Five minutes with: Auckland Museum’s Simon Gould

By Sarah Harvey

Five minutes with: Auckland Museum’s Simon Gould
Keepsakes, family photos and items knitted for soldiers tell the story of those who stayed at home during World War I.

Simon Gould is an exhibition developer at the Auckland Museum. He worked extensively on the Home Front exhibition, on at the museum until November. The exhibition is one of five exhibitions across the five years of the commemorative period of World War One and focuses on the stories of the people left behind in New Zealand.

What have the first WWI exhibitions been about?

The first exhibition was all about Samoa and was called Entangled Islands, then we had Gallipoli in Minecraft – which was aimed at a younger audience. We are now having a pause for a second and removing ourselves from the bloody trench warfare to think about all the other people massively affected by the war on the home front.  It seems a fitting time to explore family life a bit more and what was going on in New Zealand.

What story does the exhibition tell?

It is about the domestic side of things, every day life. How people carried on, how they kept in touch with loved ones, what they were doing at home. The other half of the show is looking at public behavior and what were some of the quieter voices within that. We know about the fundraising, for example, but what else was going on? What about if, like so many people, you had mixed family heritage? We try and question the non black and white-ness of a war situation.

Where have the exhibition pieces from Home Front been sourced?

They are virtually all from the museum’s collection. There are a few small loans but about 90 per cent is from the museum collection, which is just fantastic for us.

What are some of the more interesting aspects of the exhibition?

There is a whole section around comforts, which I find particularly interesting. One of the big public activities during the war was fundraising and there was a fervor of activity trying to raise money to buy comforts for the men overseas. These were anything from Christmas cake to an endless need for socks. There were women and children around the country just knitting, knitting, knitting. There are some of the original knitting patterns on display and we have worked with some of the museum’s amazing volunteers to recreate some of this knitwear. There are also cookery books from the time. There is also a wonderful Lord Nelson fancy dress outfit for a little boy.

Have you used technology in any way to bring these stories to life?

One of the things we have done is take an album of a lady from Birkenhead [on Auckland’s North Shore] who took it upon herself to keep in touch with many of the men from Birkenhead, and wrote letters to them, and received letters back and also raised huge amounts of money for them. She compiled a lot of correspondence in an album and we have managed to digitize that now so it is accessible in a touch screen interactive.

Home Front: Experiences of the First World War in New Zealand is open until 13 November 2016 in the Sainsbury Horrocks Gallery, Auckland Museum.
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