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Secrets at the Museum

16/08/2016

A framed photograph on display at Taupō Museum shows a Māori woman standing in front of the town’s first post office circa 1910. In the Tūwharetoa gallery is an old whalebone kotiate with a faded fabric handwritten note.


Stories of these precious treasures and many others were a mystery to Bernise Williams, but she would soon discover a deep personal connection after taking on the role as the Museum’s Collection Curator Māori.

Bernise arrived at the museum three years ago. She already had a Bachelor in Māori Visual Arts, but to support her new role, she went on to complete a ServiceIQ New Zealand Certificate in Museum Practice and attended workshops arranged by National Services Te Paerangi. The combined training has given her the skills her job demands, including a knowledge of conservation, plus extensive detective work.

“It was necessary for my role and gave me a good understanding of how museums work. You can do it on the job, and by taking part in the workshops you can ask questions and find out a lot from people in the museum sector,” says Bernise. “I was able to choose unit standards and gain relevant skills that related closely to what I would be working on during the year.”

Bernise takes care of the museum’s collection and Taonga Māori. She accessions and catalogues artefacts, but a lot of her work involves researching.

“I love finding out the provenance of artefacts, and tracking down the families of the people who gave things to the museum,” says Bernise. “I get huge satisfaction from sorting and putting things in the right place.”

In the course of her work, there have been surprising and emotional moments when Bernise has caught a brilliant glimpse of her own family history.

Born in Taupō, Bernise belongs to the region’s Ngāti Tūwharetoa iwi. Her mother and father also grew up here.

“I was always drawn to the photo on the wall of the old post office, and while I was researching a work project I discovered that the woman in the picture was my great, great, great grandmother Te Whata Reweti born circa 1849. That was really awesome,” says Bernise.

Bernise Williams

“I had been to the museum years ago, saw the kotiate and immediately identified with the Tupuna names written on the cotton cloth which accompanied it. I heard these names over and over from my nannies when I was growing up.

“I’ve come across some very interesting things about my whanau in our collection of historic photographs, newspaper articles etc.

“I’m humbled because these things are part of my whakapapa and I feel privileged to be able to help care for them,” says Bernise.

“I’m not here to find out about my family, but sometimes they just jump out at me when I’m researching other things. It’s like a confirmation that I am heading in the right direction.”

ServiceIQ’s New Zealand Certificate in Museum Practice (Level 4) qualification is specially designed to help curators, conservators, collections managers and archivists gain a solid appreciation of the roles and responsibilities it takes to care for collections and create exhibitions that enrich, educate and entertain visitors. This popular programme leads to a nationally recognised qualification and is easily delivered on the job, at a pace that works for the business.