Who we are

We are a local museum in the ex coal mining village of Blackball, telling the story of the 1908 strike which saw the local miners lead the country into a new political era. We also mount local heritage exhibitions, exhibitions on current social and political issues, host a schools' programme teaching students the virtue of collective action, and run events reflecting a people's  culture.

The Museum was opened in 2009 and is supported by: E tu union, Tertiary Education Union, Public Service Association, the Dairy Workers Union, the Maritime Union of NZ and First Union. Infrastructure development has been funded by TrustPower, Development West Coast, Lotteries NZ, the West Coast Development Trust, Blackadder Trust and the Grey District Council.

Current Board: Nick Secker, Kyle Webster, Garth Elliott, Jane Wells,Graeme Axford, Caroline Selwood, Tania Smallridge (Chair), Paul Maunder.

Extension Project. We were recently awarded a seeding grant from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage Te Urungi Innovation Fund to assist in an extension project which will see the addition of a further six replicas of the single men's huts. Dr Grace Millar is currently researching the project.

Summer Exhibition: Blackball Women

Schools' programme

We run a one day interactive programme, Without our brain and muscle, designed for years: 6-10.  The children are transported back to early last century conditions, the miners going to work for insufficient pay and the family budget stretched. What can they do?


With covid circulating the organisers planned for a smaller event this year. The Friday night debate on the recent parliamentary occupation was a lively affair, contrasting the role of government, science and regulation in the name of public health and established order with individual rights and freedoms: the freedom to move, say no and to create social relations. The role of the press was critiqued and class division revealed. The debate was well judged by Tony Kokshoorn who eventually found in favour of the affirmative team. It was generally appreciated that a serious if at times light hearted discussion of issues took place.

On Saturday afternoon a small group began to talk of the need for a more pragmatic and progressive local governance, one not afflicted by a victim mentality and a default National Party positioning; one able to move the community through the serious challenges of a changing mandate as councils are restructured. After all, there will be a considerable journey of transition and continuing crises. The group decided that in order to combat entrenched positions a campaigning strategy will be necessary and even if it merely stirs things up and debate begins the effort will be worthwhile.

On Saturday evening, after dinner at the Inn, the Cuban Ambassador Mr Edgardo Valdez Lopez addressed the international situation, focusing on Ukraine. US ‘triumphalism’ became ascendant after the fall of the Soviet Union and the inability to soften that impulse and set more reasonable boundaries has led to the current conflict. The US is also keen to see a less powerful Germany and a more compliant Europe. The Russians were pushed too far and the Ukrainians are now the unfortunate pawns in the international power play.

After some songs, this year being the thirtieth anniversary of the lengthy  lockout of workers at a Milton woollen mills, it was opportune to revisit the ‘triumphalism’ of the Employment Contracts Act, introduced by National in 1991 in an attempt to destroy the union movement. With union membership declining by 50% over the 1990s, they were almost successful. A small group of workers remaining firm in their  resolve not to accept an obviously unfair agreement, picketed the factory on a regular basis for eight years, until it closed. They became a symbol of resistance nationally and it was reported that their refusal to give in had dissuaded other employers from taking full advantage of the act. Milton locked out worker, Colin Weatherall was at the event to accept the accolade.

Garth Elliott spoke of the Fair Pay Agreement legislation currently before a select committee, whereby a group of workers within a sector can bargain on behalf of all the workers in the sector to establish fair pay and conditions. Early childhood workers, cleaners, bus drivers and security workers are all covered in the act. Everyone is encouraged to make a submission, either in writing https://www.together.org.nz/fpa_submission or through shooting a selfie https://www.makeworkfair.nz/videoask-1. It is vitally important that the act receives the grass roots  support it needs in order to pass.


It was then a useful event, to explore issues, to understand the world better and to remember that, in the words of the union song, ‘In our hands there is a power greater than their hoarded gold…’


Enquiries: wkcultur@gmail.com or text 0211063669 or facebook/Mahi Tupuna- Blackball Museum of Working Class History.

Stop Press: We were recently honoured to receive the inaugural Frederick George Evans Grant from the Workers Institute for Scientific Education. The grant was made 'in recognition of the museum's significant role in retaining a living record of NZ workers' struggles historically and its contribution to the awareness of current working class issues and struggles.'

Addition to Museum complex. Our new accessible toilet, funded by Lotteries Community was opened on Feb 24th by Mayor, Tony Kokshoorn.


An intervention

The Museum has facilitated the setting up of a co-operative incubator as a response to the need for a transition economy. More information and details about applying for membership is available at www.tepuawai.co.nz.

Te Puawai launched by Cuban Ambassador.

Links: video  Walter Shaw of Blackball reminisces - YouTube; Pike Commemoration in Blackball 2016 -YouTube; Picket at Pike River Mine -YouTube. Accommodation www.blackballhilton.co.nz. Food www.blackballsalami.co.nz. Walking Croesus Track. Walking and tramping in Southern Paparoa Range.


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