Heritage Rescue gets investigative in new season

by Fiona Rae / 25 August, 2017

Heritage Rescue, Saturday.

Archaeologist Brigid Gallagher is relishing the chance to investigate stories from our past. 

There’s a sighting of something rare this week, something we don’t often see on New Zealand television: history stories are being told in the new season of Heritage Rescue (Choice TV, Saturday, August 26, 7.30pm).

Archaeologist Brigid Gallagher and a team swoop in for five days of intensive therapy on small, ailing museums.

Some of them may have begun as an obsession, whereas others act as a depository for artefacts that tell the story of a town or surrounding area. Museums “can take many, many forms and many, many guises”, says Gallagher. There are about 600 in New Zealand, but as they are usually run by volunteers, they can struggle with the demands of display and narrative.

“Museums, or any collection that has been put into an old schoolhouse or community hall, only have meaning if they’re relevant to someone,” says Gallagher. “You’ve got to be able to say to people, ‘This is important.’”

Quite often, museums may not understand the importance of what they’ve got, or how to display their objects effectively. Volunteers lack time. “Materials may have been brought there for the past 100 years and nobody’s had a chance to go through them.”

In one episode, for example, a document discovered in a shopping bag behind a door is found to be a medieval parchment from about 1620. The same museum, in Eketahuna, yielded rare paintings.

This season, the show has expanded its brief beyond building new display cases and information panels. “We’ve tried to become more investigative,” says Gallagher, “to find places with stories that are misunderstood or haven’t been told well in the past.”

The first episode tells the story of the mass shooting of Japanese prisoners of war being held at a camp in Featherston in 1943, an incident that was hushed up for 30 years. There are also episodes about Polish refugee children who came to New Zealand after World War II, and the Waihi gold miners’ strike in 1912.

Gallagher, who was an expert on the British series Time Team for seven years and lead conservator at the world’s largest Neolithic site in Turkey, has relished the chance to hear the stories first-hand.

“In Europe and on Time Team, you’re solely relying on the physical remains that have been left before and also historic records. The joy of doing this programme is being able to go and speak to people who are associated with our history.”

This article was first published in the August 26, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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