Where were you when the Queen came to town?
For many, Queen Elizabeth’s 1954 tour of New Zealand was the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s estimated that three quarters of all New Zealanders caught a glimpse of her in one town or another.
Manawatu was no exception, as Her Majesty’s train arrived in what is now The Square.
“The bigger part of Palmerston North turned out,” recalls Merlyn Sisson. “We had a flat in George Street, so we just went around the corner. The train pulled up right there.”
It’s almost lunchtime at Masonic Court Retirement Community, and Te Manawa’s “Museum in a Box” project is jogging memories and starting discussions.
Museum in a Box is the brainchild of Te Manawa’s Pru Pim. You’ll usually find her at the front desk of the museum or Art Gallery, but once a week she packs up a themed group of objects from the museum’s collection and heads out to bring history to the housebound.
“I have a script but I encourage them to talk to me,” Pru says. “They lived those times and I want to give them a chance to reminisce on days gone by.”
The next item is the famous photograph of the “three queens”, veiled and dressed in black after the death of King George VI. New Zealand had some emotional distance from a grief-stricken England.
“Everybody was sad but we didn’t go into mourning or anything,” remembers Lyn Braithwaite.
Inevitably the discussion heads toward Queen Elizabeth’s longevity and a debate over whether her son or grandson should succeed her. The split between Charles and William is about 50/50.
Merlyn’s not sure either of them will get a look in. “It just seems like she’s going to go on forever. She doesn’t seem to get any older.”
In a way the objects selected for Museum in a Box are timeless too. Together they represent moments in the cross-section of history. Pru works with collections manager Cindy Lilburn to create each Box, and a lot of effort goes into considering what makes the cut.
The first Box was about ladies’ hair-care. Although she presented it to an audience of just six, Pru knew she had a hit on her hands when she heard, a week later, that people were still talking about “that lady from the museum.” Now her schedule is fully booked.
When she takes the museum on the road each Thursday, “I never know what I’m going to get,” Pru says.
“To me it’s such a purposeful thing and a part of our museum without walls. I’d do it five days a week if I could!”
[Feature image: Gareth Williams, Blackbird and cycling circa 1870]