Family at war – Slice of Heaven exhibition

Family at war – Slice of Heaven exhibition

It’s just 2 weeks now since Slice of Heaven opened and the word from Te Papa’s hosts is that it’s “what New Zealanders have been waiting for!”  This is my first blog – ever.

I was one of the team working behind the scenes to bring the stories from 20th Century Aotearoa into the museum.  After 2 years of intense work, I’m excited to be able to record my own impressions of this amazing journey.

Today, I took a moment to stand on the bridge and watch visitors explore things below.  It’s a fantastic feeling to see everything come to life, observing people from different backgrounds, different generations, really engaged with the displays, absorbed in reading or watching, talking to each other about things familiar, a memory recalled, an experience shared – things that connect us all together.

Revisiting World War II
Revisiting World War II. Copyright Te Papa, 2010.

 I find myself returning to the World War II section, to the exquisite recreation of a scene depicting a New Zealand family in their living room in the winter of 1942, when American Forces arrived to protect us from the threat of Japanese invasion.

Every detail is considered, from the wallpaper to the gas mask.  The mother holds a ration book in hand as her daughter appears to be ready to go out to a dance, and the young son in his pyjamas plays with a jigsaw puzzle.  Dad is due at Home Guard practice.  For me, imagining the lives of these lifelike mannequins is not the only thing pulling me back there, though.

On the wall of their room is a framed photograph of a handsome, smiling young man in his early twenties.  He wears a Royal Navy uniform confirming his recent commission.  He’s there to represent all New Zealand men and women who left home to serve overseas during the war.

Bruce Donald, 1945
Bruce Donald, 1945 Courtesy the Donald Family archives.

His name is Bruce Reginald Donald.  I am so proud to be his daughter.

I can’t wait to hear Alison Parr talking about the experiences of New Zealanders on the home front during WWII.  Alison is a senior historian with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and her wonderful book, Home, is based on interviews with many men and women who kept the home fires burning.  It’s a powerful read.

Alison Parr gives a floortalk in Slice of Heaven tomorrow, Saturday, 16 October at 12.15pm. Don’t miss it!


  1. Lovely to see this exhibition!! Exquisite. Wonderful to connect with your spirit Prue. Am staying w Jamie and Margaret who tells me she has been in contact recently. We spoke of you and I reminisced that to this day your paintings of the mid ’70’s are indelibly etched in my mind. Whenever I drive between Wellington and Palmerston North your hill paintings STILL rise before me. Likewise your self portraits are as vivid as if it was yesterday. Somehow they marked the times and continue to present themselves. I hope you are still painting, Prue……..

  2. Nice piece, Prue. A quite special exhibition. I came across your first blog today by total coincidence, whilst just dipping into the Te Papa website! Best wishes, Andrew

    1. Thank you Andrew Kincaid! Yes, the exhibition is definitely worth a visit – especially for those of us who lived through so much of it. Great though that Te Papa’s doors are always open to virtual visitors around the world.

  3. Dear Prue
    What a truly amazing job you have done…how proud Grandpa would have been of you.
    Love the Auckland Jones’

    1. Thanks so much Sarah, Mark, Phoebe, Will and Tom for checking out the Slice of Heaven blog! I’d love to take you around the show next time you’re in Wellington.

  4. Pity I cant get down on Saturday, but I lived in London during WW2, we had a shelter (Anderson Shelter) in the back garden where we used to be taken into.. Dad was a fighter pilot with both RAF and RCAF.. Luckily I cant remember the War, born 1943. But my sister can, two years older. I can remember years later coming across the gas masks.. still have some mementos like ration books…

    1. Hi Adele,

      It must have been pretty scary to have been in London during the war! That Anderson Shelter must have been like a second home at times. Alison Parr’s talk brought back lots of wartime memories for people – it was fantastic. There are more talks planned too, so keep in touch.

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