Bulls Museum: an unbelieva-bull hidden medical collection

Bulls Museum is home to an eclectic collection of local history. Interspersed and hidden within the displays are pieces of the medical and health histories of this small Rangitīkei community.

Bulls Museum: an unbelieva-bull hidden medical collection
No longer used medical implements on display at Bulls Medical Centre. Photo used with permission.

On an incredibly rainy day in May during my time down in Rangitīkei I went to visit Bulls Museum. I walked in and Helen, the museum’s secretary whom I had been in communication with for the last few weeks, jokingly accused me of bringing the rain down from Northland with me. I said it was entirely likely, as from everything I had seen of Northland and Auckland in the last few days it was horrendous up there.

When I talked to Helen prior to my visit, she said they didn’t have much in the way of medical collections, and yet almost every corner we turned in the surprisingly large museum there was something else relevant to the medical and health histories of Aotearoa New Zealand. People forget that health is so much more holistic than just medical implements and devices. Indeed, when I stopped at a peculiar looking face shield that I thought might have something to do with beekeeping (ineffectual as I thought the large gaps would be for keeping the bees out), Helen told me they were old sporting headgear, used to protect the wearer from head injuries. With a country whose most popular sport has had many players with head injuries, this old, pre-ACC headgear more than qualifies as a preventative healthcare measure.

Like a lot of community museums where locals enlisted in the First and Second World Wars, Bulls Museum has a number of objects from field medical kits used during the wars.
Image Description
Knitting instructions for a cholera belt. A portion of the long finished belt can be seen at the top of the image. Collection of Bulls Museum, photo used with permission.

What I enjoyed about their war-related medical collections was that not only did they have packets of bandages, they also had an old wood and metal bandage roller with a hand-crank. Once the bandages had been used, they could be cleaned and rerolled for the next time they were needed. My favourite object amongst their army medical collections was the cholera belt and associated knitting pattern. The cholera belt was a long flat strip of material, often knitted from wool, that was made to wrap around the abdomen. It was apparently meant to prevent chilled-abdomen-related illnesses such as cholera and dysentery. Who knew that the medical and scientific communities once thought the cholera-causing pathogen spread predominantly through contaminated water was actually caused from having a chilled abdomen?

Image Description
At least one local resident of Bulls donated their glasses to the museum collection. Photo used with permission.

As a community, Bulls has a history of long-serving town doctors. The collections in the museum reflect that. With previous donations from doctors’ relatives, the museum offers glimpses into the home lives oft hese medical professionals and their places in the community. Around a corner around another corner is the wicker wheelchair of local resident and author of note, Annie, Lady Wilson Her husband was a doctor in Bulls and her daughter Hilary Haylock was one of the patrons of Bulls Museum. Through Hilary a number of the family’s possessions are now in the museum.

Just down the street is the local medical centre which houses collections of its own. Helen took me there and along with staff member Karen, we went through the offices of the doctors who all happened to be conveniently out. Hundreds of old medicine bottles, tools and paraphernalia are displayed in the offices of Bulls Medical Centre. Karen showed me the most recent addition to their collection – a Sussex Resuscitator from the local fire service. It was showing its age as to me it looked like a breathing mask attached to a weathered leather rugby ball. The fire service was unsure what to do with the piece of equipment they had long since replaced with its more modern counterpart, so now it lives on the top of a display case in one of the medical centre’s waiting rooms.

I’m not saying if you’re passing through Bulls to pull into the local medical centre to try and have a look at their collections, but I am saying to stop into the museum. It is on State Highway 1 and across the road from a number of cafes and eateries. Our local museums rely on the donations of visitors so if you live in Bulls or the surrounding area, go and visit! And if you’re passing through on your way north or south, take a rest stop in Bulls and go and visit!I know not everyone in the country are lucky enough to get to go to museums for work but so many are so local to a lot of people and yet have a dearth of visitors and volunteers. Without both of these things, museums like these are in danger of being unable to continue to preserve and educate about our histories.