Road People of Aotearoa: Images of house-truck journeys 1978-1984

Road People of Aotearoa: Images of house-truck journeys 1978-1984
Photographs by Paul C Gilbert

Foreword by Michael Colonna
Essays by Haru Sameshima and John B Turner

A historic photo-essay by the late Paul C. Gilbert, this book chronicles the early days of the New Zealand phenomenon of DIY house trucks, which appeared on the roads around the mid-1970s as part of an alternative lifestyle movement. The house-truckers were drawn to the alternative life and music festivals of the time, including Nambassa in the late 1970s and Sweetwaters festivals in the early 1980s. Paul Gilbert travelled with the grass-roots music and performance troupes in their convoys of hand-converted house trucks starting with ‘The Original Travelling Road Show and Mahana’, as they journeyed through small communities and music festivals around the North Island.

Paul Gilbert’s camera intimately observes the road people while building and decorating the house trucks with their wonderful interiors and also in their everyday activities. He captures their children and families and the fringe circus and musical performances in various festivals and different locations. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, many house truck conventions and grass-roots festivals around a variety of themes were held in New Zealand where house-truckers would converge, not only for the event but for the opportunity to connect and share information with other truckers. Low-key festival circuits could be found in regions of Coromandel, Northland, and West Auckland, where, for two decades, Moller’s farm at Oratia west of Auckland, a popular venue for blues and folk festivals, offered an open house for truckers to park on a semi-permanent basis as needed. These were unique times indeed.

Paul C Gilbert (1954-2019) started taking photographs as a young boy via family influences. Early projects were developed as documentary street photography in the fine arts tradition when he was a founder member of PhotoForum NZ in 1973. He was employed as a photographer at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and then at the Auckland City Art Gallery in the 1970s. He left employment to pursue the project, ‘Road People of Aotearoa’ in 1978. Later, as an independent photographer, he mainly specialised in documenting maritime heritage, vessels and history. He was the technical instructor of photography at Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland from 1990 to 2008.

Haru Sameshima, in his essay, interviews many of the house truckers – to uncover the historical context of the musicians and street performers against the backdrop of the latter stages of the alternative life movement that manifested in the festivals and events in Paul’s photo-essay. The musicians, clowns, street performers, and their friends, who have now seen many of Paul’s photographs for the first time after 40 years, recount the festivals and road journeys in their own words. John B Turner, influential photography teacher at Elam School of Fine Arts from 1971 to 2011 – in his essay reflects upon Paul’s life as an individual and a photographer – and situates his image-making in the international movement of personal documentary photography, as an embedded observer of life, rather than outsider reporter/photojournalist.


Without a counterculture, what chance has the mainstream culture of improving, growing and diversifying? As well as being vehicles of imagination, poetry and a romantic life-concept, the vehicles photographed by Paul Gilbert have become a far greater force in the country’s evolving consciousness than anyone ever expected. In the present era of small houses and mobile homes, these images offer not only a prehistory but also a soundtrack and some messages worth deciphering, written with love on the fugitive walls and ceilings of the not-so-distant past.

– Gregory O’Brien

RRP $50.00

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hardback | 184 pages
275 x 235 mm | 200 illustrations
ISBN 978-0-9951184-6-1
Publication: October 2021

For all wholesale orders and requests info@rimbooks.com

The Greatest Show: Warren Tippett’s pots from a life less ordinary

The Greatest Show: Warren Tippett’s pots from a life less ordinary

Moyra Elliott and an essay by Peter Wells. With photographs by Marti Friedlander and Studio La Gonda

Revised and expanded second edition.

Biography and works of potter – Warren Tippett (b.1941–d.1994).

Researched and written by Moyra Elliott – co-author of Cone Ten Down: Studio Pottery in New Zealand 1945-1980, (Bateman 2009). Warren Tippett was an agent of change in New Zealand ceramic practice. He was reared as a ‘mud and water man’ in the 1960s because of where the strengths lay in the clay culture of the time with its influences from an imported Anglo-oriental style. However, he jumped ship and some twenty years after he became a potter, after playing briefly and creatively with sculpture – returned to the vessel and made the surface decoration his primary concern. He investigated areas that hitherto had been of little interest in New Zealand pottery and in doing so, connected with long histories of decorated pottery from many cultures. He also took references from his surroundings in Grey Lynn introducing palm trees, cacti and floral motifs and responded to the fresh stimulation of his urban environment with its strong Polynesian elements – lei and lava-lava and the Tongan brass band along with the vibrant street life where the raffish and the gaudy juxtaposed the cool. His new vocabulary became something unique – an expression of a region, a poly-centrist, polygenetic place located somewhere on the western Pacific part of the map.

Through his work, Tippett helped reform the canon of ceramics in New Zealand. No artist works in isolation but he was critical for the acceptance of earthenware in contemporary ceramic practice. His legacy is that he legitimised electric firing at lower temperatures which overturned an entrenched blueprint on how to make and what to make. By embracing the aesthetics more associated with pop culture, Polynesia and carnival ware, he opened doors to a healthier diversity.   

The first edition of this book accompanied a retrospective exhibition of Warran Tippett’s work at Objectspace in Auckland 2005/6 curated by the author.  This 2nd expanded edition features a visual chronology of Warren Tippett’s works, as well as previously unpublished portraits of Tippett by the late Marti Friedlander, and revised photographs with fine reproductions of the key works by the artist, and an essay tribute to his friend by the late Peter Wells. 

Available October 2021

ISBN 978-0-9951184-7-8

Limited to 100 copies

RRP $40, 44pp 210x260mm portrait with cover, saddle stitched.

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“Warren Tippett is a seminal figure in the history of New Zealand studio ceramics because his works and lifestyle connect up key moments and significant local and international studio ceramics dynamics. In the words of curator Moyra Elliott, “Tippett helped reform the canon of ceramics in New Zealand.” Tippet started potting in Invercargill in the late 1950s. By the 1970s, and living in Coromandel, he was recognized as an important second generation figure in the ranks of potters working within the Anglo-Oriental tradition. This school of thought derives from the writings of English potter Bernard Leach which drew inspiration from medieval English and traditional Japanese and Korean pots which emphasised material, a quiet decoration and the spontaneity of the firing process. The philosophy engendered a vocational, workshop centred, pottery making life. It was this approach that informed most New Zealand studio ceramics production of the time. Moyra Elliott has pinpointed the time around the 1978 exhibition at Auckland’s New Vision Gallery and the 1980 Five by Five show at the Denis Cohn Gallery as a pivotal time in Tippett’s practice which “condense shifts in New Zealand clay practice, which actually took more than a decade, into a little over a year. The shift revolves around notions of function and diversity…there was a repositioning beyond function and into the decorative.” Changes in Tippett’s lifestyle were reflected in his work. As his interest moved from form to surface his work embraced the colourful and vibrant influences of his own Auckland and Sydney environments, the traditions of decorated Oriental and Mediterranean ceramics and contemporary international developments that located ceramics as part of a wider dynamic visual culture. In making a series of innovations within his own practice he “overturned an entrenched blueprint on how to make pots and what kind of pots to make. By embracing the formerly scorned earthenware and aesthetics more associated with pop culture, Polynesia and carnival-ware he opened the doors to a healthier diversity””.

Biography of Warren Tippett – Sarjeant Art Gallery

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