Museum Manager on meeting the locals and why Te Arawhata is important.
Josh Hansen visited Le Quesnoy on a high school trip in 2014 as part of the World War One centenary celebrations. That was when he first heard about the heroic and daring liberation of the town by Kiwi soldiers.
Now, as Museum Manager at the NZ Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata he feels privileged to be part of sharing the visitor experience with as many people as possible.
“I love meeting the people who come through the door, hearing their stories, and seeing their experience of the museum,” says Josh.
He remembers a New Zealand visitor last year who knew his father had fought somewhere near Le Quesnoy but had few other details.
“We searched for his dad on our discovery interactive and found he had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery and initiative during the liberation of Le Quesnoy. His son had never known that. It’s so special to work at a place that can have such an emotional impact on someone as I saw that day.”
Josh says a big bonus of the role has been to be welcomed into the Le Quesnoy community.
“My French is improving every day,” he laughs. “I’d not practiced for a few years until I came to Le Quesnoy so it’s been a baptism of fire working at the museum, but it’s the best way to learn. I love talking and working with the locals every day. Fortunately, everyone is very forgiving of my New Zealand accent.”
When did you leave New Zealand – and why France?
I left New Zealand in June 2023 after three years of working as a lawyer in Auckland. I chose France because I lived here previously for two brief periods in 2008 and 2020 and was eager to come back. I love exploring the country’s history, the morning markets, and the Alps. The way of life is different to New Zealand but the focus on community, often around the dining table, makes France a welcoming and familiar place.
When did you first hear about what happened in Le Quesnoy more than 100 years ago?
In 2014 I was part of a group of school students who represented New Zealand for the centenary commemorations of World War One. On this trip, we visited Le Quesnoy. We met the local school, and even met a great friend of the museum, Raymonde Dramez who was the mayor of Beaudignes at the time (though we both had forgotten this until recently).
This was an incredible way to learn the story of the liberation because it was complemented with the shared experience of meeting the people of Le Quesnoy today and hearing their side of the story. In 2014, the museum was still a dream in progress. Being here now is a bit of a full circle moment. It is a privilege to now be a part of it.
What drew you to the role of Museum Manager?
So many people in France and New Zealand have contributed in many ways to make this happen. To have the chance to now be based on site and help establish Te Arawhata as a memorable must-visit experience is an exciting and challenging opportunity. The duality of working with French locals and people in New Zealand also makes the role very unique.
How do you go about opening and establishing a New Zealand museum in France?
The opening of the museum was an amazing achievement made possible by generous donors. The museum is as beautiful and meaningful as it is today because of the collaboration between many amazing people from both France and New Zealand, including the local council. In this way, the project was achieved through the friendship created by the sacrifice of the New Zealand soldiers in 1918, the very sacrifice and friendship the museum now commemorates and celebrates.
Maintaining this ethos of friendship and collaboration is vital moving forward to establish the museum as a destination for New Zealanders and Europeans. The museum must be a source of Manaakitanga for the local community and visitors from New Zealand. The last few months have been fantastic hosting community events and meeting with local and overseas partners who want to become part of the Te Arawhata community. The Trust project team, Weta Workshop and the many French contractors have created a beautiful museum, it is now up to us to share the visitor experience with as many people as possible.
What makes Te Arawhata unique from other museums?
Te Arawhata is unique because it shares a story focussed on the people, told with artistic sensory and immersive technology. Te Arawhata commemorates all New Zealand soldiers that served in World War One, but also tells the story of the inhabitants of the people of Le Quesnoy during the war and since. It is a museum not only about World War One, but also an experience of the friendship that has flourished since between New Zealand and Le Quesnoy. Weta Workshop has weaved the exhibition spaces through a beautiful mansion, making Te Arawhata a moving and memorable destination to experience, remember and commemorate New Zealand’s history on the western front.
Why is the museum important?
The museum is a living example of “lest we forget”. It is a place of commemoration, remembrance and education about an incredible story that needs to be told. As time passes, the way we remember and commemorate must evolve. The stories need to be re-told in new ways to be passed to the next generation. This is what Te Arawhata sets out to do.
The story of friendship between Le Quesnoy and New Zealand is also one that needs to be shared and celebrated. The message this friendship sends is now more important than ever. I think it raises interesting questions about New Zealand’s responsibility on the international stage, and what we can or should do in the future to avoid repeats of the horrors of war. This is why the museum’s themes are freedom, friendship and future.
I hope the visitor experience for many is not only moving and educational, but also thought provoking. I hope Te Arawhata becomes a pilgrimage for all New Zealanders.
Do you miss New Zealand? Do you get homesick?
I love New Zealand, and miss home, the beaches, family, and friends. The great thing about travelling as a New Zealander is reminding you of how good home is. I am happy overseas for now but look forward to returning one day. Fortunately, in the museum, in our small corner of Le Quesnoy, it does feel like you are in New Zealand somewhat. With kiwis walking through the museum during the day, often ones I know through friends of friends, which is standard for kiwis, home never feels far away.