Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A Paradoxical Convergence: National Identity and Gender in 'The Topp Twins' Exhibition and the New Zealand Rugby Museum

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posted on 2021-12-07, 15:00 authored by Torrance, Chelsea

In May 2017, there was a strange convergence inside Palmerston North’s Te Manawa museum. As visitors arrived on the first floor, they were left with two options. Turn left for the New Zealand Rugby Museum, or turn right for an exhibition on Jools and Lynda Topp. Left for masculinist rugby history. Right for radical activist lesbians. While both exhibitions have very different subject matter, themes of gender and national identity are prevalent within them both. Using this convergence as an entry point, this thesis considers the ways national identity and gender are put on display within the permanent exhibition at the New Zealand Rugby Museum and The Topp Twins exhibition.  Using data from interviews with key people involved with the two exhibitions, documentary research, and analysis of the two exhibitions, this thesis asks how New Zealand national identity and gender are narrated and displayed within The Topp Twins and the New Zealand Rugby Museum, and considers what this means for museum practice. In so doing, the thesis begins with an overview of key literature looking at nation, discourse and gender in museum and heritage scholarship. It also considers literature of New Zealand identity formation and gender. The intellectual foundation of this thesis resides in the idea that gender, nation and museums are intimately bound.  In the second part of the thesis, an investigation into the historical and contemporary context of the two exhibitions is conducted. This section provides an overview of the content and design of the exhibits. In combining both the context and content of the exhibitions, the thesis is able to consider intentions as well as the outcomes of the two. The final part of the thesis considers the ways national identity and gender have been presented within The Topp Twins exhibition and the New Zealand Rugby Museum. This chapter shows that while gender is presented in very different ways, the museums have a very similar narrative about ‘New Zealandness’.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Stout Research Centre

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Davidson, Lee; Macdonald, Charlotte