Proposed staff redundancies at Te Papa

The NZHA has received the following communication regarding natural history collections at Te Papa from Dr James Braund, a science historian and honorary research fellow at the University of Auckland; the issues raised may be of interest to members.

As you might have heard, plans are now well advanced to reduce the number of specialist staff who care for this country’s natural history collections currently held in Te Papa.  There is also some suggestion that these collections, now centrally located in Wellington, might later be dispersed to separate repositories across the country.

These collections of examples of New Zealand’s indigenous fauna and flora are, quite simply, a national and international treasure.  They are crucial to understanding this country’s unique natural environment, how this has evolved, and how humans have interacted with it over time.  They are, in short, part of our natural and cultural identity as New Zealanders.  As someone with a research interest in this country’s scientific and environmental history, I admire, respect and enjoy the fantastic work that has been done, and continues to be done, by many local and overseas experts using these collections.  These researchers’ internationally acclaimed work with this material in turn owes a special debt to the dedicated staff who lovingly care for the millions of carefully preserved animal, plant and insect specimens held by Te Papa.

As a practitioner of science history, I am especially concerned about how the proposed restructuring at Te Papa will impact on one of its less well-known but still critically important collections: its archives. These paper and documentary records, inherited over time by Te Papa in its previous incarnations as the Dominion Museum and, before that, the Colonial Museum, are just as priceless as its accumulated collections of bones, shells and herbaria specimens.  These records are crucial for putting all these natural history items into a wider context and, in doing so, they also throw further important light on our unique natural and scientific heritage.  Without this historical documentation close at hand, Te Papa’s collections, if dispersed, will of course be worth even less.

It is imperative then, in the interests of general care, maintenance, and future access by local and international experts, that Te Papa’s collections and archival treasures continue to remain centrally located in Wellington and that the specialist staff who oversee and care for them are not reduced any further.

If you care for our natural and scientific heritage, please convey your concerns immediately to Jacinda Ardern and/or Grant Robertson, who are Minister and Associate Minister with responsibility for Arts, Culture and Heritage respectively: j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz ; g.robertson@ministers.govt.nz .

And for a far more eloquent defence of Te Papa’s collections and associated staff than I could ever give, please see the brilliant post by Nic Rawlence at Sciblogs: https://sciblogs.co.nz/lost-worlds/2018/07/23/critically-endangered-but-not-lost-the-fight-to-save-te-papas-collections-from-extinction/