That dedicated bunch of writers who pen the clues to crossword puzzles – they do like their anagrams. Some years ago a simple clue in the weekly cryptic crossword in the Listener magazine got Timaru a-buzzing.
The rather innocent clue simply asked "Is it a rum sort of town?" Nationwide publicity followed as the town governors sought to correct the impression that was created. Yes Timaru has a colourful port and a rich maritime history, with ships from all nations visiting the ever growing waterfront. But perhaps this crossword clue conjured up images of loose-living sailors swigging rum as they staggered along the main street. And perhaps it hit a raw nerve in a town with – yes, no doubt – a generous collection of hotels.
Some of the hotels had been built in the hectic rush for accommodation in the period 1900-15 following the establishment of Caroline Bay as a summer holiday venue. Others were more focussed on their bar trade. A drink with a regular mate in your choice of the many bars on offer, was the common end to the day for a working man.
A glance now at the busy port would suggest that today's sailor is likely to be expert in technical areas such as engineering, navigation, logistics, and business management. That person is not likely to be compared with the sailor of years past, and there's no sign of any rum.
The Venice Biennale of Architecture takes place in that historic city every second year. All nations are invited to contribute an exhibition stemming from some part of their national identity. For the 2014 Biennale, New Zealand architects took the words of Rudyard Kipling as a source of inspiration.
When Kipling visited New Zealand in 1891 he offered a poetic description of the new country – "Last, loneliest, loveliest". "Last" to be settled by mankind; "loneliest" since so far from the ancient centres of civilization; "loveliest" referring to landscape no doubt.
It must therefore be surprising to visitors from Europe to find New Zealand architecture redolent with the shapes and symbols of their homelands. One could start a veritable a,b,c of these elements for train spotters walking through the Timaru CBD.
A for acroterion, those abstract shapes crowning the pediments of the Customs House; B for bucranium the stylised ox head motifs on the CML building opposite the Old Bank hotel; C for capital the shaped head to any column harking back to ancient Greece or Rome; D for dentils those little blocks – like teeth – running along the cornice of the Tekapo Building. And so on.
Inevitably however an architect will be influenced by local culture. Designed by the eminent Christchurch architect Cecil Wood the former State Insurance building located on the corner opposite the Public Library shows such influence from 1928. The ground floor entry carries surface decoration clearly relating to the South Pacific but with Art Deco styling. Similar decorations with Maori and Pasifika flavour are seen on several of the highly protected Art Deco buildings at Napier, from the same period.
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