Book Review: Hometown New Zealand, by Derek Smith

cv_hometown_NZAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

Derek Smith has worked as a meter reader for most of his adult life, travelling on his work-issue scooter in town and country to read the power meters of suburban and rural properties.

The job was a revelation – he found he was able to indulge his passion for photography while earning a living wage. For over 30 years, Derek Smith took photographs of the ordinary scenes around him and turned them into a wonderful social documentary of our community. Derek would take photos of seemingly mundane streets, buildings, cars and billboards and capture a moment in time that we can still appreciate whether current or from 1982.

His ability to visit all types of properties allows him a unique insight into a broad cross-section of New Zealand. He completed stints as a meter reader in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Coromandel, as well as rural Otago, Westland, Waikato among others. The pictures in Hometown New Zealand reflect his time in all of these places.

The foreword is definitely worth reading next time you are relaxing on the couch with a cuppa in hand. He writes a wonderful and charming introduction to his idyllic life, linking arms with New Zealand people and culture. He shares amusing stories from his time on the road, coining the work-issue scooter with brake problems “Certain Death”, and gaining sympathy for his daily confrontation with beasts unknown in yards around the country. Then there are the stories of chatting with hermits in back-country properties, tracking down the power meter through 12 farm gates, and then swapping gates for electric fences. His time in Wellington is familiar to all who have lived there; survival of cutting southerly icy storms and walks up and down 137 steps to domestic properties.

His inspiration is that he ‘recognises our place in time as transient and important to document’, and it’s wonderfully nostalgic to look through the photos, reviving your own memories of growing up in New Zealand. It is such a surprise when you look at the rural photo of Foxton from 2004 with old cars, worn signs and battered paintwork and recognise that this photo is similar to that from Raetihi in 1986. Heart-warmingly, New Zealand hasn’t changed much if you find the right spot.

Review by Amie Lightbourne

Hometown New Zealand
by Derek Smith
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781927213117