The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 10 (January 1, 1938.)
“New Zealand Railways Illustrated” — All New Zealand in Colours
I listened one evening lately to a man trying to describe the loveliness of an islet on the shining surface of Lake Manapouri. He had the gift of language and he had been deeply moved by what he had seen. Yet I doubt very much whether any of the listeners got even a shadowy glimpse of the vision that was so obviously before him as he spoke. Even his golden voice with all its persuasiveness could not give them his eyes. As I sat there I realised, almost with the shock of a new revelation, the final uselessness of words to make beauty visible.
Now everyone of my readers will have attempted some time or other to make a friend realise what some New Zealand some really possessed in the way of colour and visual charm. Equally, everyone will have felt that the attempt was unsuccessful, and that some other medium is needed to give the necessary understanding. This article tells, briefly, of an answer to this problem, which amounts to a solution that is almost perfect.
There was a festive young Emperor who ruled over Rome in the height of its imperial splendour. His name was Heliogabalus and he did not reign long. In the final flurry of his insane lust for the expression of his unbridled power, he wished that all humanity could be invested with one neck only, so that it could be severed at one operation of his ruthless command.
I have had a similar wish with much milder characteristics. I have desired to discover one single object that would give a stranger from Europe or America, or even from Mars, a comprehensive view of New Zealand. It sounds like a foolish idea, because New Zealand, in spite of its smallness, is, in the words of a well-worn platitude, a “universe in miniature.” Be reminded that Bernard Shaw said that the trouble about a platitude is that it is nearly always true. This description of New Zealand as a pocket world is the exact truth. The fact that our country's dimensions are so small does not dispose of its bewildering variety, its inexhaustible panorama of changing scenes, and its kaleidoscopic profusion of sights and wonders.
“Ao-te-a Roa,” the “Long Bright Land,” extends through fourteen degrees of latitude, and in its one thousand miles or so of length, there occur examples of the very oldest and the very youngest geological formations. The very making of the land composing New Zealand, is an Elzevir edition of the formation of the terrestrial globe. There has been, too, the history of the creation of endless treasures of man-made beauty “Garnered up in record of years that fell like flowers.”
It will be clear how difficult is the search for a medium which will translate, to another mind, this opulence of qualities which decorate New Zealand's distinctive being. A book of the ordinary format, however sumptuous, would not manage the task. The most burning words, lying in black ink on a white page, lose much of their fire and force. An imagination has to be keen and potent to conjure up visions from the printed page.
Writers with extraordinary descriptive facility may go close. The great poets often do succeed in making their lines mean a little more than the mere words, taken by themselves at strict verbal valuation. I gave a line of Swinburne above, but here is word music from him that is finely suited to New Zealand, for our land is sea-girt just as was the island home from which we came.
“The sea, that harbours in her heart sublime
The supreme heart of music deep as time;
And in her spirit strong
The spirit of all imaginable song.”
But poetry is primarily for the ear, not the eye. It is plain that such verse as this is music appealing to the imagination through the ear, and any vision arising out of its reading is from a process of self creation. But seeing also needs the help of the imagination. It operates the laziest of the senses. All that is needed is to keep the eyes open. But, how differently, the same scene appears to different men!
A series of complex operations is required in seeing and appreciating any one scene, or sight. A simple example is that of the experienced sea-captain who, watching a steamer draw to the wharf, gives a start of fear as his trained eye tells him that she has too much way on. I was told the other day of a railwayman who saw the railcar slipping at full tilt into the Wellington Railway Station. His trained page 33 observation told him that there would be a crash, though, as it happened he lacked special knowledge of the habits of rail-cars. I can remember the doyen of our old racing judges asking why a particular horseman was on a particular horse. The animals were lined up on the far side of the spacious Dannevirke racecourse and the ordinary observer only saw a blur of coloured jackets and moving horses.
It will be appreciated, then, that there are difficulties by the score, mountainous in size, in getting someone else to share one's visual memories. It is difficult to translate to someone else the vision that seems so bright and clear. How infinitely more difficult, then, was the realisation of the wish to find an object that would give to a complete stranger a general and comprehensive view of New Zealand as a whole.
I wanted a single object that would present the real New Zealand in some form of completeness and in some degree of intelligibility. Now, the problem has been solved. I am not going to say that the solution is integrally perfect, but it is so near to perfection that the rest does not matter.
“New Zealand Railways Illustrated” is the solution. In its essential form, it is simply a handsomely bound volume of coloured pictures. However, of itself and by itself, and solely through its internal perfection of craftsmanship, it will pass to anyone who looks through its pages, a comprehension of New Zealand, as she lies, peerless, beneath the Southern Cross.
Now, it necessarily follows that my description of this treasure trove of a book is going to founder on the very rock which I have been at such pains to describe. I am compelled to explain the beauties of picture and tint in words on a printed page, and the illustrations will have to be pallid imitations of the real thing, in stark black and white.
However, I shall do my best. The cover design is an art creation itself, and no compliments could be too richly phrased for the conceptual originality of the artist responsible. The lettering is in gold, and in the formal intricacy of the somewhat cubist symbolism that adorns the drawing which angles across a graceful fern and the deftly outlined lettering, there is indicated a train on its sightseeing way.
Towards the end of the book are maps of each island. They are marvels of condensation for they each amount to an atlas, a geography textbook, and tourist guide all in one.
However, it is perhaps better to saunter through these pages of glowing colour as will be done by the fortunate folk who become owners of this precious record of beauty. The arrangement has been planned by someone who well understands the visual stimulation of the imagination. The first picture is of Waiwera. The colour process folks have caught the exact blue of the Hauraki Gulf as seen from the shores of the North Auckland Peninsula, and they have captured, too, the shining bronze of the rocky islets that stud the gulf. The next page is of Muriwai Beach, one of the world's best speedways, with its characteristic sand in its true tint. There follows the rousing picture of a formal war dance done by Maori warriors in full ritual dress, and the last of the opening quartette shows a mighty “K” engine, head on, hauling the red cavalcade of the “Limited” express.
Thereafter, the book settles down to its official task of dazzling the eyes of beholders with the manifold luxuriance of New Zealand's scenic wealth. The red roofs of Russell peep from semitropical foliage. The dreaming bay is softly flushed with rose and the dainty little place seems to be pondering on its storied past.
“Girt about with beauty by days and nights that creep
Soft as breathless ripples that softly shoreward sweep.”
Then we are shown the towering kauris of the Waipoua State Forest, a train running over the stately Hamilton bridge over the Waikato River, and the lacy beauty of the Keri Keri Falls—“White rose of the rose-white water, a silver splendour, a flame.”
In swift succession come an aerial view of Auckland, the classic beauty of the facade of the Ward Bath at Rotorua, set in superb grounds, an unimaginably delicate pastel of Lake Rotoma, and the sunlit waterfront of Tauranga, with the symmetrical Mount —a purple cone in the background.
The thermal regions have their array of pictorial gems including Rotoiti, the twin geysers at Wairakei, and the dazzling glory of Pohutu in full play. Set against these is a warmly gay air picture of Whangaroa Harbour. Now, I have seen more of New Zealand than most of my countrymen, owing to the accident of circumstance.
The pictures of the Southern Lakes region are breath-taking. Never before has there been assembled a pageantry so entirely complete as this. The intoxicating charm of southern lakeland is the perpetual and ever-dissolving changes of colour tones. As the letterpress to the most amazing picture in the whole book says: “No craft of man with lights for theatrical effect can compare with Nature's enrapturing illumination of various scenes of the Southern Lakes.”
“The Glory That is Milford” is a triumph of colour reproduction, saturated with azure, and having the feeling of composition that marks a great oil painting. Here, let me emphasize, at once that there are no words capable of conveying to readers, the prismatic splendours of these pages of our scenic wonders. But we can estimate in the terms of human joy, the measure of artistic, scientific, and mechanical skill which has made such a book as this possible.
Here is a work of art that places on record for ever with a reality that is startling, the scenes that even to those privileged to have seen them, are only lovely and inevitably fast fading memories.
This gallery of resplendent pictures contains a composite portrait of New Zealand, the Wonderland of the Pacific. It is a portrait which is satisfying and truthful, and invested with the quality of all great portraits, the power of revelation.
I can say with confidence that, as it exists, it is nearly the perfect medium to make New Zealand known. Eileen Duggan, in her last book of verse, has reached heights in the poetic deliniation of the land she loves, heights never before attained by a New Zealand writer.
“The great Pacific salt so steeps our air
That noon-tide burns it to a driftwood blue.
Such skies are passion to a lark upflown,
As if a hemisphere of harebells caught,
Clapper to clapper running silver fire.
The lovely conflagration dies in dew,
Such dew as only rivered lands beget
Where air lies long with heavy, crystal streams
As clear as are the firths of Paradise.
Our midnight stretches a tremendous targe,
Transfixed with planets, each a golden boss,
Among the lesser nail-heads of the stars,
Within the northern island here and there
Are burning hills that smoulder, sulk and brood,
Great fireseeds furious for shoots of flame;
But farther down an alp-line, calm and cold,
Looks southward to the mountains of the pole
That lean like gods with comets in their slings
Lancing auroras in the whistling air.
And we have birds, Atlantic birds and ours,
So that at once from out the self-same tree
Can come an anthem and a karakia;
And birds that think in oceans come and go,
Their chart behind their eyes that scarcely sleep
To find the Southern Cross beyond the Bear.
Our flowers are pale, the mock of pander bees,
Save those red trees that put forth such a blaze
The very Tasman could not put it out
When summer strikes the tinder of their boughs.
We call this country ours but who can hold
Such youth transcendent, unassailable,
Like a great moment or a flashing glance?
Go free, my land, we are content to be
The commoners of such a valiancy.”
That is the ultimate in word painting but, nevertheless, with all its beauty and strength, it needs a poetic imagination of high degree to conjure from it a vision of New Zealand. To make the example more pointed I quote from Tennyson, from that word painting, “The Lotus Eaters.”
Far off three mountain tops
Three silent pinnacles of aged snow
Stood sunset flush'd.
I compared those lines with the actual prospect of Mount Cook through the Hermitage window, as shown in this book. No more convincing proof is needed of the victory of the medium of visual colour portrayal. There shines Aorangi himself, “his jagged pyramid of flashing ice,” and from the page itself one feels the awe-inspiring emotion excited by that enormous height and pristine snowy loveliness.
Before I close, let me say that the queenly cities and the minor princesses of the provincial capitals are all here, in their several distinct and separate charms.
Lastly, we have the splendour of New Zealand's greatest building achievement, the new Wellington Railway Station. Perhaps we can say of Wellington in her ownership of this splendid edifice in the words of Henley:
“She sauntered by the swinging sea A jewel glittered in her ear.”
This temple of transport is a symbol that we, the human occupiers of this universe of wonders, are showing some true appreciation of our heritage. The scenic magic and the witchery of natural beauty such as we have in this land of ours are meant for the joy of all mankind, not a select few. The practical task of providing the means of transport to these places of enchantment is more than the everyday work of hands and brains. It is the opening of a doorway to God-given beauty. It is the giving of the golden key to Naturs's storehouse of wonder, and the Wellington Station is the finest of our manmade portals to a paradise of scenic loveliness.
Then, as to the book itself, I want to say in conclusion that “New Zealand Railways Illustrated” is, to the best of my knowledge, the best collection of scenic views ever put together in any country in the world. It is the high-water mark of colour-printing, of logical arrangement, of comprehensiveness, of selective taste and of technical excellence. I sit at a task which brings before me all the work of this kind in America, England, and Europe, I have not seen its equal yet.
The book is priceless, for it succeeds in an objective which I had decided was impossible. “New Zealand Railways Illustrated” does actually in pictures hold New Zealand between its covers. It is a matter of pride that in its totality it is the work of New Zealanders and the realisation of a dream, cherished by our own fellow countrymen.page 40