Riding the rails to Whangamomona

20170227_141113Last week we did a day trip with Forgotten World Adventures using golf carts converted to run on the disused rail line from Okahukura (near Taumaranui in the North Island of New Zealand) to Whangamomona.

This rail line was closed in 2010; which seems a shame as it took more than 30 years to build in the early 20th century and includes 24 tunnels and 91 bridges. However, Ian Balme saw an opportunity and negotiated a lease with KiwiRail and started the business in 2012. There are high maintenance costs – especially clearing the line after each winter, which helps explain why the rides aren’t particularly cheap. But with lunch and morning and afternoon teas provided and a return ride, we thought it was worth it. Continue reading


Chain migration

Since setting up this website I have received a few queries mainly relating to family history (this is in addition to comments on specific posts). A recent one led me to do some more research on one of my great-grandmothers who came to New Zealand in 1880. The query was:

“Hello, I have just read an article on line about my great uncle Stanley Austwick who died on the Somme in 1916. It mentions that a relative was Mrs S Morrell of Miramar. Are you related to this person? I ask because my mother says Stanley was engaged to a girl in New Zealand. We would love to know who she was and what happened to her.”

Continue reading

Travels in Communist Europe – 1981

visa-berlinNow it is relatively common for New Zealand school children to take school trips to other countries, but when I was young it wasn’t at all common. It was too expensive – and perhaps it just wasn’t considered something worthwhile. I grew up in the North Island inland town of Masterton and had one school trip to Nelson in the South Island, and hockey team trips to New Plymouth and Napier.

My first overseas trip was when I was 18 or 19 and it was to Melbourne and parts of Victoria (Australia) with the under-23 Wellington women’s hockey team. We came last in the hockey tournament, but I enjoyed the travel. The next year a friend and I went to Tonga (briefly) and Fiji for a holiday and about 16 months later I did my ‘big OE’ (“overseas experience” – almost a rite of passage for young New Zealanders). I was in the UK and Europe for eight months, based in London when I wasn’t travelling, which I was most of the time. Continue reading

Hogarth’s ‘Marriage a la mode’

In my part-time job at Te Papa I sometimes get to spend hours with some of the national art collection. The visitor host art floor supervisor asked some of us to write a paragraph for a joint blog post about which art work currently on display we would like for Christmas (if we could have one, which of course we can’t!)

There is so much to choose from it was difficult, but this is my contribution. You can read the full post here.

“All I want for Christmas is William Hogarth’s Marriage a la mode print series, because it would give hours of pleasure deciphering all the details. Continue reading

Centrepoint shopping arcade, Masterton

This was a paper I gave at an architecture symposium at Victoria University today (2 Dec 2016). The theme was New Zealand architecture in the 1970s. I also gave a paper a few years ago when the theme was NZ architecture in the 1840s.

The talk was a shorter version of this paper. The full title was:

Centrepoint to Centrepointless: Roger Walker’s Masterton shopping arcade (1972 to 1997).

Abstract: Centrepoint was the name of a shopping arcade that opened in Masterton in December 1972. It was designed by Roger Walker (b. 1942) and commissioned by Ron Brierley and Robert Jones Investments as one of several shopping arcade developments they were making in various places in New Zealand at the time. Centrepoint featured 21 small shops opening from a brick-paved courtyard, with a prominent viewing tower on the corner. It had signature Roger Walker elements such as round pipe windows, steep roofs, and bright colours. Despite being described just before its opening as “Masterton’s biggest ‘happening’”, in 1997 it was demolished. After looking at the opening of Centrepoint, this paper will consider some possible reasons for Centrepoint’s failure.

Alongside this record of architectural loss, I consider how something that is still within the memories of many people (but no longer there to check) is remembered and sometimes misremembered. These are two of many comments that appeared on a popular Facebook page in 2015 in response to a photograph of Centrepoint:

“Loved that building. …. many a good memory. Should still be there; a brilliant example of 70’s design.”

“It was pretty hideous as was much of the 70’s. Food at the cafe was always good though.”

* Continue reading

The former Erskine College, Island Bay

Where I live in Island Bay, Wellington, I look across the valley to what used to be a Catholic girls’ secondary school known as Erskine College. After the school closed in 1985, the buildings had various uses including as an art school venue. I am not an ‘alumna’ or ‘old girl’ of the school, but I did visit it several times when the art school had exhibitions and I took part in one of their weekend courses once. But it has been listed as earthquake prone and is no longer usable. It has been empty for some years and, as such, the target of vandalism.

dsc05200 Continue reading

Chief from Santa Christina

Recently I had to prepare a short talk on an object in Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand’s) collections. I chose two prints currently on display on level 5. These both relate to the second voyage of James Cook to the Pacific – this article on the Te Papa website is also about that voyage if you’d like more information.

“We might think armchair travel is relatively new, but it isn’t – it was also popular in the 18th century. If you couldn’t travel you could hopefully at least read about it and look at the pictures. All the images in this area relate to the voyages of James Cook – he made three voyages to the Pacific in the late 18th century, and was killed in Hawai’i on the third voyage. ‘The Chief at Santa Christina’ comes from his second voyage – the voyage artist was William Hodges, but this print was made back in England a few years later from a Hodges drawing or watercolour. Continue reading