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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 2 (June 1, 1933)

A City of Dreams — Conrad in Search of His Youth—In Napier

A City of Dreams
Conrad in Search of His Youth—In Napier

When I returned to Napier in 1933, two years after the disaster, I felt like a sad character of fiction—Conrad, “Conrad in Search of his Youth,” by Leonard Merrick. Like many great efforts in fiction, it lies neglected on the library shelves.

Conrad was a sentimentalist. He had reached that age when there is a sentimental re-birth (cynics call it the dangerous age). Losing youth, nature craves to re-live that age—the golden age—once more. Conrad being of this temperament, journeys forth like a re-born Ulysses, to try and glimpse the world once more in the rosy hues of youth.

I was another Conrad then, when full of fond hope I took the train to Napier one late summer day this year from Wellington.

Napier had been a birthplace of youth in 1917. I had been appointed chief reporter of the “H.B. Herald,” and, full of fresh blown conceit, I arrived in the City of the Marine Parade to tell the world, through the columns of the “Herald,” of the political, municipal and social activities of the golden little city by the sea.

Very soon I knew the full scale of the ocean murmurs on the Parade Beach, the more material murmur of the civic chiefs at Council and Board meetings, and, in time off, the softer murmur of little ladies “doing” the Parade, also the grand organ murmur of late evenings, and mornings welled to a double crescendo to the tune of that sadly enthusiastic melody “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow!”

I met a host of good fellows—Mick Gleeson, Louis Hay, Barney Dolan, Percy Spiller, J. Math, all much older than I, but, thank goodness, indulgent to impetuous youth.

Oh how I knew my Napier, backwards! Aye, frontwards! I knew every inch of the Marine Parade, of Tiffen Park, every place in Shakespeare Road, Colenso Hill, every massive stone on the breakwater. The last mentioned, because being of a romantic and obviously sentimental mind, I oft held converse with Nature as I sat alone on these man-made boulders at night to lament on some shattered romance.

Then, in this year of 1933, I came back to it all. I sought in vain for old sights. There was solace in the fact that a city of another generation's dreams had been built over the golden days of yesterday—but—I wanted my old Napier!

I found it only in one place—a rough surfaced rock at the portals of Shakespeare Road, and on this I recovered, in memory, an old inscription—a century of tyrannic upheaval had failed to obliterate these words: “The Right Rev. Geo. Augustus Selwyn preached from this rock in 1844?”

Like Conrad, I mourned. I had preached from here in 1917 on the joys of youth, but time, with its relentless tread, had sought to obliterate all my dreams—save one—the glorious thought of the persistency of man that can raise from the ruins of an earthquake, a dream city for future generations.