jamie Wasilchenko, Nyssa Mildwaters, Lisa Yeats, Isobel Andrewartha, Andrew Charlton and all the volunteers who contributed to the project. Not only do we now have an important resource for our communities, the project has also allowed us to conservation assess each item, ensure storage is up to standard, and augment the information supporting each taoka. The project has also allowed us to work directly with source communities and their input has been invaluable.”

Now, almost 22 000 items from the collection have been digitised, and some 15 000 of these are available online.

Jamie Metzger, Assistant Curator, Māori, said “Digitisation initiatives have become a necessary part of the Museum’s role to be accessible beyond its four walls. This project has created unprecedented access to the Kāi Tahu Collection, and formed exiting new pathways for interaction and connection.”

The project team envisages that the online portal will be a valuable tool for researchers, iwi, and the community, and they are excited to offer visitors a snapshot of this incredible resource in the updated stairwell display.