Part 6: Pinned and mounted like a butterfly

If I ran a museum, it would not have a mannequin of an historic person, such as a miner, a blacksmith or a fisherman. And it would not have a motion-triggered recording of said character talking about what life is like in his historical time, voiced by a New Zealand actor struggling with an accent wavering between Irish, Scottish and Cornish.

“Oh, I didn’t see ye there! Heh! Now, now, sit yeself down. Arthur is me name, but ye can call me Pegknob O’Hooligan. I’m just making some new boots for my fair Tess. Aye, she’s a bonnie lass. I came to Crappeville three years ago in search of work. Where I came from, well, let’s just say things were tough. It’s still hard work here, but the local hoo-ers, well, they make things easy for a fella, if you know what I mean. My Tess, she’s the barmaid down at the King’s Arse. Says I should leave ‘er alone and stop bothering ‘er, but I know she’s just playing hard to get. She’ll make a fine wife for me as soon as she stops playing with them other menfolk. And I hope her eye clears up and her teeth grow back soon. Aye. Well, been nice chatting with ye. I’d better get these boots finished. Cheerio.”

Otago Museum (which had one of these) is a decent museum, but it seems to be torn between being a traditional, old-fashioned museum and a cool modern museum. Exhibit A: butterflies.

Fruit again?

The Discovery World Tropical Rainforest is a three-storey hothouse full of tropical plants and lots of butterflies. For $9.50 you can escape the cold south and enjoy the warmth and lushness and pretty butterflies. Sometimes the cheeky butterflies might even land on you!

On the top floor of the oldest part of the museum is the Animal Attic. It sounds like a “Hey kids! Science is fun!” kind of area, but it’s a classic Victorian museum collection of insects with pins through them, animal bones, taxidermied critters. And a case full of dead butterflies, carefully pinned in place to ensure they could never move, even in death.

So did the huge collection of dead butterflies somehow inspire the small collection of living butterflies? Did someone have a peyote dream where all the butterflies in the cases came to live, leading to a grand vision of living butterflies in the museum?

Dead butterflies

But perhaps there’s a place for both living and dead butterflies. Maybe it’s like the Mexican Day of the Dead, where we remember those who have gone before us, those who have died so that we may flutter as free as a… butterfly?

Or maybe it’s just the result of an aging museum trying to stay relevant in today’s modern digital age.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing the Southland R all over Dunedin. The normally silent R in the “ur” sound, suddenly comes out of hiding. (This is called a partially-rhotic accent, as opposed to standard New Zealand English which is non-rhotic.)

“Look at the tuRtles on the eaRth.”
“We had to move fuRther into the subuRbs.”
“A buRgeR would be peRfect.”

The amateur linguist in me wants to embrace this as part of what makes New Zealand English what it is. I want to celebrate this for the colour it gives to speech. But I can’t quite get there. Because to my lazy North Island ears, people with the Southland R sound like pirates.

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