Letters to the past

We’ve been a bit quiet around these parts lately, but it’s been all go behind the scenes. Research is well underway for an upcoming exhibition refresh at the museum. And we want to hear from you! There’ll be plenty of opportunities to share your ideas and memories with us as we continue to develop the museum. We’ll be calling out for specific stories soon, but feel free to email us at enquiries@petonesettlers.org.nz to share your thoughts.


As part of our research we held an exhibition recently at our other museum. Called Dear Nostalgia, it featured items from the Settlers Museum collection in tableau evoking environments from the nursery to the parlour to the kitchen.



We wanted to elicit memories and stories from our visitors so we installed a “letterbox to the past”.

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The response was overwhelming and we’ve been enjoying reading through the comments.

Wide shot

Many of the stories recalled people’s own connections with the objects displayed:

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“Red Hornby train engine – my brothers used to have a red one and a green one. They sometimes let me (a girl) play with them.”

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“The toaster in the kitchen reminded me of one in my apartment in Berlin from the DDR. But because it required taking the toast out yourself (unlike the way it automatically springs up in most toasters today) – it brings up the smell of burnt toast (and great bread).”

Memories were also evoked of family members, especially those who are no longer around:

Dear Nostalgia postcard 10_cropped

“The prams… they remind me of my Great-Grandmother. They make me smile and also a bit sad because I didn’t know her that well. She was a brilliant woman. I have fond memories of her…”

Dear Nostalgia postcard 11_cropped

“I have just finished cleaning out my late 102 year old uncle’s house where nothing new had entered (except a frig) since 1950. The exhibition has brought it all back.” – Helen Christie

Some of our correspondents looked back at the past rather wistfully:

Dear Nostalgia postcard 3_cropped

“A plastic and plywood free life seems simpler and charming, though on the other hand, its resource-intensive life leads us to necessitate the use of oil and using composites of lower-grade wood and building materials. And here we are…” – Ben

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“In 50 or 60 years time would we find any 2014 items for a similar display or does the throwaway nature of 2014 preclude the old?”

While others were grateful to be in the present:

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“Wow I’m glad I didn’t live way back then”. – Ellen, age six

The emotions expressed  were moving to read:

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“Seeing my mother’s name on the tablecloth that was made by the Petone Happiness Club brought me a smile”. – Mark Sifflett

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“I now have tears in my eyes. This is so beautiful. Thank you.”

And here’s one that gave me a little chuckle:

Dear Nostalgia postcard 16_cropped

“I saw a top hat and it reminded me of Peter Pan. I am nine and I would really like a top hat.”

A subtle hint for Christmas perhaps?

A huge thank you to all the people who contributed their stories – we feel so honoured to receive them. Isn’t it extraordinary how objects have the power to unlock our hearts?

Emma Bugden, Senior Curator 

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