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Barry Brickell: Earth to Earth

Written By: - Date published: 8:11 am, January 26th, 2016 - 23 comments
Categories: art, Environment, Media, sustainability - Tags:

Barry Brickell

If ever anyone needed a powerful standard of an alternative and entirely sustainable life that has made a big difference, consider Barry Brickell. Died this weekend, or as his biographer on Sunday said to me; “ran out of steam”.

Lots of people dream about running from this city and being a perpetually creative being. He did it, and he went big. From my office tower on the waterfront here I can just see the Coromandel Ranges, like some kind of utopian idea. Any TS reader over 70 will be able to recall the great creative ferment in New Zealand’s arts from the mid-1950s, many of them emboldened to head for the hills. Few, very few, lasted.

Barry did.

He has left behind him a great legacy of ceramics, a substantial private railway, a fully fenced ecological reserve, and thousands upon thousands of satisfied visitors and communal fans.

An introduction to his railway is here.

Essays that review his art practice are liked here.

If you want to have a look at the ecological reserve, check this out.

For the full biography by David Craig and Gregory O’Brien, see this.

The death of this kind of person is a real challenge to me: am I changing my own part of the world as boldly? Could I be as green-politic, as consistently creative as that? Would I have the endurance to do it for that long? And of course, will I leave behind something as substantial as that? Great moral, creative, and political tests that only someone like this can help you measure.

The best kind of human, like Barry Brickell, is the one who makes you look up.

23 comments on “Barry Brickell: Earth to Earth ”

  1. Chooky 1

    +100 to the Post

    Loved his steam train!… and pottery!…and so did the kids


    He represented the best of New Zealanders

    …. and what it is to live in New Zealand….economically, frugally, environmentally , creatively

    ….and fun!

  2. John Shears 2

    Thanks for your comments Advantage about a most unusual man.
    So much energy, a brain that kept solving all sorts of problems and a great potter , we have one of his Tea/Coffee pots from the 60’s still as good as the day he fired it.
    A great New Zealander.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Time to implement a UBI at $250/wk to enable more people to leave the system.

  4. greywarshark 4

    A link to a long Spectrum interview with Barry is in my comment from yesterday.

    Open mike 25/01/2016

    CV comment about enabling others to leave the system and do other more productive initiatives could apply to West Coast miners who need something to do now the Rua mine is closing because of the drop in coal prices. They are active able men and would do wonders with some initiative like this. There is Shantytown already there, and some local businesses bringing tourism and environmental-hungry people from opv over-developed concrete-covered countries overseas to our still extant stuff over there in the south on the Wild West Coast.

    • Ad 4.1

      What I respect the most about him is he did it himself. Encouraged others, formed a team, but led from the front.

      Maybe that needs a Transition Grant, or something.

      Maybe it needs people to choose a new life, and forego the city. I don’t know.

      Just makes me wonder what 1,000 Barry Brickell would do for this country.

  5. Molly 5

    There was a great documentary on tv a few years ago – but can’t remember who produced it.

    However, did find a nzonscreen short video (8 min), dated but worth the watch for those who don’t already know of him and his work.

    Also:Cultural Icons – Part 1 & 2

  6. b waghorn 6

    Any one that has chance to visit driving creek and ride the train should do it.

  7. alwyn 7

    I am intrigued that he is hailed as a great conservationist when he built a railway through what looks to be fairly pristine bush. I liked the railway, and I have some of his pottery but then I thought the monorail would have been a good idea.
    If the Green party now seem to approve of his activities why were they so opposed to a rather less intrusive monorail in South Westland?

    • Molly 7.1

      His purchase of the land was in part because of the quality and quantity of clay available.

      His hand excavation of clay created cuts in the land that he identified as possible access for further clay extraction. The laying of tracks of a small gauge self built engine, and hand propelled jigger allowed those heavy sacks of clay to be extracted with minimal damage.

      His railway would have laid very lightly on the land, compared to heavy machinery utilised clay extraction. Given that many potters in NZ use clay from overseas, his local extraction method was very conservative (in the original sense of the word).

      A good indication of how conserving his processes are, would be to determine how quickly the environment would regenerate if his works were left untouched and unused. The bush would recover very quickly.

      • maui 7.1.1

        He had also done comprehensive studies of the local environment in the Coromandel and the human impacts on that environment, and had studied geology and botany at university. I would say he was in a prefect position to be making informed decisions on making adaptations to the land, unlike most folk.

        Download Issue 86 March 2014 (PDF 2 MB)

        • Molly

          Thanks Maui.

          I had a feeling that he was involved more heavily in regeneration, but with Alwyn I wanted to stick to his point. He tends to head off in random directions.

          Have read your link and Alwyn would do well to take a look before commenting further.

    • Grant 7.2

      As usual you have jumped in and cast a completely baseless slur on someones reputation solely in order to construct a totally fallacious line of argument. The least you can do when trying this line of attack is to use Google to check your facts. Brickell did not build a railway through ‘pristine bush’. If you’ve been to Driving Creek and you imply that you have, you should have read the extensive explanations about how the land was a acquired, what it’s original condition was and how Brickell spent thirty years replanting the hill block with 27,000 native trees to regenerate an area which had been milled out and was covered in wildling pines.


      You did the same sort of thing with Cliff Whiting here; http://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-31122015/#comment-1113522

      You really are a toxic old prick.

  8. left for deadshark 8

    You really are a toxic old prick.

    Quite fucken true Grant

    • Molly 8.1

      Most likely true, but My God – what a horrific mental image that conjures up!!

      • left for deadshark 8.1.1

        Molly yes, excuse the french, just trying to make my comment longer than the quote.
        If we could put together 100 alwyn’s, even then that wouldn’t make one Brickell.

        alwyn, you will be proven to be on the wrong side of history, are you infecting the rest of your tribe, with Melee.

  9. Smilin 9

    I remember seeing Barry on one of the early NZ tv local programs he was inspiring then as to the feeling many of us felt was a way to preserve our country from the concrete jungle, pity it is now likely to be a historical entry as we watch this Key twerp lie and wreck our country.

  10. David Craig 10

    Cheers Ad; Barry would have appreciated the nod. And cheers Grant: Barry’s reforestation of a bare slope of hill country that had been burnt off several times during a toxic period of gold mining- along with his train that takes people into the heart of this restored country- was in my mind his greatest work of art, and one with a clear political message to the narrow-gauge minds who can only ‘blatt on’ gratingly and boringly, as he put it once, about money and its works. Barry certainly knew the value of hard work himself, and was an exacting taskmaster. Yet he developed a terrific loyalty from those who have worked at the railway. As Hamish Keith suggested, Barry’s railway was in some ways an attempt to recreate the industrial revolution without capitalism. Insofar as he did so, he shows what economic and social success can be driven and achieved through commitment to going good work, on earth. Go well, Barry Boy!

  11. Micko 11

    First met him in ’80, when camping on the land next door. My abiding memory is of him offering all of us (about a dozen, as I recall) hot baths. He fired up the big old pressure boiler and used the steam to heat a forty gallon tank. Took all of thirty seconds to go from cold to scalding, and made a noise like an earthquake. His pottery was awesome and his railway amazing, although at that time it was quite short.
    As I recall, at that time, the bush was little more than manuka scrub. Returned many years later and he had transformed the place with many, many natives and a wonderful railway ride for visitors.
    RIP BB.

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