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New museum manager: "I think of myself as a storyteller at heart...."




5 Sept, 2022


thumbnail 17 MF-Museummanager copy-698Mangawhai’s home of history has a new leader at its helm, a highly-qualified and passionate new manager who has flown in from halfway around the world, bringing a love of history, story-telling, museums and of Aotearoa New Zealand.


Mangawhai Museum’s newly appointed manager, Canadian Tom Long, officially stepped into his multi-tasking position mid-August, a role involving curation [storing, displaying, telling stories with artefacts] along with overseeing the cafe, gift shop, and an army of helpers, which he says is one of the amazing things about the museum.

“One of the exciting aspects of my job is working with the 80-plus experienced volunteers who are organised into collections and display committees, and I just get to help them out. I’m really passionate about working with people and I’m surrounded by a strong core of lovely volunteers here,” he says.

“I believe museums ideally are the community’s living room, a place to discuss important social matters because you can reflect on the past as well as the future, and a hub for knitting groups, genealogy organisations and history working groups. Although I’m a manager, I think of myself as a storyteller at heart and a curator and museum person by trade, the museum is my number one priority.”


Career path

A lover of history and stories since he was young, Tom discovered his career path in 2002, following a semester in Italy while studying for his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts with the University of Alberta.

“My minor was Roman history, and I got to give a presentation to my class about a Roman theatre actually in a Roman theatre in Pompei, and that’s when I went, ‘this is what I want to do’, to work where history is in three dimensions all around me and a natural extension of that is museums and historic sites.”

On returning to his home town Edmonton in Alberta, he began working for Canada’s largest living history park, Fort Edmonton, a slightly bigger version of Mangawhai’s Pioneer Village, ‘with 80 buildings over 70 hectares and over 100 costumed staff’.

“I wore a returned serviceman’s uniform and got to talk to people of the experience of a soldier which can have a better effect on people than a display and pictures,” he says. “I love the living history approach because it’s about making history fun, exciting and engaging and is another tool in a museum’s tool box. I’m very excited to experience Mangawhai’s own living day at the museum event.”

Over his 20 years at the park, Tom became coordinator and in the quieter winter months, worked in Alberta’s museums and volunteered at heritage sites. While waiting out the Covid crisis and migration to New Zealand, Tom and partner Barbara Hilden, the recently-appointed director of Matakohe’s Kauri Museum, moved to Vancouver where he was operations manager for a series of the city’s historic sites including a heritage farm, ship yard and a street car.


New Zealand move

The history-loving pair have travelled extensively and fell for New Zealand during a three-month adventure tour in 2019. Tom says he feels history and travel ‘can give you a broader sense of the world’.

“Travel lets you see the breadth of the world while history lets you see the depth,” he says. “People asked us, ‘why New Zealand?’ and I’ll always reply ‘have you seen New Zealand’?! We loved the museums, the wine, coffee and the people… and we’ve been trying to get back here ever since.”

After deciding to move down under, the couple were set to fly out in March 2020 to New Plymouth where Barbara was to start a position as collections and curatorial lead at the Puki Ariki Museum. However, Covid had other plans and two days before their departure, the pandemic slammed the world’s borders shut, leaving them in an empty house with two suitcases and two backpacks waiting by the door.

“We had shipped 16 boxes of possessions already to our house in New Plymouth which we kept renting for a month, thinking this [Covid] will be all over in a few weeks…”


Bi-cultural connection

Canada and NZ share similar stories Tom says, with both countries in the Commonwealth, are neighbours with a larger and louder country and are treaty people, with Canada still grappling with treaties today. Due to his paternal indigenous lineage, Tom has always had an interest in learning about indigenous lives and says one of the appealing things about NZ was how the country is further along the road to reconciliation than Canada in understanding itself as a treaty people and as a bi-cultural nation.

“The museums here are not only better designed and presented but there is a lot more interaction between cultures, for instance some of Mangawhai’s displays have been curated, developed and displayed with input and direction with the

iwi,” he says. “In Canada, you wouldn’t necessarily have that although we have been championing a ‘nothing about us without us’ approach, but it’s just a given how you do things in NZ which is really inspiring.”

Experiencing the Mangawhai Museum with fresh newcomer eyes, Tom says he hopes he can bring an outsider’s perspective to the many stories held in the facility as well as promoting the spirit of Mangawhai and the museum, through visitors’ entire experience. He also wants to make sure volunteer dedication, successes and milestones such as 100 hours of service, are recognised and celebrated.

“Coming from a number of museums I hope I can regularise and professionalise some of the work everyone has been doing. There’s so much passion and expertise and I want to make sure that we are building a succession plan into everything so that it is sustainable and can live past the people,” he says. “I’m also very excited to hear more local stories – at the moment I’ve only just scratched the surface and I know there will be many more waiting for me to discover.”


Mangawhai Museum & Historical Society chair, Jill Corkin, with new museum manager, Canadian Tom Long, at the recent museum dinner and auction fundraiser. PHOTO/JULIA WADE



“I’m really passionate about working with people and I’m surrounded by a strong core of lovely volunteers here.”

– Tom Long

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