Friday, April 30, 2010

how many of those good old British brandnames are still British?

It's a question which France 2 TV examined in its bulletin Le Journal yesterday as it looked at the last week before the UK election.

The short answer is very few. As this article in the Guardian reports, the chocolate maker Cadbury is the latest of one-time big British brandnames to be sold and often transported to foreign interests, in this case the US food giant Kraft.

Like many British brandnames, Cadbury had a subsidiary here, in fact still does, although the "rationalisation" was followed by product changes which local consumers didn't like, to the huge benefit of its main NZ competitor, Whitakers.

Other brandnames have gone because of problems the UK has, others are still here but as in the UK the products are from factories elsewhere in the world - from the Czech Republic to China.

truckie of the week

If you're going to fall asleep at the wheel of a big truck this is a good place to do it - on the Autobahn, crashing through a post and closing the road. The "Platz da! means "Space here", which there certainly is beyond the brought-down gantry.

Golden era of the Fiat railcars in New Zealand

Today's photo is of a Fiat railcar making its way north of Waikanae, a scene from the golden era when it was possible to travel to virtually every provincial centre on one of these - Whangarei, Tauraunga, Rotorua, Napier, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Masterton, Picton, Hokitika, Invercargill. The exceptions were Westport and Alexandra where tight track curvatures made them unsuitable, requiring the Vulcan type instead.

Railcar services (except for the North Island Main Trunk Silver Ferns) were completely scrapped during the first term of the Muldoon Government (1976-1978) making people use buses instead. The present National government is living up to Muldoon's performance, closing down railway lines completely and making motorists and buses compete with super heavy trucks on the roads.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Replica of a Gentle Annie Tramway loco ... but not in NZ

Today's photo is of Annie, a full size, accurate working replica of an 0-4-2T Bagnall locomotive supplied in 1911 to the Gentle Annie Tramway in Gisborne.... except that this is at the Groudle Glen Railway in the Isle of Man, UK.

Details of the loco and the tramway are in Chris Wood's book Steaming to the Sunrise published by us in 1996 (now out of print).

Battle to save rail from Government Stupidity

An extract from an article on the Wairarapa Times Age site is below. Everyone else who doesn't want to see the country's roads turned into a congested stream of big trucks should also make their voice heard.


A fight to save the northern Wairarapa rail line from 'mothballing' by the Government is 'winnable', says Pahiatua Railcar Society president Don Selby.

'I think [Transport Minister] Steven Joyce is just being provocative to see what the reaction will be and to see if someone will come out and fight for it - and that person is me,' Mr Selby said.

In March KiwiRail was asked to review its spending in a round of belt-tightening prompted by Mr Joyce's proposal to shut lines that had little or no traffic like the section from Napier to Gisborne and the Masterton-Woodville link.

'The National Government is on the wrong track. This is a misguided ministerial proposal, which threatens a unique tourist initiative,' Mr Selby said.

He hated the term 'mothballing', and said the minister had misappropriated the term as a cloak for future action. 'In politicalspeak what "mothballing" means is, "We are going to rip (the track) up later when the news media have forgotten about it, but meantime limit the political fallout by pretending it's only temporary," he said.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The majesty of the New Zealand Southern Alps

Today's picture is a painting by 19th century landscape artist John Gully, "In the Southern Alps" from 1881. We published a biography of John Gully by Fred McLean in 2001 of which a few copies are still available in our online shop.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Today's scene, marking ANZAC Day, shows an RNZAF Catalina in a rescue bid in the Pacific. Operated from 1943 onwards, a squadron of 56 did rescues, dropped supplies and troops into various war regions. A painting by Wallace Trickett.

ANZAC Day is Armed Forces Veterans Day in NZ and Australia and this year is the 95th anniversary of the futile and costly Gallipoli landing in Turkey ordered by Winston Churchill.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

20th anniversary of the Hubble space telescope

Space shuttle Discovery roared into orbit on 24 April 1990 with a most precious cargo, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. In the two decades since, teams of astronauts working from other shuttles repaired the orbiting eye on the universe and extended its abilities far beyond what was thought possible for longer than many thought realistic.

The spectacular images from the telescope have been turned into impressive books on the solar system and the cosmos.

read more

Hedgie takes the train

Today's picture is a Deutsche Bundesbahn (German Federal Railway) poster from the 1960s showing a hedgehog travelling faster than a hare by taking the train.

We like hedgehogs - apart from being cute, they help to control the insect population around our Kapiti Coast property.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ferries at Picton

The photo shows ferries from Strait Shipping and the Interisland Line awaiting departure from Picton for Wellington, a photo taken about a year ago. These are the two significant operators nowadays of ferry services - little goes between Nelson and Wellington or between Wellington and Lyttelton anymore.

That's the situation now, but in years past it was quite different - for a complete history of the ferry companies, their ferries, the events and the people get the book Strait Crossing: the ferries of Cook Strait through time by Vic Young in our online shop.

new book - The complete infidel's guide to the Koran

The subject of this book is an old book which has exploded into the western world in the last 15 years or so.

Robert Spencer disects the texts which inspire more than a few lunatics in Asia and Africa - and not sympathetically, as a study of the cover art will reveal. Many non-Muslims, believing the Koran preaches intolerance and warfare, regard it as about as holy as Hitler's Mein Kampf. In fact the direct comparison has been made more than once. And that is more or less what Robert Spencer thinks too.

It's certainly an interesting - and alarming - analysis.

will hiking alcohol prices stop youth binge drinking?

The government seems to think so, although given the forthcoming hike in sales tax on everything, one is cynical about the reason.

Any visitor to Europe will notice a big difference in the price of alcohol in countries like Germany and France, where often beer, wine and spirits are all available in supermarkets at only about half the price they are in NZ. In fact, in Germany you can even buy beer at many McDonalds, although it's not that cheap there.

So the conclusions - will higher tax reduce alcohol consumption? No. Will it bring in more money for the government? Yes.

early years of environmentally friendly rapid transport in Melbourne

Today's photo shows a set of Tait cars, as they were called after the Victorian railways commissioner of the time, on the Frankston Line in Melbourne.

Melbourne was the first city in Australasia to electrify its suburban railways, in 1919, followed by Sydney in 1926, one line in Christchurch in 1929 and in Wellington in 1938. Brisbane was electrified beginning in 1979 (see an earlier post) and Perth in the early 1990s.

For detailed information with lots of great pictures, see our book Railway Electrification in Australia and New Zealand, available where good books are sold in both countries.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NZ rural idyll in days gone by

Today's picture is a painting called Hawkins by Rata Lovell-Smith from 1933, of which we have had a print on our office wall for some years. The original is now in the Christchurch public art gallery - info. It conjures up the simple, unhurried stress-free country life, before the pace of life became today's "do everything and get everywhere as fast as possible."

Hawkins was a stop on the 18 km Whitecliffs Branchline which joined the Midland Line at Darfield; it closed like many other branch lines in the early 1960s. The painting seems to show an AB-hauled steam train approaching from further along.

more glass tower theorising about New Zealand railways

The newspapers and TV have carried a report (certainly ordered by the transport minister Steven Joyce in advance of his budget announcements next month) by some fresh faced university graduate named Luke Malpass, described as "a policy analyst with the New Zealand policy unit for Center of Independent studies" based in Sydney (where else?) on the future for Kiwirail.

The gist of his claims can be summarised in a soundbite in his own words :-

"In order for rail to come close to commercial equilibrium (to break even), the network has to shrink from 4000 kilometres to 2300km. The government was repeatedly advised of this by the Treasury before the purchase.

"The rail system required a subsidy under private ownership to operate a network of the present size. This policy will continue under public ownership - except the subsidy will get larger."

Golly gee. Was this worth a massive fee, Mr Joyce? In fact, that 4,000 km is long history, it includes lines such as Napier-Gisborne, Rotorua and Stratford-Okahukura which are almost defunct from underinvestment, lines that are actually very much needed, as is the rest of the network. And "advised of this by Treasury" - oh dear... refer to our postings from last year on that topic. In fact those postings cover all of Messrs Joyce/Malpass's claims and arguments.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

more from the Reichsbahn

This 1943 postcard was intended for the troops, the German equivalent of American pin-up art of the time.

Has the Internet destroyed faith in reference sources?

It used to be that if something was in the Encyclopedia Britannica (or even Grolier's), it was true. Now - thanks to Wikipedia - having "encyclopedic knowledge" of a topic isn't as impressive when there's a good chance most of what you think you know was concocted by a high-schooler. A 2005 study by the British journal Nature showed Britannica and Wikipedia to be almost equally inaccurate: In order to test its reliability, Nature conducted a peer review of scientific entries on Wikipedia and the well-established Encyclopedia Britannica.

The reviewers were asked to check for errors, but were not told about the source of the information.

"Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopedia," reported Nature.

"But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively."

Faith in all encyclopedias plummeted. Britannica attacked that study's methodology as "fatally flawed," but it was too late.

Any professional publisher of non-fiction books (like ourselves) is going to want to ensure that the author knows what he/she is talking about and ask to see credentials as well as check the manuscript with other experts in the field. But nowadays anybody can post anything on the web, and it's usually enough for people wanting to find out info on a subject. So there is a heap of dubious information out there, and with the decline in journalism and book publishing that situation is getting steadily worse.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sydney in 1931

Today's photo is an aerial view taken above Sydney Terminal with the platforms of Central Electric on the left hand side added five years previously. Redfern is the next station further along.

This was still a year before the Harbour Bridge was opened, and 25 years before the city underground loop via Circular Quay was opened. More details of the electrification of Sydney's railways are contained in our book Railway Electrification in Australia and New Zealand available in our online shop.

Obama visits bookstore

US President Obama makes a sizeable sum from royalties from sales of his books so it was fitting that he added to sales of other books when he visited a bookstore in Iowa City recently, buying books for himself and associates. It's good to see presidential support for our industry.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Heil Reichsbahn

We're not sure when this poster for the German State Railway was produced, but it seems to be from the 1930s. If so it was certainly a subject more worthy of adoration than the country's leader of the time.

Books about German railways are in our online shop.

travel plans up in ashes

Right now millions of people travelling to, from and within Europe have had their plans disrupted because of Iceland coming to the mainland - and that includes two of our directors scheduled to go to Scandinavia tomorrow to work on a book project there. It is no consolation to know that lots of other people are in the same situation. Such is life - c'est la vie.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

new UK opinion poll shows three way split between main parties

A poll published yesterday shows the Liberal Democrats increasing their support quite sharply, mostly at the expense of the Conservatives:

Conservative - 31%, Labour - 28% Liberal Democrat - 32%.

The 1% lead for the Lib Dems is of course within the margin of error but other polls confirm the trend. If the actual vote shares reflect these polls, then it should be an interesting result for the old First Post the Post! apostles in this country, better known as the Shirtcliffe Gang.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

the trans-Tasman passenger ship Monowai

Today we have a painting of the Union Steam Ship Company's ship the Monowai, a well known trans-Tasman liner which took 3 days for the crossing from Wellington or Auckland to Sydney until the service became a victim of the airlines in the early 1960s.

Some details of this ship are in the book Wanganella and the Australian trans-Tasman Liners by Peter Plowman which is co-published by us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Aerial cablecar in Christchurch

Today's photo is a sunset view of the Mt Cavenish Gondola - as it is officially known - in Christchurch which rises from the Heathcote Valley to the 448-metre-altitude Mt Cavendish, part of the port hills, which provides good views of both Christchurch and Lyttelton. In the photo the road to/from the Lyttelton Road tunnel is visible, and the railway to/from the railway tunnel is on the right, which pre-dates the road tunnel by nearly 100 years.

The Mt Cavendish system (opened in 1992) is one of three notable public aerial cable cars in NZ, the other two are in Queenstown and Rotorua. These have not been the subject of any book that we know of.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Forest of the dead at Katyn

70 years ago the paternal grandfather of one of our directors was murdered by the Soviets in the infamous Katyn massacre of 23,000 Polish army officers and intelligensia, ordered by communist dictator Stalin a few months after he invaded the eastern half of Poland in 1939. His 19 year old son, our director's father, was arrested, imprisoned, beaten and sent to a Siberian gulag to work to his death. Obviously he was later released to tell the tale, which we are soon publishing in book form.

Both Hitler and Stalin massacred their respective "enemies of the people" - for Hitler these were the Jews, for Stalin they were better off peasants, industrialists, priests and leaders as per Marxist dogma, plus anyone his paranoid mind considered to be a possible threat - millions of them.

It is ironic that more deaths of the Polish elite occured this week on their way to commemorate the anniversary together with the leaders of the now non-communist Russia.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bus anecdotes sought

Today's photo is of an old Bedford bus, in the livery of Railways Road Services from the 1950s, at Paraparaumu.

We are interested in people's stories of amusing or strange incidents from either driving or travelling on buses in NZ, whether they be rural, urban, suburban or school with a view to publishing a book of them. Photos of old buses are sought too. Send to our e-mail (on our main website and on the profile page here) by March 2011.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cyclops in Wellington

In Greek mythology, Cyclops was a race of one-eyed giants, so when an original D+Dm+D electric mulitiple unit set was restored with the original single large headlight at each end (instead of the twin sealed-beam unit that every other set was given in the 1980s), Cyclops seemed an obvious name to give it.

The restoration included new Midland red paint and earned Tranz Metro a "business in conservation" award from the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Wellington Conservation Board in 2006. The set dated from 1949, but was not put into service until the Hutt Valley lines were electrified in 1954.

For more information on these see our books Railway Electrification in Australia and New Zealand and Wellington Transport Memories available in our online shop.

Blue Streak through the 'Naki

Today's photo from a railways postcard of the time features a Blue Streak railcar running through Taranaki sometime in the early 1970s with Mt Egmont/Taranaki as a backdrop.

Three of these 88-Seater Fiat powered railcars were renovated for Auckland - Wellington services in the late 1960s, but on Thursday 18 December 1972 the Blue Streaks were replaced by the new Silver Fern railcars and transferred to the Wellington to New Plymouth service, replacing the six Standard railcars. They continued on this service until the final run on Friday 30 July 1977 when the service was replaced with buses.

Monday, April 12, 2010

30 years ago across the Tasman

Today's photo shows the opening train of the Brisbane suburban railway electrification on 17 November 1979 which ran from Darra (a little distance west of Brisbane) to the end of the Ferny Grove line. The rest of the system was progressively added over the next few years in time for the World Expo held there in 1988, as well as a new airport link in the 1990s.

Despite his faults, then Queensland Premier Joh Bielke-Petersen was an enthusiast for developing the state's railways and spent plenty on electrifying not only the suburban system but main lines as well, all of which is detailed in the book Railway Electrification in Australia and New Zealand, available in our online shop.

Like New Zealand, Queensland's rail gauge is 3'6" (1067 mm).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Evocation from a bygone age

Today's photo by John Bates was on the cover of our video release from 20 years ago New Zealand Railways Steam Years, now part of the DVD The New Zealand Railways Story, available in our online shop.

It shows a night freight train near Christchurch hauled by a mighty Kb steam locomotive, which were withdrawn in 1968.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wahine day

On 10 April 1968 one of NZ's worst maritime tragedies took place with the foundering and sinking of the overnight inter-island ferry Wahine in Wellington Harbour during a fierce storm with the loss of 51 lives, a day that no-one living in Wellington at the time will ever forget.

The event is the subject of the book Wahine Disaster: A Tragedy Remembered and extensive information about the ship and the sinking is also contained in the book Strait Crossing, both available in our online shop.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wellington 50 years ago

Today's photo dates from July 1958 looking at the south end of Lambton Quay. It shows a double saloon type tram on the left, Fiducia single saloon type tram no. 238 (now preserved at the Wellington Tramway Museum north of Paekakariki) destined for Hataitai and a brand new AEC Reliance type diesel bus.

Most of the buildings visible have since been replaced.

For hundreds of photos like these and plenty of information about what is in them, get the two books Wellington: A Capital Century and Wellington Transport Memories in our online shop.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wellington 100 years ago

Those who regularly visit our main website will know that the photos we put on the entry page reflect themes in our books.

This one, a coloured postcard, features an electric tram and the wooden Government Buildings on Lambton Quay dating from 1876. The claim of the World's largest wooden building was incorrect, however, as it was and is the World's second largest wooden building after T┼Źdai-ji in Japan. Like many colonial buildings of the 19th century, it was built to resemble an Italian stone palace in an attempt to convey strength and stability in the expanding empire.

The imaginative use of native kauri timber could never be replicated in any present day building because New Zealand's remaining kauri forests are under permanent protection. Kauri is recognised for its strength and resilience, as well as beauty. When polished, the honey-coloured grain radiates a warm, satin-like glow. Because of concerns about the threat of fire, workers were not allowed to smoke inside, making it the first building in the world to have a smoke-free policy

In 1990, in a rather run-down state, the Government Buildings ceased its role as the workplace of public servants. The government approved funding for a major restoration project, to be managed by the Department of Conservation, and the official reopening took place in 1996. During the restoration, over 500 cubic metres of recycled kauri was sourced for the old-school craftsmen who painstakingly recreated the building's original splendour.

Today, there is public access to the grounds, which feature gardens containing examples of New Zealand's flora, including many rare species. Inside the Government Buildings, visitors may view historical displays and interpretation rooms on the ground floor, and the Cabinet Room on the first floor. The remainder of the building is leased to the Victoria University School of Law. There is also a Department of Conservation Information Centre, which is open to the public 9 am to 4.30 pm weekdays and 10 am to 3 pm Saturdays.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Whitcoulls/Borders/A&R discover e-books

The text of an e-mail received last week is reproduced below.

Our question is - if Borders & Whitcoulls existing websites in respect of printed books are so useless, why should their websites for e-books be any better? The only reason people would have for going to the sites mentioned is that they are likely to find an excellent range, and that's not at all what they would have found so far in respect of printed books.

Of course the attraction of e-books to this organisation is that, unlike printed books, once their IT people set it up for them they don't actually need to do anything more, they just sit back and wait for expected profits to flow in.



I am writing to you today on behalf of Kobo, the eBook retailer powering eBook sales for Angus & Robertson and Borders in Australia and New Zealand, Borders in the US, and Indigo Books in Canada. We are partnered with REDgroup, and in anticipation of the eBook store that they are launching in May, we are actively canvassing the New Zealand publishing community to be sure we haven’t missed vendors with digital books for sale. If you do have eBooks availalble for sale, I would be very grateful if you could please direct this enquirty to the individual responsible.


Meghan Paton

Co-ordinator Vendor Relations | Kobo | 416.977.8737 x3338

About Kobo

Kobo provides ereading experiences across web, mobile, tablets and desktops with over 1 million downloads and users in over 200 countries. With apps for iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre, and Android, as well as support for eInk devices, Kobo believes that consumers should be able to read anywhere, anytime and on the device of their choice. With over 2 million titles available, Kobo combines the widest possible breadth of content with proven support for territorial rights and multiple currencies. For more information on Kobo, go to

Saturday, April 3, 2010

weeks away from the next UK General Election, prediction is for a hung Parliament

In the UK the average of opinion polls asking people which way they intend to vote in the General Election shows: Conservative 38%, Labour 30% and Liberal Democrat 20%.

The pollsters' conclusion based on this is that the Conservatives will fall short of an absolute majority in the House of Commons by 21 seats.

This should be an interesting prediction in this country for the Shirtcliffe gang who think that the First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system produces a government of only one party.

No-one is surprised by the Conservatives being in the lead given that Labour has now governed there for 13 years, although the responsible promises that the three parties can make are very much constrained by the country's whopping debt, the third largest per capita in the world after Iceland and Greece (a reason for the big slide in the value of the £).

Full analysis here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

new book examines the political lunatic fringe

If you think you've seen the word Wingnut used before, it may be because Peter Jackson calls his production company Wingnut Films. But here a Wingnut means someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum - the professional partisans and the unhinged activists, the hardcore haters and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They’re the people who always try to divide us instead of unite us.

This book deals with the USA, which as you might expect, contains a lot more of them than anywhere else in the world. So it should make for an entertaining read? Yes, but a bit scarey too.

The US Republican Party's core constituency consists of those who hate government and taxes and love guns. The wealthier also like plenty to be spent on police and militia to protect their property. But the party also attracts more than its fair share of bigots and crackpots, who often are something of an embarrassement to the party heirachy worried about losing support from the middle ground which they need more.

However, according to a recent Harris poll, 57% of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim; 45% think he was not born in the United States; 45% think he is the "domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of"; 51% think he wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government, and 24% think he may be the Antichrist. Wow ... that can't all be due to the party's Fox News channel.

Wingnuts looks at the outbreak of extremism in the opening years of the Obama administration – from the unprecedented government spending that spurred the Tea-Party protests to the onset of Obama Derangement Syndrome. John Avlon explains how hate-fueled rumors take hold (one section is called “How Obama Became Hitler, a Communist and the Antichrist”), looks at the ‘hunt for heretics’ that is taking place inside both parties and details the rise of hyper-partisan media. Avlon profiles preachers who are praying for the president’s death, goes inside the growing “Hatriot” movement and parallels the “Birthers” and the “9/11 Truthers.” The book compares current merchants of political paranoia with past fear-mongers and finds that divisive demagogues have sold this snake oil before. But the two parties’ increased polarisation and the echo-chamber of the Internet are helping the fringe blur with the base, making the Wingnuts more powerful than ever before.

Avlon asserts that centrists need to stand up to the extremes on both sides and declare their independence. The book ends on a hopeful note – the conclusion is “How to Take America Back from the Lunatic Fringe.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

new book on the history of the RNZAF

Swift to the Sky, marking the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the RNZAF in 1937 and funded by the Airforce Museum in Wigram, is being released today by Penguin. The last such history, Portrait of an Airforce, was relefased to mark the 50th anniversary in 1987; the 73rd is an unusual jubilee - would not the 75th in a couple of years time from now have been more logical?

We also understand that Paul Harrison and Brian Lockstone have written a history covering the RNZAF in WW2, due for release in July.

Swift to the Sky, 232 pages, hardback, sells for $65 and is available in our online shop.

We will review both books together later in the year.

Bolger dumped as chairman of KiwiRail

Former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger has been dumped as chairman of KiwiRail and is likely to lose his position as chairman of New Zealand Post and Kiwibank when his current term ends this year.

Mr Bolger's removal as KiwiRail chairman is no surprise given the antipathy towards him that exists within the National Party caucus following his appointment in 2001 as chairman of Kiwibank - the brainchild of Mr Bolger's former political opponent and Alliance Party leader Jim Anderton.

The antipathy was aggravated when Mr Bolger was appointed chairman of KiwiRail after the company was bought back by the Labour Government from Australian conglomerate Toll Holdings at a well-inflated price in 2008.

Whether or not this signals the Government's intentions towards the country's railway system is hard to say. It will make sense to any competent businessman, however, that if the taxpayer is going to get any return for the hundreds of millions that were paid to Toll, then the amount of freight carried by KiwiRail is going to have to substantially increase, although yesterday's announcement (see previous post) make clear where the Government's allegiances lie as far as that is concerned. There will be no private concern willing to pay anything like what the Labour Government spent and a sale by the present Government at a substantial loss to the taypayer would not look good.