The Auckland War Memorial Museum is a busy cultural centre. Things are always happening. Touring exhibitions arrive and depart. Objects enter and exit by various modes. An elephant departs with a fanfare on a sunny day and returns in the middle of the night. A whale goes in an upstairs window and a field gun is muscled up the stairs by a group of soldiers. Exhibitions may be blockbusters or small unassuming affairs. Small diorama-like display cases were circulated to schools and display panels were sent to smaller provincial museums. Objects move about within the Museum too. Aeroplanes are shifted, dismantled and reassembled. Tour buses come and go with their loads of tourist visitors, curious culture consumers on a tight schedule. School buses arrive and wait while their young active and eager passengers consume learning and lunch. Perhaps museum visitors of the future will come and go by flying saucer.
The arrival of the Museum building itself is a form of coming. The summit which early Aucklanders called Observatory Hill (and later referred to as Museum Hill) must have looked very bare and empty before the construction and opening of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Built on the edge of an extinct volcano, the monumental neo-classical building suggests a state of physical permanence and cultural memory. The strong architectural symbol combines the buildings dual function as a war memorial and museum.
Appropriately sited on what the Maori called Pukekawa, “hill of bitter memories” which refers to the blood shed in ancient tribal battles, the Auckland War Memorial was erected in two stages, the front opened 1929 and the rear addition 1960, as memorials to all the citizens of Auckland Province who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars.