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Molluscs and moa bones – behind the scenes at Auckland Museum

Volunteering at Auckland Museum

Published: 9 August 2019

27,000 land snails, rooms packed to the rafters with specimen jars, centuries of scientific journals – in her time at Auckland Museum’s marine biology labs, volunteer Sue Hawkeswood has counted and catalogued thousands of our city’s scientific treasures.

Sue is part of the army of 300 volunteers at Auckland Museum, ranging in age from 18 to 80.

After a successful nursing career, raising a family and 15 years running a cattle property up north, Sue started volunteering at the museum in 1996.

“We came back to Auckland after we’d had enough of playing farmers, and I wondered well, what next?” Sue shrugs.

“I’d always loved the museum, to me it’s the heart of Auckland, so a friend of mine who volunteered here suggested I join up.”

Sue is now one of the Museum’s longest serving volunteers, giving most of her time to her beloved marine biology department.

“I was always really interested in marine but didn’t have any great knowledge back then, other than the hours spent with my family exploring rockpools at our bach at Matapouri.

"My children would lift rocks and I would say ‘put it down properly, put it back the way you picked it up because these are living things, this is their home'," she laughs.

“Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds - some roles don’t require training, and others have extensive training – it depends, but all volunteers are given the support, supervision, and help to develop their skills and interests,” says Volunteer Manager Ros Currrie.

“There are a number of our volunteers who work in several different roles because they have the time, and they enjoy the variety of work – it’s an opportunity to learn and be part of something wonderful in our city.”

Volunteer guide and full-time Mum Kirsten Butt has been volunteering at the Museum for seven years.

“I started off in the education department, but the team is very good at deciding where you are best placed, so I moved over to guiding. It was like ‘yes you can do that, but we think you’d be great at this as well',” she laughs.

“Some days in the winter it can be a tour group of only one or two people, and then there will be a cruise ship of 120 people – which means it’s all hands on deck, and we’re all doing a coordinated dance around the galleries, which is quite good fun.

“Volunteering is really social, and it’s like you’re the face of Auckland as well. You get that warm and fuzzy feeling from tourists – it’s nice for them to meet real Aucklanders while they’re here.

“Sometimes during winter we’ll do special tours, such as our dementia program for Alzheimer sufferers and their carers.

“It’s lovely, over six weeks we make the most of quiet times in the afternoon to visit the galleries and focus on different topics, then we all have a cup of tea after, it’s good for your soul.”

Kirsten also spent six weeks sorting moa bones in the basement of the museum.

“Being involved with that sort of thing is mind-blowing and sharing our uniquely New Zealand stories with people gives me a buzz.”

“I am forever learning; every time I come here I find something that makes me go ‘wow’ – it’s wonderful but it’s not selfless, you get so much out of it too,” says Kirsten.

Auckland Museum is currently recruiting for volunteers, click here to find out more.

Go behind the scenes

This month, as we look behind the scenes of the Auckland Council family, we're giving you an opportunity to be in to win one of our money-can't-buy experiences.

Auckland Museum is offering a money-can't-buy experience in conjunction with the ‘Carried Away: Bags Unpacked’ exhibition – an opportunity for you and a friend to see the collection up close and access stories from behind the scenes.

Visit the competition page for more information and to enter.

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