Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blockhouse Bay's bard, on the smells of rail travel

William Cooper, an early 20th century Blockhouse Bay resident, was somewhat of a bard and a poet in his own neck of the woods. In 1907, he turned his sights on the state of the railway service between the city and Avondale. From the Observer, 25 May 1907:
"In a letter written by me, and published in the New Zealand Herald in April, I endeavoured to express my thanks to the Railway Department for the improvements effected during the last two years between Auckland and Avondale. I proposed to follow that first letter with a second and concluding one, and did so, but, alas! that second epistle does not appear to have found favour in the editorial sight, and it has been suppressed.

"The subject, however, is an important one, and here is " The condemned thing," as a Yankee would say, as near as it is possible to reproduce it:—

To the Editor. Sir, —In my previous letter, I specied some of the improvements recently effected on the Auckland - Avondale railway, and I purposed completing the enumeration in a second letter, but I find, on consideration, that the only additional improvements consist of certain public conveniences erected at Kingsland and Morningside. In this connection, it will be gratifying to many good people to learn that the use of the establishment of this nature at Mount Eden station is regulated on strict Sabbatarian principles, it being religiously placed under lock and chain every Sunday. The ladies' waiting-room at Mount Eden appears to be so insanitary that even in the most inclement weather the ladies are constrained to occupy seats in the open portico, and frequently trespass even on the one solitary garden seat generally supposed to have been supplied "for men only," as A. J. Black says in his advertisements.

"At Avondale itself, insult is added to suffering by the frequent appearance of trucks laden with crude fertilisers, the pestilential odours of which are a sickening outrage on the nostrils of waiting passeugers, and a menace to public health. But there the trucks remain, hour after hour, while cheerful, chattering Chinkies leisurely discharge the reeking contents into their carts, apparently keenly enjoying what is to others a filthy, loathsome nuisance. Protest and complaint have been ignored by the high railway officials, with that ineffably supercilious contempt for the public, of which they are such thorough masters.

"The train service is still spasmodic, inconvenient and insufficient ; while the time-table often tells the most atrocious falsehoods concerning the arrival and departure of trains. The long-promised fast, furious and frequent motor train service has not yet eventuated, and, though there were exciting reports lately of the motor having been actually seen in the rails, it seems to have "mysteriously disappeared," as the newspapers remark, when a defaulting bank manager, sharebroker, or government official takes a sudden and regrettable departure. But "I will pursue this subject no further," as the King remarked when, after a long chase, his fugitive High Chancellor fell over a precipice. "
And so the bard continues, paragraph after paragraph, dragging Pelorus Jack into the discussion (although what a dolphin has to do with the railway, I'm not quite sure), Sherlock Holmes, St. Dunstan, Auckland Mayors C. J. Parr and Arthur Myers, and finally, after slipping from prose to poetry and back again, concluding:
"Sir, I have no wish to trespass further upon your columns," as the great Napoleon said to Wellington, after the battle of Waterloo. I am, I regret to say, still -- William Cooper, Avondale South."
No wonder the Herald refrained from publication of this piece of Cooper's creative outpouring.

A year before, however, Cooper did pen a quite good poem for Richard Seddon, published by the New Zealand Free Lance, 30 June 1906, for Seddon's birthday but, as it turned out, it became an obituary for the late Premier. Worth checking out on Paper's Past.

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