Green Wheels

The sight of two cars speckled with moss prompted us to pull over on our South Island road trip. What followed was an entertaining little break from the long drive.

A.D. 1910

A quintessential sweet little primary school in small town New Zealand, founded in 1910. We hope the kids stood up on chairs to touch the textural mural.

Sun, Moon & The Dead

The donation of a personal tennis court and public financial donations facilitated the opening of this model maternity hospital with breathtaking views of Wellington Harbour in 1927. It closed in the late 1970’s and was converted into a function centre.

Darkly

Exploring the Babcock & Wilcox designed equipment in this boiler room in southern New Zealand at night, our flashlights illuminated the dark as we made our way up ladders and stairs to where pigeons roosted in the rafters.

Operate Isolate

We were excited to find this perfectly untouched coal-fired power station within a factory that has been closed for two decades. Our first visit was at night. This is the return visit during daylight hours.

Keith Butler

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.

Planet Todd

Todd Johnston’s planet is an intriguing place. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as The Blues Brothers preside over a bevy of FHM beauties. Todd’s informal photo opportunity with the Kilbirnie Police is proudly pasted up in the corner. Down the destroyed hallway, a papier mâché beast guards the toilets, where supplicants pay daily homage to Belushi and Jack Daniels.

All Clear

Prior to its sale to a property developer, teachers have been trained at this site since the late 1960’s by an organisation that was founded in 1888. Its brutalist architecture by William Toomath won architectural awards in 1972 and 2005. On a fresh spring morning under a clear blue sky, we found it all but cleared out.

Out Of Bounds

A tweaked edit of our 2019 explore of this abandoned prison in New Zealand. Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. For the duration of the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950’s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970’s. The large size of the site – thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river – meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, and the site was 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, first involving a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, followed by the revelation that buckets were being used in place of toilets, two inmate drownings involving Māori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and the conviction of a prison guard for supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe. The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the early 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 evident, and – gratifyingly – no signs yet 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.

I’ll Send You A Postcard

A comparison between Budludzha monument in Bulgaria as pictured in 1970’s publications and its abandoned state in 2015. 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.

Circuit Breakers

While we’re on the topic of immaculately-preserved power stations . . . Here’s a tweaked edit of our four explores in 2014 and 2015 of a 600 MW thermal power station which has dominated its landscape since its construction in 1972, with a 198m high chimney – the second tallest structure in New Zealand – made from 16,400 tonnes of concrete, 1200 tonnes of reinforcing steel and almost 1,000,000 bricks. After its decommissioning in 2007 all access was prohibited and it was lit and guarded 24/7, making for some tension but also creating ideal conditions for shooting video and stills in the dead of night. Despite our anxiety at potentially exposing ourselves, we simply couldn’t resist firing up power to the control room, lighting it up like a Christmas tree.

Exciter: Voltage

We truly were excited to find this perfectly untouched coal-fired power station within a factory that has been closed for two decades. Its operators must have felt the tension between advancing international technologies and their remote, small-town locality.

Sterile Utility

In a sense every hospital is a sterile and utilitarian place. But the heartwarming efforts of staff to create a welcoming and warm environment for children and their parents are still very much evident in this now-closed hospital. It must be said that the discarded x-rays – which we could see from the outside prominently stuck to windows on the stairwell – were incongruently grim.

Man With Short Arms

A tweaked edit from our 2019 explore. Perhaps there was some kind of neuroscience 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 now-abandoned prison. 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.

Dobber

We would love to find out who Dobber is/was. We’re picturing an Aussie: “Dobber! Maaayte!” Why’s he decapitated? He looks like he was all set to go up in flames next Guy Fawkes night.

Preoccupation

“This Place is Occupied; Please Keep Out,” reads the sign above Rimu Cottage in Waiuta. The Waiuta township in upper Grey Valley on New Zealand’s southern West Coast thrived for only 45 years before the gold mine that sustained and necessitated it closed down in 1951.

Gorgeous

A unique explore for us. This gorge used to be the main link from Manawatu to Hawke’s Bay until the rocks came falling from the Tararua Range on April 24, 2017, littering the state highway with debris. An intended few weeks closure turned into months, before the road was ultimately condemned after it was determined that the hillside could collapse at any moment.

Long Live The Darning

In this companion video to Long Live The Whipping, we revisit – during daylight this time – a wool mill established in 1897 that unfortunately went into receivership four years ago with the loss of 30 jobs. Its industrial looms which fashioned merino possum, mohair and sheep’s wool into beautiful colours and textures were still threaded. A former wool museum was an unexpected discovery.

Inclinations

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.

Tracey Basher

We’ve never met former Relieving Secretarial / Support Officer Tracey Basher. But thought if we were her it would be intriguing to see what had become of our past workplace at a former “lunatic asylum”, which is now a place in which an interior waterfall nurses ferns and kawakawa.

A Lush Apocalypse

We take a walk through offices at a former “lunatic asylum”. Greenery is steadily reclaiming the site, but hasn’t yet reached a prurient temple to the sexualised female form we were surprised to find in one office that had been repurposed into a home. It didn’t even matter that tripping a security alarm curtailed our fun.

With The Birds

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.

Reverberations of Socialism

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.

Inherited Human Diseases

Racing the demolition crews, we recently revisited this 17-hectare hospital site which features nine buildings including a three-storey main hospital, maternity ward, maintenance and laundry. It was closed in 2006 when it was forecast $20 million of upgrades would be required over the next two decades to meet minimum legal and operational requirements. New hospital facilities constructed next door have encountered their own issues, with $845,000 in earthquake strengthening completed in 2019 with more to come following.

Operation In Progress

Occupation is the best security. This hospital – closed since 2007 – has remained relatively untouched and unexplored due to the proximity of its replacement built directly next-door. Held for several years in a land banking holding pattern, the nearly five hectare property with its buildings was approved for sale in 2013 and sold for less than a quarter of its ‘capital value’ (a government estimate) the following year.

Morbid Curiosity

This morgue in New Zealand has been abandoned since 1998 when the psychiatric hospital it served was closed in a shift away from institutionalisation to community-based care. Due to large amounts of copper spouting remaining in its buildings, as well as asbestos insulation, it is still guarded 24/7.

Ossuary

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.

Long Live The Whipping

Whatever ‘The Whipping’ was, sadly it didn’t live long enough. This wool mill in the South Island of New Zealand has been abandoned since going into receivership with the loss of 30 jobs. Four years after its closure we found thread still wound in its industrial looms which fashioned merino possum, mohair and sheep’s wool into beautiful colours and textures. This is a companion video to Long Live The Darning.

An Eye In The Earth

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.

My Teacher’s Left

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.

Know Your Biorhythms

This hut in Waiuta, near Reefton in New Zealand, is where gold miner and photographer Joseph Divis lived from 1930. Divis appeared as a subject in many of his photographs, setting a shutter time release and darting around into the frame. After a career-ending injury in the Blackwater mine in 1939, Divis was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ during World War Two, and his health further declined. When he returned to Waiuta at the end of 1943 he was dependent on crutches. When the Blackwater mine closed in 1951, Divis was one of few residents who chose to stay in what rapidly became a ghost town.

The Power of Being Thankful

Multiple layers of history are present at this site, including a New Zealand residence for a USA-based Christian study abroad organisation, a B&B and a religious convent. These layers were violently disordered by an earthquake and now are piled in a heap in a now-condemned structure soon to be demolished. Perhaps the evacuated students learnt in that one singular event more about “God and Nature” than was promised in their curriculum.

The Sun Kissed My Laundry

It wasn’t until we were inside this 1970’s social housing apartment block in Wellington that we realised what we imagined were sun-kissed, north-facing conservatories were in fact laundries. It seems unfortunate that children were not permitted to enter the most sunny interior spaces in the entire building. This is Part Two of a two-part series. Part One.

Ath’s Place

This Wellington apartment block was built in the 1970s to provide community housing. A progressive place for its time, it was situated within a campus that has the feel of a post-modernist reinterpretation of a medieval village. It is soon to be demolished to be replaced by a mixture of public and affordable housing. This is Part One of a two-part series. Part Two.

The Oyster As An Animal

This research facility in the South Island of New Zealand used to offer accomodation for researchers close to sites of scientific interest. The region offers breathtaking geological features due to its situation atop the boundary between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, and attracts a wide array of marine life.

Residual Controls

This sprawling plant was formerly operated by a firm which started trading in the late 1970’s in response to the risk of a proposed merger creating a monopoly in the production of fertiliser in New Zealand. We always enjoy getting our fingers occupied in environments where museum rules don’t apply. This is Part Three of a three-part series. Part TwoPart One.

Come Again

This workshop space is part of a former psychiatric hospital which once housed patients with psychotic illnesses, the senile and alcoholics. Opened in 1887, it was at one time New Zealand’s largest hospital, but was closed down by 1977 having been declared unfit and uneconomical. Rather than being demolished, many buildings were repurposed, albeit unrefurbished and in various states of dilapidation. A splendid matchbox collection, a suite of vintage bicycles, and a couple of wooden giraffe mascots for a business recycling zoological animal excrement as fertiliser were delightful finds until an active security alarm ended our explorations. Suffice to say, we won’t “come again”.

 

Longburner

The sun was setting over the Manawatu, New Zealand. The first stop-off on an Easter road trip that remains vivid in the memory. Below the chimney was a former meat factory slowly being demolished.

I See You

This 17-hectare hospital site features nine buildings including a three-storey main hospital, maternity ward, maintenance and laundry. It was closed in 2006 when it was forecast $20 million of upgrades would be required over the next two decades to meet minimum legal and operational requirements. New hospital facilities constructed nextdoor have encountered their own issues, with $845,000 in earthquake strengthening completed in 2019 with more to come following.

An interesting entry to this main building revealed the fate of the Community Health Services library, unrealised architectural plans, a post-apocalyptic maintenance space adorned with menacing messages left by prior intruders – one of whom urged us to DIE – and altogether TMI about infectious skin diseases. This is Part Three of a three-part series. Part OnePart Two.

Pooh Corner

This 17-hectare hospital site features nine buildings including a three-storey main hospital, maternity ward, maintenance and laundry. It was closed in 2006 when it was forecast $20 million of upgrades would be required over the next two decades to meet minimum legal and operational requirements. New hospital facilities constructed nextdoor have encountered their own issues, with $845,000 in earthquake strengthening completed in 2019 with more to come following.

This former children’s ward with its heart-warmingly cheerful Winnie The Pooh murals appears to have been temporarily repurposed as a repository for books donated to charity. It must have been a large enterprise judging by the amount of rooms involved, each dedicated to some area of the Dewey Decimal System. This is Part Two of a three-part series. Part OnePart Three.

To Serve You Better Through Science

This 17-hectare hospital site features nine buildings including a three-storey main hospital, maternity ward, maintenance and laundry. It was closed in 2006 when it was forecast $20 million of upgrades would be required over the next two decades to meet minimum legal and operational requirements. New hospital facilities constructed nextdoor have encountered their own issues, with $845,000 in earthquake strengthening completed in 2019 with more to come following.

These laundry and maintenance spaces were quirky spaces to explore, from the brightness of large glass-ceilinged spaces down to the darkness of subterranean utility tunnels. This is Part One of a three-part series. Part TwoPart Three.

So Mote It Be

Among the many artefacts left behind at the closure of this masonic centre, one of the more interesting was a typed script for a masonic ceremony. Attempting to decode the script with its mysterious redactions and abbreviations was a fun challenge. It appears that a candidate for a degree of freemasonry is given the role of Third Sojourner in a play acted out over the chessboard-tiled floor. Three sojourners have recently come out of captivity in Babylon, and offer their masonry skills acquired during forced labour to the Sanhedrin – an assembly of Jewish rabbis – to assist with building the second temple of Solomon. After convincing the Sanhedrin of their genuine intentions, they are employed and dispatched to the site of the build. They are given rudimentary tools – a pickaxe, shovel and crowbar, safety ropes and explicit instructions to keep secret any artefacts they uncover from Solomon’s first temple, which according to Jewish tradition was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BCE. Unsurprisingly, they do make a string of discoveries in a plot as preordained as an episode of CSI: a pickaxe loosens up the earth and reveals a hollow sound beneath; a shovel clears away the earth to uncover the crown of a stone arch; its central keystone has a ring attached; a crowbar happens to perfectly fit that ring and allows the keystone to be lifted to reveal an engraving on it signposting a path to hidden treasure; lots are drawn to determine which sojourner descends into the dark cavity with the rope “cable tow” around his waist in case he meets danger and needs to be hauled up by his companions; the air he finds below is indeed poisonous and the dark is pervasive, so they wait for the illumination of the rising sun and the dissipation of the foul air; the second sojourner descends and retrieves a scroll (which according to another online source is the last remaining copy of a book of holy law hidden during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem); the three sojourners bind themselves to secrecy, and led by the third sojourner they make one final descent as the sun reaches its high meridian; they find a beautiful subterranean chamber and another arch made of marble, banners bearing names, and other peculiar “signs”.

As the three sojourners close up the vault, obscure its point of entry, and resolve to return the scroll, a hand drawing of the underground chamber and word of their other discoveries to the Sanhedrin, they demonstrate values and practices considered worthy of a freemason. In many respects these values and practices are not dissimilar to the ways of urban explorers. We understand the thrill of discoveries made while fossicking through the forgotten, dark cavities of the modern city. We too make sure the whole crew gets out safe. Like freemasons we swear each other to secrecy, albeit somewhat less formally. And we can also exhibit a similar tribalism founded on knowledge mindfully shared and withheld.

But They Can Die

It was the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm who proclaimed that “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 began burnt into the wood:

Pigs CAN’T FLY

and continued 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 smoldering 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 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 is Part Four of a four part video series. Part OnePart TwoPart Three.

 

Traces of Time

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. In another piece of art 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.

This is Part Three of a four part video series. Part OnePart TwoPart Four.

 

Dreamspun Sherpa

It was a Monday night: the 18th of March, 1946. Forgoing the novelty of home television, including Caspar The Friendly Ghost, the audience travelled in to the heart of the town, found their seats, and fell into a rapt hush as the house lights came down. Joe Houlihan led with a roll on the timpani, Vince Burke chimed in on the newly-tuned grand piano, and Frank Parsons and Kelly Kydd entered into a sensual dance between the violin and the trumpet, respectively.

It was “The Amazing . . . “ according to graffiti pencilled onto the bricks that form a passageway leading from constriction to unknown vastness above. The remainder of the show’s title, of that night, and of the following 73 years, has surrendered itself to time.

In 2019, forgoing modern cinematic entertainment rumbling through the walls, three individuals began in the rabbit warren of basement rooms where presumably the stars of yesteryear prepared themselves. Slowly and quietly they explore their way up to the stage, where a painted hypermodern cityscape complete with nuclear reactor looms large on the back wall. Projection detritus litters the stage floor. An arch – both humble and imposing – through which the audience once entered pays tribute to the Italian Renaissance and serves as a reminder that all the world’s a stage. A wooden ladder of unknown provenance looks just sturdy enough, propped up against a side wall. The rest is history.