Thursday, 27 April 2017

TRAVEL THURSDAY: Te Papa Tongarewa

Today, AJ's sharing some thoughts from Te Papa Tongarewa, which he visited last weekend.
While I was in Wellington the weekend just gone, I found myself with a sizable amount of free time and decided to go to one of the cities prime attractions. Located by the foreshore, the Te Papa Tongarewa is the National Museum of New Zealand, and the experience was fantastic. I spent hours trawling through the replicas of early settler ships, and spiritual Maori temples, and deeply enjoyed the entire floor dedicated to earthquakes, tsunamis and natural phenomenons. As someone who has lived through a massive 7.3 earthquake and its aftershocks, I found their earthquake simulator very accurate. 
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Te Papa Tongarewa in all its glory (credit:
What moved me the most, however, was the main attraction. Currently, there is a very unique exhibition called Gallipoli - The Scale of Our War, which, thanks to local movie masters Weta Workshop ('Lords of the Rings', 'Mad Max: Fury Road', 'Deadpool') utilizes music, film and traditional media to tell the story of eight people involved in the failed Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, which claimed the lives of 8,709 Australians and 2,701 New Zealanders on Turkish grounds. 
As soon as you walk into the exhibit you are greeted with a sized up 3D model of an unnamed man firing his gun while wounded, and the first thing that strikes you is just how visual it is. The level of detail is incredible: every crease in their face, every hair on their arm, every drop of sweat on their brow looks incredibly lifelike and eerie. Their faces are as emotive as you or I, and straight away that takes you out of your own experiences and into the stories of these men (and one nurse). 
From there you follow through this labyrinth, reading all the displays at will. All the stories come out at you: the stench in the trenches and the horrible state of food, latrine pits people were too exhausted to get out of if they fell in, the general horrors of war - all of which are interactive and fully immersive. There's one section where you're walking through a representation of some of the trenches, and on hidden screens recordings of Turkish soldiers would run out and shoot you. I felt like I had made a latrine pit of my pants after stumbling upon that. 
Of the stories, two in particular caught my eye. The giant figure of Percival Fenwick - a surgeon who knew the side effects of war, having fought in the Boer War of South Africa prior to World War I - had an immediate effect on me. He was perched over a dead body, coat over his head, and was staring down. His eyes were haunting, showing subtle sadness, the sweat on his forehead shining in the lights of the exhibit. After witnessing the goliath, you were taken through his own life, through messages he wrote home. The voice played over on repeat, subtle enough not to distract you from reading, but striking enough to cause your throat to tighten. The horrors of war come to life. 
The other was the personal story of Sister Lottie Le Gallais, a nurse who was sent to Gallipoli to help mend the troops. She was hoping to see her brother Leddie, who was fighting at Chunuk Bair. Every few days she'd send him a message, and in one of the last she sent she said "I don't know when these will get to you, perhaps we will meet before then." When she arrived, however, she was presented with all of her letters. Leddie had died, four months prior. Her statue has her in her moment of sadness, the tears on her face looking as real as mine were. 
The exhibit ends by having the patrons write their own memories on a poppy and throwing it into a pit beneath a private solemnly preparing to go back to war, a few months after the end of the Gallipoli campaign, in Somme. 
With ANZAC Day - a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand commemorating the start of the Gallipoli campaign - passing recently, I cannot thank Te Papa and Weta Workshop enough for this truly incredible exhibit. Previously I had difficult trying to empathize, blessed by my life of multiculturalism and high speed internet. It felt less like a boring museum piece and more like being taken through a truly cinematic experience; I've never visited anything like it before. 
The First World War was really the first time Australia and New Zealand fought in their independence, and it's impossible to live here without seeing how Gallipoli shaped these countries over a century later. One day I hope to visit Turkey, the Gallipoli peninsula especially. It's thanks to the sacrifices these men made that I can have that opportunity. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them. 

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