In episode six of Get It to Te Papa, a Lightbox Original made by The Spinoff, Hayden Donnell’s journey finally takes him to the national museum.
If I had to pick one artefact from Get It to Te Papa to be enshrined in our national museum, it would be the Waitangi Dildo. But if for some reason that was lost in a seagull shit-encrusted dump somewhere south of Kerikeri, my next choice would be the Lets Gone Warriors sign.
The story of the sign mirrors the story of the New Zealand Warriors, and in some ways the story of New Zealand itself. It was roundly mocked by smug Australian commentators when it was first held up during a famous victory over the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on June 3, 2013. The team’s fan base subverted that racism-tinged sneering. They recognised the sign for what it was: a reflection of their team’s unique identity. Like the sign, the Warriors are flawed but strangely inspirational; imperfect but more fun than the boring win-machines churned out by rugby union.
The slogan “Lets Gone Warriors” became a rallying cry. It had the right mix of enthusiasm and imprecision. It said “hope, but not too hard”. Warriors fans shouted it at games. Wrote it on new signs. Made it a hashtag on social media. But while the Lets Gone Warriors sign was doing its emotional work, no-one seemed to think about finding and enshrining the tangible artefact itself.
Thankfully Tyson Elia didn’t share New Zealand’s apparent ambivalence. The man who made the sign recognised its importance. Our researcher Joseph Harper tracked him down through some expert social media investigation. It turned out Tyson had given the treasure to his relative Deejaye Samliela for safekeeping. Deejaye and his partner had slept under Lets Gone Warriors every night for several years, until we – together with Tyson – came to visit one day in March.
The Lets Gone Warriors sign is still in immaculate condition. Because it was written on a synthetic bag, the material hasn’t degraded as you’d expect with cardboard. Its lettering has faded, but not much. Tyson must have drawn his famous slogan on meticulously in vivid, making sure there were no blank spaces on the bag’s tessellated surface. In contrast to the sign’s reputation for imprecision, the lettering itself is precisely drawn. There are no smudges or mistakes in its outlines.
All this is to say, being handed the sign by Deejaye and Tyson, with the intercession of former Warrior Ben Henry, was one of the great honours of my life. This treasure is easily the best preserved of all the ones I secured for my Te Papa collection, and one of the most meaningful.
All going to plan, I would’ve got it – and perhaps another artefact or two – into Te Papa. Due to a series of events, many of which I am not legally able to disclose, that was not the case. Instead we were forced to revert to the plan I had originally envisaged: setting up a museum outside Te Papa called Also Te Papa.
It’s not easy to set up a museum from scratch in the public forecourt of a museum whose name you’re temporarily adopting. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy, let alone my producer Amber and our museum designer Bronwyn Bent, who are low-level enemies at worst. Running that makeshift museum was hell on Earth. ‘Also Te Papa’ was open for an afternoon. Our exhibits were buffeted relentlessly. We spent what felt like hours, braced diagonal against the Wellington wind, holding up umbrellas to protect them from the elements. At some point, a Te Papa staff member walked over and told us to stick the treasures down with museum-strength putty from their gift shop.
It was worth it to give our artefacts the respect they deserved. Te Papa, despite its efforts to catalogue New Zealand’s true history, should have had these items in their collection already. They’re weird and often unassuming treasures, but they mean a lot to a lot of people, and they shouldn’t get left out when we tell the New Zealand story.
If there’s room for a giant squid corpse in the museum, there’s room for a Big Fresh Animatronic Vegetable. If there’s room for an earthquake simulator, there’s room for an interactive dildo throwing exhibit. For all its flaws, and the near nervous breakdown it caused me, Get It to Te Papa was about righting those wrongs. Maybe the official pageantry of Te Papa wouldn’t have been right for a treasure like Auckland’s Giant Santa’s winking eye anyway. It has always been the underdog, just like Suzanne Paul, just like the Warriors. Their best hope is for an occasional moment in the limelight; a burst of glory between the trudge of neglect and anonymity. ‘Also Te Papa’ gave them that moment, if only for an afternoon. Hopefully Get It to Te Papa will bring them many more.
Get It to Te Papa is a Lightbox Original, made by The Spinoff. All six episodes are streaming now on Lightbox.
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