Monday, October 17, 2011

All aboard the Hawkins Express

From the Manukau Courier: All aboard the Hawkins Express
CHANGE OF TRACK: George Hawkins with the New Zealand railways model train set in his garage that will be his retirement project after 21 years in Parliament.
Relevant offersRetirement is traditionally a time for scaling back but Manurewa MP George Hawkins is taking it to extremes – down to one sixty-fourth of life size, to be precise.

The New Zealand railways model train set that fills his garage is where he plans to spend "a lot more time" after his 21 years in Parliament end on November 26.

"I'll be a one-handed train driver," he grins.

He's spent years of relishing political pile-ups but his new challenge will be "trying to stop crashes" when mates from the New Zealand Model Railway Guild pop over.

"They bring their locos out and we might have as many as six to eight running at a time and it's a bit confusing," he says.

Mr Hawkins started his railway about eight years ago in a purpose-built garage at his Papakura home.

The major stroke he suffered in 1991 means he lacks the dexterity in his right hand to "actually make things" as tricky as model trains.

"So I've done the scenery and the railway modellers guild has done all the construction and building of the units."

The original aim was a scale replica of the main trunk line from Papakura to Huntly.

"But that didn't work out because you're going in a circle."

Instead he's gone for a generic New Zealand railway line of the 1950s to early 1980s, with period cars, farm scenes and a row of New Zealand Railways cottages.

There's even a mini Hawkins for Mayor billboard from Papakura of the 1980s.

The photo panoramas, landscapes, trees and shrubs are all Mr Hawkins' own work.

"I go to the $2 stores and get flowers and paint them," he says.

There's also a stash of foliage from army land at Waiouru drying under a bench.

Mr Hawkins traces his interest in model trains to the same boyhood night he discovered Santa Claus doesn't exist.

"I got out of bed for a drink of water and found my father playing with the train set he'd bought us for Christmas."

He returned to model railways as "relaxation" while serving as a Cabinet minister in Helen Clark's second Labour-coalition government.

"If you had a busy day you could come out here and lose yourself."

Mr Hawkins has been minister for police, internal affairs, ethnic affairs and Civil Defence but he never had a hankering for the railways portfolio.

"I think if you end up minister of something that you have passion for, you don't look at the job properly."

And while he likes travelling by rail and plans to do more of it now he's got his SuperGold card, he's "not a train nut in the sense of going out and taking their numbers".

The former Auckland Star photographer also wants to spend more time with his cameras.

Photography is "a bit hard" because of the lack of control on his right-hand side caused by the stroke, he says.

It also means he can't write, just sign his name.

Most people don't realise he can't write, Mr Hawkins says.

Even Helen Clark didn't know until after he'd left Cabinet.

"I always carry a pen in my pocket. People think you can write if you carry a pen in your pocket."

At the moment he's rewiring the entire set, redoing the railways cottages and creating a hunting scene.

Ad Feedback Next task will be to "get some birds sitting in the trees".

And it's a fascination Mr Hawkins is now passing on to his young grandson.

"I've got him a Thomas the Tank Engine. I'm getting one made specially for the track."

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