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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967

By C.G. HUNT. HON. CURATOR.

After thirty years of effort those interested at last established a Museum in Hamilton. In 1940 an enthusiastic Museum supporter, the late Mrs Allen Bell, bought the old Money Order office in Victoria St. and gifted it to the City as the nucleus of a Museum and Art Gallery. Little progress could be made during the war years but, after the cessation of hostilities, this building was turned into an Art Gallery. Since then repeated approaches have been made to successive Councils with very slow progress though at one stage the Waikato Historical Society got as far as submitting plans for a £45,000 museum to be built on part of Seddon Park. However, a change in the personnel of the Council caused this scheme to be shelved.

Many early supporters have died and, though some of them bequeathed exhibits which have been stored in several wooden buildings, others bequeathed historical relics to other museums. About six years ago it was decided to amalgamate the efforts of all the interested bodies and the Waikato Museum Society came into being with the purpose of presenting unified proposals to the Council which was persuaded to agree in principle to the need of a modern Museum and Art Gallery for the City and has gone as far as purchasing the necessary land adjacent to the present Art Gallery. But Hamilton has had to face up to some major projects involving large sums of money in the last few years and there seemed little likelihood of the new building being erected before 1970.

Last year the Waikato Winter Show Association sold its property in the heart of Hamilton to the Council which agreed to set aside half the top floor of the William Paul Hall, (concrete), as the nucleus of a Museum. With voluntary labour and much assistance from business firms and the Waikato Winter Show Assn. the old display stalls were dismantled and the 5,000 sq. ft, available was subdivided into an office, a lecture room, a store room, a display area and a small kitchenette. Showcases were the next problem but some were donated, some were bought and some were made by voluntary helpers from donated material.

By opening day on December 12th l965, 50 glass-fronted cases had been prepared but these were soon filled by a steady stream of exhibits all of which have been donated. This flow of exhibits has kept up to the present time and already the storeroom is filled to capacity. Also some 700 reference books have been donated to the library. With display and storage capacity taxed to the limit and exhibits still coming in it is obvious that further space is immediately necessary. With this in mind the Museum Society has asked for the remaining 6,000 sq. ft, of space on the top floor of the same hall and there is every hope that this will be granted.

With the demolition of the older buildings on the Winter Show property planned in the next few months it is imperative for the Council to find storage for the many exhibits which have been gifted to the City over the years and stored in the Winter Show Buildings. These include 80 hunting trophy heads, a case of Polynesian artifacts, a case of kauri gum, several cases of stuffed birds, a 30 ft. Maori canoe and sundry other items. The development of the additional museum facilities will cost money but the Waikato Museum Society is not asking the Council to bear the full burden. As a money raising effort a spectacular and unusual Wild Life Display is being organised in the Bledisloe Hall during the first week in August. The Hamilton East Lions Club is sponsoring this scheme and it is anticipated that £500 to £800 will be raised.

The fact that over 9,000 exhibits have been donated in a little over six months is a sure sign that there was a great need for a Museum in the City. Moreover, the Waikato Museum Society has been able to provide a home for many organisations that were renting temporary meeting rooms and storage. Affiliated to the Society are numerous other Waikato Societies, namely the Historical, the Numimatic, the Philatelic[,] the Tramping Club, the Junior Naturalists Club, the Geological, the Tomo Group, the Archaeological Group and the Underwater Fishing Club. All these organisations hold their monthly meetings in the Museum premises, and have been provided with storage space and have use of the reference library. The future progress of the Museum seems assured but there is much hard work and expense involved before we can say that we have a Museum worthy of this growing city. It is a matter for congratulation that a Junior Naturalists Society has been formed with the object of training the younger, generation to "take over" in the years to come.

I hope that at some future time your Ohinemuri Historical Societies will pay us a visit, when I shall be happy to show you round.