Diary of an intern – Ruth Vaega 

Philip Howe, Ruth Vaega and Davina Davis

Ruth Vaega did a three month internship at South Canterbury Museum and finished up in August 2010.   


Week one

Everyone was very welcoming, especially my mentor and lunch-time walking partner Davina. I attended a meeting for all museum employees and volunteers where all present were updated with current museum statistics and the success of their latest exhibition. Museum Director Philip Howe called for ideas from everyone for the museum's next exhibition.

The printing of a book, Feeling for Daylight, about early photographer Jack Adamson, was also discussed with author Rhian Gallagher, and museum archivist, Tony Rippon, present. How could anyone not feel part of this team, especially with the delicious catered lunch that followed? On the work front, I have spent the week navigating my way 'imaginatively', through Past Perfect, and am determined to become as confident with this programme as I am in preparing boxes and delicate objects for storage.

Week two

Week two began with flood weather warnings, and as Philip Howe is the local emergency defence co-ordinator, he was fully occupied with media updates. I have added the microfilm, and Past Papers programmes to my repertoire and operated both well when researching Arowhenua Māori information (years 1864–1900) from the Timaru Herald for the museum's updated exhibition. Combining research work with front desk duties has given me a good grounding in dealing with the larger ‘Timaruvian’ public.

Week three

Continuing on research and processing objects that were photographed on Friday. Once photos were attached in Past Perfect, the objects (souvenir memorabilia from Timaru) were then packed by me and another intern from Macau. A field trip to the Taniwha cave drawings near Pleasant Point with St Joseph's School was very interesting, and the sunshine on my face was very welcome.

Dressing and undressing mannequins, photographing them, entering the collection details in Past Perfect and then packing everything away in archival tissue has enabled me to carry out the entire data entry system in the museum – all has been revealed.

Week four

I've finished all the Māori research for the revitalised exhibit, and am halfway through researching the first European runholders to Canterbury of Rhodes and Acland ilk ... I will also set up maps I have located to be photographed this coming week. These are large, very fragile ink and watercolour and live in an unwelcoming 12 degrees, but are a required part of the eventual display.

Week five

My research continues and on the weekend I had contact with volunteer genealogists and learnt to use yet another search method to find forefathers and mothers of early Canterbury. I have broken the back of the map photography and found a way to photograph many elderly, outsized, fragile, rolled maps. Pete (partner) visited fortuitously with Photoshop, giving his time freely to this project. Anytime I find a spare moment, in the basement there awaits the wonderful challenge of packing away an irregularly-shaped metal toy collection.

Week six

Halfway there and we're running behind schedule for the coming exhibition deadline, so we're having to move more swiftly with the research, map photography, and mount-making. I have been asked to make the odd map before I started this internship and really enjoy using the same tools to draught them: fine lead pencil, black pen and water colours – thoroughly satisfying!

Week seven

I love the problem-solving opportunities that mounting an exhibition presents, and have been observing mount-making and the joys of shrink wrap wire. I have designed a hand-drawn game of Snakes and Ladders, or in our case, 'Taniwhas and Arawhatas', to interest children in the renovated exhibition – it has been put onto disc so that when one game surface becomes worn, it is easy matter of printing another to replace it. 'Taniwhas and Arawhatas'A wall panel design highlighting Canterbury runholders is on next week's agenda. This will incorporate my research, map-making and photography. There is also a display case awaiting my ideas for mount-making and object presentation, so I have plenty of work set as my mentor will be away during these school holidays.




Week eight

Completing my 5th map for the exhibition and will research text on Canterbury runholders to incorporate into the design. I have a list of tasks to complete this week and to add variety, I have a collection of objects from a Timaru hotel to accession into the museum from start to finish (generate accession number, apply to objects, photograph, enter into Past Perfect, then package and put in the basement for storage). This will be a good test for total recall. I also have a few mounts to design for an exhibition case – whale bone items, so I will attempt to make the most of these rather monochromatic objects.

Week nine

Only 3 weeks left and the pressure's on to get all the research and visual material together, planning what to put where, and designing ’invisible mounts’ to put behind exhibition case objects. It's a big mission to plan for an exhibit that will be on display for the next 10 years, so I've been very thorough with the proofreading – bad copy would not be something I would like to live with for that long!

Week ten

This 10th week I am fast becoming an expert on pit and cross-cut saws – not a great call for such knowledge, but essential for describing tree-felling techniques to meet the demands of early Cantabrians. In-depth research of early pioneers will be a priority this week, and I will write a newspaper report on James MacKenzie – an erroneously maligned figure (my conclusion) – a loner, in the wrong place at the wrong time, the wrong race (not English), wrong religion (not Anglican), wrong language (he spoke Gaelic), wrong class (not gentry), and generally not the type of chap that early runholders wanted for a neighbour ... colonial snobbery rears its ugly head again!

Week eleven

This has been a week of continued research in readiness for Davina's return from the Chatham Islands – she is helping set up their museum there. I am reviewing information on every Canterbury pioneer from the 1860s to find out what they ended up becoming in this new land. It’s been no surprise to learn that the plight of the uneducated labourer gave little room for them becoming anything else (initially). We have had a farewell for Rachel (the other intern, from Macau) and me, this Friday last. Philip suggests staff pretend that I'm not here so I don't draw attention to my presence because I don't officially leave until next week!!

Week twelve

After embedding myself in new surroundings, I often experience nostalgia, much like the feelings I have now as it nears my leaving date. Davina has given me time to take patterns for mannequin models that I intend making for a Westport Railway Preservation Society exhibition. I have taken notes from the many books on dressing models and modelling techniques and my experimental life-sized head made out of PE material was effective but looked decidedly Polynesian ... this resemblance diminished after I covered it.



Image credits:

1: Philip Howe, Ruth Vaega and Davina Davis
2: 'Taniwhas and Arawhatas'