“Birthdays are irrelevant.”
Barry Brickell doesn’t put much store in having just turned 80 years old at the end of October. He thinks birthdays are just a social convention that people latch on to for entertainment.
“What is of greater importance”, he says, "is the time and manner of conception, because that’s when the character is formed”.
Barry knows nothing of his conception – it’s a mystery and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
When it is gratuitously suggested that he has turned out alright, Barry says some people don’t think so. After all he has not been interested in sport, didn’t get married and raise nice kids, have a nice house and a good profession.
Instead he has planted hundreds of thousands of native trees and shrubs on his 23-hectare hillside property just outside Coromandel Town and built a predator-free sanctuary there. He’s created and sold thousands of unique pieces of pottery, painted numerous works, written several books and spent 33 years building his narrow gauge Driving Creek Railway – now a firm favourite for tourists.
He is also just now recovering from bowel surgery, a matter he brushes aside.
“My surgeon says I’ve made a remarkably quick recovery,” he says with satisfaction.
Barry no longer manages the railway and he has retired as a director. “Sacked myself. I want to live as a full-time artist”. Driving Creek Railway now employs a general manager.
Barry confesses that he is not a rail fan in the traditional sense. What excites him is the beauty of railway construction. The curvature and the gradients have to be very carefully considered, unlike a road which is crude, he believes, compared to a railway.
“A spindly viaduct in a rugged landscape is a beautiful art work, as is a nicely turned tunnel portal, caked in ferns and mosses.” And that’s just what you’ll find on his Driving Creek Railway, which clambers up the hills through regenerating bush to reach Barry’s whimsical 'Eye Full' Tower at the summit.
Barry calls himself a 'practical visionary' and has been advocating for a kilometre-long pier out into Coromandel Harbour, which was long ago silted up by run-off from the eroded hills. The Thames Coromandel District Council contributed $10,000 dollars and Barry “forked out” the rest to pay for an international business case for the plan.
The $18 million pier would give easy access to Auckland by sea and allow a floating marina to be built. “I want it to be a beautiful structure."
It would carry both road, pedestrians and (surprise, surprise) narrow gauge railway.
"It would clearly benefit the northern half of the Coromandel Peninsula”.