Butt of a Joke

Māori history records that long before this 1.2 kilometre, late 1880s-era tunnel was built, the chief Tarau, heading southward, climbed the range through which the tunnel now passes, situated near the upper Ongarue Valley in the Waitomo region of New Zealand. His subjects dutifully followed their chief, in single file. Mirth must have spread down the line of travellers about Tarau exposing his backside (“poro”) as he bent to the task of scaling the steep hill. And so that place, and the tunnel which was later dug through it, operating for nearly a century until 1980, acquired a colourful name: Poro-A-Tarau — “the posterior of Tarau”. It was a place where a chief exposed his rear end, becoming literally the butt of a joke.

Congratulations to The Forsaken Explorer NZ, Urban Kiwiana and KEWM for tracking down Poro-A-Tarau last year, and special thanks to The Forsaken Explorer NZ who promptly and kindly directed me when I had lost my way. Links to their videos of the tunnel are below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQh4_nK0r7s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66KJ7nEdyeA&t=3s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96a8bm7oifI&t=34s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9lv1ucPRlQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS6uFvBpcgQ&t=540s

Across Time

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 It remained in use until 1987 when it was superseded by a creation of the ‘Age of Concrete’ as part of the electrification of the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT).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.

Hard Labour

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.

#12

This former rail tunnel has sat abandoned since 1900. It is now three-quarters buried by the earth, and half-flooded. Distinctive arrow imprints on the red and brown clay bricks indicate the presence of prison labourers in its construction. Prisoners serving terms with hard labour wore arrows on their uniforms to visually distinguish them from civilian workers, and they marked their handmade bricks with arrows, as a kind of self-portrait. Finding this tunnel was a team effort involving anecdotes from rail workers, hand-drawn maps of enthusiasts, and – finally – simply groping through thick vines in search of the source of faint sounds of trickling water. The entrances are completely obscured in dense overgrowth. The thrill of finding something so untouched for so long is indescribable.

Ruapehu Railways

Standing at the feet of Mt Ruapehu are the remains of several railway viaducts in various stages of decay. Modernisation of the railway network and the move towards concrete bridges in place of the historic steel viaducts has meant that these symbols of industrialisation are no longer in use. One of the viaducts has been turned into a tourist attraction with the option of walking across it – on this viaduct I took the path less travelled and popped down for a look at the hidden service platform beneath its deck.