The initial Level 4 Covid-19 Lockdown took the entire country by surprise, but as Auckland re-entered a Level 3 situation, the Museum teams were ready for business-not-as-usual. Read about some of the mahi Museum staff did behind closed doors to look after both the collections and each other.

It goes without saying, all Museum staff who could work from home did, and continue to do so. All activity undertaken onsite at the Museum has been in very limited numbers, with masks, and following all appropriate protocol.

Winging it

Winging it

For many staff, being denied access to the objects that define their jobs presents a whole range of new issues. Technology can help with a lot of these problems, but Assistant Curator of Entomology Leilani Walker took a decidedly more analogue approach. Faced with the task of sorting and arranging more than 100 butterfly specimens, Leilani printed out each specimen, cut each one out, and used her dining room table as an understudy for her vision of rearranged butterfly collection drawers. Now, when she returns to the Museum, organising the real butterflies will be quick work.

Star treatment

Star treatment

All objects, big and small, that come into the Museum's collection must first be treated in an anoxic chamber - a sealed environment that gets filled with nitrogen in order to destroy any pests. The Collections Care team has been carrying on over lockdown at Manu Tāiko, the storage facility that is home to more than 30,000 objects. Where two people are required, such as when building crates, the team stayed safe by wearing (great) masks.

Some eagle-eyed Aucklanders may recognise here one of the Museum's recent acquisitions that staff are processing - the neon star from the much-loved and now demolished Mercury Plaza food court. For 25 years the star functioned as a beacon signalling the promise of delicious food, and a petition to save the foodcourt attracted thousands of signatures. Auckland Museum acquired the star, along with a sign from Tony Chan's Chinese Cuisine food stall (the only original stall to remain since the Plaza's opening in 1994), for their roles as part of a place with an intangible sense of community for Auckland's Chinese population, and all others who loved the Asian cuisine served there.

Changing cases

Changing cases

Taking objects out of the safety of their cases is delicate business. The Collections teams have taken advantage of the rare opportunity lockdown has provided to change up what's on display with other objects that can tell stories from a different angle. 

In this photo, members of the Collections and Display teams are placing an Arabic newspaper into a case in our Pou Kanohi: New Zealand at War gallery. The newspaper was sent home as a souvenir by Corporal Len Shaw to his niece during WWI so she could get 'all the news', despite not speaking any Arabic.

A stitch in time

Much of the work our team has been doing has been focused on caring for collections, but some have been focused on caring for their colleagues, too. Here, three Museum staff in particular explain why they sprang into collective action and began sewing masks for their whānau and colleagues.

Redeployment to a new front

While the Museum's doors are closed, many of our front-line team members and volunteers needed work they could do from home. Luckily, there is no shortage of tasks that require a lot of time, and time is something there was now a bit more of. Volunteers are currently working from home transcribing the hundreds of names on this signature tablecloth, which was embroidered by Mrs Emma (Pat) Simmonds and her mother Mrs Ansell during WWII with the names of all the people they knew who were off to war.

Over the first lockdown, several of our Visitor Hosts and some volunteers transcribed names, service numbers, ranks, units, embarkation and other important information to fill in the blanks in the post-WWII service records for Online Cenotaph. They completed an amount of work that would normally have taken years in only a few months. This project helped us identify 14,000 names of people who served for New Zealand.


One of our wonderful Museum Volunteers, Marion Dickinson, has been spending the past few months transcribing a range of archival material for the Online Cenotaph team. Marion has been volunteering at the Museum since 2018 and has volunteered in a number of capacities throughout this time. We asked her a few questions on why she has enjoyed spending countless hours contributing to this national military resource. 


Why do you transcribe for Online Cenotaph?

I’ve always enjoyed history, particularly the human side of it. I’m not really interested in military tactics or weapons other than in relation to their effects.  I enjoy reading fiction written by people who have a deep knowledge of the military but can add human side, for example, Bernard Cornwell, C. S. Forester.

I have done a lot of family history research for myself over the last 40+ years, I really appreciate the ease with which records can now be accessed. [Pre-internet] it was very time consuming and frustrating to go through the microfilms of the London censuses looking; the release of the first indexed census allowed me to find ancestors all over the UK.

I don’t come from a family with a strong military background but having had family who fought in both the First and Second World Wars. It is fascinating looking at an individual's records and the amount of information recorded.

I found the Second War War names and addresses listed in the Auckland Provincial Roll of Honour  interesting as it gave an idea of the places service people came from. While the First World War Roll seems to indicate there were many more new arrivals to New Zealand than I noticed in the later volumes, judging by next of kin addresses.

The tablecloth project? Will I regret it? I’ve certainly spent time learning more about the war in the Pacific, it was not something I learnt much about as I was brought up in the UK and I knew more about the European theatre of war as well as Malaya and Burma.

Certainly the tablecloth is a challenge, not just in reading it but because the signatures are at random angles, I think I’ve worked out how to deal with this now. The way I've been tackling the Table cloth is to have copies of the corner on my iPad then edit small areas which I can enlarge and when my iPad screen is locked I can turn it in order to read signatures at an angle.


Why do you enjoy it?

I feel I’m doing something that is of use to others. Giving people who cannot travel the chance to learn about their family.  It may even allow families to discover where missing relatives went. It helps people find their roots and gives a personal link to historical events and personal reasons to learn more.

I feel I am doing something of use (also I don’t feel guilty about not doing housework). 

A rare opportunity

A rare opportunity

Photographing the Museum's collections is an endless task, and, most of the time, the Collections Photographers work around and between Museum visitors, snatching moments of stillness where they can find them. The Level 3 closure has presented a rare opportunity for the photographers to document the collection in complete quiet, and it's one they've taken advantage of.

In these photos you can see the team shooting the Spitfire Mark XVI, and then, below, the finished image.

What's eating Auckland Museum?

To see what can happen when pests and valuable collection objects meet, look no further than this sad spectacle: a forlorn-looking kiwi who lost its feathers to a dermestid larvae attack. Dermestid larvae can digest keratin, which makes objects like taxidermy - which are full of protein - particularly vulnerable. By way of comparison, here is a "complete" specimen of the same species:

Read more Image: Apteryx mantelli; LB8984

While occasionally pests can hitchhike into the building on visitors' clothing, many pests - like dermestids - thrive in quiet, dark environments, which is exactly what the Museum is like without visitors. Our Collection Care team has been hard at work installing additional pest traps around the Museum while the doors are closed to prevent just this sort of attack. Read more about the kinds of critters we're on the lookout for and the constant vigilance required to keep our collections safe.

Learn more


Image: Apteryx mantelli, LB8439

The show must go on
Sneak Peek

The show must go on

There's a big difference between the Covid-19 Level 3 and Level 4 guidelines, and we're very grateful that under Level 3 the renovations for the new show-stopping South Atrium and brand-new galleries has been able to continue, albeit with additional protocol in place for the safety of those toiling away on the build.

The peek you're getting through this open door is along the western side of the new loop walkway, which connects the renovated South Atrium with the Grand Foyer and Māori Court in the north.