Roads Run Through Us: 1

From John Bluck writes, 7:10 am on 26 December 2017

Roads define our lives

John Bluck explores the ways of the road in this first of a series about the place roads have in New Zealand history, consciousness and identity.

On the Lake Wakatipu road

On the Lake Wakatipu road Photo: Flickr / Martin Kohn

Excerpts from the talk:

Road funding has become the great political football, played with an intensity that make the All Blacks look idle. That’s because roads define our lives so personally, as anyone who sits in Auckland traffic every day knows all too well. Journalists like Michelle Hewitson who escaped the Auckland gridlocks for rural life in the Wairarapa has reinvented herself and her writing has lost its acid.

This defining starts very young. I grew up in the country where the nearest city was a five-hour drive away on metal roads. Nuhaka to Napier. It now takes two. 

Every trip was a great adventure. A 10% chance of a flat tyre or a breakdown and in the winter a slip or three was inevitable. We braced yourself for the ride, knowing it was always going to be full of surprises. And when you arrived, tired and dusty, there was a huge sense of accomplishment. We’d made it again. And the driver had done a good day’s work.

A man changing the flat tyre on his car while a group of small children look on. C. 1920 - 1930.

A man changing the flat tyre on his car while a group of small children look on. C. 1920 - 1930. Photo: Auckland Museum

I knew every inch of that shingle road and treated it with the affection of an old friend, not least because my father before me and his father before him had driven it in trucks for half a century.

Dad carried a hammock that he slung under the tray, and on his return journey slept off his exhaustion for a few hours. Always at the same spot, near Lake Tutira. Willow Creek Motel he called it and he’d point out the spot as we drove by. That part of the road still compels me to slow down and be grateful for him.

As a teenager, I rode the same road on a motorbike, a heavy old twin cylinder Ariel 650 that slid around the shingled bends like a skier on soft snow. I learnt every camber and corner and could replay the ride in my sleep.

A good day was one where I respected the contours and found the rhythm of that road, and the sun shone. It was a bad day when I failed in my respect for the road, rode too fast, felt my back wheel moving out too far from under me, and the rain fell.

There are fine weather roads and this was one of them. All weather roads back in those days were hard to find. Now we take them for granted.

More reading

Review of On Roads by Joe Moran

Other parts of the series

Roads Run Through Us Episode 2

Roads Run Through Us Episode 3

Roads Run Through Us Episode 4

Roads Run Through Us Episode 5

Roads Run Through Us Episode 6

About the speaker

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Photo: RNZ / Paul Bushnell

John Bluck

John Bluck was born in Hawkes Bay, educated at Napier Boys’ High School, the University of Canterbury and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge Massachusetts. He's had interwoven careers in journalism and ministry for the Anglican Church, spending time as a reporter in Boston, USA.

A former journalism tutor and chaplain at the Wellington Polytechnic, he has edited a number of publications including the World Council of Churches’ "One World" magazine in Geneva.

His ecclesiastical career started in Gisborne and took him to posts as varied as Director of Communications at the World Council of Churches, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Communication at Dunedin's Knox Theological Seminary, and Dean of Christchurch Cathedral. He was the 14th Anglican Bishop of Waiapu.

After resigning his See in 2008, he left moved to a rural setting near Warkworth from which he has continued to write and publish.