History in the Making

Warkworth Museum, like all museums can display only a small percentage of the prized possessions that benefactors have gifted for future generations to enjoy and to learn from. The many visitors to the museum, who enjoy the varied displays, would be unaware of the constant activity behind the scenes which is necessary to preserve and care for these treasures.

The Museum’s collection has been acknowledged as a “regional collection of significance” and includes clothing, artefacts, photos and documents. Combined, these three collections number well over 20,000 items, all of which need to be cared for properly to ensure that they can continue to tell their stories to future generations. 

Donations come in all shapes and sizes, and arrive in a variety of ways from deceased estates to folks just downsizing. Recently an incredible antique silk wedding dress was handed in to the Hospice shop, in a plastic bag! While 40 original blueprints for the Warkworth cement works, stored in a metal tube were handed in by a man who had worked for Portland Cement Company in Whangarei. 

Preventative conservation is undertaken daily to care for the collections and to minimise any deterioration in them and the army of museum volunteers are never short of work. Pest control is an ongoing task and as well as routinely checking existing items, new ones are checked for pests before they are displayed or stored. 

In 2016, there was a mass undertaking to eradicate borer from items in the collection. Based on recommendations from Te Papa, who regularly offer advice and ongoing support, and with funding from Auckland council, items were wrapped in calico to prevent condensation (and therefore cracking), then wrapped in plastic and moved into a refrigerated container. This was lowered to minus 20 degrees celsius for seven days, thawed slowly and then repeated to kill off any surviving borer and prevent eggs from hatching.

Volunteers working within the vast textiles department ensure that, if not on display, items are wrapped in acid free paper and placed in acid free boxes. Photographs are stored in acid free envelopes, reducing the possibility of light damage and discolouration. Recently a suitcase of letters was left at reception and so the Museum is utilising the support of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s paper conservator, Vicky-Anne Heikell, to offer advice on their protection and storage.

But things are not merely stored, they are researched and the stories behind them are revealed, recorded, shared and enjoyed. After all, their previous owners enjoyed full lives and their stories deserve not to be forgotten. The lives and achievements of a large number of past residents of the Warkworth district are very well known by the people behind the scenes because of the treasures that they left behind or the pictures that recorded their daily activities and special occasions. In addition, there is a wealth of letters, diaries and other documents, both personal and business related.

The museum recognises the significance of having older members of the community still able to personally share their experiences and so they record oral histories where possible and encourage people to come forward if they have stories to share.  

The Museum welcomes visits from schools and tailor their experience to meet the students’ motivations for coming along. Students have been able to experience butter-making, wash-day and used the printing press that was another treasured donation. 

Also, the ‘Tea and Talks’ mornings have become popular with those wishing for more in depth stories on our local heritage.  

Rarely do people feel that they have done all they can do. Fresh ideas for new displays are constantly being sought and thoughts about how to share treasures are discussed frequently, both in-house and with other local museums, ensuring that people never tire of visiting the museum.

Parry Kauri Park, Tudor Collins Drive, Warkworth


Susannah Marshall