Museums have the power to create unity on both a social and political level, but also on a local one. Local museums are able to provide a sense of community and place by celebrating a collective heritage, offering a great way to get to know the history of a particular area.
In celebration of Heritage Day we spoke to Wellington Museum’s Curator, Olivia le Cordeur, and asked her a few questions about the museum and its importance in the Wellington’s community.
Olivia is Wellington born and bred and remains enchanted by our rural village. She believes that in her line of work passion is essential and you cannot operate in isolation. We applaud her for keeping Wellington Museum dynamic, informative and fun.
1. Where did your love and passion for history start? How did you make this your career choice?
When you grow up and your dad is your history teacher…You really have no choice! Jokes aside, I have always had an interest in world affairs, politics, economics, history and travel and you can’t think of the one without thinking of the other.
I should have become a teacher but ended up as a Political Science and Economics major. My Grade 9 teacher, Mrs Isadene Pienaar, recommended me to the Board of the Museum, saying that I “would be perfect” for the job.
The Museum created an excellent platform for all my interests to culminate into a career I get paid for.
2. Are museums still relevant in today’s modern society?
I have thought about this question a few times during this raging pandemic. Our mission in the Museum is to educate, to open a world that people are not exposed to ordinarily. The culture of the town is what makes the Museum come alive.
I would say that Museums matter for both domestic and international visitors. Over the years we have received numerous visitors, for example, interested in the history of Andrew Murray. Through their visits it was evident that regardless of what the Internet has to offer, or what you are able to read in books or magazines, people still have a desire to emotionally connect with what we have to tell and show them. And that can only happen in person.
Museums are a place where people heal. The amount of healing which have taken place during the making of recordings of citizens of our town is actually underrated. With some interviews we have seen people cry over atrocities of the past, while others healed because misunderstandings or differences could be dealt with and brought into the open.
Museums are also there for people to learn from the past and to bring communities together. Storytelling is an amazing tool to accomplish this.
3. Tell us about the history of Wellington Museum’s? When and why was it opened?
The Wellington Museum was founded in the early 1970s by a group of residents whose aim was to preserve the history of the town. Our town has a wonderful history.
The Museum focuses on:
- The First Inhabitants,
- The development of the town
- The Role of Education and Religion
- A unique Egyptian Collection
- Well-known Wellington residents of the past and present
4. From your point of view what is the most special exhibit piece/ installation in the museum?
I have always found the Family tree from Adam to Christ one of the most beautiful artefacts in the Museum. It is a meticulous piece of work done by Mr Stucki and the attention to detail is admirable.
5. What is the most interesting historic story that you have heard or stumbled upon in all the time you have worked at Wellington Museum?
I have a few beautiful and interesting pieces of history. My personal favourite is the story of Adolph Gysbert Malan, better known as Sailor Malan, born in Wellington. It was unexpected to find this young man who at the age of 14 became an officer cadet in the South African Merchant Navy. His “Ten Rules of Air Fighting is still used today. He went on to become one of the best pilots from African soil, but more than that a freedom fighter!
6. How does a museum help us to transform how we see the future and reflect and shape our society?
Museums should teach us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. People should see Museums as an institution where difficult and controversial topics can get a platform. The sharing of information is very important.
7. What lessons does Wellington Museum help us learn from past events – the wonders as well as the tragedies?
The biggest lesson I think is the one of the Forced Removals. For me it was the forgiveness that the people showed. Imagine how you would feel if you arrived at your house one evening after work and your neighbour’s tell you that you no longer lived there!
In this tragedy there was the wonder of how resilient people are. People knew they had to fight to create a new life. The importance of education was also one of the biggest triumphs during the Forced Removals. Most of the children of these people affected changed their circumstances by furthering their studies and using the setbacks as stepping stones to success.
8. Does Wellington Museum succeed in creating a sense of community by providing an environment where we can celebrate our collective heritage?
This will always be a work in progress. The past years have seen the scale tip in both directions. We work towards people taking ownership of their heritage and sharing it with the world. The whole idea of using storytelling is therefore important, because people tend to think that their own story is not important.
From an exhibition point-of-view we also try and make the Museum inclusive to all cultures.
This is a challenging and time-consuming exercise.
We do see local people coming into the Museum and the effect that the visiting experience has on them when they resonate with an exhibition, or a story is heart-warming.
9. Is the rise of technology a challenge and danger to the museum?
I think there was the initial scare of technology taking over the physical visit to the Museum. However, technology was a huge asset to the Museum during the Covid-pandemic. We were able to do educational programmes digitally, for example. This took some initiative and initial training, but technology was the extension of what our programmes were all about.
I also think that technology should be used in more of our exhibitions to enable interaction especially with the younger generation.
10. How can the community and public assist and contribute to the museum? How can we get involved?
By sharing stories and old photos, especially family photos, sport events and other event photos. Photos usually tell a story, and it is easy for people to connect to a photo. Technology makes it easy to send a voice note together with a photo and we will re-type and edit it to give context to the information.
Share something as ordinary as your Covid-19 recovery story, or the recipe that you use most in tough economic times, or your life as a scholar or student in Wellington.
Your experience today, will be someone’s history in 30 years. Do not underestimate what you have to offer. Tell people about the Museum.