Barry Brickell: A Head of Steam

by Christine Leov Leland

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The honesty in this biography (both by the subject and the author) make this one of the best biographies I’ve read

I never knew local icon Barry Brickell but like everyone else who lived on the Coromandel I certainly knew of him. The Hauraki Herald (back when it was truly a local paper, not a glorified advertorial) regularly had Barry’s contributions to the Letters to the Editor, – usually on environmental issues where Brickell followed no one’s drum but his own.

And of course I have visited the wonderful Driving Creek Railway several times, the last being late last year.

I’ve been struggling with what I want to write in this review because it is definitely warts and all. I’m assuming Barry (who died in 2016) was OK with that.

From childhood, Barry was different. His passions were fire, pottery and railways (at the time of this book’s writing his father was still annoyed about the time Barry and one of his sisters nearly burnt the family home down). Barry’s mother was extremely protective of her son and said she would always make sure she was home by 3.30 from school, as Barry’s relationships with other school kids and most of his teachers was so strained and Barry would arrive home shaking.

To please his father, Barry became a teacher (hard to understand how anyone could have felt this would ever work out) Barry left teaching after two terms and as the author says;

From 1961 onwards the story is of Barry’s choices for himself.

And his choices were doing amazing pottery and building a small railway (in fact two different ones)

Barry driving one of his trains. It must have been a freezing cold day for him to be wearing a jersey. He found all clothing constricting – he always cut off the sleeves on his shirts and wore the skimpiest of shorts. Unannounced guests often found him working in the nude!

This photo is b/w but it gives an idea of the gorgeous scenery the train ride takes visitors through;

This book is very honest and I will be honest in return – the speculation about Barry’s sexuality made me squirm a bit. But when you look at his pottery;

You can see the sensuality. Underneath a different piece of pottery the author writes;

Brickell believes that sexual activity reduces the energy, creativity and life force of the male. His sculptures reveal a fascination with the sensuality of human forms.

You would think this would sound like a conflicted personality, but I don’t think Barry was, once he started living life the way he wanted.

Minor criticism is that this book did need better proofreading. I couldn’t use one very quotable quote as the speech marks weren’t “closed off”, so I couldn’t tell where Barry’s thoughts ended & the author’s began. Wrong words in a couple of places (sandals instead of shorts.) A pity.

I’ll leave you with a Barry Brickell quote.

I am a visionary individual and have my own thoughts. I do not want to be conditioned in my outlook by conventional or popular opinion and am prepared to be labelled an eccentric if necessary. I cannot teach. I am far too busy with my own work. People educate themselves when they are fulfilled and happy in their own work. There is no such thing as teaching, only learning.

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