The 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake was such a significant event for the region, and the country, it’s important that the story is well represented at the museum. A review of the current gallery is underway and may well lead to a number of changes at some point in the future. Questions we’re asking include: are Maori stories told throughout the gallery, does the display represent the story of the entire Hawke’s Bay region or is it too narrow in its focus, how do we include information on the science of earthquakes, what information do we provide on how to prepare for and respond to an earthquake and so on.
To date we’ve only made small changes to the gallery. We’ve raised the lighting levels in response to feedback from visitors who found this gallery too dark. Of course light levels are complex within museums as we need to protect our objects. In this case we were able to safely raise the light levels, while still maintaining a sombre mood in keeping with the subject matter.
The other change was the conversion of the Annex Gallery to a small theatre. This enables the Survivors’ Stories film to be shown on a continuous loop, so it’s always available to view in conjunction with the gallery. There’s been a significant amount of positive public feedback on this. Many visitors note the film as one of the highlights of their visit alongside the First World War gallery, Lalique exhibition and Nigel Brown.
The most recent change is the installation of a mere pounamu on loan from Auckland Museum. Unfortunately, information about the original owner and maker of the mere is unknown, but we do know that it’s a survivor of the 1931 earthquake. The mere had been placed by its owner, Emily Brabant, in storage at the Napier Bank of New Zealand for safekeeping. The fires that swept through the city following the earthquake caused the colour of the mere to change to a pale milky green and destroyed the tag with provenance information that was attached to its handle.
We do know is that the mere was one of three gifted by unknown Rangatira (Chiefs) to Māori Land Court Judge Herbert Brabant around 1900. Brabant gave one mere to each of his three daughters, Catherine, Rosetta (Rose) and Emily. Auckland Museum records note that “following a celebrated land case, the Māori Chiefs concerned presented Judge Brabant with three mere, one for each of his daughters.”
We’ll continue our work on reviewing the 1931 Earthquake gallery and make further changes as budget, resources and timing allows. As always, we welcome feedback, ideas and thoughts from the community along the way.
Mere pounamu, collection of Auckland War Memorial Tamaki Paenga Hira 
Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 14 May 2016