The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 10 (January 1, 1940)
New Zealand's … — Centennial Exhibition — A Visitor's Impressions
(Rly. Publicity photos.)
It would take all the pages in two issues of this magazine to give an account in reasonable detail of the wonders of the New Zealand Exhibition; it would take a full month of close but swiftly-made inspection to really see all that it has to offer; it would take five hours inside and four hours outside to walk down the full length of its avenues; there are 37,000 lights, and a million watts are used in the largest electrical illumination ever installed in the Southern Hemisphere. The diorama in the Dominion Court is the largest ever made in the world; 2,233 miles of wiring, and 10,000 feet of fluorescent tubing are included in an electrical equipment which would suffice for a city of 25,000 people; the Playland Park has only been excelled a few times in the size and variety of its devices. This sort of calculation could be extended indefinitely. The adjective has been described as the “enemy of the noun” but this Exhibition deserves and, moreover, cannot be described without the lavish use of the most opulent superlatives even right up to those used in film star publicity.
Perhaps an American friend's observation will provide a key: “This would be a big thing in any country, but for Noo Zealand's million and a half, it just makes out as the world's best job, and I don't mean maybe.” More than one Australian acquaintance awarded it parity with Glasgow, and an English girl who, starting in a spirit of armed neutrality, spent three days of characteristically thorough inspection, admitted this to me: “Yes, there's truth in your Brighter Britain story; I thought till now it was an A. A. Milne.”
This article is intended to be a friendly tabloid guide to highlights only. It must be remembered that at this Exhibition there is something for every kind and degree of human taste. If you are limited to one exclusive hobby, there will be something here to interest you. I have “been to the Exhibition” many times with a wide variety of companions, ranging from a pigeon pair of three and five years respectively to a mixed bag of adults whose range of ideas differed as widely as those of radio listeners. I have also been three times by myself and found my own company bearable for hours on end.
My best memory of splendour and surprise arises from my arrival at the main gates one evening when I first saw the colour spectacle in its full glory. It is not only the largest and most intricate, but the loveliest lighting scheme ever planned under the Southern Cross. I advise taking the Kiwi train at least once, so as to get all this colour pageantry in one draught.
Out of a ripe experience, I suggest seeing the Government Court first. Now, most people enter one great hall or another in a sort of a daze, for the mere size and grandeur of the place baffle the imagination.
The plan, after all, is logical and simple. There are two island pavilions, the United Kingdom on the left and the Australian on the right. Passing a reflecting pool on the left, you find the Government Court. From now on you can keep under cover till you have “seen the show.” The Government Court gives on to the Fijian, Samoan, Tasmanian, and Canadian courts, then through the vast Motor and Transport section, you reach the Dominion Court; turning to the right brings you to the superb Assembly Hall, with access to the Women's Court, and carrying on will find you in the Electrical and Engineering display which in turn leads to the two enormous halls devoted to Manufacturing Industries and General Exhibits. In short order, the floors are arranged in a hollow rectangle of which the two sides and the end arc each composed of Courts. I warn readers that it will be difficult to leave the Government Court. Here, in striking and enlightening form, is the whole panorama of New Zealand's social services, its totality of community effort. Every departmental exhibit has its own individuality, and there is not one commonplace exhibit of the “shopwindow” type in the whole vast place.
There will be a crowd at the Railways exhibit, the largest in the Court, and without breaking the “primus inter pares” rule, this is a star show. If you have young folks with you, it would be as well to resign yourself and “call it a day.” I found this true of my friends of all kinds; while someone now and again liked some other sight better, the Railways exhibit was invariably placed next; its appeal seems universal. It consists of a large-scale setting of a New Zealand railway system, complete with our usual supply of tunnel, mountain, viaduct and other familiar features. The only thing wanting, according to my five-year-old lad, was that “the persons on the stations aren't talking.”
Along the intricacy of lines, with their signals, stations, and other appurtenances, run perfectly made models of expresses and goods trains; and there is a rail car for good measure. The train running is operated exactly as in everyday practice, and a good commentator explains the technical working.
There is an air of reality and practicalness about this scene which cannot be translated into words. It has precisely the effect on me, as if I were looking down from a moored aeroplane on the 3 p.m. on its way to Auckland. page 23 The thronging crowds are its best witnesses, anyway. There is a mezzanine floor which enables one to see the signalling and train control systems working, and here, in addition, there is a fine range of other Railway Department's units. I had a difficulty in getting my small boy friend away from the towering massive front of a “KA” engine; crowds stand awe-stricken at the complex perfection of an engine cab; a “Stop and Go” electric flashing signal goes all the time; and other units of machinery impress by their strength and finish. There is a new air-conditioned sleeping car de luxe with movable lounge chairs, comfortable beds and every luxury of appointment.
One of the highlights for me is the Heath Robinson engine, in which a skilful model artist has given his fancy full throttle. I have not room for the full tally of this wildly humourous cartoon in steel. The cab is a “Home Away from Home,” complete with mantelpiece, grate, clock, family photographs, a wall text, fender, fire-irons, and so on. The “Cowcatcher” has a large mattress on which the newly collected cow reclines in comfort. There is a “wheel wobble determinator” for use after derailments, and there are two pairs of bollards to moor the engine when left overnight anywhere. There are window flower-boxes, hot-water bottles hang gracefully, and there is a fire escape ladder behind the tender. The periscope is also worth some guesswork as to its use. This locomotive gently claims that it “sets a new standard in train comfort.”
Taken as a whole, the Railways Exhibit does all of its intended job; it reveals the modernity, efficiency, and the unsurpassed national service of this vast brotherhood which operates our largest industrial organisation; in other words, the show is a worthy expression of the New Zealand Railways.
Nearby, is the Air Department's display. A stroll round this intelligently planned show is an education. On the walls is depicted the whole history of flying in nature, from the clumsy pterodactyl to the albatross, from the first gliding insect to the humming bird; and this is followed by the story of the evolution of the aeroplane. Simple and effective devices show how man's solution was effected, and the basic principles of “heavier than air” man-carrying machines are explained. There are exhibits of huge modern rotary engines and other developments.
The Tourist Department's show is divided into eight sections full of new display technique, and remarkable for aesthetic unity of design. Any oversets visitor calling will assuredly want if, make the grand tour of our pocket world.
The Education Department's expansive exhibit is dominated by the enormous revolving Globe whose axis rests in a well court where there is a huge ground map of New Zealand showing by colourful lights the location of every one of our educational institutions. The school exhibits of arts and crafts are amazing; they range from radio cabinets and a veneered deed-box to a complex turning lathe. Modernistic oil paintings vie with a display of 100 dolls, arrayed in every feminine fashion from 1840 to 1940, a good touch being the slightly military flavour of next year's models. In the Native Schools' sections, the immemorial Maori arts are in full glory.
The Housing Construction Department displays its range of designs by scale models, and explains its townplanning system; the Marine Department's great show includes a tank of many fishes, a convincing display of “Safety at Sea” measures, and a splendid ever-curling breaker; the Transport Department runs a unique “Safety First” campaign, with driving test devices, and a hundred and one other sound notions. The Public Works display is on a massive and imposing scale, giving a perfect visual representation of our achievements in building roads, railways, public edifices, and all complete.
It is impossible, in the space allowed, to cover the whole area of this great Court but the Hall of Progress should be mentioned with its splendid murals, and the story of the development of farming.
The Fijian and Samoan Courts are attended by pleasant and cultured folks from their own lands. A fale is building in the Samoan Court, showing that nails are not used, and in the Fijian Court, the exotic products of those sunny lands are on view. I met my first tapioca root, and a bunch of bananas whose size would mean one to a bag. Most visitors will be surprised in these courts at the scale of their industrial undertakings.
The Tasmanian Court is sheerly beautiful, and in a compact fashion gives an idea of this “Little Sister” of Australia which in so many ways resembles New Zealand. Canada, naturally, is on another scale. The largest of the British Dominions has a court of grandeur and impressiveness. Great colour dioramas of a “sunrise to sunset” cycle show the vast extent of Canadian industries, mineral wealth, forests (“a million and a quarter squares miles of trees”). There is a Transatlantic flavour about the figures and distance, 43,000 miles of railways, 420,000 miles of roads. This great spacious court communicates the idea of mature nationhood.
Now for the Dominion Court! Nothing like this has been attempted in the world. In 64,000 square feet, there is contained a three-dimensional representation of the whole of New Zealand. In less time than it takes to read an Edgar Wallace thriller, you can see New Zealand, its towns and cities, its countryside, its industries, its mountain ranges and scenic attractions. This is a miniature of a miniature world. The diorama is arranged in its proper geographical order. The Northland peninsula lies there in exact scale and in its right position. I know Whangarei well, and it looks exactly right; I could single out every building in each street. This applies to every city and town. Each time I have visited the Dominion Court I have heard visitors ecstatically recognising the street they lived or worked in. Even the colours of the individual buildings have been accurately reproduced, from the band (Continued on page 47.)