8.9.05

The Ruapehu Hotel


This is a photo from 1980 of an old hotel that used to stand out on the Dreadnought Road at Rangataua, near where I grew up. Last time I went to look, all there was on that corner was a pile of splintery grey boards ... it had been knocked down by someone, for some reason. Even though it looks derelict in the photo, it was in fact being lived in at the time. Here's what I wrote about it then:

You could make out the letters of its name fading along the weatherboards of the right hand gable. In the overgrown garden, red hot pokers raised their vivid cones in the air. The veranda sagged. One of the dormer windows, broken, was stuffed with boards and straw. The front door opened and a woman came out. She was big-boned and bare-foot and did not look her sixty-five years. She said she'd raised seventeen children and six grand-children in that house. No regrets, except perhaps the lack of royalties from the many who came to photograph her gothic mansion. Mr. Smiles, selling pictures of it in his shop on Cuba Street. Someone else had made place mats. There were tea trays too. There ought to be a law. What else? You have to be patient. You have to wait out the silences, staring into the white distance between one remark and the next. The slight rain drifted down Dreadnought Road towards us. It rains more since they milled the bush, she offered. She remembered when there were thirty sawmills within an eight mile radius of the town. Then the bad years after the boom was over, the Depression, the War, the long slow post-war decline, which the opening of the ski fields reversed. A fifty year slump between the bush and the mountain. She didn't ask us in, but through the half open door I caught a tantalising glimpse of wonders ... a glass-doored tallboy full of bric-a-brac ... a painted plaster parrot won at the Taihape Show … little ornamental dolls a sailor son brought back from Japan ... pieces of kauri gum ... postcards from Spain ... a cuckoo clock. In a falling down garage round the side of the house was a 1955 FJ Holden Special, pristine, before a lawn edged with white painted car tyres upon which stood a single cabbage tree.

I was going to use this and other photos from the same time to illustrate a possible reprint of my essay The Abandoned House as a Refuge for the Imagination in a book of Gothica but realised, just this week, that for copyright reasons this will not be possible. Ho hum. So I've been out looking for possible replacement images and have found a remarkable series of photographs, mostly from the early 20th century, of my old home town and envirions. Here's a few favourites:


This is more or less how Ohakune looked when I was growing up there in the 1950s - even the old car is right, because in those days people still drove around in Model T Fords and such like.


This the actual street I grew up in, our house was away in the foreground from the POV of this shot ... but hardly any of those buildings survived the Great Burns Street Fire of 1917.


The same stretch from a slightly different POV. That's a stream, the Mangawhero, running parallel to the railway line; it's about to join another stream, the Mangateitei and we lived just below the confluence with our back garden ending at the river's edge.


Waiouru, now primarily a military base, was about twenty miles east of Our Town. This from 1908, just after the railway - the Main Trunk line - went through.


This is just a few miles in the other direction, the main road to Horopito. Photo apparently taken from one stage coach of the other, that shadowy form on the road ahead.

Except for the first shot, the photos are all from the collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, to whom acknowledgement is due.

4 comments:

Okir said...

"the Dreadnought Road at Rangataua," -- I love it. How could anyone grow up in a place with names like that, and not become a writer?

Okir said...

Forgot to mention that I also love your little narrative about the place -- do you know the story behind the naming of the Dreadnought Road?

Martin Edmond said...

Thanks Jean ... yeah, great names. The battleships the British built in the lead up to WW1 were called Dreadnoughts. Some kind of grim joke. There is/was a Soldiers Road up there too, maybe that came later?

Reid said...

The woman's name was Constance Phillips.... she too was born in Rangataua and lived there her entire life, her and her husband 'Mana' bought up 17 children in that house, he died in 1976 and she died in 1997, shortly after they demolished it. The house was built around the turn of the century and was actually 1 of about 7 scattered around Rangataua, built as hotels/ boarding houses, this one had the best view of mount Ruapehu and was therefore called 'Ruapehu House'.