From the 1880’s through to World War 2, beautiful vistas along New Zealand’s coastline were rededicated to defence fortifications. This South Island observation room is isolated from its accompanying gun pits, which are within the perimeter of an active industrial site. The bombing style graffiti included a sweet message refreshingly at odds with the site’s military past.
$20 is what it cost if a passenger improperly stopped this train by pulling down a lever. It’s hard to estimate the cost of rail transportation being effectively stopped in its tracks by Sir Robert Muldoon’s government in 1975. By the time Muldoon was ousted in a snap election in 1984, only two trains of this style remained, having been replaced by busses. A group of enthusiasts is currently restoring this lonely survivor with the intention of returning it to riding the rails from 2022 as a reminder of a bygone era of New Zealand’s history.
Inside the front door a short and almost indecipherable note is written on the wall: “John’s house is the best house in the ohu and that’s all you need to know.” There was certainly much to learn at John’s house, which seems to have doubled as a miniature school and a private residence for this commune founded in 1973 and abandoned around 2000. Quotes by Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung peacefully coexist on John’s walls with those of American novelist Tom Robbins. Upstairs in John’s loft — where the magic presumably happened — Madonna reminds us: “Life is just a party. That’s all you need to know.”
In 1930, the first New Zealand-made bar of Cadbury chocolate was produced at biscuit maker Richard Hudson’s cocoa and chocolate manufacturing plant in Dunedin, founded in 1868. Hudson had been orphaned at the age of 9 and came to New Zealand in 1865. He became known as a caring employer who believed that everyone who contributed to a profitable business should benefit from its success. The company offered accommodation and even a recreational rifle range for its staff across the road from its present site. Cadbury was acquired by Mondelez International in a hostile takeover in 2009, and the factory didn’t quite last the decade following — closing its doors in March 2018. 350 jobs were lost in the closure. The site is now being demolished.
During our most recent visit to this sprawling fertiliser manufacturing plant we could see from the air that demolition was progressing apace. So it seems the right time to bid farewell to the place with an edit combining a complete set of our former explorations there with recent drone footage. The company that formerly operated the plant started trading in the late 1970s in response to the risk of a proposed merger creating a monopoly in the production of fertiliser in New Zealand. Part One: “Diocletian Allegories” [0:00] High-ceilinged and partially flooded, parts of the compound had the feeling of an ancient Roman bath. Part Two: “The World As A Machine” [8:14] The generous size of the site felt all-encompassing: an industrial micro-world. Part Three: “Residual Controls” [14:51] We always enjoy getting our fingers occupied in environments where museum rules don’t apply.
Welcome to the complete document of our explore of this huge campus of four prison units abandoned in 2012 and currently being demolished. Part One: “Out Of Bounds” [0:00] Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. During the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970s. The scale of the site — thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river — meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, deemed only ever suitable to house up to 600 inmates at a minimum to medium security level. From 1998 the prison began to suffer repetitional damage, with a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, a buckets-for-toilets scandal, two inmate drownings involving Māori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and a guard convicted of supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe. The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the autumn sun was falling fast – was announced in 2012, and the land and its buildings have now been returned to their original owners. No signs of the commencement of demolition were then evident, and — gratifyingly — no signs of vandalism. A 360-degree panoramic mural painted around the walls of the dining hall conveys a sense of geographical placement among the majestic landscapes beyond the perimeter of confinement, tantalisingly out of reach. Part Two: “Man With Short Arms” [6:30] Perhaps some kind of neuroscience was at play in this choice of images — SpongeBob SquarePants meets the lost city of Atlantis — for a mural painted along the back corridor of the isolation cells of this unit. Presumably intended to calm disruptive prisoners, and engage painterly ones, further intriguing murals adorn the cold cell walls: a man pruning the limb of a tree so anatomically uniform that he might just as likely be an electrician working on wires strung from a lamp post; a Māori wahine wearing a pounamu and a kākahu feather cloak — barefoot on a pedestal — turning her face to the light; a man surveying his upcoming twisting traverse into a landscape crowned by an active volcano, with only a briefcase to sustain him; and the man with short arms — seemingly ill-equipped to utilise the key to freedom that lies beside his truncated frame with its enormous feet. Part Three: “Traces of Time” [11:49] From the window of #55, an informed eye studies the moody skies above the central courtyard. Glenn’s 1972 Christmas present — The World Encyclopedia of the Film — languishes in #11, its front cover torn off but not yet discarded. #18 plays host to a brown-crayoned face, mouth agape as if inviting the throwing of ping pong balls at a fairground amusement. Nearby a grey-bearded pig farmer and an athletic woman carrying groceries seem to be missing an opportunity to converse at the fence line. Monied wanderlust is palpable in #16, where a shrine to cars, boats and exotic getaways gleams under fluorescent light. Outside Sunday church services advertise the promise of personal transformation via belief in a higher power, while inside #37 another route to growth is being chosen. The number of 5 — denoting maximum difficulty — is written into every column associated with expressing affection towards anyone from an intimate partner to a shop assistant. Part Four: “But They Can Die” [16:30] The pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm proclaimed, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Pigs are similarly the object of resentment in under-the-mattress graffiti in Cell #26 of this former prison. The poem begins burnt into the wood: Pigs CAN’T FLY and continues in blue pen: BUT THEY CAN DIE NEXT FINE DAY BLOW A Pig away IF YOU KILL A Pig a day it WILL Keep the doctor away Nowhere more clearly did we find articulated the smouldering frustration of incarceration, channeled into the kind of blind hatred that negates any opportunity for insight. Elsewhere was a mixture of light and shade. In the kitchen the relative gentleness of a rainbow framing the extractor fan was juxtaposed with murals depicting fearsome hyper-masculine muscularity. No such diverting decor was provided for prisoners in solitary confinement, who were required to surrender their tobacco products and were issued with fresh water, a chamber pot, one mattress, one pillow, one pillow slip, one sheet, and blankets or duvet “in accordance with climactic conditions”. How some of them obtained implements sharp and sturdy enough to partially chisel their gang names and insignia into the stone walls and into the paint of their cell bars and doors is anyone’s guess. Puzzling at what we had experienced, and all the more aware of our own freedom of movement and expression, we walked for ninety minutes back down the road through pine forests to where we’d parked our car.
This viaduct was built in 1908 during the ‘Age of Steel’, when steel plates, beams, girders and trusses held together with bolts and rivets were seen as the answer to almost all engineering problems. Curving elegantly amongst notoriously difficult terrain, it consists of steel lattice and mass concrete piers interspersed with Pratt truss and plate steel girders. It remained in use until 1987 when it was superseded by a creation of the ‘Age of Concrete’ as part of the electrification of the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT). At that time the decking was removed, and since then it has remained in the landscape as an inspiring site of groundbreaking New Zealand engineering history.
Sentences with hard labour were common in the New Zealand criminal justice system through the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Convict working gangs were dispatched to build public works, often making bricks on-site from materials sourced near their worksites. They wore distinctive prison uniforms marked with arrows to decrease the likelihood of covert escapes. While the clay was still soft, inmates marked bricks with arrows as a form of self-portrait: a reminder of their presence and their contributions in spite of the ostracisation associated with their incarceration. Several inmate fingermarks are also visible in the bricks of this 19th century convict-built rail tunnel abandoned in 1900.
Nearly four decades ago, collectively-minded communities of bees regularly filled these wooden beehives. The hives were painstakingly emptied and their contents weighed and processed in this beekeepers’ workshop. This organic, systemic process can be seen as a microcosm of the commune within which the workshop was situated. Up to seven couples with children resided here at any one time from 1973 to about 2000. They collaborated on self-sustaining endeavours such as dairying, making butter and soft cheese, harvesting, hunting, generating hydro-electric power and beekeeping. Their honey had a branded label which is still proudly stuck to a window in one of the former commune residences. Presumably manufacturing honey was a much-needed commercial interface with the outside world, where in-house produce could be sold for money. According to records marked on a chalkboard inside, April 1993 appears to be when beekeeping operations ceased. A quarter of a century later, a falling pine tree has done its utmost to topple the workshop, and the whole commune sits decaying in the landscape, somewhat like a giant set of deserted beehives. The ‘hive mind’ of the commune has fragmented and dispersed. Or rather, it has shifted shape. A stream of ants is relentlessly appropriating the remnants of the 1993 honeycomb, hauling tiny piece by tiny piece back to its nest. Given enough years, the ants alone will demolish all that remains of this once-prosperous collaboration between humans and nature.
Cars up trees: it’s a sight that still confounds, even half a decade after we first visited this odd scene. Above where the cars now lie is a cliff, beyond which is a sharp bend in the road. Stolen cars have been sent airborne over the edge – ‘Thelma and Louise’ style – since the 1960s. It appears the landowners and their local council still haven’t yet agreed who bears responsibility for resolving this mangled mess. And so the cars steadily are rusting their way into the ground – or at least the ones that managed to set wheels on the ground after their joyride.
For music, just the fizzing of cicadas on a hot summer day, and our footsteps ringing out in the cool air inside this 1876-built tunnel which was closed in 1955 after a deviation in the rail line it served.
An important aspect in understanding residents’ lives at this commune from its founding in 1973 to its abandonment in about 2000 was to locate and traverse their river access. The river was their source of hydration, cleanliness, spirituality, and even the electric light in their homes once they’d installed a generator at the dam. So early one misty morning, we set out to divine for water.
The dome ceiling of the upper floor of this meeting house of a commune founded in 1973 and abandoned about 2000 is designed as an expression of mystical geometry. Pentagonal and triangular windows intersect with hexagonal timber patterns. It must have been quite a trippy place to take a nap: regrettably the bed is now utterly squalid.
This former commune was founded in 1973. At the time of its closure around 2000 it was the most longstanding of eight communities set up around New Zealand under the Ohu Scheme umbrella. Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk approved the scheme in which young adults could channel their disenchantment with urban life into forming intentional communities centred around a ‘back to the land’ ethos. Ohu is a Māori word meaning ‘communal work group’. Ohu communes were set up on unused Crown land, with their residents paying leases matching those of farmers grazing their livestock on government-owned land. Some saw the Ohu Scheme as a calculated initiative to remove radicals from urban settings, while its stated objectives were: to assist people in becoming self-sufficient from the land; to enhance people’s spiritual and social wellbeing; to reconnect people to the land; to give people a chance to develop alternative social models; to provide a communal environment as a potential antidote to the ills of modern society; the promotion of the virtues of a simpler life; to be a place of healing for participants as well as for society as a whole. The area in which this ohu commune was situated had originally been gifted to servicemen returning after World War One. However, by the time of World War Two, the land was abandoned and the access track winding its way through steep terrain steadily returned to bush. It took the 1970’s ohu founders three months of hand cutting and digging to rehabilitate the track sufficiently to allow even horses to reach the ohu site. Over the course of its lifetime, up to five couples with children lived at any one time at the ohu, and undertook a range of initiatives to explore self-sufficiency, including gardening, bee keeping, dairying, manufacturing butter and soft cheese and hunting meat. Quirky DIY housing flourished in a climate of limited resources, salvaged materials, amateur architects and builders, and a relaxed attitude towards regulations. The central meeting house was an exceptional architectural achievement. Its circular form, pentagonal upper floor and feature windows, and domed timber ceiling constructed of triangles forming interlocking hexagons speaks to the utopian ideals of its community and era. It now cuts a lone, striking figure amidst a rewilded landscape. By 2000, the same forces of isolation and endless hard manual labour that had prompted the returned servicemen’s families to walk away had again splintered a community, and the ohu dwellers departed, seemingly taking with them only what they could carry on their backs along the hour-long walk down to the river crossing to conventional civilisation. In recent years, former residents have expressed a desire to return to the ohu and transform it into an outdoor education centre. However, the Department of Conservation remains unconvinced at present that the group have the resources required to restore the buildings to safe habitability and to mitigate against the environmental impact of reoccupation. And so for now the remains of the ohu quietly stand as an inspiring – and perhaps also cautionary – tale about utopias and visionaries.
Last restored in the year 2000, this 1950’s-era tripod crane built by Stothert & Pitt Ltd of England has recently had its boom lowered to the ground. Given that a future climb to the top has been rendered impossible by the removal of the majority of its boom ladder, this edit commemorates a climb made several years ago. Tripod cranes were in use throughout the world until the advent of container shipping in the 1960’s.
For almost six decades, Wellington airport’s incoming and outgoing flights were controlled from this tower which had its own residential mailbox on a suburban street parallel to the runway. It was opened in 1959 and operated until 2018. While it was known among Airways New Zealand staff as, “The Grand Old Lady of Wellington”, its neighbours are said to have had a more charming and humble nickname for it: “Arnold”.
This incline was opened in 1889 in the South Island of New Zealand to transport coal by rail down from the mines it served. It operated for nearly a century until the closure of the mines. A caretaker, William Butler, stayed on when the settlement emptied out. On the 13th of September, 1988, a rainstorm caused a landslide, burying what remained of the settlement and killing Butler. His body and car were never found.
Since the late 1960’s these coal tubs on the Millerton Incline in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand have sat unmoving on their tracks. The Millerton Incline was built in 1891 and the mine it serviced began production five years later. The tubs would transport coal to Granity, which boasted at the time the largest wooden coal loading bins in the country. For the past half century coal production has shifted to the nearby Stockton coalfield.
After an architectural competition in 1961 to commemorate the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party, architect Georgi Stoilov revised his designs, separating the saucer-shaped body from the star mounted in a conjoined tower to give it better stability against wind and the risk of earthquakes. I’ve heard from a Bulgarian contact that the entrance to the towers’ stairs and ladders has now (2020) been closed off with a brick wall. In 2015 there were no such impediments.
In 1961, architect Georgi Stoilov submitted a design inspired by the Roman Pantheon and 1950s sci-fi films for a monument to commemorate the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party. The party was established by Dimitâr Blagoev’s group at a gathering at Buzludzha Peak 70 years earlier. Construction began a decade later. Within two decades it had again become symbolic – of the decline of the Soviet Union and Bulgaria’s unwillingness to memorialise its political past. The Getty Foundation’s investment of $185,000 in July 2019 to support the creation of a conservation and management plan for the monument hopes to reverse its sharp decline. The circular form of the Buzludzha monument appealed to Stoilov “as it seemed to symbolize infinity, and thus echoed the popular communist theme of building an eternal future and eternal glory.” [https://buzludzha-monument.com] It also seems to speak of a more inclusive, egalitarian politics. Wild acoustics were an unexpected discovery in this exploration shot in 2015.
One’s ability to walk freely into this petite Bulgarian ossuary is somewhat unsettling and confronting in relation to patterns and codes of behaviour around human remains that exist elsewhere. However, the artful calligraphy on the skulls, and our desire and that of others before us – and presumably after us – to leave them undisturbed affords some welcome sanctity. Memento mori: we remember death – both as a concept and the personalisation of it – in these bodily fragments of individuals who have passed away.
While exploring the small gold mining settlement of Waiuta, near Reefton in New Zealand, we found this little u-shaped tunnel network with two entrances nestled into the side of a bush-clad hill.
In 1987, the teachers at this now-abandoned Bulgarian school were likely told to destroy all artefacts relating to the Soviet era. Instead, they stowed images of Lenin, the communist flag and other left-leaning iconography in the basement and in the attic. One teacher was committed enough to keep anti-Fascist partisan artwork in the classroom, featuring scenes of the educating of children in secret, the supplying of food and water to resistance units hiding in the woods, partisans and their supporters being apprehended by the military and by their fellow villagers, and the brutal interrogations that swiftly followed.