'Penguins under the Porch: A Yorkshireman's Ode to Oamaru' was published in May 2018 by Wily Publications and is available from bookshops throughout New Zealand. It is also available in the UK: www.ypdbooks.com/790_david-harbourne
I first stumbled across Oamaru a few years ago. Like many towns in New Zealand, it was built from scratch in the second half of the nineteenth century. Today, the old town is a time capsule built from gleaming limestone: one intricately carved classical building follows another, each hinting at a half-forgotten history of borrowed money and ill-founded optimism.
Oh, and there are penguins. Lots of them. And Steampunk HQ. And the best preserved Victorian-Edwardian harbour in the country.
I thought the place was amazing. So much so that thoughts of Oamaru nagged at me until finally I quit my job, travelled half way round the world and spent a long and very happy time poking around and talking to anyone who would talk back – which means basically everyone.
Over the following months, I found out about Oamaru’s founding figures: self-made men, a talented architect, one of New Zealand’s first female novelists and two police sergeants called Bullen. I met people who have revived interest in Oamaru’s heritage, a latter-day Victorian, the mayor, steampunks and Dot Smith, the genius behind the country’s first moated castle. I ate whitebait frittata, muttonbird and Kürtőskalács (no, me neither), and became an honorary Oamaruvian just in time for the Victorian heritage celebrations. It was utterly fantastic.
Back home, I wrote ‘Penguins under the Porch: A Yorkshireman's Ode to Oamaru’, a collection of stories about some of the people who built Oamaru a century and a half ago, some of the people who live there now and the adventures I had 12,000 miles from home.
I was born and brought up in Yorkshire, escaped to London at the first opportunity and slowly crawled back home over the following couple of decades. I now live in York with my cats, Meg and Ruth. I have four grown-up children: Kat, James, Alice and Nick. Alice lives in Auckland, New Zealand; the others in Sheffield and Edinburgh.
And in case you're wondering about the name of this website, they have a habit of introducing me to people as "David - but you can call him Dad".