WWith his Berlin-era slicked-back Bowie hairdo and fine wool suit, New Zealand singer-songwriter, public transport advocate, and now Whanganui’s Durie Hill elevator operator, Anthonie Tonnon looks stylish and at home in the rich interior. wood of the 102 year old elevator.
When the elevator operation went out to tender this year for the first time in 50 years after being closed for three months for maintenance, Tonnon’s friends encouraged him to toss his hat into the ring. But with a new album, Leave Love Out Of This, to be released in July followed by a national tour, he says his initial reaction was, “No, no, no, I don’t have time for this. I have a lot going on, it could ruin my life! “
But he submitted a successful bid with his newly established company, Whanganui Connection, and won a one-year contract with an option to renew. I visit Tonnon while he’s on an elevator operator shift and it’s hard to believe he’s only been on the job for two weeks. He is in his element.
When a couple of schoolchildren get on the elevator, he remembers them by name, takes their stored yellow concession cards filed by name, and cuts out the cards with a paper clipper given to him by outgoing elevator operator Zena Mabbott. When a visiting couple from Wellington board and ask where they can find the best coffee in Whanganui, Tonnon directs them to Article Cafe. She even wears a pastel pink Article t-shirt to back her endorsement.
The opening in 1919 of the only public underground elevator in New Zealand allowed the development of easy pedestrian access to Durie Hill, a modern landscaped neighborhood designed in 1920 by architect and urban planner Samuel Hurst Seager. The elevator descends 66 meters to Durie Hill, connecting with a 213-meter-long pedestrian tunnel, or tunnel, which opens a short walk into the city center. And at the top, travelers and residents of Durie Hill enjoy panoramic views of the river town.
Before the elevator was built, access to the suburb was via a steep 191-step staircase that still remains. A one-way elevator ride, however, takes 55 seconds, saving the traveler a lot of effort.
Tonnon says his interest in public transport was piqued when he moved from Auckland to Whanganui, where the tranquility of life in a smaller city allowed him to work full-time as a musician.
“In Auckland I used to have some part-time jobs just so I could get by as a musician. Then when I came to Whanganui and was able to be a full-time musician, I suddenly needed a hobby. I started to think about how good public transport could be ”.
“I was thinking about this holistic vision of what Whanganui public transportation should be. I was wondering what should I do? Will I become a public transportation advocate or a politician? And no one appealed, ”he says.
A punisher for public transport
Tonnon is interested in public transportation from an urban, not nostalgic angle, and he channeled this interest into developing his Rail Land tour, an immersive musical experience.
Rail Land included a community trip for Tonnon and her clients to travel by train or other public transportation to their shows at community venues across the country. If I was playing in a city that no longer offered that service, I would rent one for the night. In each city I played in, I would research what public transportation systems used to have and compare it to what’s on offer now. “And it was always better before.”
After attending the Rail Land show at St Peter’s Church in Gonville, the Mayor of Whanganui and New Zealand music enthusiast Hamish McDouall invited Tonnon to join the committee that governs Whanganui’s public transport via the Palmerston North Regional Council, Horizons. “And so I became his punisher for public transportation,” laughs Tonnon.
He says he could never be a politician, but he likes the idea that someone with an artistic background who is used to solving problems from different angles is in the government pipes.
“Just to see if we can shake something up, or be a chemical agent to get rid of something.”
The wide streets of Whanganui are dotted with bus stops, but a bus is rarely seen because there is often a two-hour gap between services. When I see how curious it is that one of the only frequent and reliable modes of public transportation in Whanganui is an underground elevator, Tonnon smiles diplomatically. “It is what it is. Part of our role [with Whanganui Connection] it is being positive about public transport ”.
While the elevator is a point of interest for tourists, Tonnon says he is more interested at the moment in making it function as an efficient mode of public transportation for the community. He says the remarkable thing about the elevator is its cycle time – the longest anyone has to wait for the next ride is three and a half minutes. It lights up, the eyes sparkle and it compares it to the Berlin subway. “It’s true. Don’t just see it as an elevator, look at it as a subway!”
Leave Love Out Of This is released on July 16 on Slow Time Records
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism