January 1, 2009 - One Response

Nine photos of Benneydale. From the car.  Drive-by shootings as we were forced to slow down on SH30.  Quick snapshots, no time to focus or compose.

We didn’t stop.  It doesn’t look like anyone stops.  We were on our way to somewhere else, just like everyone else.

Benneydale was just on the way.

[Visit the exhibition at the Paramount Theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington, between 3 Jan and 1 Feb]


I wish I’d stopped

January 1, 2009 - Comments Off on I wish I’d stopped

No one goes to Benneydale anymore.

We’re in such a rush, but ask someone and they don’t know what they are rushing for.  There is an unreconciled compulsion that moves us from one point to the next.  Haste seems to provide us an assurance that we are not merely going somewhere but we are getting somewhere. Destination matters more than the journey.  Small towns are ignored unless we want to refill the petrol tank.

Something becomes lost.  The lure of a rural idyll with its sense of timeless charm and an inherent slower pace of life.

Established in the forties, Benneydale housed miners working a new coal seam further up the valley.  Fire closed the mine in ‘62 but subsequent milling of native timbers from Pureora State Forest supplemented the tiny community; and farming, as ever, provided its backbone.  But always, it has remained isolated between somewhere and somewhere else.

Faster transport and better roading has brought Benneydale closer to the outside than before.  It is easier than ever to get there but despite its charms we drive on.  Perhaps we feared imaginary barriers thrown up by the unkempt rustic buildings lining the roadsides or the unkempt locals themselves.

The lure of a rural idyll.  A sense of timeless charm.  An inherent slower pace of life.  Imaginary barriers.

I wished I’d stopped at Benneydale.

The in-between

January 1, 2009 - Comments Off on The in-between

“As a concept that opposes taste, disgust can help explain and distinguish it” John Macarthur

Benneydale is the in-between.  Neither city nor country, is it the small town mediating between the rural and the urban. In doing so it both appeals and shocks, is beautiful but also disgusts.

As mediator, it is not as raw as the wilderness nor as advanced and progressive as the city. Benneydale provides us with something we can relate to in our desires to return to a simpler life without throwing us into the survival battle of the bush. It possesses a mythic power, its decay and age giving it a picturesque quality that we can romanticise. It is the anti-urban, which places our true happy state prior to all our material accomplishments (thanks to Macarthur).

But Benneydale is dangerous – something to be experienced from within the car, surrounded by the mod-cons and air-con. It is not inviting in its foreignness or its differences. We romanticise through the anti-shatter safety glass, our motion keeping us separate from the reality of Benneydale.

Even 50kph seems too slow. Benneydale doesn’t provide enough entertainment to make that speed viable. No cafes or galleries appeal for us to stop. It is just life, the quiet life, best observed at 100kph. But they make us slow to 50kph through Benneydale.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. No-one builds a town to end up like Benneydale. Who can we blame? The residents for their lack of vision? Their lack of a drive to succeed? The big fat cats for removing the economic lifelines that kept Benneydale alive? They probably never visited the place, probably don’t even know it exists.

Who knows if Benneydale will be there next time we are driving this road. Who knows and who cares. We are just passing through on our way to our destination. Benneydale is just on the way.

Why should I care about Benneydale?

January 1, 2009 - Comments Off on Why should I care about Benneydale?

Where the hell is it anyway? Way down there in manga-ta-buggery middle of nowhere.

It looks contently caught between the central alpine plateau and the sea, rendering it full, lazy, frontal in the horrible, damp, mediocre haze of the mighty King Country. Sitting somewhere south of pleasant Te Kuiti, north of up-beat Taumaranui, and next to absolutely nothing of interest, Benneydale quietly rots in the dripping, dreary vapour of what once was.

Caught in a time-warp the decaying haven of oblivion appears to sit comfortably amid the ideas of country and town but achieving neither. Cavemen would walk past it in search of shelter. The townsfolk pass idle time watching lichen, moss and the like, thrive, grow, expand, and proliferate all around (and likely on) them as nature takes back the once built environment. Locals do not care. They happily un-maintain their once-possessions. I guess the dole goes to more important necessities such as booze, the general store, trips to a neighbouring ‘big smoke’, and the pub.

The surrounding vacuum running down the hills like mist toward Benneydale sucks all human life into the spiralling black hole of site-driven depression. No wonder some intelligent ones get out while they can. The remaining have no motivation to do anything positive or put their hand up for much needed help – so the rest of the country doesn’t even notice them any more. In a vicious cycle Benneydale is destined to die the natural death of obscurity.