When ethics overcome history

Another iconic building in my home town, Napier, New Zealand, bit the dust a while back. The Williams building – 103 years old – survived both the devastating 1931 earthquake and fire that followed.

Panorama I took of Napier's Hastings Street, Williams Building to the far left.

Panorama I took of Napier’s Hastings Street, Williams Building to the far right.

Now it’s gone down before the wrecking ball. And a good thing too. You see, it apparently only met 5 percent of the current earthquake-proofing standard. Ouch. Surviving the 1931 quake and retaining its structural integrity were, it seems, two different things.

The Williams building. Click to enlarge.

The Williams building going…going… Click to enlarge.

It’s the latest in a succession of quake-risk demolitions around the city. A few structures – such as the Paxie building, centre in the photo above, or the old State Theatre (where I first saw Star Wars in 1977) have been gutted and the facades preserved. But original ‘deco’ buildings of the 1930s are limited to a couple of city blocks. A single heritage precinct. When I was a kid, deco filled the town.

....and gone....

….and gone…. Click to enlarge

I know, I can hear the howls of protest now. ‘But – but – you’re interested in history…how can you support knocking it down?’

Easy. History is more than the artefacts it leaves anyway, but the real calculation is more immediate. A few years back, Napier’s Anglican Cathedral hall was also under threat of demolition, in part because it was a pre-quake masonry structure. The Historic Places Trust approached me, wanting me to put my authority and repute as a nationally known historian behind their effort to have it listed and legally protected. I was well aware of that history, of course. But I knew the building was a quake risk –and I hadn’t been given any engineering reports on which to base the professional opinion I was being asked to provide by Historic Places.

The biggest horror story of the 1931 quake was the way a doctor had to euthanise a badly injured woman who was trapped in the ruins of the cathedral – the only way to save her from being burned alive by advancing fires. In was an appalling moment. The decision tore at him for the rest of his life.

I wasn’t going to endorse saving a building where that might happen again. Risking human life or preserving a historic building? It’s a no-brainer, really. So while it was sad to see that building go -and sad, since, to see other structures like the Williams Building disappear – it’s really not a hard choice. What would you do?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

What happens when somebody does something stupid to the environment

I thought I’d share a photo I took a little while ago as an object lesson in what happens when somebody does something stupid with the environment.

Coastal erosion near Clifton, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.

Coastal erosion near Clifton, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

This is a was-a-road on the coast south of Napier, in New Zealand. It’s at the edge of an alluvial plain. Last time I saw this road – just a few years ago – it existed. Now it doesn’t. I am told that reasons for this erosion flow in part from the way a harbour breakwater construction, some distance to the north, interacted with longshore drift. That has been an issue for decades. But stormier weather patterns brought on by global climate change aren’t helping. New Zealand’s off the beaten track, usually. But to me, irrespective, this highlights climate change as a world problem, right in our back yard. It’s not a single-cause problem, it exacerbates old issues, and it’s going to create new ones. It might be in your back yard tomorrow.

We need to do something about climate change – all humanity, all around the world, working together with kindness, tolerance, reason, abstract understanding, good will to each other, and earnest endeavour as we should. Are we? Uh…no… Damn.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Buy print edition from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Click to buy from Fishpond.

Buy from Fishpond.

Click to buy from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Summer writing inspirations – a rainbow umbrella in sun

A summer writing inspiration – blue skies, bright sunshine and a rainbow umbrella for New Year 2015.

Summer sun on New Year 2015.

Summer sun on New Year 2015.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Buy print edition from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Click to buy from Fishpond.

Buy from Fishpond.

Click to buy from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Summer writing inspirations – beach textures in grey

Colour can affect mood in profound  ways. The sombre tones I found on this Hawke’s Bay beach and in the rising ground behind, marching off through the haze into the distance, seem as inspiring as the sapphire skies and topaz sea of the day before.

Layers of grey one hazy day on a shingle beach in New Zealand...

Layers of grey one hazy day on a shingle beach in New Zealand…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Buy print edition from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Click to buy from Fishpond.

Buy from Fishpond.

Click to buy from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Summer writing inspirations – a classic Kiwi camping ground

It’s summer in New Zealand and here’s a photo I took of one of the country’s best known camping grounds at Clifton, northeast of Hastings in Hawke’s Bay.

Camping ground at Clifton, Hawke's Bay.

Camping ground at Clifton, Hawke’s Bay.

Camping grounds like this one were iconic for decades in New Zealand, the focus of the great Kiwi holiday in which Mum, Dad and the kids packed everything up into the car and drove off to the camping ground they used every year. Back then there were no cafes or coffee culture and travel was difficult. But it was easy to camp. They’d set up house there – just like at home – cook all their own meals in the camp kitchen, and meet the people there they met every year and generally have a fun time. Today camping grounds remain an important part of the holiday scene, and it’s inspiring to imagine the stories of the people who stay there.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Buy print edition from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Click to buy from Fishpond.

Buy from Fishpond.

Click to buy from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Summer writing inspirations – a slice of California in the South Pacific

It’s summer in New Zealand (at last) and I thought I’d run a short series of summer writing inspiration posts. Today’s is the Marewa shopping centre in Napier, New Zealand, one summery evening.

Marewa shopping centre in the early evening light.

Marewa shopping centre in the early evening light.

This was the city’s first suburban shopping centre, serving Marewa – Napier’s ‘art deco Hollywood’ suburb, built from the late 1930s on land uplifted by a disastrous earthquake of 1931. It tells a story of the dreams of those who built it, looking for inspiration to the magic of the movies and the world of Hollywood, far away on the other side of the Pacific. Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Buy print edition from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Click to buy from Fishpond.

Buy from Fishpond.

Click to buy from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Writing inspirations – living the golden age Hollywood fantasy

Today’s writing inspiration is another of about a thousand photos I took during the 2014 Napier Art Deco weekend – a time to celebrate 1930s Hollywood fantasy against the wonderful backdrop of Napier’s art deco architecture. What lives would we have had in the 1930s if it had really been like Hollywood wanted it to be? I find the thought inspiring. Do you?

Yes, I'm sure it's 1940...

Yes, I’m sure it’s 1940…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Click to buy from Fishpond.

Buy from Fishpond.

Click to buy from Fishpond

Buy from Fishpond

Click to buy e-book from Amazon

Buy e-book from Amazon