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A rare slice of NZ railway history now online

1 July 2008

A rare slice of NZ railway history now online

A contributor to the last issue of the New Zealand Railways Magazine in 1940 wrote that those who had not experienced a railway train had been “cheated” and “failed to share in one of the grandest experiences of life”.

All issues of the magazine, an official publication by the New Zealand Government Railways Department from May 1926 to June 1940, have been launched online today by the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (NZETC) at Victoria University.

“The launch of this online archive is particularly interesting and important
considering recent debates in New Zealand about the future of rail, and the KiwiRail ceremony in Wellington today,” says Alison Stevenson, director of the NZETC.

The magazine was produced during the economic expansion of the late 1920s, the Great Depression, and the years leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War.

“It was the brainchild of Prime Minister Joseph Gordon Coates, who saw it as a way of improving industrial relations within the railways, and disseminating ‘useful knowledge’ to railway workers, their families, and the public at large,” says Ms Stevenson.

In his address to railway staff in the first issue of the magazine, Prime Minister Gordon Coates said: “The object of the Magazine should be to bring more interest into Railway life, to expand its possibilities not only for personal profit but for public appreciation, to help towards conditions which make for satisfaction in all ranks within the Department, by reciprocal and mutual service, benefiting each other by the improvement of the conditions of service for all”.

Later issues broadened the Railways Magazine's horizons. Wellington journalist Pat Lawlor was engaged to write a regular literary column, 'Among the Books', and, from 1927, the magazine included a women's page, entitled 'Of Feminine Interest'.

As time went by, the Railways Magazine evolved into a general interest publication, with articles on tourism, literature, local and British history, and Maori mythology, as well as short stories and reader-contributed poetry.
By 1940, when war-time paper shortages forced it to cease publication, the Railways Magazine had published work by some of the most prominent New Zealand writers of the day, including Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson), James Cowan, Alan Mulgan, and Denis Glover.

The online archive also includes a brief introductory extract from Neill Atkinson's Trainland (2007), reproduced by permission of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The publication will appeal to railway enthusiasts, as well as anyone interested in social and women's history, design, advertising, and the shape of New Zealand's pre-war literary culture.

This project was run in partnership with Wellington City Libraries and the Alexander Turnbull Library, and can be viewed at


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