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"The new Home of the Paua House 609 km from Home" Top 5 Page for this destination Canterbury Museum Tip by Kakapo2

Canterbury Museum, Christchurch: 15 reviews and 27 photos

  An impressive display of paua shells.
by Kakapo2

There has been a lot of controversary about the Paua House in Bluff. Since early July the interior has found a new home 609 kilometres away from home – in a replica of the house in Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. It is just fantastic – and worth a visit of its own, even if you are not interested in museums normally. The Paua House is a piece of Kiwiana, and remains in Christchurch for at least ten years.

The story I wrote for my newspapers (in German, of course, in a more sophisticated language – I translated it for all of you, say thank you ;-)

Fred and Myrtle Flutey had an open home for 37 years, from 1963 until 2000. Every day from 9am to 5pm the couple welcomed visitors from all over the world in their house in Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost town, about one million in all those years. In 1990 the national tourist board awarded them a certificate of merit for their extraordinary hospitality.

The Fluteys did not live in an ordinary house by the sea. The walls in the hall were covered in pennants. Thousands of kitsch items were crammed into a display cabinet. Und then there was this lounge. The walls are plastered with about 1200 hand-sized paua shells. They shimmer in all shades of blue and green, purple, pink, rose and bronze. The gaps are filled with paua necklaces, paua dolls, paua ships, paua plates. This unique salmagundi of kitsch objects is completed by silk flowers in paua vases, photos in paua frames, garden gnomes, huge mussels, porcelain swans and fish, all exhibited on side tables, on the mantlepiece, the floor and in a basin decorated with paua shells. In total more than 4000 items fill the room, including the paua shells, also called abalone, which you only find in the waters around New Zealand.

Many New Zealanders shed a tear when Myrtle Flutey died at the age of 89 in May 2000 and Fred on 31 December 2001, nine days before his 98th birthday. The couple who were married for 70 years had long become national icons – a piece of Kiwiana. Kiwiana is everything that makes New Zealand, from the flightless kiwi to the silver fern, from guys in gumboots, shorts and singlet to fish’n’chips, from the pavlova, a merengue cake with cream and fruit, to Fred and Myrtle Flutey.

In their will they had wished that their plastered white house with the turquoise green window frames and the orange coloured tiled roof become a museum. But their offspring were not able to maintain the house. Behind the backs of his relatives Fred and Myrtle’s grandson, Ross Bowen, who had inherited the house, offered the shells and all the kitsch and arty clutter to several museums as a loan. But only with Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, 609 kilometres further north, he could strike a deal. In a cloak-and-dagger operation he stripped the house of the clutter and sold the house. Not only the whole of Southland was disgusted. Bowen became the villain, evil-doer, desecrator of a memorial, and within the suddenly fallen out family the black sheep. “Fred and Myrtle would turn over in their graves”, was the general tenor.

It was a kind of miracle that not only Bowen but also two daughters of the Fluteys attended the opening of the Paua House in Canterbury Museum although the daughters still have not digested the destruction of their parents’ legacy in Bluff that now is only famous for its oysters. But even they were totally delighted by the marvellous job the museum’s curator Sarah Whitehead and her staff had done. “Everything looks exactly like the original”, was the most heard comment of guests and visitors on the opening weekend.

A building company reconstructed the villa in an extension of the museum true to scale. A part of the interior decoration could be saved from the house in Bluff, among other things the old-fashioned carpet with its big pattern, the seal juggling a ball, and a gigantic paua shell made of concrete that had been in the front garden, and the original plate with the house number 257.

Despite her fabulous achievement Sarah Whitehead considers the shift to Christchurch only the second-best solution. “I would have preferred the collection to remain at its original site”, says the curator who photographed the Flutey’s lounge in detail and could use film material for the recreation. “But this was not possible. It would have been horrible for New Zealand if this treasure had been taken overseas.”

What makes the exhibit perfect is the installation of a small cinema beside the Fluteys’ lounge. In a short film the meaning of Kiwiana is explained, and why the Fluteys are part of it.

As the extroverted couple appeared on TV every now and then, for example in advertisements for toast bread and ice cream, film documents of them have been conserved. “I had collected paua shells in Fiordland and ground them down for 27 years. Myrtle said, you have to clear the shells from the floor because I need to vacuum. So I hit nails into the wall and hung up the shells”, you see and hear Fred say. “And now I always dust them”, adds Myrtle with a smile.

It is heartwarming to see how joyful this aged was, how happy and mentally fit until a ripe old age. Sarah Whitehead knows why: “I am convinced that collecting keeps you young and fresh.”

See more photos in the travelogue on my Christchurch intro page.

Address: Rolleston Ave
Directions: Beside the main entrance of the Botanic Garden, opposite the Arts Centre. From Cathedral Square walk down Worcester Street (follow tram line), and you'll walk right into the museum.
Phone: +64 3 366 5000

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Aug 18, 2008
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