Thursday, 27 August 2015

Art Deco Town & ‘Thomsons Barnyard’

We left St Bathans Domain on a very bleak and overcast morning with rain threatening. David was less keen to leave, he’d cleaned the vehicles and if it did rain while we were on the road all his hard work would be undone. We took the long route back to the main road to avoid the muddy gravel road just past St Bathans settlement. It didn’t help our case, the rain started before we reached the turnoff and we drove through to Ranfurly in a steady downpour.

Needless to say I didn’t take these photos of the iconic Webberburn Goods Shed on our way past, we drove back there on a fine day. Once again the 1975 Graham Sydney painting “July on the Maniototo”, made this goods shed famous.


After the closure of the Otago Central Railway line, the goods shed was moved 5km away to an open cast coal mine at the head of the Ida Valley. It eventually became home to feral pigeons. When the Rail Trail began the community was keen to see the old building put back in its original place. In 2002 it was returned on the back of a truck and restored to its original green colour (it had been painted red). It is now an icon of the Trail and the Maniototo – and it is still home to the pigeons.

The original small Wedderburn Station, built in 1900, was also recovered and restored to its original home (a curling club had moved it 300m to the west). This is the last remaining Vogel Class 5 Station and ticket office in New Zealand, with a simple lean-to design.


Just up the road from the goods shed is the historic Wedderburn Tavern, built in 1885. Once the a stop-over for coaches and wagons, it is now a favourite destination and half way point for cyclists on the Rail Trail.


Our next camping site was at the Ranfurly Holiday Park, it was time to plug back into the grid and give the generator a bit of a break. We are very power hungry couple (well David will say it’s just me) but the truth is we both use a lot of power in various forms and while we do quite adequately cope with our solar panels and generator it’s just nice to sometimes plug in and not worry about turning off the extra lights, watching TV a little later, leaving the computer running between jobs or using the toaster & the microwave (both out of bounds when off the grid). Then there are the long hot showers we can have, although they're usually outweighed by the bitter cold run across to the ablution block. We also had laundry to do, and there aren’t too many freedom camping spots in the area.


Ranfurly is known as the rural Art Deco town and is the smaller (much smaller) Art Deco sister to my home town Napier, the Art Deco Capital of the world (that link will take you to my blog on the Art Deco Weekend in Napier, there are more Art Deco posts out in the menu on the right). Ranfurly also has a popular art deco festival that attracts people from far and wide and I was looking forward to comparing notes.


Following a series of disastrous and suspicious fires in the 1930′s that destroyed many of Ranfurly’s buildings, including the town hall and the hotel, the fashionable, inexpensive and simplistic Art Deco style was introduced to Ranfurly to replace many of the towns buildings.


The Centennial Milk Bar is the iconic art deco building in Ranfurly. It is located beside the I-Site (once the Railway Station) in the main street and in its heyday it was a bustling place serving hungry passengers from the trains and afternoon teas and icecreams to the locals. By the mid 1970’s the trains had stopped running, the town’s already small population had dwindled and the milk bar was abandoned & rundown. The only interest in the prominent but derelict art deco building on the main street was from the local fire brigade who were looking for something to burn down for a practice exercise.


After the economic decline of the 1990′s, the local community was thinking of ways to attract people to Ranfurly and came up with the idea of reviving the forty-odd art deco buildings located throughout the town to create an ‘Art Deco’ theme for Ranfurly. In 2000 the Central Otago District Council purchased the Centennial Milk Bar and leased it to the town’s Art Deco Society who set it up as an Art Deco Gallery. Local families have lent or donated their treasures and the displays, set up as rooms; bring to life the glamour and glitz of the era- it was closed while we were in town.

Street art and murals reflecting the Art Deco era are attached or painted on a number of the buildings along the main street, some are subtly placed so that unless you’re specifically looking for them, they can easily be missed.


The former Railway Station and now the i-Site (information centre) taken before and after the snow fall we had while we were in Ranfurly.


To be fair, we did visit Ranfurly in the middle of winter, but some days when I went walkabout it felt like I was the only person in an abandoned town, a few tumbleweeds rolling down the main street would have completed the picture.

More Ranfurly buildings…


The restored Fenton Library (1926) building houses Ranfurly’s own home grown community trust radio station ‘Burn 729am’. I was searching for a radio station in the early hours of our first morning in Ranfurly and came up with just one station loud and clear. Music was playing for awhile and then the most softly spoken boring monotonous voice I have ever heard came on, he prattled on for ages before playing the next track. I thought to myself, it must be hard to get decent announcers in Central Otago and they’ve given him the grave-yard shift so he doesn’t scare the punters away.

It wasn’t until I went for a walk in the morning that I realised I was listening to Burn 729 out of this building just a few steps away from where I was trying to go to sleep. You can see the campground in the background. I just know the guy sitting outside & nodding off in the sun, with a fag in one hand & a coffee in the other, was my man.


I loved the simplicity of the butchers shop just a little further down the road, right down to the huge home-kill cattle carcass they were man-handling out of the small truck and into the shop. You’d never see that in the city, someone would report them for animal cruelty.  No fancy meats here either; eggs, sausages & steak (where are the chips), hearty meals for the hard working rural folk.


And I bet you’ve been wondering when I was going to mention, ‘Thomson’s Barnyard’. On the corner of the main street opposite the Centennial Milk Bar stands the figure of a man looking through a theodolite. This is the memorial to John Turnbull Thomson, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1856 and worked as Chief Surveyor of the Otago Province, surveying and exploring large sections of the interior. One man on a mission, he virtually shaped Central and North Otago. He later became Surveyor-General of New Zealand.


Many names in the area can be attributed to Thomson's Northumbrian background and are often in the form of a Northumbrian dialectic name for an animal including Ranfurly which he originally named Eweburn.  Names such as Horseburn, Mareburn, Fillyburn, Hogburn, Houndburn, Sowburn and Swinburn were given to streams in the area. Then there’s the Horse Range & the Pigroot. The Kyeburn (cow), Gimmerburn (hogget), Stotburn (steer), and Wedderburn (wether) settlements were all named by Thomson, hence the reason that occasionally the area is referred to as “Thomson’s Barnyard”. Perhaps he'd have been better having the name McDonald.

He certainly wandered far and wide, maybe the fact that he had nine daughters had something to do with having to get out of the house. Once he was appointed Surveyor-General he covered most of New Zealand introducing his more accurate method of triangulation survey, using true bearings rather than compass bearings to survey the country.


And finally, to book-end the post with another Rail Trail Goods Shed, the Ranfurly Goods Shed after the snow fall.




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