Te Papa

Olympics – Track and Film

The Whanganui Regional Museum’s temporary site at 62 Ridgway Street is currently featuring a pop-up exhibition, largely sourced from Te Papa, which celebrates the gold medal feats of Olympic champion Sir Peter Snell. It also reflects on our town’s part in the Snell legend, his world-record run on the grass track of Cooks Gardens in 1962.

2. Peter Snell photo

Peter Snell breaks the tape at the end of the World Record Mile, completed in 3 minutes and 54.40 seconds at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, on 27 January 1962.  Ref: Sp-Ath-017

A feature of the exhibition is a video screen showing footage from both the Rome and Tokyo Games. Like all film from past Olympics, these images are provided under strict license from the International Olympics Committee, a body famous these days as much for its politicking as for its sport. Governance issues aside, the modern IOC has turned itself into a financial juggernaut, with fees for hosting rights only part of a complex and lucrative portfolio of licensing and merchandising deals.

A significant part of that revenue comes from its virtual monopoly over the film and video record of the Olympics extending back to the beginning of the 20th century. The last major move in its campaign to acquire those films came less than 20 years ago and, surprisingly, from a New Zealand source.

The Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956 are remembered for a number of things, perhaps most infamously, the blood-tinted water polo pool when Hungary and the USSR re-enacted the battle which had taken place just days before in the streets of Budapest. A less often remembered aspect was the boycott by international television companies in protest over being required to pay a broadcasting fee, which resulted in very little footage being shot of the events. One company, however, did get cameras into the stadium.

1. Peter Snell trophy

This silver trophy sports the figure of New Zealand’s most famous runner, Peter Snell, depicted at his World Record run. The silver figure is set on a square silver base alongside the brass shell casing from the starting gun that began his world record run. Ref: 2017.27.1

Wellington-based Pacific Films was started in the late 1940s by John O’Shea and Roger Mirams, ambitious and frustrated staff members of the National Film Unit. By the mid-1950s they had managed to establish a sustainable business, largely built on the production of newsreels financed by oil company Caltex. In 1952 the partners decided that there were opportunities for expansion across the ditch and Mirams relocated to Melbourne in pursuit of documentary and drama opportunities. In practice this often meant providing local items for international newsreel companies. Shooting for cinema rather than television (which didn’t start broadcasting in New Zealand for another five years), Mirams and a small Pacific Films crew gained entry to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and other venues to capture many of the important moments, including the gold medal won by New Zealander Norman Read in the 50km road walk.

Roger Mirams’ footage was flown back to New Zealand for Pacific Magazine newsreels and remained in demand internationally for many years because of the shortage of other archival material from Melbourne 1956. Increasingly frustrated by this last hold-out, the International Olympic Committee swooped and purchased the whole collection from John O’Shea following his retirement in 1999, pretty much completing their full house of Olympics films and ending New Zealand’s direct connection with a slice of sporting history.


Frank Stark is the director of the Whanganui Regional Museum.


The selfie stick strikes again

Here’s another article about damage to museum collections, this time from Te Papa Tongarewa.

It is an unfortunate reality that at times, things get damaged.  We do the absolute best we can, of course we do, but sometimes unpreventable events occur.  Visitors with selfie sticks or a slippery shoe; guests with bad intentions and a secreted craft knife or pen; clumsy staff and the forces of nature.  Behind the scenes the same rules apply but occasionally things get bumped, damaged, or accidentally dripped on.

All the Museum sector can do is reassure you all that we take the best care we can of our collection.  When a leak is found, we remove the artifacts under threat and fix the leak before replacing the items into storage.  We try to place things on display where they are out of harms way and are not likely to be hit, bumped, tripped over or on, or otherwise put in danger.  And when something is involved in an incident we remove it, stabilise it, and have a professional asses and repair it.  And, in all, there are very few instances when items are damaged, and even fewer when they are damaged irreparably.

If you are interested in more information on security and care of collections the Canadian Conservation Institute has some excellent information and guidelines.  And if you have something in your own collections that has suffered some damage, check out your local museum or the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials for professional help.

To selfie, or not to selfie

Love them or hate them, selfie sticks are very popular for those who don’t have arms long enough to take a good self portrait with their phone/digital camera.  Rather than take a tripod with you and set up the timer on your camera, the small collapsible sticks are easier to use and transport.  But, they pose a certain danger to Museums and the artworks and artifacts on display.

Several museums around the world have introduced a ban on selfie sticks.  The ban is not a social commentary on the equally loved and loathed sticks that seem to divide popular opinion, but rather a safety mechanism for the collections.  There have been unfortunate cases in the past where visitors with tripods have swung around the photography tool and accidentally ripped artworks or knocked over objects, and the selfie stick is seen by some institutions to offer the same threat and has been banned to try and prevent damage before it happens.

There have been a few notable instances of other damage to museums collection items.  In 2010 a woman accidentally fell into Pablo Picasso’s The Actor; and in 2006 a man tying his shoelaces slipped and smashed three Qing dynasty vases.

In New Zealand, Te Papa has bravely declared they don’t have a problem with the sticks and their visitors are welcome to use them in the spaces where photography is permitted.  As for us, we have a blanket policy of no photography within the galleries, and that includes the sticks.