Temuka, Timaru and Oamaru – sketches from the edge of the world

Guest Post by Peter Rush

I often fly to New Zealand for short visits to see my dad, who lives in Temuka on the east coast of the South Island.

All my trips begin with a quick reconnaissance of Christchurch to see how the demolition / reconstruction is going following the terrible earthquake of 2011. I have only brought myself to sketch the devastation on one occasion. That was the Catholic Basilica, which was enough for me. So many long loved buildings are now gone. Maybe once the reconstruction really kicks in, I might start sketching the new streets that will emerge.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch

Temuka is a small town, 150km south of Christchurch with a population of just over 4,000. It has a good main street, though I think the local shops struggle. The larger town of Timaru, population around 31,000, is close by, with the bigger supermarkets and big box retail. Between family time, I either head off to Peel Forest for a bush walk or to the main streets of Temuka and Timaru to sketch.

I really do like these Victorian retail strips. Temuka and Timaru are similar to my local streets in Sydney with their ornate parapets, signs and large awnings. They consist of continuous rows of often small buildings and built in an infinite variation of a similar form. It makes the streets very dynamic and lively.

King Street, Temuka
Stafford Street, Timaru

Here are three sketches of the same building, it’s the busiest shop in Temuka and has a very distinctive parapet.

King Street, Temuka
Back of King Street, Temuka
King Street, Temuka

While I was sketching this last, more careful shop portrait, a man came out of the shop and crossed the road to see what I was doing. He was the manager and looked down on me very suspiciously, he thought I was from the council. We had a chat about the earthquake strengthening requirements, post the 2010 & 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, “Particularly that parapet, it would be a lot easier and cheaper to make the building safer if it was demolished!” The costs to strengthen are considerable and are a burden to the property owner. It was a nice surprise that when I showed the shop manager the finished sketch, he offered to buy it! It now hangs inside the shop.

I managed to drive further south to sketch Oamaru, once a very busy port that rode a commodity boom in the 19th century. When the economy busted, the town was described as the best built but most mortgaged in Australasia. Oamaru quickly declined to a normal town (population 13,650) but has some remarkable streets of confident buildings, all built in the local limestone.

Harbour Street, Oamaru

I had the whole day. I spent the morning doing small sketches but I was on the lookout to do a larger drawing on my Skippy Cornflakes box. By lunchtime I finally chose a long street view; it seemed important to draw these buildings as being part of a small town. Only one block away rising on a steep hill is a normal suburb of houses and quiet streets.

When sketching I always look for the spatial qualities of a place, never just the object. Trying to understand an urban environment that I pass is stimulating, and sketching allows me to feel and express what I have observed. I do see it as a continuing form of architectural training.

Tyne Street, Oamaru

The final drawing of the day was to also show Oamaru by the turquoise sea of the South Island east coast. The bridge does have a purpose, it crosses a railway line and leads to the beach but it adds a mysterious vibe. That late afternoon the place did feel isolated and empty – edge of the world.

Pacific Ocean, Oamaru

Peter Rush is an architect based in Sydney Australia. For more sketches, visit Peter at Flickr.


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