By Maureen Bishop
The impact on rugby players who traded New Zealand sports fields for the battlefields of World War 1 is the theme of an interactive exhibition which will open at the Ashburton Museum next week.
Balls, Bullets and Boots: From Rugby Field to Battlefield and Back will open in the museum’s newest exhibition space – the Kate and Hank Murney Room – on Saturday, September 23.
The exhibition explores the legacy of World War 1, as seen through the eyes of 15 New Zealand rugby players and one woman coach.
Museum director Tanya Robinson said the touring exhibition will be an exciting addition to the museum, particularly for local rugby enthusiasts.
“Fifty All Blacks went away to World War 1 and 13 died. No fewer than 728 provincial representatives served, 163 died and by late 1915 – before conscription – it was estimated that 10,000 active rugby club players from throughout New Zealand had volunteered for service.
“The exhibition explores the impact those hostilities have had on New Zealand’s signature sport and will engage visitors with players’ personal stories against a backdrop of a nation at war.”
The exhibition takes visitors through a rugby club room where they meet their on-screen guide, Anton Oliver, the players and a coach, whose life stories feature throughout.
Visitors will be taken down into the trenches – and more – while viewing a selection of historic objects, memorabilia and multimedia dramatisations, Ms Robinson said.
The senses will be triggered through the sounds, the smell and the sights of war.
The museum will also run associated children’s activities during the exhibition period.
It is the first touring exhibition to be staged at the museum and comes from the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North. It is based on research undertaken by Clive Akers for an e-book of the same name.
The Kate and Hank Murney Room was remodelled from a vacant area in the Art Gallery and Heritage Centre, into a state-of-the-art exhibition space, thanks to the generosity of the Hank Murney Family Trust.