Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 August 2010

Oamaru: Bill Blair Craftsman

When the world turns to mass production the craftsman, if he’s left to live another day,  becomes √©lite, very special and able to command his price. One such astute, happy, genial and highly accomplished craftsman is Bill Blair who has kept alive old skills since 1997.

His workshop is one of the well-known Red Sheds of Oamaru Harbour where, under the name Coppice Crafts, he makes trug baskets, wooden hay rakes and wooden pitch forks using hand tools such as draw knives and side axes.

He gathers his materials, typically willow, for the trugs and tool handles, from the local country and his products are outstandingly well fashioned for it would be beneath his dignity to offer anything less than his best.

As I said, he’s genial. He loves a chat and he’s full of the history of his town (including the story of Scott’s Last Expedition which was the subject of a previous post on this blog).


25 August 2010

Oamaru: The Ancestral Home of Lane's Emulsion

When I was  a child growing up in England 'they' used to give me Scott's Emulsion to keep me healthy. God only knows what was in it; it wasn't exactly unpleasant but then it wasn't pleasant either - just something you had to have because 'they' said so. 

Meanwhile, 20 000km away in New Zealand children were having a similar jollop forced down their throats. It was 'Lane's Emulsion', like Scott's, a cream coloured potion of the consistency of melted ice cream containing ghastly stuff like cod liver oil.

The New Zealand product came from a factory in Oamaru in New Zealand's South Island. The factory is still there in the historic precinct of that city and is now a bakery, deli and coffee shop. If you speak very nicely to the proprietor he'll close the doors for you and thus reveal Lane's simple slogan that was known all over the country 'It's Famous Because It's Good'. 

There's a compelling, unarguable logic in that battle cry.


19 August 2010

1913: News from Oamaru of the Failure of Scott’s Antarctic Polar Expedition

In an Internet age when messages flash around the globe in a twinkling of an eye it is almost impossible to appreciate that, in times past, the latest news of an event might follow its happening by weeks, months, even years.

Thus it was that the world heard of the deaths of Robert Falcon Scott and his companions almost a year after it happened.

Scott’s party died within a few miles of safety after having travelled to the South Pole in 1912. Their journey ‘home’ was blighted by the knowledge that they had not been the first to the pole, they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. A sense of failure pressed upon their dispirited shoulders as, daily, they weighed their food and fuel and realized that it would run out before they could complete their ‘manhaul’ walk to base.

They died in their tent on 29 March 1912. Scott kept his diary up to date to the last and was the last to die. There they lay until they were found eight months later on12 November 1912.

Thereafter the news had to be taken to the outside world (no cell phones, no wireless telegraph). The ship Terra Nova sailed north from the Antarctic and on 10 February 1913 arrived at Oamaru Harbour on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Two officers rowed ashore and walked along the harbour wharf to the nightwatchman’s hut to enquire the whereabouts of the overland Telegraph Office. From there the message was flashed to London that Scott’s Expedition to the South Pole had ended with the deaths of the party almost one year earlier.

The people of Oamaru did not find out the news until they read it in the London newspapers (which would have taken about six weeks to reach New Zealand). That delay was caused by contractual arrangements surrounding the polar expedition which forbade any but its official sources to publish news of related events, achievements and, of course, subsequent

The nightwatchman’s hut still stands at Oamaru Harbour – it’s that red one, the one with the brick chimney and modillions under the eaves.



16 August 2010

Oamaru: The War Memorial

This impressive war memorial stands in Thames Street, Oamaru, an expansive tribute to those from the Oamaru District who died in the Great War. In numbers they would not have been that many but, typically of New Zealand's contribution to the European war, the proportion of population would have been outrageous.

E. Miller designed the soaring obelisk (made for some strange reason of Sicilian Granite - why not Oamaru Stone?); T. J. Clapperton executed the superb bronze and the memorial was unveiled on Anzac Day 1926.

The irony of the bronze is that the 1918 soldier is comforting what was probably a seven year old boy who would have been 28 in 1939. when the next world war began. It seems, in retrospect, that the soldier might be saying, 'There, lad, we've saved you for the next one!'

These war memorials are not only tributes to fallen warriors, they are also sad monuments to human stupidity. 



15 August 2010

Oamaru: The Old Post Office

Block out the clocktower with your hand. That’s how this limestone building looked from 1883 to 1903. The crowning and rather superior tower was added by John, the son of Thomas Forrester of Forrester and Lemon, architects.

Why wasn’t it there in the first place? Not intended? Not enough money? Whatever the reason, this ex post office, which is now home to the Waitaki District Council, would have been ordinary, by Oamaru standards, without it.


12 August 2010

Oamaru: North Otago Museum

The legend over the main door reads: ‘Where there are riches there are people; and where there are people stories flow’. It’s typical of those high-headed shibboleths Victorians felt it necessary to promulgate to the citizenry in the days when earnest civic leaders – Ozymandiases of their day – built things to last.

The North Otago Museum began life in 1882 as the Mechanics’ Institute and Oamaru Athenaeum, a subscription library. 

The architects, Forrester and Lemon must have been wildly successful financially because, as with the Athenaeum,  they ‘did’ most the Oamaru stone buildings in this historic precinct. Most of their designs were variations on the Palladian theme – all very classical and quite outstandingly good.



08 August 2010

Oamaru: De Lambert Tea Importers

I don't know whether there's such a surfeit of superb buildings in Oamaru that nobody wants to claim this one, or whether, perhaps, Oamaruvians are ashamed of commercialism but this little treasure is worth a mention even if the local literature ignores it. I seem to be the only one who's prepared to give it space.

I don't know who designed or built it but de Lambert Bros., who obviously found the money, were proud enough of it to have paid both an architect and a builder. 

Although it looks older to me, I'm told that the building was finished in 1923 and is on the site of the old gaol which was demolished in 1921. Oamaru stone, of course. Our thanks to Mr de Lambert and his Bros for leaving us something worthwhile. For the present, let's hope that Filadelfio's pizzas are as good as the building in the historic precinct.



02 August 2010

Oamaru: Former Waitaki County Council building

They don’t make as much fuss about this building as some of the others in Oamaru – in fact it’s quite hard to get any information about it. It’s now the Community Centre but started life in 1881 as the Waitaki County Council offices. The council had been formed in 1877 to service the agricultural and pastoral areas of North Otago.

As with many others of the buildings of the historic precinct it was designed by  Forrester and Lemon. As one of the smaller Palladian style edifices it is a limestone jewel.




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By Don Donovan