Martians, landships, and other irrelevancies
I know I'm supposed to be searching, in a relentlessly methodical manner, for images that we can use in our movie about the Great South Road, and avoiding what I think I may have called, with appropriate scorn, 'fascinating irrelevancies'. It is amazing, though, what fascinating irrelevancies one can find, apparently by accident, during even the most motivated, methodical search of that Borgesian archive, Papers Past.
This image appeared in the Auckland Star in 1940, a year when escapist fantasy was perhaps a necessity for New Zealanders, and for many other peoples besides. The caption read: 'If human beings live on Mars, they would have to have enormous chests to hold outside lungs and hearts...they might also be very hairy'. Martians and their more elegant cousins, Venusians, are surprisingly common guests of both Victorian and early twentieth century New Zealand papers.
Here's a photograph that turned up in the New Zealand Herald on the 2nd of October 1936, together with a caption explaining that it showed 'a Mr L Beavis of Silverdale' attempting to sail his ship, which was named the Israel, from Auckland to Wellington. Beavis apparently wanted to raise money for a more seaworthy vessel, so that he could bring God's good news to benighted corners of the Pacific.
I haven't looked at any statistics, but I suspect that the 1920s and '30s were a time of heightened religiosity in God's Own Country. Widows and parents of some of the seventeen thousand local men killed in the Great War crowded into new spiritualist and pentecostal churches, straining to hear messages from their loved ones through the murmur of glossalia, or rolling on the ground after being spiritually 'pole-axed' by the British Israelite healer-preacher AH Dallimore, who created hysteria at an overloaded Auckland Town Hall decades before the Beatles.
In Man Alone, his picaresque novel about loneliness, rioting, and road trips in the Great Depression, John Mulgan describes the unemployed men who were exiled from pubs and hearths of suburban Auckland to that high, thickly forested ridge known as the Waitakere Ranges, where they were made to work with picks and gelignite on a half-finished, cruelly named Scenic Drive, and to sleep off their exertions in tents raised over roadside mud.
No suffering is evident in this image from 1936, which was produced by the magical and mechanical process called posterizing, and thus lacks both the jaundiced colour that cheap paper acquires in old age and the weary ambiguity we associate with the colour grey. The vehicles on a newly-completed section of Scenic Drive look immobile: the sunshine, which has been strengthened by posterizing, holds them as securely as a bleb of kauri gum or jar of aspic holds a flock of long-dead immortal insects.
Sorry. I'll get back to work.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]