Book Review: Glorious South Island Steam Power, by Robert John

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_glorious_south_island_steampowerThe word “glorious” in the title of this photographic essay on steam trains in the Sth Island of New Zealand is not a misplaced use of hyperbole. Growing up as a child of the railways in the 50s and 60s in Timaru and North Canterbury, I loved everything about the huge black monsters as they puffed their way up and down the country.

Robert John has captured the feel of the era with his photographs which document the passing of steam power in the South Island. Quoting his words as he watched two locomotives power past his vantage point in Oamaru – ‘Onwards and upwards these two examples of Hillside shop’s finest blasted their way around the right inside curve, past this railfan’s camera waiting trackside. Puzzled faces peered out of their carriage windows, no doubt oblivious as to why on earth anyone would want to photograph their steam express. How could they have known that in 1965, steam was living on borrowed time?’

Sadly time ran out so quickly for the steam locomotives, but this book goes some way to assuage the pangs of yearning for past glories.

The photographs stir the memories, their black and white starkness somehow more impressive than a colour shot. My memories of the locomotives that hissed into the station across from our house, are always of the dense blackness of the engine and the varied whiteness of the steam that poured from every orifice. Mr John captures this effect well.

Along with the photographs there are accounts of various classes of locomotives, where they served and when they went out of service. For me, these accounts were less interesting than the photographs, but for many who were as fascinated by all things to do with steam power as the author of this book, this information will be a treasure trove of facts, eagerly pored over.

I’m so glad that people like Robert John exist. His love of his subject and his willingness to share the information he has painstakingly accumulated over time adds not only to the enjoyment of others of like mind, but leaves a well documented legacy of a piece of our history.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Glorious South Island Steam Power
by Robert John
Published by Robert John
ISBN 9780473359454

Reviews of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists

Ockham_Book_Awards_lo#26E84 (2)The finalists in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards have now been announced, giving readers 16 fine books to take a second look at, and consider among the best New Zealand books ever produced. The judges had an unenviable task, with 18 months worth of submissions considered, and of course they haven’t chosen everybody’s favourite books (wherefore no The Chimes?) , but it is a pretty fine list nonetheless.

Click the title you are interested in below to read a review, either on our blog, or if we haven’t yet had it reviewed, in another extremely reputable place.

Acorn Foundation Literary Award (Fiction) 


Image from Unity Books Wellington @unitybookswgtn

The Back of His Head, by Patrick Evans (Victoria University Press)
Chappy, by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House)
Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing)
The Invisible Mile, by David Coventry (Victoria University Press)

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, by Chris Tse (Auckland University Press)
The Night We Ate the Baby, by Tim Upperton (Haunui Press)
Song of the Ghost in the Machine, by Roger Horrocks (Victoria University Press)
The Conch Trumpet, by David Eggleton (Otago University Press)

General Non-Fiction


Image from Unity Books Wellington @unitybookswgtn

Maurice Gee: Life and Work, by Rachel Barrowman (Victoria University Press)
The Villa at the Edge of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City, by Fiona Farrell (Penguin Random House)
Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood, by Witi Ihimaera (Penguin Random House)
Lost and Gone Away, by Lynn Jenner (Auckland University Press)

Illustrated Non-Fiction
Te Ara Puoro: A Journey into the World of Māori Music, by Richard Nunns (Potton and Burton)
New Zealand Photography Collected, by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press)
Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris (Bridget Williams Books)
Real Modern: Everyday New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s, by Bronwyn Labrum (Te Papa Press)

Enjoy these wonderful New Zealand books and share them far and wide.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by the Ockham Foundation, the Acorn Foundation, Creative New Zealand and Book Tokens Ltd. You can find out who the judges are here. The winners (including of the four Best First Book Awards) will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday May 10 2016, held as the opening night event of the Auckland Writers Festival.

The awards ceremony is open to the public for the first time. Tickets to the event can be purchased via Ticketmaster once festival bookings open on Friday 18 March. Winners of the Acorn Foundation Literary Award, for fiction, win $50,000. Winners of the other three category awards each receive $10,000, the Māori Language award $10,000, and each of the winners of the three Best First Book awards, $2,500.

by Sarah Forster, Web Editor

Book Review: World of Wearable Art – 30 designers tell their stories, edited by Naomi Arnold

cv_world_of_wearable_art_30_designersAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The World of Wearable Arts competition is nearly 30 years old, and the small show that started in Nelson is now a major event hosted in Wellington. Designers and passionate crafters from all around the world compete in categories such as Creative Excellence: Architecture, Performance Art or Bizarre Bras. The finalists are selected and a beautiful stage show is compiled. It is truly a magnificent event.

This book, World of Wearable Art, tells the stories of thirty designers who have been involved in the competition. My appreciation for the work involved, and creative process is so high. Some designers have an ephemeral concept, some have an entry that is a triumph over a material, and others produce entries that are a complex mixture of symbols and story. Many of the finalists have created garments so original and startling that their images remain in the national consciousness long after the competition has ended.

This is a beautifully produced book. The photos are all high quality, and the layout of the book (white, uncluttered, good space for images and texts) makes this book so very readable. The only thing that I did want was more photos – sometimes the story told by the designer emphasised entries that were not included in the accompanying photos. It is though, a small criticism.

I’ve followed Fifi Colston’s work for a few years now so it was really nice to see her story included in here. I was very taken with the Peter Wakeman and David Walker stories as well. Designers who have competed many times, as well as those with only one entry are included. The passion of the designers really came through. Many learnt completely new skills in the process of creating their entries, while others display niche skills that they bring to their designs – such as saddlery.

The audience for this book is wide. If you enjoy learning about how experts make things I think you will enjoy this book. Crafters and lovers of design will also appreciate this book. My older daughter enjoyed seeing the pictures and learning about how artists create wearable art. A really engrossing read.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

World Of WearableArt: 30 Designers Tell Their Stories
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213506

Book Review: Pat Hanly, by Gregory O’Brien & Gil Hanly

This book is in bookstores now, and is a finalist in the Illustrated Non-fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards

Hanly std cover

I remember when I first saw one of Pat Hanly’s paintings. I was working as part of the exhibitions team at Te Manawa, Palmerston North’s art gallery and museum, when the curator wheeled out this exuberant and dynamic painting, which I was to learn was a Hanly. Born in Palmerston North, Hanly’s work seemed to exemplify the aesthetics I associated with the sixties and seventies: bright colours and shapes with political undertones. This is why I was interested to read in the retrospective of his work, Pat Hanly, that Hanly’s paintings departed from the “sombre, monochromatic and rooted” work that New Zealand painters were doing at the time. In his introduction to this incredible book, curator Gregory O’Brien states: “Hanly was that rare thing in mid-20th-century New Zealand art … His work came as a surprise to the light-sensitive retinas of the gallery-going public. Here was a painter of dazzling sunshine rather than the dusk or night-time.”

This is only one of the reasons why the book, Pat Hanly, will be so welcomed. And what a book! As well as containing 190 full page plates, and over 150 smaller images and photographs, the book also includes personal essays by Hanly’s colleagues and friends, and an essay and commentary by O’Brien. The combination of stories, memories, biographical information, and scholarly writing, provides readers with a complex and rounded view of Hanly as both a man and an artist. This allows many ways for a reader to access Hanly’s work, whether it be through descriptions of his “charismatic … and restless, nervous energy,” or his artistic philosophies.

 Paradise Bird Escapes Bather

Paradise Bird Escapes Bather, Oil on canvas, 1015 x 1525

The book is structured chronologically, although O’Brien notes that the structure also acknowledges the “cyclical nature of [Hanly’s] career, with its loops and reprises.” After documenting Hanly’s early family life, the book follows him to art school in Christchurch in the 1950s where “male students usually wore corduroy pants, tweed sports coats and polo-neck jerseys, while the girls tended to be close imitations of their mothers: twin-sets, pearls and sensible shoes.” While reading about his student days I was suddenly nostalgic for my own time at art school (admittedly in the 1990s – but how little has changed), and this signaled one of the strengths of the book: it evokes a strong sense of time and place.

The book then moves to London, where Hanly lived and travelled with Gil Taverner (who he’d met at art school, and is an artist in her own right), their marriage, and the birth of their first child, Ben, in the late 1950s. The London essay also provides an incredible sense of time and place, which works to elucidate Hanly’s artistic preoccupations with our capacity for self destruction (especially in terms of nuclear war), which manifested in series of paintings such as Massacre of the Innocents (1961-1962).

Hanly and his family returned to New Zealand in the 1960s, and the book documents Hanly’s light and lush paintings of the 60s, his murals of the 70s and 80s (some of Hanly’s most iconic work), and his more abstract and political works of the 80s onward, which includes O’Brien’s essay on Hanly’s life in Auckland, where he and Gil made their home. While Hanly’s work responded to the intense social change that happened in New Zealand from the 1960s through to the 1980s, O’Brien calls him an “expressionist whose work was disarmingly angst-free.” I was interested to see how a book – even one as glossy and large as Pat Hanly – would handle the murals, but the high quality foldout reproductions do them justice.

The book ends with a detailed chronology of Hanly’s life that includes excerpts from personal letters, reviews, his journal, and manifestoes, and it seems to suggest that there is more to be said about the man and the painter than will fit into one volume. Pat Hanly is a wonderful book. I am not surprised that it has been selected as a finalist for the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett (

Pat Hanly
Essay by Gregory O’Brien
Contributions from John Coley, Quentin MacFarlane, Dick Ross and Barry Lett
Photographic Editor Gil Hanly
Book Dimensions: 300 x 300 mm x 276 pages
Published by Ron Sang Publications
ISBN 9780473208646

For more artwork, go here to the Ron Sang Publications website

Book Review: His Own Steam: The Work of Barry Brickell, by David Craig and Gregory O’Brien

I was thrilled to be given this book to review. cv_his_own_steam I have been a visitor to Barry Brickell’s property at Driving Creek in the Coromandel over many years.  I have always been in awe of Barry’s property, with its railway and many hectares of native planting.  I knew little of the creative side of Barry’s character.  Of recent times the millionth visitor has passed through Driving Creek.  Over many years, the railway has expanded with Barry doing most of the work, with others helping at different times, building the tracks and the steam trains to pull the passenger carriages.  Barry has also built all his own pottery kilns, and traveled all over New Zealand building kilns for other potters.

This book is very well laid out with a foreword by long-time friend Hamish Keith.  His Own Steam follows Barry through his life with beautiful photographs of various works over many years.  I love the earthiness of his work, not bowing to fashion and staying true to himself.   I had a real laugh at his father Maurice wanting Barry to have a “real job” with an office and carpet on the floor.  I don’t think his father was really disappointed with his son, as he helped him build his first kiln at their family property in Devonport, and in his parents later years, they moved up to the Coromandel to live closer to him.  Barry is an individual who would be deemed eccentric by some, but genius by others, myself included.  I especially loved his salt glazed pots and the beautiful murals that he has done for various organisations including the Devonport Library, and the lovely twisted forms of his larger pots. The fact that he made coffee mugs and jugs for his own use shows how functional his homewares are.

I am not a potter, but like many others in the 1970’s, my own home had many pottery pieces displayed with my own parents despairing at my choices.  I now only have one very precious piece made by a visiting Japanese potter bought in the late 1970’s.  I still love the earthiness of what I call “good pottery”.  Barry’s bowls and sculptural pieces are absolutely beautiful.

While this book would appeal to people of the pottery and ceramic world, who have more than a fleeting knowledge of Barry and his work, it also has a wide appeal to others.  I especially liked the footnotes to explain various comments throughout the book and also the chronology compiled and written by Emma Bugden and Toni Taylor.

In New Zealand we are very lucky to be able to express ourselves freely without harassment and to celebrate others greatness.  Barry and his gifts are to be celebrated.
Highly Recommended.

Review by Christine Frayling

His Own Steam: The Work of Barry Brickell
By David Craig & Gregory O’Brien, with new photographs by Haruhiko Sameshima
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869407636