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My eyes lit up when I opened the courier package with my latest offerings to review. The building of the Auckland Harbour Bridge is an event that happened during my early childhood and so I have quite a few memories from that time. This book is a fascinating read and very well written.
Author Philippa Werry is a librarian and a children’s author. She has written non-fiction, poetry, stories and plays plus a number of pieces for the School Journal. One of her recent books, Anzac: The New Zealand Story, is shortlisted in the non-fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Mrs Hobson, Simon Robert Campbell’s teacher at Northcote intermediate asks the children in his class to keep a diary. Simon finds an old exercise book and starts writing. His teacher then becomes sick and the children forget about the task at hand, but Robert decides he quite likes keeping a diary and so from February 1958 – August 1959 he records things that interest him.
This is the 1950’s – a time of rock n’ roll, milk bars, night clubs, Bodgies and Widgies (I must be old if I can remember these terms!) and Johnny Devlin. The Auckland Harbour Bridge is finally going to be built. Living on the North Shore and close to the building site, Simon takes a great interest in all the activities. His uncle Alan is a construction worker and part of a gang of young men employed from all over the world to work on the bridge.
Originally a 5 lane bridge was proposed, but this was deemed too expensive, so the proposal was to build a 4 lane bridge – 2 lanes each way.
Simon’s interest in the bridge becomes an obsession, his friend Marty, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with the Space Race between the USA and Russia, his younger sister Jo can’t stop worrying about the animals used as the first space travellers, and his elder sister Linda is obsessed with Johnny Devlin and her parents lack of understanding for her “need” to go to the dance halls to listen to her idol.
I enjoyed revisiting this time in New Zealand history, and it brought back many memories. The suggested age range for this book is 10+, and it is written in such a way that you couldn’t help but be drawn into the story.
At the back of the book are several chapters that help the younger reader with the facts surrounding the building of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge. These include, historical notes with a timeline from 1860 when the building of the bridge was first proposed. They also include interesting facts, regarding the ferries, The Space Race, Rock ‘n’ Roll era of the 1950’s. Also there is a Glossary with meanings of words used in the story e.g. aggregate, arched bridge. There are also a number of photos from Archives New Zealand.
Reviewed by Christine Frayling
My New Zealand Story: Harbour Bridge – Auckland 1958–59
by Philippa Werry
Published by Scholastic NZ