It’s hard to believe he’s left the building. Having been Lakes District Museum director since 1989, David Clarke, QSM, who turned 68 on Sunday, finally retired last October, but then carried on part-time till last Friday. Before heading for Tokyo last week with his wife Wendy, PHILIP CHANDLER posed some questions to the former two-term councillor about both the museum and his beloved Arrowtown

How did you land the job?
David Clarke: I had been building and landscaping in Queenstown; it was the end of the sharemarket crash [years], people weren’t paying their bills and this job came up and I thought, oh well, if they want someone with building skills and a history degree, this might suit me — at half the wages I was getting in my own little business.

Did you ever think you’d be almost 35 years in the job?
Not at all, but if you’re in a job where you haven’t got ‘Mondayitis’, you love coming to work, why would you go and do something else?

What’s been your management style?
Try and bring everyone along with me, have a lot of fun — museums don’t have to be quiet, hallowed places.

What’s been the highlight?
Getting the [$3.5million] for the earthquake-strengthening.

Which caused you sleepless nights?
Oh god, yeah, ’cos I knew if we didn’t get that strengthened, I think we had to get it done by 2026, that would have been a third of the museum unable to be used. But, after the Christchurch earthquakes, I’d got all the plans in place [which helped later].

Other highlights?
There was no art gallery — there were just dour portraits of Victorians and no one would go in there. Well, let’s support the artists, I said — artists I’ve supported over the years, like Jasmine Clark, have gone on to be really well-recognised artists. [Also] the bookshop, the
information centre, the archives — there was no archives room, now we’ve got 20,000 photos, thousands of bits of information.

Buckingham St or Buckingham Mall?
So long as we’re a working town, make it a shared space like Beach St [in Queenstown] — there’d be some carparks where you can park for five minutes and pick up something. That’s my preference because I think in winter [a mall] will just be tumbleweeds blowing down there.

Favourite VIP guest?
It has to be the Queen [in 1990], not everyone gets to meet the Queen. And seeing Nelson Mandela at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [retreat] when he said ‘hello’ to my daughter. She was just a baby and he said, ‘tell the children I love them’.

Any regrets?
No regrets. The [museum] board has allowed me the flexibility to do things I’ve wanted to do, and they haven’t all been pure museum things, like restoring the miners’ cottages and the gaol, and they let me go and do [planning hearing] commissioner work and

You’ve been called ‘the sheriff’ through chairing the Arrowtown planning advisory group?
I followed on from [ex-mayor] Jack Reid. Jack was ahead of his time in the 1970s to say to his council, ‘look, this town’s special, let’s get these planning rules in place’, and he was my mentor on council. We’ve had some push-back but generally it’s been a brilliant, collaborative approach, creating this environment where it’s low-scale, use of vernacular materials, gravel footpaths, trees, native planting.
We’ve almost created a monster, in that once Destination Queenstown didn’t even want to promote us, but now we’re an integral part — ‘go to Arrowtown for the history and the good food’.

Arrowtown’s really taken off as a visitor destination in your time?
That’s been down to what we’ve achieved in terms of heritage protection, the low-key development, the feeling you’re still in somewhere that’s not completely Disneyland.

Your reason for retiring and what’s next on your plate?
You can’t stay forever, and I was aware [successor] Jane [Peasey], she’s been here 12 years and she’s really smart, and she’s [part of] a new generation of digital natives. I’m away overseas for six months and then I’ll work on my little stone cottage in Ophir for six months. I’d like to do some volunteering or mentoring, and I’m into my art.

What will Arrowtown be like in 20 years’ time?
I don’t want it just to be the prerogative of the rich. I know families are already leaving because they can’t afford to live here.
The only way we can make it affordable is if council gives land, purchases and gives land to the housing trust. I hope that expansion,
infilling and any development is done sensitively so it doesn’t kill what we have that’s special, and we remain a strong community which is one of the great things about living here. We just need to make sure Coronet Peak gets some snow still — that will be the next worry.

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