Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

21 July 2010

Oamaru Railway Station 1900.

Twenty-first century railways in New Zealand are mediocre remnants of a romantic past when triumphs of engineering drove the line north to south, linking the main centres of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Those early engineers, armed with none of the earth-moving or computerized technology of today, overcame enormous difficulties: bridging raging river gorges, spiralling prodigious heights, and carving slender paths through rough bush and scrub, moorland and desert.

It was a past when glorious steam engines transported both people and goods, when the road system was rudimentary and neither petrol not diesel engines had been invented.

As if in homage to the achievements of the permanent way the terminals and way stations that served goods and people were architectural monuments as much enriched by their handsomeness as their practicality. All of the major cities had railway stations as important to rail as cathedrals are to religion. Those in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin survive, the latter being one of the greatest and entirely home designed of all (the others are based on exotic designs).

The man who designed Dunedin station was George Troup. He was also responsible for many minor stations along the way, all uniquely his and New Zealand’s.

One of the best – a wooden building in a town noted for its limestone structures – is at Oamaru north of Dunedin on the main trunk line. Troup’s Oamaru Station was built in 1900 at a time when the station thrived and trains were heavily patronized. An indication of its substance is that its dining room had seating for over 200 people at a time!

In the twenty-first century nobody would design and build such an architectural beauty as Oamaru Station because there is virtually no architecture in New Zealand that looks to the future, only to commerce, practicality and the need to build to the lowest price.

We should be grateful to Oamaru, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and those who care, that George Troup’s way station lives today.



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By Don Donovan