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Te Papa

Issue date: 
Friday, 13 February 1998
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Prime Minister and Mr Shipley, Mr Bolger and Mrs Bolger, Te Arikinui, Dame Te Ata-i-Rangi-kaahu and Mr Mahuika, Ministers, Mayors, Your Excellencies, our co-hosts, Sir Ronald and Lady Trotter, ladies and gentlemen, our guests one and all.

Nga hau e wha, nga iwi e tau nei, tena koutou katoa.

As I am to have no part in the events of tomorrow, I am particularly grateful for the twofold opportunity this evening gives. First, it is an opportunity to share with you, who have come from all around the country, this national celebration.

And secondly, it is an opportunity to express gratitude to, and admiration of, all those whose vision, energy, generosity, dedication and professional skills have brought us to this day, the eve of the long-awaited opening of the doors of The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. In expressing that gratitude and admiration, I know that I speak not only for myself, but also, as Governor-General, for all New Zealanders. If some of them have had their doubts, those doubts will surely be put to rest as soon as they come here.

Of course, not all who made this great enterprise possible are with us tonight C I think particularly of the Honourable Alan Highet, an early visionary, and of Sir Wallace Rowling, an enthusiastic and tireless worker, who first brought the vision towards reality. And there are, and have been, many others.

From the moment of its conception, New Zealanders have realised that this Museum was to be our generation's most monumental statement; that by it, future generations would judge our aesthetic and cultural values, our sense of history's continuity, our belief in ourselves, in our nation, in our very identity as a people.

And so, while we are not normally a passionate people, this enterprise has stirred emotions rarely felt off the sports field: enthusiastic praise and biting criticism, deep anxiety and even utter outrage. So much has been spoken and written, for and against the design, the location, the contents, the logo, the name and all else, that there can be very little left to add

I wish I'd been able to go away and recast these lines, to reflect the overwhelming experience [of the museum, but] I found inspiration for what I might say, in words Ogden Nash wrote for a recording of Saint-Sans' Carnival of the Animals:

At midnight in the museum hall,
The fossils gathered for a ball.
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones
Amid the mastodonic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
"Cheer up, sad world," he said, and winked,
"It's kind of fun to be extinct." 

Spooky places, museums. Dust and bones and glass cases with strange objects and faded, indecipherable labels. But wonderful places to hide and to spy, as you'll know if you've read Umberto Eco.

Once, people were content to go to such places, merely to go, to gaze upon ancient things, and to wonder at antiquity and mortality: dust to dust. But times have changed. Antiquity and mortality are still with us C thank goodness C but we want to see more, we are entitled to know and to experience more. Jonathon Miller realised this after he opened his Theatre Museum in London, but failed to draw in the crowds. Attitudes to museums have changed, he said later: "If we had Marilyn Monroe's knickers or Laurence Olivier's jockstrap, they would flock to it."

I don't know whether Te Papa has those particular items, or indeed, any local equivalent, but certainly there is a wonderful experience awaiting all who come to Te Papa. In both the broad sweep of its concept and the minutiae of the exhibits, the sheer magnitude of the accomplishment is astounding. It has required high skill, clarity of vision, and no little valour. To satisfy, as best as one conscientiously can, all demands and all expectations, requires a remarkable sense of balance: I am confident that Cheryll Sotheran and her team have struck the right balance. It cannot have been easy.

On the one hand, a museum is essentially a record: a record of time and history, of people and events, of customs and cultures. No museum can hope to show everything, as if it were an encyclopaedia. And so the focus here is, rightly, on New Zealand; on where this land came from, where its peoples came from, what they found when they arrived here, what they have been doing since they have been here, and where they might be going.

But a museum must be more than a mere passive record. It must be a place that stimulates the mind and excites the imagination. This is such a place. The brilliance of the design and technology that is all around us must surely create a lasting impression on all who come here. Their visits will be vital, unforgettable experiences, engaging not just the senses, but also the mind and the spirit. Here, even being extinct will be fun.

Surely, now, all fears and forebodings will be dispelled. For instance, Te Papa certainly reminds us that cultural diversity is at the heart of our identity. So it must. The culture of the first settlers has been given the prominence due to it, and not frozen in time, as some might think of it, but under the master hand of Cliff Whiting, displayed with a superb blend of antiquity and modernity in materials and methods: it takes its place in the overall balance. And art lovers can be assured that our national collection is not going to disappear from view, but rather, will be seen in new ways and often to greater effect, and in some very stimulating contexts.

Entertainment and education, fantasy and solid research, a virtual C or rather, an actual C kaleidoscope of exhibits, exhibitions and features, all come together to make Te Papa-Our Place a truly stunning achievement.

New Zealanders can be proud of this achievement.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is one traditional gesture which enables us to say thank you to all who have contributed to this momentous event, and at the same time to wish good fortune and great success to all that is undertaken here. I invite you to charge your glasses, and join with me in a toast: a toast to The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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