Layers of stories reveal hidden histories


There’s a kind of alchemy when school groups come to our museum. They bring a variety of backgrounds, experiences and a sense of wonder, and we ignite their curiosity. That’s the beautiful, unpredictable magic of museum learning.

Excited school groups are a familiar sight in Te Waka Huia o Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho Wellington Museum. There’s often a number of firsts: first time in a museum, first visit to the CBD, first visit to the city. The bus trip itself is often one of the highlights of the trip!

They are captivated by the carpet in our Te Whanganui-a-Tara exhibition on the ground floor. On their hands and knees, they eagerly search the aerial photograph imprinted in the carpet fibres for home, school, and the city’s other familiar landmarks. Elsewhere in the museum, there’s so much more to explore – a scuttling rat, a lion’s roar, and a plasma ball with lightning you can direct with your finger.
School groups are captivated by the carpet on show in Te Whanganui-a-Tara exhibition on the ground floor. On their hands and knees, they eagerly search the aerial photograph imprinted in the carpet fibres for home, school, and the city’s other familiar landmarks. WELLINGTON MUSEUM

But there’s a deeper intent to our school visits, carefully crafted by our teachers and Learning Specialists working to support Te Ao Tangata, the refreshed national social sciences curriculum that includes Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories.

Claire, a Learning Specialist, might draw the children’s attention to two street signs from Berhampore: Waripori St and Te Wharepōuri St. They are a powerful example of how the naming and renaming of places can illustrate mana whenua and local histories. Tamariki readily share examples and observations from their neighbourhoods; Remutaka comes quickly to their minds.

In the Attic on the top floor, another Learning Specialist Kurt, often gathers students around a hīnaki (eel trap). There’s always peals of laughter when Kurt shudders at the memory of dispatching tuna (eel). Through sharing their own experiences of catching tuna, the conversation centres on relationships with the awa and moana of Te Whanganui-a-Tara where the children have spent time.

In a museum dedicated to telling local stories, learning programmes support children and young people’s curiosity about where they stand. There are layers of stories and hidden, often difficult histories to explore here beneath the carpet, behind the street signs and hīnaki, and even in the architecture of the Bond Store building.

We look for intriguing, playful, and awe-inspiring ways into serious subject matter. This winter school groups sang waiata to the vast night sky in Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi Space Place’s planetarium, created cartoon-like postcards in response to Ayesha Green’s Folk Nationalism exhibition at Te Whare Toi City Gallery and produced their own local stories in Nuku te Ao Capital E’s OnTV studio. Through each of these experiences, children and young people used their voices to share stories that have often been missing from the public eye.

Enabling children and young people to learn from our whenua and explore their relationships to its histories contributes to the vibrancy of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Why don’t you come with them next time? They’ll have a lot to tell you about our place and the kind of city we have been, are and could be.

Why We Collect Wellington

Why We Collect Wellington

By Ian Wards

Have you seen the images of two of our recent acquisitions on the shipping containers outside Wellington Museum?

There’s a smashed hard drive donated by investigative journalist Nicky Hager and a detail from the artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall. Wellington Museum is not just a museum of old things, we actively collect things that tell the stories of the people of Pōneke.

Wellington Museum, with images of Nicky Hager’s broken hard drive and a detail of Xoë Hall’s artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

These objects reflect different aspects of Wellington’s rich recent history. The hard drive was hit 213 times by a police inspector after a High Court decision that a raid on his home by police in 2014 had been illegal. Police copied Hager’s files onto the hard drive but didn’t want him to access other content on it, so in a fit of pique, made a mess of it before handing it back to the surprised and bemused journalist.

Wellington Museum commissioned Xoë Hall to paint the artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara to visualise the creative energy of Wellington, the atua Māori and natural forces that energise our place. Commissioning this artwork also gave us an opportunity to preserve something of the cityscape which Xoë has helped create. Her distinctive mural artworks which cloak our city might not survive the decades, as weather, vandalism and building changes see them slowly disappear.

Wellington Museum, in the Bond Store on the waterfront, is one of the city’s oldest buildings and was once a maritime museum. We still have a strong maritime collection, but in recent years we have actively collected Wellington things that express the creativity and innovation of Pōneke.  I argue that in the case of Wellington, its golden age was the period after 1990 when the vibe around the Absolutely Positively Wellington campaign saw the city reinvigorated and transformed into the creative capital it still is. We collect things that express this along with things from all periods in our history.

The We Collect display at Wellington Museum with the Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall in the background.

Next time you visit, have a look at our display of recently acquired things. Under the theme We Collect Wellington, you’ll see the hard drive, an umbrella donated by Dame Catherine Healy – a symbol of visibility for sex workers, the unwieldy Poly 1 computer made by the staff and students of Wellington Polytechnic in 1981 and a hockey stick, teddy bear and towelling sunhat donated by the Manning family of Tawa.

Our challenge is to reflect the diversity and richness of Wellington’s social history, but we can’t do this alone. We’re collecting for future generations to ponder and enjoy. So, if you have things that are interesting or insightful, with poignant or funny stories associated with them, get in touch with us to see if they might be right for Wellington Museum’s collections.

We’ll be changing the We Collect Wellington display in a couple of months, so come and have a look at the current objects while you can. The next display is under wraps, but I can say it will be a real Buzz.

Contact us at

Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall

Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall

By Ian Wards

Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 2021. Acrylic on board, Xoë Hall (Ngāi Tahu)

Wellington Museum asked Xoë Hall to create Te Whanganui-a-Tara artwork for our new ground-floor exhibition (of the same name) – Te Whanganui-a-Tara. This family-friendly exhibition explores the natural and cultural landscapes of Wellington.

Xoë Hall (Kāi Tahu) is a painter based in the Wellington region, who specialises in mural work. Mural work, by its very nature, is temporary, making it a challenging medium for museums to collect. It may be that few of Xoë’s murals survive in the long-term – due to exposure to weather and light, vandalism, building construction and destruction.

Having Xoë paint this artwork allowed Wellington Museum to preserve a popular part of Wellington’s current cityscape for present and future generations to enjoy.

And so it begins. Xoë sketches the outline of the artwork based on her concept drawing to the left.

Wellington Museum’s curators suggested Xoë create a painting that formed a visual personification of the whenua, moana, awa, maunga, hau and ngahere of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). The idea being that this would form a visual pepeha of this place.

Xoë was also asked to create the artwork in a way that would inspire rangatahi to respect and honour the environment, but give hope and courage for the environmental challenges they face in the future.

Of the creative process, Xoë says:

“As I was drawing I was trying to channel the energy of Pōneke city, wrapped up in the excitement of the wild wind sweeping over the whenua – which embraces the action but does not get swept away.

The atua that revealed themselve’s within the drawing are Papatūānuku – Earth Mother, symbolising the whenua; Tāwhirimātea – atua of wind and storms; and Hineraukatauri – atua wahine of Māori musical instruments, who is often personified as the case moth. We also have a guest appearance from Mahuika, atua of fire.

These atua come together to form a kaitiaki hybrid of the elements and creative vibes of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, working in unison.”

The stars of night can be seen reflected in the waters of the harbour, with the ridges of hills found in the form of Papatūānuku.

A very pregnant Xoë Hall adding the final brush strokes to her artwork.

Many other symbolic elements, or ‘easter eggs’ as Xoë calls them, can be found in the artwork.

The double headed hei tiki – symbolising Papatūānuku as the infinite mother of tangata whenua.
The hand of Mahuika, with unwavering flames – representing resilience to forceful winds.
Leather jacket sleeves – this fashionable one-off has a sleeve decorated with the colours of the earth below, and the other sleeve with the rolling city hills above.
Taniwha hybrid chest – a common theme in Xoë’s work, representing inner strength.
Futuristic sunglasses – another common theme in Xoë’s work symbolising a bright future.
The upper hand touching Tāwhirimātea's eye – a connection between whenua and the eye of the storm.
The patterns coming from Tāwhirimātea's mouth are both shooting ferns symbolising growth and gusts of wind keeping things fresh and moving.
Taniwha hybrid chest – a common theme in Xoë’s work, representing inner strength.
Te Whanganui-a-Tara on display at Wellington Museum.

Space Place shines a light on Puanga and Matariki

Space Place shines a light on Puanga and Matariki

By Colin Smillie, Experience Wellington’s Public Programmes Manager Science. 

Visit the Space Place anytime to find out more about matauranga Maori and our place in the cosmos.

At five o’clock on a cold and still morning last year, I joined 500 members of the public for a unique New Zealand experience as we gathered to share kai on Aotearoa’s first public holiday to celebrate Matariki. A karakia was given, the stars rose above the hills and images of loved ones who had passed away in the previous year were displayed. 

As a science communicator, I know that the Matariki star cluster, visible around the world, holds significance in many different cultures, but it’s hard to put into words how moving it was to watch the sunrise on the Māori New Year. It felt like a celebration that excluded nobody and included everyone. 

Matariki sits relatively near the Earth, just 444 or so light-years away, so it’s the most easily seen star cluster in our skies. Ancient Greeks named it the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, because they could see seven stars with the naked eye. In Japan, it’s known as Subaru, meaning ‘unite’. Here in Aotearoa, Māori astronomers see nine stars: Te Iwa o Matariki, the nine stars of Matariki. 

This important star cluster highlights our close connections to nature, encouraging us to remember the past, celebrate the present, and look towards the future. Across Aotearoa New Zealand iwi, hapū, and whānau tell different pūrākau, or stories, connected with Matariki. In Wellington, at Space Place Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi, we celebrate Matariki and Puanga by sharing these stories with our wider community. 

The public holiday is centred around the Matariki star cluster appearing in the early morning sky, but the star Puanga is also used as the marker for the beginning of the Māori New Year. This is because Puanga, or Rigel the brightest star in the constellation known as Orion, rises earlier and higher in the sky than Matariki, so is more visible in some parts of the country before the rising of the sun. 

In Porirua, Ngāti Toa iwi sees Matariki much more easily than in Whanganui-a-Tara, as the hills surrounding Wellington tend to block the view of the star cluster. On the west coast of the North Island, Taranaki Whānui use Puanga as the marker for the start of the New Year. When Puanga rises in the morning sky above Taranaki Maunga, this is the signal for new planting. In Ōtepoti Dunedin, Kāi Tahu celebrates both Puaka (Puanga) and Matariki because being at a lower latitude means Matariki is a little too low on the horizon to be easily seen behind the city’s many hills. 

To many iwi, the setting of Matariki in the evening sky signals the beginning of the harvest season. The rising again in the pre-dawn sky several weeks later, aligning with the moon in its third phase, signals the time to start planting and preparing for the coming year. That’s when communities gather to give thanks for the earth’s abundance, to reflect upon the year that has gone, and to share hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. It is a reminder of the importance of living in harmony with nature and a time to commemorate those who have died in the previous year. 

If you want to learn more about Puanga and Matariki and the significance of the season, join us next week at Space Place Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi or visit anytime to find out more about mātauranga Māori and our place in the cosmos. 

The inspiring life of Laura Miller

The inspiring life of Laura Miller

By Ian Wards

Laura Miller (1870-1953), was born in Port Cygnet, Tasmania on 7 April 1870. She was of Palawa (Aboriginal Tasmanian) and European descent; one of nine children born to Fanny and William Smith. Her mother Fanny was proud of being aboriginal and taught her children some of the traditions of her people as well as the violent circumstances of their slaughter at the hands of European settlers. Her father was a transported convict (convicted in Kent for stealing a donkey), who served seven years as a ‘timber getter’ in Oyster Cove, Tasmania.

Sick of the drudgery of farm life in rural Tasmania, Laura ran away to Hobart aged 12 and apprenticed herself to a dressmaker. There she became highly skilled as a ‘white worker’ sewing underwear and blouses trimmed with broderie anglaise and lace. She also made outer garments and in this way was able to earn a living.

She married Francis Thomason, a storekeeper, around 1890. They had a daughter Vera. Tragically Francis died in an accident not long after.

Laura remarried, to John Miller, in 1891. They had a daughter Recamea in 1894. John Miller was an abusive husband and they had separated by 1901.

Portrait photo of Laura Miller, around 1910.
Laura Miller, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family

A new life in Wellington

Laura moved to Wellington with her two daughters in 1907, to start a new life with her new husband William William’s (who changed his surname to Miller). William became a gardener at Wellington Botanic Gardens and Laura set up business as a seamstress, opening an ‘Underlinen Bazaar’ at 52 Adelaide Road.

A bib made by Laura for her grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell, alongside an example of her advertising material
A bib made by Laura for her grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell, alongside an example of her advertising material. Wellington Museum collections

Her shop windows were jammed with petticoats, chemises, nightgowns, and pants for women and children.

A blouse made by Laura Miller. Wellington Museum collections.

The family lived at the back of the shop and upstairs. They were happy, sociable, and enjoyed playing musical instruments at home or in concert groups. Since they lived so close to the city, they were able to attend many public events at the band rotunda, Athletic Park, or the Basin Reserve.

However, Laura and William looked to live a quieter life.

A black and white photo of the newly built Miller family home at Houghton Bay, late 1920s.
The newly built Miller family home at Houghton Bay, late 1920s. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family

A home at Houghton Bay

In 1926 Laura and William moved to a section in Houghton Bay, where they built a house and lived for the rest of their lives. There they planted rich vegetable gardens and ornamental gardens full of flowers.

Laura opened a small haberdashery in Island Bay soon after. Every day she would walk around the south coast to and from her shop – in howling wind, sunshine, or rain. Her grandchildren recall she always enjoyed this short walk, no matter the weather.

Laura Miller’s personal sewing machine.
Laura Miller’s personal sewing machine. Wellington Museum collections

Of this sewing machine, which lived at the Miller’s Houghton Bay home, Laura’s grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell writes:

When it was time for sewing the treadle rocked and wheels whirred as garments appeared from the machine with extraordinary speed. Cutting done on the table, usually without patterns, was the first step in producing clothes that fitted Grandma’s and auntie’s “difficult” figures very well.

A whale of a time

Laura and William assembled the jawbones of a whale that has washed ashore in Houghton Bay as an arch over the entrance to their property. The whale’s ribs were also used to edge the paths on the upper part of their garden.

The Miller family at Houghton Bay, under the whale bone entrance, late 1920s.
The Miller family at Houghton Bay, under the whale bone entrance, late 1920s. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family.
Recamea, Laura, Allan, Vera and William in Laura and William’s garden, Houghton Bay, late 1920s..
Recamea, Laura, Allan, Edna and William in Laura and William’s garden, Houghton Bay, late 1920s. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family.

Laura Miller is an inspiring woman, who tenaciously worked her way through difficult years in her early life to raise a happy and creative family in Wellington.

Many thanks to Kate Colbert for sharing Laura’s story and for donating things from Laura’s life to Wellington Museum.

Lyall Bay Days

Lyall Bay Days

By Tom Etuata

Piha and Hawaii’s famous Pipeline surf beach it is not, but Wellington’s Lyall Bay has its own unique charm. On hot summer days, when there is a decent ocean swell, the bay becomes a magnet for beachgoers, surfers, and ocean-lovers despite the water being freezing cold most days.  

Surfing at Lyall Bay at sunset with a pink sky
Surfing at Lyall Bay
Lifeguard standing in front of lifeguard tower,patrolling Lyall Bay
Lifeguard patrolling Lyall Bay

So where does the name Lyall come from?

There are two men that could have lent their name to the bay. The first:  Dr. David Lyall (below), a Royal Medical Officer who surveyed the bay in 1847. 

The second: George Lyall, one of the directors of the New Zealand Company in 1840. 

 Dr David Lyall
Dr David Lyall. Carte de viste photograph, by Maui & Polybank, 1862 @ Lineean Society

Names aside, one of my favourite Lyall Bay stories is that of ‘The Duke’ Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku, godfather and inventor of modern surfing,   was invited by the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club to showoff his skills at the Bay on 7 March 1915.  He surfed in front of a crowd of curious Wellingtonians. 

Duke Kahanamoku statue at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii.
Duke Kahanamoku statue at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

The Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club was the first surf lifesaving club in Aotearoa, having formed in 1910. 

Duke Kahanamoku (centre), is presented with a Māori cloak by Ngati Tuwharetoa ariki Te Heuheu Tukino V (left). Te Heuheu christened Kahanamoku ''the Honolulu Maori''.
Duke Kahanamoku (centre), is presented with a Māori cloak by Ngati Tuwharetoa ariki Te Heuheu Tukino V (left). Te Heuheu christened Kahanamoku ''the Honolulu Maori''. Image credit: Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club
Showing crowds on the beach at Lyall Bay during the exhibition of surf-board riding by Duke Kahanamoku.
Showing crowds on the beach at Lyall Bay during the exhibition of surf-board riding by Duke Kahanamoku. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19150318-49-1

Today, if you are looking for the ‘Godfather of Wellington Surfing’ then look no further than The Realsurf Co. Shop – owned and operated by Roger Titcombe. 

Roger Titcombe.
Roger Titcombe. Image Credit: Realsurf Co. Shop

He is a big part of the Lyall Bay surf scene, having lived in the Bay for over 45 years and has owned Realsurf since 2002. (He also ran the Goodtime Surf Shop which used to be on Onepu Rd and Coutts St in Kilbirnie.)

A young Roger Titcombe on the left.
A young Roger Titcombe on the left. Image credit: Realsurf Co. Shop

The shop is a surfboard museum of its own. When you walk in, look up. Numerous classic boards, all shaped and designed by Roger in the 1970s and 80s adorn the walls.  

RealSurf Co. Surf shop at Lyall Bay
RealSurf Co. Surf shop at Lyall Bay

I bought my very first surfboard at Real Surf – an 8’ 3” Bear Malibu Longboard, which I still have today.  

I lived at the upstairs flat at 66 Lyall Parade for several years in the late 1990s. Today the building has been converted into a beachfront home – with striking blue rodeca panels. Originally built in 1909, the building has a lot of history. In the early 1900s it was a dance hall and tea room;. later a skating rink. In 1915 the building was the Seaside Picture Theatre – at that time Wellington’s second purpose-built cinema. 

A view of Lyall Bay in the 1920s with crowds on the street and the beach.
A view of Lyall Bay in the 1920s with crowds on the street and the beach. The Seaside Picture Theatre is on the left. Photograph taken by Sydney Charles Smith, Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-049176-G

Across the road from 66 Lyall Bay Parade reside two Surf Lifesaving clubs – Lyall Bay and Maranui. 

Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club
Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club
Maranui Surf Life Saving Club
Maranui Surf Life Saving Club

Why two Surf Lifesaving clubs? 

It can all be traced back to one particular incident in 1911 dubbed ‘The Big Row’.* 

The incident began with a heated argument after the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club president, William Morpeth, who, at the last minute, changed the order of the lifeguards for an important surf lifesaving demonstration in front of Wellington City Councillors. This infuriated the lifeguards, George Neal, Ted Collier and Barney Wilson, who had been practicing their routine for weeks.  

The three were part of a disgruntled group of Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club members ( of which 42  were women), who broke away to form another club called Maranui (meaning long sands in Te Reo) on the 3 October 1911. 

In the Attic at Wellington Museum, you can see the oars and flags from the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club. 

Lyall Bay SLSC oars and flags in the Attic at Wellington Museum
Lyall Bay SLSC oars and flags in the Attic at Wellington Museum

Despite their history, I am sure the two surf clubs get along just swimmingly today (until their next surf club meet of course). 

Lyall Bay is a great spot for Wellingtonians to enjoy. Not only does it have interesting surfing history and boast two surf life-saving clubs, it has it’s own unique sense of place and history alongside also a mix of cool eateries, a brewery and a shopping centre. 

You could say Lyall Bay is riding a wave. 


*Reference: Blue White and Dynamite – 100 Years of the Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club (2010) by Gavin McLean 

The rebuilding of Tapu Te Ranga Marae, Paekawakawa (Island Bay)

The rebuilding of Tapu Te Ranga Marae, Paekawakawa (Island Bay)

By Lawrence Wharerau

The basis of it all, is you shift because the grass is greener and the grass was green in Wellington.

Bruce Stewart, Tapu Te Ranga Marae, 1996

Tapu Te Ranga Marae. Image credit Stewart Whānau

In the early to mid-1970s, with time on his hands to contemplate his next direction in life, Bruce Stewart had a vision to create a space for “the down and outs, the nobodies…” where they could take stock of their situation and recalibrate their lives. To provide shelter and comfort for the homeless, the ex-prisoner, the gang member looking to change their ways, the street kids, the desperate and those living on the fringe of society. This vision led to the building of the innovative Tapu Te Ranga Marae in Paekawakawa, Island Bay.

Built almost entirely from recycled materials and creative imagination, Tapu Te Ranga Marae has provided shelter for thousands of people over the

years – people who needed to momentarily step out of the race.

The impressive and unique structure incorporating ten different whare over nine levels was dedicated to women and especially to the mother Bruce, to his shame, often denied in his childhood. His mother, Hinetai Hirini, was of Ngāti Raukawa whakapapa.

Another dream Bruce initiated was to create a sanctuary for birds and plants; an island pā. This saw thousands of plants reared at the marae nursery planted over the 50 hectares of hilly country surrounding the complex. Bruce strongly believed in the principle of ahi kā and of giving back. He felt that we each have a responsibility to make a better world and to protect the environment.

He certainly had his naysayers and doubters. It was with determined grit, commitment and passion that Bruce pushed on to achieve his vision, to a level some considered arrogance. His unconventional approach often saw him butt heads with authorities and earned him several visits from local council building and health inspectors. Nonetheless he continued, determined to complete his dream.

When he passed away in June 2017 this passion was picked up by his whānau and staunch supporters to continue his legacy. He was buried at a spot overseeing his dream.

Almost two years later, to the day, the complex was razed to the ground in a tragic accident that saw only the nursery shed survive the inferno.

Fire inspectors discovered that an unattended brazier, that was believed to have been doused, was fanned back to life by a steady breeze which saw embers blow into the downstairs laundry area, sparking the tragic fire.

Bruce’s daughter Pare was in labour when the fire was discovered and in the time it took her to get from her home next door to the marae, the complex was already beyond saving. All available fire units from Palmerston North south were scrambled to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to neighbouring properties.

Two years later, Pare, her whānau and supporters are still dead set and committed to rebuilding Tapu Te Ranga Marae from the ground up. This time, with the support of neighbours, council, government and sponsors, they are keen to reconstruct the complex with the required resource consents and compliance.

For the Stewart whānau, Tapu Te Ranga Marae was more than a marae, it was a huge commitment, with the complex also serving as their home, their church, their university – the place they could receive guests from far and wide and share Bruce’s philosophy of giving back to the birds and trees.

Pou from Tapu Te Ranga

A taste of history – Dick Lee & Co. at Wellington Museum

A taste of history – Dick Lee & Co. at Wellington Museum

By Ian Wards

Celadon spoons

These celadon spoons were recently donated to Wellington Museum by Ken Chung. And they’ve got an intriguing story to tell, one that gives us a window into the food and community of early to mid-20th century Chinese Wellington.

These spoons were probably made in Southern China during the late 19th or early 20th century. They are an everyday type of spoon, used for eating a variety of delicious Chinese soups. They get their name from their green, jade-like, celadon glaze.

They were used at Dick Lee & Co., a shop near the corner of Tory and Jessie Streets in Te Aro, from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Dick Lee & Co. sold imported goods to the Chinese community of central Wellington and a variety of traditional Chinese medicines. It was a popular spot for older Chinese to gather and talk over a game of mahjong or a nourishing bowl of soup.

That’s where the spoons come in.

The owner of Dick Lee & Co., Chung Chun Ying, inherited the business from his uncle Chung Tack Foon, who returned to China with his family in 1929. Chung Ying was skilled in traditional Cantonese cooking. As well as selling imported Chinese goods and medicines, Chung Ying devoted a great deal of time to preparing and cooking nourishing cuisine.

Chung Ying, also known as Chung Dick Lee, date unknown. Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-170343-F

These spoons would have been used to enjoy Chung Ying’s hearty rice congee soups. They would also have been used to eat other soups made with pork bones, Chinese dried mushrooms, dried vegetables, and herbs. These soups provided Chung Ying’s patrons with the authentic taste and the aroma of ‘home’.

Soup wasn’t Chung Ying’s only specialty. In his recently published collection of childhood memories, Newtown Boy, Stan Chun suggests that the clientele of Dick Lee & Co. also gathered in the shop because Chung Ying, “… made a real mean roast duck. There was nothing like it.” Stan describes how Chung Ying would make his way to the livestock markets on Allen Street and select “… a squawking duck with wings flapping all over the place…”, then use

“…various herbs to marinate the duck and roast it in his gas-fired oven. When ready the duck was chopped into bite-sized pieces with a Chinese cleaver. The meat was something else, almost melting in your mouth… I cannot explain the flavour of the juice, texture and fragrance of the duck, but believe me that Chung Ying earned the title of Roast Duck Master.”

At Wellington Museum we are fortunate to have a rice grinding mill and a medicinal herb grinder from Dick Lee & Co. Chung Tack Foon was a renowned Chinese traditional herbalist – a talent shared with his nephew Chung Ying. Using herbs, plant extracts and other natural ingredients, the store was popular in treating numerous ailments. Herbs were hand-ground until electrical grinders became available.

The Dick Lee & Co. mills are on display in The Attic at Wellington Museum, alongside small drawers which can be opened to release the smell of the herbs used at the Dick Lee shop.

Dick Lee & Co. had such a great community influence that it became something of a makeshift Citizens Advice Bureau.

Chinese interpreter William Lip Guey in front of Dick Lee & Co, 1974. Photograph by Nigel Murphy. Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-200872-F

A respected man, William Lip Guey would often be present to translate documents and explain laws for members of the Chinese community. Perhaps advice was better received alongside a calming bowl of Chung Ying’s congee or some delicious roast duck?