Foxton is a small town of about 3000 people, one few people from Wellington give a thought to bypassing it when travelling north. For the more than forty people who joined the Friends of Te Papa trip to Foxton that has now changed. It is a place they will visit again with Friends or family and recommend to others.

First loaf from De Molen stone ground floor. Image by Elizabeth Kay

What did they discover that means they now see it as a fascinating place? History is part of the story. There are the stories of Māori who lived and live in the area and Foxton’s status as the pre-eminent centre for flax growing and production, revealed in a visit to Flax museum where working machinery showed the old processes along with a commentary on the international forces at work as flax growers competed with sisal for rope making. The decline of the market for flax lead to an attempt by Dutch settlers to grow bulbs. That failed but the windmill still stands and produces flour. The Friends climbed the stairs inside to investigate its workings and some bought flour or other Dutch goodies.

Image by Elizabeth Kay

More recently vision, initiative, hard work and fund-raising led to the centrepiece of the still expanding centre, the award-winning Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom, which combines a library, café, community hub and galleries. Arjan van der Boon, who played a leading role in its establishment, backgrounded the story of the centre for us over morning tea, explaining how combining Māori history and culture with that of immigrants, the Dutch, provides a  community centre, library and museum which is unique in its intercultural nature.

We learnt more about both the indigenous and immigrants settlers from the guided tours of the Māori and Dutch sections of the museum. The stories of the experiences of the occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War provided the context for much of the Dutch post-war migration to New Zealand and visiting the affecting exhibition on loan from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

After that packed  programme some of the more energetic Friends  walked along  Foxton’s main street to visit MAVtech, New Zealand’s only  audio-visual museum, while others relaxed before the bus trip back, in many cases planning a return trip to this surprising small town.

Alison Kuiper

Feature image by Crispin Kay