Newsletter, December 2016.


The Museum has had a busy year. A new panel telling the Pike story was blessed by Joe Mason from Te Runanga O Ngatiwaewae and opened by Labour leader, Andrew Little at the annual Pike Commemoration.

A further panel narrating the early gold mining history of the district has also been mounted. The battery at the heart of the solar system required replacement. The lawns are maintained with a community-owned ride on mower, whose upkeep we contribute to. We have also acquired video equipment which will enable us to make useful clips for social media. Funding for a public toilet based on the design of the old single men’s huts is currently being sought and we are pursuing the concept of a coffee cart for the museum site during the summer months.


Once again we are grateful to the union movement for our annual funding: E tu, The Dairy Workers Union, PSA, Tertiary Education Union, FIRST Union, NZNO and MUNZ all contribute. It means we can continue to be a site of activism. We were very grateful to receive a donation as part of the winding up of the Rewanui Preservation Society. This donation has gone into a depreciation fund. The public donation box provides us with another few hundred each year.


The winter exhibition on Blackball’s geology was curated in partnership with the local schoolchildren.


This summer the exhibition is based on the life stories of five local men. It is an interesting study of current working class male values.

The next winter exhibition will be election oriented.


We alternate with the Runanga Miners Hall community in organising the annual Mayday programme. The annual debate this year was held in Blackball on the topic: West Coast leadership remains hopeless. For the Mayday seminar we focused once again on the topic of the transition economy. We felt it would be good for the unions to host this seminar and a range of unions agreed to front the event – the body language of the local leaders was interesting. The presentations revealed a paucity of innovation from the local powers that be, but there was a grass roots energy, especially from the young that could be inspiring if given structure. As we pursue this topic, local capitalist class inertia proves to be the real problem. It was great to have Mario Alzugaray, the Cuban ambassador present. Our solidarity with Cuba is very important to our organisation. We were humbled to be presented by the outgoing ambassador with a letter of solidarity from the Cuban Five, thanking us for our support.

debate 5

The Pike Commemoration co-incided with the motorbike ride that is held annually so there was a very good turnout, with Australian representation from CFMEU. Damien O’Connor, Andrew Little and Mayor Tony Kokshoorn were present, as well as the families. The late Helen Kelly was honoured by the speakers.


This year the flowers for the wheel were made by the local schoolchildren. This commemoration is slowly turning into a festival, with an increasing number of musical items. This year Ross Teppet and George Hollingsworth brought their guitars.


Our co-ordinator has picked up on the Stand Up campaign for union education in secondary schools and presented to two classes at the local High School. The first class had never heard of trade unions, so this is a task we will continue to pursue, expanding to the other secondary schools on the Coast. The teaching staff are supportive.

We worked with local theatre group, Kiwi/Possum Productions on a ‘teaching play’ on the transition economy. This was very much a provocation followed by audience discussion and analysis. It was surprising how progressive local opinion was on topics such as Universal Basic Income, Living Wage and organic dairying. We will be the catalyst for a further Living Wage presentation to Council in the new year. The results of these discussions were summarised and presented to Council and Development West Coast on Labour Day.


We are currently pursuing the setting up of an incubator for co-operatives and social enterprises. This is a logical extension of our work on a transition economy. Next Mayday will see the launch of this incubator, plus a debate on the framework for the environmentalist role on the Coast, especially the perceived role of the urban based lobbies.

Visitor numbers:

Numbers continue to be strong (20-30 a day) over the tourist months, which are steadily extending so that the downtime is relatively short. Most visitors to Blackball visit the museum and there are now a sufficient variety of exhibition spaces to capture the spectrum of interests.

The Museum continues to be run on a shoestring budget and is being seen locally as a model to be emulated for other small Coast villages.

A big thank you to our supporters and we wish you a safe summer break.

In solidarity

Garth Elliott (Chairperson)   Paul Maunder (Co-ordinator).


Newsletter December 2014

This past year has seen the following activity:

Museum Extension Project: We received just over $21000 from Lotteries Environment and Heritage Committee and the project is now well underway, a new container ordered, panels designed and concrete about to be poured.

site preparation, local miner Darcy Tuiavi’i lends a hand
Gaining building permits(even for a container) is something of a nightmare and a new resource consent (which we hadn’t anticipated), bothered the budget somewhat, but the locally based, Blackadder Trust came to the rescue. The new container will feature a mockup section of the old mine, with the gear, some photos, and a panel on women’s life back then. On the outside will be a collage of photos, Life after Coal, which represents Blackball now. We will open the complex next Mayday.

Exhibitions: The summer exhibition on the history of Blackball Churches to coincide with the closure of the last church in town (which also gave us the opportunity to explore the role of the church in the early union movement) was replaced with an exhibition entitled: You and the Boss, which explored employment relations and the September election.

Exhibition of drawings by Phill Rooke

The exhibition featured drawings by Auckland artist, Phill Rooke

This summer’s exhibition, Not Just Jam and Jerusalem), looks at the history of the Women’s Institute (formerly the Country Women’s Institute) and the role it has played for country women. It focuses in detail on the Blackball branch, which is still going strong.

Exhibition on Women's Institute

Exhibition on Women’s Institute: Not Just Jam and Jerusalem

Mayday saw the usual range of activity. It began with a debate between the two local high schools on whether voting was important for young people; was followed by the usual debate between Runanga and Blackball, this year on the topic: You can’t vote for Labour because it means the bloody Greenies will be in government, which was well attended by MPs. Saturday saw the opening of the You and the Boss exhibition by Damien O’Connor, a well-attended performance of the Spring Creek Closure play, The Judgement of Ben Elder, followed by dinner at the community house and a speech by Kevin Hague on A Just Transition Economy for the Coast. Kevin called for a grass roots coalition to begin to organise for this transition. His speech was published by the local paper and generated significant discussion.

Scene from The Judgement of Ben Alder

Scene from The Judgement of Ben Alder

September saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Blackball mine closure, which we marked with a well-attended pot luck dinner at the Working Men’s Club. The old-timers publicly reminisced, Jeffrey Holman read some poems and we sang some songs. It was a great evening, much appreciated by the old-timers.

Reminiscing at dinner

Reminiscing at dinner

Digger and Mary Howden

Digger and Mary Howden


The Blackball Pike commemoration has become an annual event and the main public marking of the occasion. This year it co-incided with the announcement that the mine will not be re-entered so it was particularly poignant. The usual format was followed, a local reminiscing about that day, a song, the putting of flowers on the wheel followed by speeches at the EPMU stone. This year, a local choir, Waiata Koha, premiered a moving four part rendition of a poem Jeffrey Holman has written for the families.

Waiata Koha sing ‘Mine’ at Pike Service

Museum Board members were central in organising the local Get out and Vote Campaign and generally in keeping a Unions West Coast presence alive and well. We presented, with church groups, a Living Wage submission to the Grey District Council, but Councillors responded that they rely on the local body job market people to set wages. There are a few local employers however, worth targetting.

We were also pleased to support Runanga in their successful saving of the Runanga miners’ hall campaign.

Next Mayday will see the opening by the Cuban Ambassador of a new exhibition based around the paintings of one of the Cuban Five incarcerated in US jails and a major forum on a sustainable economy for the West Coast.

Our website continues to receive enquiries from people interested in NZ working class history.

Twice a year we receive visits from Christchurch schools.

We are very grateful for the continuing support of the Tertiary Education Union, the Maritime Union of NZ, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union and the Dairy Workers Union. We run on a shoestring budget, but the shoestring is still very important.

Have a good break.

In solidarity

Garth Elliott (Chairperson); Paul Maunder (Co-ordinator)

Laying of wreath at Pike Memorial Service

Laying of wreath at Pike Memorial Service